Sam can read!

I had in my mind in September that I hoped he would be reading by the end of the ‘academic year’.  But he has far exceeded my expectations.  In September he was just beginning to sound out 3 letter phonetic words, the books (even the chapter ones) he received for Christmas he could read himself.

He’s not perfect of course!  Last night he asked Pete what a whore was? Luckily Pete had the presence of mind to ask the see the word before trying to explain – turned out to be ‘hour’!  But he can pick up a book and read enough to follow the story.

I even found him curled up with my Kindle ‘reading’ a book about life in the ambulance service.  Whether he was reading it I can’t actually be sure, but the evidence (bizarre questions) suggests he probably was, at the very least he could make sense of some of it.

To be honest I have no real idea how either of my children really learned to read.  I’d love to say I had this unique, incredibly clever, foolproof and fail-safe way to teach kids to read, but I don’t.

I never followed any reading scheme with them.  We have some easy reading books of course, Oxford Reading Tree Read at Home, Usborne Phonics and First Readers, not to mention oh so many Dr Seuss.  But we have treated them as storybooks  and read them on demand like any other, when we have asked the kids to read words from them it has been simply because I (and I suspect Pete’s motives are very much the same but probably more intense) find them incredibly dull and repetitive and we just wanted to break the monotony.

I bought the Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading to work through with Sam.  The intention actually was to try and encourage him to slow down and sound out individual sounds better when he’s talking as he is not always very clear (another post there one day). And honestly some of the motivation was just to have something practical to do with him to keep him fairly quiet when Jack is working (can’t read stories too distracting).  We certainly haven’t followed it religiously – to give you an idea we started in Sept 2010 and we’re up to lesson 82, so definitely not daily practice 🙂  I never did any formal reading practice/lessons with Jack at all.

So if that’s what we didn’t do, what did we do?  Well, I suppose we made it easy for them to learn.

We read a lot, to them and to ourselves.  We are an anti-social family and we all read around the dining table.  For several years we chose not to have a TV as Pete and I don’t really watch it, we are readers by choice.  We go everywhere by public transport and read as we go.  Entire family days out are planned as visits to libraries/bookshops (we like our second hand/cheap bookshops and will travel a fair way to visit our favourites). In other words they’ve inherited the love of and/or been reared in a household that prizes reading above almost everything else.

We’ve played word type games but never as part of a ‘work’ agenda.  Some of the things we’ve enjoyed:-

    • When Jack was little he had a crocodile with pockets in for fabric letters.  Jack would say the name of a letter and throw it in the air.  If he was right the croc would jump up and catch it with much comedy munching (Pete was far better at this than me).  Those toys always strike me as rather pointless but in this way ours was great fun.
    • Flashcards – they both have had spells of enjoying testing themselves on easy reading flashcards.  We’ve always used them under the boys direction.
    • Top trumps – both loved these from an early age (we do a lot of long train rides!) so had to learn to read the categories.
    • Treasure Hunts – we would drag out the having of a bag of sweets into a quarter of an hour activity.  They progressed from pictures, through pics and word, to word and on the rare occasion we do it now (Christmas eve!) the clues are riddles.
    • Stories written for them. When Jack was about 4, Pete would often write little stories just for him featuring characters from his favourite books/tv programmes.
    • On walks stop and read roadsigns.

I’m sure there are other games we played but can’t think now.  You may also notice I talk about doing things with Jack.  Reason is simply Sam wasn’t so interested until recently.  Jack being only child for a time was very high intensity and wanted us to play with him all of the time.  Obviously we spent a lot of time playing games entirely of his choice but sometimes we would do something we preferred, Pete especially, and perhaps Jack knew we’d be more likely to play the ‘crocodile game’ than another ‘being game’ (which involved in you saying exactly what he told you, any slight variation/creativity was very frowned upon).  Sam played with Jack or bounced happily around on his own and has seldom wanted/needed us to play with him.

We have also always found the time, no matter what we’re doing to answer the question ‘what does that say?’  Both of mine reached a stage, a kind of epiphany moment you might say, when that was the most common sentence that came out of their mouths (might be exaggerating there, probably never passed ‘can I have?).  For Jack this was around his 4th birthday, for Sam around his 6th.  And for both this was marked the time the began reading independently.

So my conclusion (from observing others as well as my own), I believe that most children (of course I know some children have issues such as dyslexia which change things and I’m not an expert at all) reach a moment where they are self-motivated enough and their brain can process the concepts easily so that if they have been provided with the right building blocks, everything will just fall into place.  For some children the building blocks may be recognising sight words, others basic phonics, others such as mine simply a love of books and 100’s at their disposal.

Each child will learn a different way so just go with what suits, some will thrive on a reading scheme others will prefer another or none at all.  My best advice is to trust your child to demonstrate when they are ready to learn.  All I have read on the matter says that many children do not reach this stage until age 8 or later, I am sure that this requires a great test of nerves from the parents in our society with its focus on early literacy.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t push or try to ‘teach’ the kids to read until 8 unless they demonstrated they were ready.  I can’t tell you how glad I am that that resolve was not tested though.  Cuddling down of an evening, fire on and everyone reading to themselves is wonderful 🙂

Interesting further reading 

One-to-one makes all the difference when teaching children to read

No-one strategy is best for teaching reading 

Living Alphabet (Waldorf)

UK children start school too young 

Cambridge review – value of individualised approach

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