As a big reader myself, it was clearly important to me that my children learned to read well.
But frankly, the idea of teaching my children to read has been kind of terrifying to me. I don’t particularly remember learning how to read, and I’d never taught anyone to read either.
Over the last year and a half, Ella has become an incredibly good reader (I haven’t tested her so I’m not sure what grade level she’s reading on, but I’d guess it’s at least third or fourth) and I’ve had a lot of questions from real-life friends and some blog readers about what we did with her.
Also, I feel like this post needs a giant disclaimer that says, “I don’t think there is anything better about learning to read early! Pushing your child to read before they are ready can be harmful in the long run!”
I absolutely think everyone learns to read at their own pace, and I’m totally on board with schools in Finland where they don’t teach reading until seven and then have the highest test scores in the world (as if test scores are the end-all goal anyway). Nobody gets asked in a job interview when they learned to read and there are no gold stars for learning at four instead of six.
This is just how it happened to work out for Ella. And take this post with the knowledge that Ani knows all of about 8 letters.
I’ve read to Ella since she was a tiny baby – we read every board book we owned about a thousand times and then checked out tons of books from the library over the next couple of years.
When she was about three, I started reading longer chapter books to her (although I think this was maybe a smidge too early. Once she past three and a half, she was way more able to follow along and enjoy the stories, and when she hit four, it was night and day difference).
She also listened to tons of audiobooks; I checked out those packs from the library that have a picture book with a CD that reads the books and we listened to them in the car frequently and then started having her use them at quiet time. When she turned four and we went to Europe, I started checking out chapter books for her to listen to on the iPad through Overdrive.
Around the two year mark, she’d really latched on to a couple of alphabet books and we read them multiple times a day (her favorites were A Zeal of Zebras and Backseat A-B-See), and we also had a big set of alphabet cards that she loved lining up in her bedroom, so she learned the alphabet without me really realizing she’d picked it up.
A few weeks after she turned three, I checked out Phonics Pathways from the library and we began working through it VERY slowly. I really didn’t want to push her or make reading something she wasn’t interested in, so we’d do a page or two once or twice a week.
I loved Phonics Pathways and I highly recommend it. I loved that you didn’t need to know ANYTHING about teaching reading – it walked you through it step by step. There are some little games, but we never did them because I didn’t want to prep them, and she didn’t seem to suffer. So it was literally no work on my part except to sit down and go through the pages.
I know lots of people use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but my mom had mentioned to me that she had used four different methods to teach the four of us to read and that was her least favorite, so I never considered using it (plus, another friend I trust had already recommended Phonics Pathways and my library had a copy, so I went that way). Amy from Sunlit Pages did a really thorough comparison of the two, so if you’re wondering about the differences, she can speak to them more knowledgeably because she’s used both.
So for a year, we moved very very slowly through the book and I felt like we didn’t make much progress. But she wasn’t even quite four, so I didn’t feel any pressure. She also much preferred math and would always pick to do several pages of her math book (we use Horizon Math and I’ve done basically no research about math programs but we’ve been happy with it).
Then here comes the part that makes me really feel like I can’t say much about how to teach your child to read.
We moved to Arizona for the summer and literally did not have a single toy (my mom brought the girls each a doll when she came to visit about halfway through). We had a library card and we had her math book and Phonics Pathways.
Once she finished her math book, she suddenly started being more interested in working on reading. And I think we were at just the right age for her, because she started picking it up really quickly after that. She’d ask to do eight or more pages in a day and then she’d bring it in the car and work on it by herself while I drove.
We also checked out a bunch of BOB Books from the library and we’d read some together and then she’d read them to herself during quiet time which gave her a ton of good practice.
When we got to London (still no toys!), we checked out a ton of books and she practiced reading all the time, especially in the mornings if she woke up before seven. We could often hear her reading aloud to Ani through the wall before they’d come into our room in the morning.
By the time we came back to the states in December, she was reading very fluently. We never actually finished Phonics Pathways because she didn’t seem to need it anymore and could sound out pretty much any word she came across that she didn’t already know.
So if you want to get rid of all your toys for four months, your child might get really interested in reading at four years old. But you also might lose your mind in the process when the weather starts to get cold and rainy and there is absolutely nothing to do at your house.
My advice (which is worth exactly what you’re paying for it) is to read to your child like crazy, introduce the alphabet through ABC books or an alphabet puzzle or letter magnets, and when they start to show an interest, start on Phonics Pathways without pushing it, and get some BOB Books to practice with.
If they start to balk, give it a break and come back in a month or two or six. Keep reading picture books together, start reading longer books together if they’re up for it, and make sure reading is something that is fun, not stressful or frustrating.
And I very may well be writing a completely different post about teaching a child to read in a couple of years because I have no idea what will work for Ani.