I remember the anguish I started to feel when my first born was reaching that developmental age where kids learn to read. And to tell you the truth, I had not really thought about it much until she was about 3 1/2 and I knew she would be starting pre-school soon. Then I became really desperate, I mean, nowadays if your kid is not reading by age 2 then there is something wrong with him. I bought, checked out any book that I could find on how to teach my kid to read because I just didn’t want my perfectly articulate almost 4 year old to miss out.
From all that research that I did, I found this book, this relic from the 1950s called “Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It” by Rudolf Flesch – I had heard about this “Johnny” kid but never had read the book about him. Then again, I didn’t have kids before so it didn’t apply. Well, the book was excellent and I got a lot out of it. I used it to help my daughter learn how to read, so when she started Kindergarten it was an easy transition.
What my daughter learned at home was reinforced at school. In this book, Flesch makes the case that parents should get involved in the development of language, so for your benefit I have summarized what I learned into five easy steps:
1. Learn and practice your ABCs… – This may be longest step and the most boring for parents but it’s really crucial. Little 5 years olds have the attention span of like a whole 30 seconds, so repeating the letters can be boring, so you just have to make it fun. I would practice each letter with its natural sound. Then we would write the letters and draw pictures of words that started with that letter. I bought an arsenal of notebooks, pencils, crayons, boards, markers, and encouraged her to write the letters, say the sound, draw the letters in any color, and tried to make it fun.
2. Practice three letter words with one vowel and two consonants – In this step you introduce easy words that kids can decipher by putting the sounds to the letter. For example, take the vowel “u” so start with three letter words that have the vowel in the middle and a consonant at the beginning and at the end – cup, tub, rub, and do the same with all the vowels. This step also takes time. Don’t skip it, take your time.
3. Start introducing double consonants/vowels and other “irregular” words – By double consonants I mean ch, sh, th, ll, and double vowels such ee, ea, oa, oo. At this point I also taught my kid some irregular words that we use in our every day speech, such as, is, the, and was. I noticed that she was not too confused with these few irregular words since they did not sound as you read them and that’s why the are called “irregular.”
4. Go full steam with semi-regular and irregulars words… – Finally you wrap up all the weird, irregular words in our English language and start teaching them to your kid. Believe me, they’ll get it and if they have questions, just explain that these words are a little different, that’s all. You can start with the “semi” normal words, such as, line, mile, and hole. Then, you can move on to really weird ones that don’t sound the same as if you read them, for example, mother, father, tough, etc. I would only go over the ones that we use most often in our daily lives. I didn’t introduce all the irregular words because she wasn’t building vocabulary at that time, but trying to learn how to read.
5. Encourage writing of the words as much as reading – It seems everyone, experts and all just tell you to read to your kids and they will learn to read by osmosis. Well, not really. They will ask you what a word says and they will memorize it like a picture, and so they don’t attach the sound to the letter. But what got both of my kids excited about reading was actually writing. They would take their papers, notebooks, markers, pens, pencils whatever they wanted and would start writing words, and say “mommy how do you write dog” and I would remind them to listen to the first letter sound and they would shout out “d!!!” and the next letter “o!!!” and the last sound is “g!!!” and they would write it and feel so accomplished. Then they began putting together sentences and writing me letters and filling their notebooks with stories and pictures.
I can only tell you that from my experience these five steps really did work. They worked for me and my kids. They worked too well actually, my daughter doesn’t even try too hard in Language Arts and my son although prefers math, he loves to write neat sentences and read his books out loud. Just try them, check out Flesch’s book and take part in this exciting phase of your young kids’ lives.