Thursday, March 27, 2014

Learning to Read

Now that Nathan has started to read simple books independently, I thought I'd share how we got to where we are thus far. Much of what we did was through trial and error... finding the right resources, experimenting with different approaches, finding what works for us. The following is a list of positive contributors, and if you too, are teaching a pre-schooler how to read, you can probably consider the adapting the following for your use:

1) Read to them daily - I started reading to my boys since they were babies. By about 18 months old, they are able to sit through the entire book, clearly engaged and enjoying story time. We read at least two books before bedtime and recently, I've made it a point to include a Chinese book as well. It is a great bonding activity and something that we look forward to doing before switching off the lights. I think this is the beginning to cultivating a love for reading, and I'm glad that Nathan now tells me, "I love to read". For now, he probably prefers being read to than reading by himself, but I think it doesn't really matter. 

Some of our favourite books are:
We're Going on a Bear Hunt
The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo's Child
The Smartest Giant in Town
The Billy Goat's Gruff
The Little Engine That Could
Mr Men & Little Miss Libraries
The Going to Bed Book
Berenstein Bears
Topsy & Tim Book Set
Charlie & Lola Book Set

Many of these books are available at discounted prices from The Groovy Giraffe and NOQ store.

2) Learning the alphabet sounds (about 2.5 years old) - Julia Gabriel's Alphabet Zoo CD and book set was a good tool for this. My boys loved the catchy tunes and found the dialogue funny. Nathan listened to this CD over a thousand times in the car, and soon enough could sing along, and in the process, he learnt the sounds of the alphabet. It is available for purchase at Julia Gabriel (Forum Galleria Level 4). You do not need to be a Julia Gabriel student to purchase, although students do get a small discount.

Julia Gabriel's An Alphabet Zoo

3) Recognising the alphabets (about 2.5 years old) - I got a scrap book where I'd paste the alphabet that we are working on at the top of the page. Then we'd flip thru magazines and look for items that begin with that alphabet. I'd let Nathan cut the pictures out and glue them on the scrap book to train his motor skills. Sometimes, I'd be the one flipping thru the magazines, exaggerating the first alphabet as I point out and name the items, and then we'd choose the right ones. Other times, I'd give him a prompt and get him to look for the object... "aeroplane starts with the letter A"... see if you can find an aeroplane in this magazine"... We work on just one alphabet a day, and flip thru our own alphabet book often. This way, Nathan learnt to recognise the alphabets. Most 2 year olds have difficulty writing the alphabet, and I think it is not necessary to be able to write the letters independently at this age. Instead, a simple exercise you can do is to get your child to trace the alphabet using his index finger, just to know the sequence of the strokes.

Our very own alphabet book

Trace the alphabet

4) Reading Made Easy (about 3.5 years old) - This resource by Valerie Bendt is perfect for busy moms. It contains 108 easy lessons that I can use to teach my boys to read in a systematic way. The best part is, it requires little preparation on my part. We cover one lesson every weekday, and each one takes no more than 30 minutes to complete. I downloaded the digital version on my iPad, but if you prefer, you can also purchase a hard copy. Student activity workbooks are also available separately.

4) Simple readers with lots of repetition - Many of us grew up learning to read with Peter & Jane. Since this classic has stood the test of time, I was convinced that the author has gotten something right. Nathan learnt many of the sight words from this series. There isn't much story line to speak of, so it can get boring after a while. Include this series in your library but mix it with other readers that pique the child's interest. Only the A and B books are required. The C books are essentially writing books where children are asked to copy / write sentences from book A and B. I didn't find the C books useful.

5) Simple readers that interest the child - Children are motivated when they can read books they like. Think Disney characters, super heroes or any other character they are familiar with; think events that they can relate to like school excursions or birthdays. Our favourite readers include: Scholastic's Phonics Tales, Leapfrog Early Reading Series, Step Into Reading and I Can Read.

Leapfrog Early Reading Series

Step Into Reading Readers

I Can Read Readers

6) Learning to write (3 to 3.5 years old) - At various stages, I tried getting Nathan to start writing but I realised that he didn't quite have the motor skills required to control a pencil. I think there is no need for a child to learn to write before 4 years old. Let him try, and if he can't do it, revisit it again a few weeks/months down the road. For writing, I like the workbooks developed by Handwriting Without Tears. Some things that would help a child starting out, is to give them a 'starting dot'. This is the point at which they should start writing (see example for letter E below). Subsequently, when we moved on to using exercise books, I still provided Nathan with the 'starting dots'. It helps him write on the lines instead of all over the page. I noticed that many books like to guide children with dotted lines. I didn't find this approach helpful at all. I found Nathan fixated on the dots, and moving his pencil from one dot to the next, without seeing the 'big picture'. Instead, try printing the letters in gray and getting the children to trace it out. This works a lot better with Nathan. Be sure to choose a font that is child-friendly, especially when it comes to letters like 'a' or 'g'.

7) Sound Check - At 4 years old, I don't get Nathan to memorise spelling lists. Instead, I'll get him to write words based on the letter sounds he hears. Like, I'd say 'cat'. If he has no problems writing 'cat', I let him write it... If he isn't sure, I help him along by saying, 'ker' 'aaair' 'ttt'. Basically, just making the phonetic sounds so he can figure how to spell each word by himself. Of course not all words can be spelt phonetically, but we can work on that a little later. :)

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