Teaching reading is probably the most important part of a child’s early education, but for some parents, it is also the most daunting. After all, most of us were very young when we learned to read, and we may not quite remember how it was done. Today I want to offer you this reassurance: teaching reading is simple, and you can do it! The thing to remember is this: written language is a code. If you understand the code, you can read. I learned this principle from a book I read long ago called Why Our Children Can’t Read and What We Can Do About It by Diane Mcguinness. I have been applying this principle to teach children to read for the last 16 years with great success and ease, and I’ll show you how you can do it too.
Here’s the catch – before you can be really effective at teaching children to read, you have to know the code yourself. And even if you know how to read, you might not know all the parts of the code. As a young college graduate I worked for a tutoring company. I had graduated cum laude from my university and I considered myself pretty capable. I certainly knew how to read. But when I started my new job, my employer gave me the same phonics test that I would later use to evaluate children in their reading ability. I failed it. Miserably. It was humiliating! But I learned something really valuable from that experience – I had forgotten, or never fully learned – I’m not sure which – the written code of my language, and I needed to learn it in order to be able to teach children to read. Many of us are in the same boat. My experience in evaluating children in their reading ability showed me that many, in fact most, were not being taught the code completely. Schools take all kinds of approaches to teaching reading, and there is great debate on the efficacy of different methods. Some educators don’t believe in teaching the code of reading, in other words, phonics. My experience has shown me that when children understand the code of written language, they learn to read easily and well. It takes practice, yes, but it does not have to take a lot of time every day. And it does not require tears. In this series, I will show you how to do it, step by step.
Let’s get started!
The step that I recommend beginning with is teaching single consonant sounds and short vowel sounds. In other words, just teach the sound that each letter in the alphabet makes, making sure when you get to the vowels you teach the short vowel sounds, and the hard sound for C and G. A pet peeve of mine is phonics books and toys that use words like owl for O, ink for I, or giraffe for G. Those are not the simple sounds for those letters and they should not be introduced to a young child first.
Most consonant sounds you will know, just be careful of C and G – teach C with the hard C sound, as in cat, not with the soft C sound, as in ice, and teach G with the hard G sound, as in good, not the soft G sound found in giraffe.
If you are unsure of the short vowel sounds, here is a guide:
A – beginning sound of apple
E – beginning sound of elephant
I – beginning sound of in
O – beginning sound of octopus
U – beginning sound of umbrella
I usually start teaching these sounds when my children are two or three years old, but if they aren’t interested at that age (or if you aren’t interested!) wait until age four or five. Start with just two or three letters and work your way through the alphabet. I use fridge magnets for this ( I really like these ones from Learning Resources! They are nice and big and chunky – great for little hands!).
I put 2-3 letters on the fridge and keep them there until the child knows their sounds. We go over the sound of the letters for a minute or two at a meal time once or twice a day. I don’t ask the child to say the name of the letter, just the sound. So – I start with A, B, and C. The script goes something like this: “A says ă like apple. What does A say?” Once the child starts to become familiar with the sound, I just ask, “What does A say?” I do this with the letters B and C as well. We do this every day until the child knows the sound every time. Then we move on to a new letter or letters. You can let your child put the letter on the fridge when he says the sound if he wants to. Don’t overdo it – your child will likely get tired of excessive drilling. Just ask the sound of the letter once or twice a day. And that’s it! Work your way through the alphabet until your child knows all the sounds of all the letters. Make sure to review the letters you have already covered from time to time. You can use an alphabet puzzle, foam letters in the bath, and alphabet books to reinforce or add variety to the routine. Make sure to keep it light, keep it fun, and keep it short.
Check out Part 2 of this series to learn the next step.
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