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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