Raising a reader.
Three weeks into school and the work’s piling up. For you! Your little student keeps bringing literacy pamphlets home, a bunch of kids in his class already know how to read, and you’ve heard more than a few teacher reminders that you NEED to sit with him every night for at least twenty minutes while HE reads to YOU. Twenty minutes? Even if you could find that chunk of time between the mad dinner rush and bedtime refusal, how the heck would it help when it takes almost that long for him to sound out one word?
Teach the letters F, U, and N. Do not forget the N.
You’ve been a parent long enough to know that competition can be fierce. I remember a mom actually smiling when she told me her baby slept through the night from day two. I was struggling with a very non-sleeping five week-old and yup, I had to resist. Newbie parent bragging is all about baba’s performance, and it doesn’t end once they hit the schoolyard. Instead of listening to how well they sleep/eat/grow, you’re subjected to stories relaying how athletic/musical/smart they are. Which fuels our parenting fire, and not in a good way.
Some four year-olds can read. Some three year-olds can read. Some five and six year-olds cannot read. Ask me how I know. Comparing with other kids and receiving a word/note from a teacher is the best way to feel like you’re FAILING and your child will NEVER get the hang of it (whatever the ‘it’ flavour of the month happens to be). Pshaw. Remember what Malcom Gladwell taught us a few years back? Anyone at any age can do anything superbly if he “only” puts in ten thousand practice-hours. I officially became a diaper-wrangling-pro about four thousand hours ago.
The key to teaching your kid to read is to make it fun. That’s it. Here’s how:
- It’s never too late, but it’s also never too early. At first it’s all about the snuggling to create a positive association. Okay, it might also be a little bit about the “Books are for reading, not chewing.” We’ve read to each of our babies since they were, well, babies. Partly to teach that sleep routine and partly to expose/engage them. The best books for babies are ones that are interactive, so anything with holes/textures/puppets. Our littlest caterpillar’s caterpillar-love inspired this here party. If your mini-reader loses interest, point to contrasting pictures or play page-flipping/tapping/tickling games to captivate him. Our boys still laugh when I “jump” Are You My Mother right before the baby bird comes out.
- As soon as he’s receptive, which means whenever he can form the letters and carry a tune, start singing and writing those ABC’s. Music and markers make everything more fun.
- Get in on the library action. If he can stand and likes to pull books off shelves, he’ll fall in love. Ask about their literacy programs, which are usually free and always fun. Our four year-old doesn’t remember LBL (Life Before Library) and was beyond ecstatic to be given his very own library card to check out his very own (borrowed) books.
- Think outside the book-box. Our guys loved the library touch screens, activity workbooks, and Chirp/LEGO magazines, but the absolute fave for our oldest was deciphering license plates. He got hooked reading the letters and numbers whenever we strolled our hood and we took full dawdling advantage.
- Do it together. Yup, you gotta carve out some time sans baby/iPad/distractions. Don’t sweat it if you can’t do it every day, just do whatcha can. And make sure to put him to work. Our oldest used to get super-frustrated when trying to sound out words, so we made a deal that he’d do one word and we’d do the next. After a few weeks and A LOT of patience, that became alternating sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, and then chapters. Et voilà.
- Make it a habit. Putting it on the chart makes it his responsibility, and the earlier he gets into the after-school-responsibility routine, the better. This is probably one of the least fun things you can do to fun it up, but it works.
- Find his currency. We’d probably still be struggling with our oldest if we hadn’t discovered the Star Wars DK Readers. And the beauty of that marketing genius is the full libraries of varying reading levels on the exact. same. topic, so no matter how boring it is to you, he won’t ever feel bored or overwhelmed.
- Don’t stop reading to him just because he can read by himself. Our seven year-old loves to sit in when we read to his sibs, because it’s fun! And we all love bedtime stories together… it really is the best part of our day.
If it’s totally stressing you out, chances are it’s stressing him out too. You can take a break, re-energize, and try again, and you can also call in the pros à la Kumon, Sylvan, or Oxford. As long as it’s fun for him and reduces both of your stress levels… win-win.
No matter what you’re worrying about, stressing doesn’t help. The only thing that actually helps is making a plan and taking it one day at a time. And cuddling… cuddling always helps.
Email us if you’re close to Bloor West Village and want an excellent literacy/art preschooler program. And leave a comment if you have any extra tips or books to recommend!