Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reading - our style

I don't think there's any single, best way to help children become readers.  I think Love, patience, time and fun are the keys to encouraging a child's natural interest in stories, and their desire and ability to read will flow from there.  

We haven't followed a specific learn-to-read program.  I've borrowed ideas from all kinds of approaches, including phonics (LEM), sight words (eg. Dolch) ... and our home is a playground for whole language!  Step by step programs have worked for some of my friends, combined with the other essential ingredients I mentioned above.  

Here's our story so far, from 0 to 6 years:

From the early days of babyhood the seeds of reading were planted.  We played with words, read aloud ten zillion books, bought books, visited the library often and the kids chose books to borrow on their own cards.  When friends and family would visit, the kids would toddle up and hand them a book to read out.  

Elijah loved books from day one (well, day 8 when he came home from hospital).  I thought Jasmine was going to be different.  She would wriggle and squirm away ... but by 9 months she was just as hooked on books as her big brother!

Here are some snapshots of the fun we've had with reading in the pre-school years ...

This was Jasmine on her 2nd birthday (Elijah was just 3).  
Pete was a home Dad ... each he day wrote a sentence or two on the chalkboard, and the kids would 'read' it to find out what exciting plans he had ... words like icecream, park and swim were very popular!
We now use a whiteboard, but this habit has stayed with us, and now the children help write the days of the week, sentences or activity lists.

With toddlers, Superdad also made up flashcards with words the children were interested in, and they would play games to win cards by being the first to read them.

We played games and more games ....

We made up rhyming word lists (some with nonsense words) then phonogram-based word lists (based loosely on LEM phonics).  The kids initially read these to earn pez lollies!   

We have a range of flip-books (bought cheaply), free, photocopied or printed and laminated games, word rings, word and letter puzzles ... these are not regarded as greater or less than any of our other resources and toys.  It wasn't so much 'school' at age 3-5, just something fun we did together.  
It hasn't changed all that much.

We also go through phases of using flashcards for 'sight words', blends and phonograms.

I sometimes make up a game, like this 'ar jar' for the phonogram ar ("ah, or, the car had a war") we made 2 years ago.  We thought up the words together, I wrote them on cut up Christmas cards.  4-6 cards are placed face up at a time, I say a clue (eg. it can start a fire) and the kids find the word which says the answer (spark).  They may work as a team or compete for the most cards.

Word wheels don't get much use here ... they look good and are a bit of fun, but aren't as good as reading in context.

Both kids do ABC Reading Eggs, whenever they want (if the computer is available), which averages out to 1-3 one-hour sessions per week.  When they were younger the kids also liked the free lessons and they still like the printable books at

Jasi and Elijah pretend to read to each other (making up stories about the pictures) ... role playing librarians, teachers, mums and dads.  Likewise, they use story books as pretend music books, from which they sing (making up songs as they go).

We have many 'traditional' reading tools too, around the house including many posters.  I holepunch posters in the top corners, thread 5-6 posters onto 2 curtain rings, then hang the set on hooks I've set up around the house, such as on the back of the toilet door.  They're easy to flip, or swap for a different set.

We've ended up with an eclectic range of 'early readers' at little expense, bits and pieces of many series, from school throw-aways, book stalls, home made books, free printable books (eg. from and Bible story early readers.  
We borrowed Fitzroy Readers from a school Mum worked at last year, and the kids hated them!    
Elijah now reads Dr Seuss to us, along with various library books and others from his shelves.

Magnetic word kits, sentence makers and phonics work books 
 are often done just for fun, usually whenever the kids want ... such as bed time!

Living in a book-lovers paradise, with so many tools at our disposal and some deliberate instruction through conversation, games and 'playing schools' ... 
Have my children become amazing readers at an incredibly early age?

No and yes.  It hasn't all been plain sailing, but on the whole, it's been positive.  The children have been at times far ahead of their age-expected levels, then other times they cruise, forget sounds and sight words and fall behind to a more 'average' level for their age.  They have vocab and comprehension beyond their years.  Most important to me, they are interested, self-motivated and enjoy their experiences with words and books.

Our shared reading time is still plentiful and precious, and includes picture books, chapter books, science, maths, geography and history references.  We 'do' the Premier's Reading Challenge, just because we read the books anyway, so may as well get a certificate to show for it. 

I photographed our bookshelves ... but there are enough photos here!  Just imagine bookshelves, baskets and stacks all over the house, add up to 90 library books at a time, and that sums it up.

If it's mixed with cuddles, it's all good!  

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