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 A friend recently asked our advice on preparing their very young children for reading.  My husband responded first and you can read his thoughtful, more academic reply here.  Below is the explanation I offered for what works for us. ~K

Reading aloud is a great way to make time for your favorite books while you're busy with an infant!

J has provided an excellent response to your question so I will just add a thought of my own on teaching approaches and offer some examples of how we have implemented the priorities J described.  As far as teaching philosophies, etc. related to reading, I confess more ignorance than knowledge.  The few times that I have looked at teaching materials (for reading) whether through my own research or because I am in discussion with other homeschool moms, I eventually feel a little brain-numb.  Based on my own experience it all seems so unnecessarily complicated!

I think a fair comparison is teaching one’s able-bodied toddler to walk.  You don’t sit them down, show them pictures of kids walking, talk to them about walking, give them walking workbooks in which to scribble…you provide them the proper environment and encouragement from tummy-time at infancy through rolling over, pushing up and crawling, to wobbling along while holding onto your fingers around age 1 (or so.) And so it goes with reading!

We read to our kids as soon as they’re born.  I like this experience because I’m not concerned with anything except that they hear my voice reading aloud, so I can read whatever I want to read!  I specifically remember reading scripture aloud to all of the kids, Anne of Green Gables with my son (sorry, buddy!) and most recently, Pride and Prejudice with Z.  As soon as they are focusing enough to look at a book, then I start using the typical infant/toddler board books.  At this a ge, I try to read to them 5-10 minutes a day, but in addition I may read aloud bits from my own books and almost always have the child near when I am reading aloud to the older kids.

By the time they’re two, we’re regularly reading story books, nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss.  By now read aloud time has extended to 30 minutes a day.  (I definitely break that up throughout the day!)  Also, we’re starting to spell out the titles of books or simple words, having the kids say the letters with us. This is when they start to recognize letters–very fun!

As J mentioned, kids love to “read” books by themselves, and you’ll soon witness S “read” an entire book that she’s memorized because she’s asked you to read it to her so many times!  (Maybe she’s already doing this–knowing her parents, we’ve no doubt that she’s brilliant!)  One thing I’ve found that encourages their own reading is to read a couple of books aloud to them, then have them sit near me with their own stack of books while I read my own book.  This is firmly labeled “quiet time/reading time”and even the little ones will sit quietly for some time and “read”.

One final practice that really helps them start to “break the code” of recognizing letters and simple words:  after you have read a favorite book over and over, start to fall silent when you come to key words, and simply point at the word and ask if they know what comes next.  This is really easy to do with things like Dr.Seuss and Mother Goose.  They’ll love helping you read!

A tiny sample of our favorites.

Ok, if you’ve endured the e-mail this far, then I’ll end with this:  we try to expose our kids to good writing; quality stories, interesting characters, and beautiful language.  I have heard many times from various teachers and parents some variation of this claim, “it doesn’t matter what they’re reading, as long as they’re reading.”  But I don’t know any way for our kids to learn about and learn to appreciate good literature if they are  not regularly exposed to it by parents who also appreciate it; nor how they can develop a mature, extensive vocabulary without being exposed to a variety of words in appropriate context. 

I hope this is useful…

Love to all,

K

What others have to say about bringing up enthusiastic readers:

“Raising Discriminating Readers”

“How to Raise Boys Who Read”

Alphabet Fun: Teaching Reading, Part 1 (from Simply Charlotte Mason)

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Several months ago a friend asked us to advise him on preparing his toddler and infant for reading.  My husband, who has many years of experience as a teacher and in the field of educational research and assessment,  responded first.  You can read what he had to say below.  I’ll post my response next week.  Happy reading!  ~K
 
I know K will answer you in full pretty soon.  I will offer a theoretical perspective that will give background to the practices K will share with you.   Reading proficiency has been well-researched; that research has revealed some important characteristics of a well-developed reader.
 
1.  Reading is a decoding skill.  The “key” to reading is to “crack the code” so to speak.  This means that the young reader is figuring out how to separate and combine sounds.
 
2.  Since the organization of sound is imperative to good reading, a child who “listens” to reading typically turns into a good reader. Therefore, part of (our family) reading program is to read to our children before they can read.  This excercise does two things: (1) it familiarizes the developing mind to the sounds of words and (2) it models to the developing child that reading is valued behaviour in the home.  Our kids see us reading all the time.  They have picked up this habit.
 
3.  Vocabulary is increased when children make up and create words.  For example, let’s say your child hears you read a simple Dr. Seuss book that repeats a rhyming sound:  “the cat in the hat picked up a fat bat to hit a rat”.    With the repetition of the “__at” sound the child will mimick and make up words…some that are real words others that are not.  For example, you will hear, “nat, tat, gat, vat, sat, mat”.  This should be encouraged because it is essential to the decoding process.
 
There is more I can share when your children get older but the essentials from birth to about 4 years are listening to reading and mimicking reading.   You may have noticed your 2-year old pick up a book and pretend to read…this is a healthy sign of good reading development.   2 may be a little too young, but you will see it as she gets closer to 3.  Our 3 year old can’t read but she pretends to by opening a book and telling a story.
 
K will probably mention a tv series called “Between the Lions”. http://www.pbs.org/parents/lions/program/   This educational show on PBS does a very good job of utilizing current research on developing young readers.
 
Also, here are a couple of titles about the research:
 
Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children
by Susan B. Nueman, Carol Copple, and Sue Bredekamp (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2000)

Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success
by M. Susan Burns, Peg Griffin and Catherine E. Snow (Eds.) (National Academy Press, 1999)

 
Hope this research angle provides a good supplement to K’s response.
You  can read Part 2, my response, here. ~K

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Did you have one? Something that made you feel warm and comfortable no matter where you were? I never had a favorite blanket, or even a treasured doll.  But I do have somethings that revive the steady sense of security I experienced as a child:  books

 Sturdy hardbacks with page after page of beloved characters and engaging narratives:  Anne of Green Gables; Agatha Christie collections; a Hans Christian Anderson compilation.  When I open these old friends, I always bring them close to my face, hoping to capture the faintest hint of new-book smell that I imagine lingers deep within the binding, a fragrance unique to each book that evokes memories of the person who gave it to me and the countless readings when I was younger.

No less treasured are the paperbacks.  I have a small, fat volume containing all of Jane Austen’s published novels.  An inexpensive, tattered Chronicles of Narnia has a new home on my daughter’s shelf.   And every few years I reread a unnassuming copy of Jane Eyre

These favorites have their own associations that elevate them above the realm of great literature.  One was a gift from my husband who knew of my affection for the author; another we read aloud together when we were dating;  and one marks the transition I made from enjoying a good read to more deeply appreciating the craft of character development.

Some of these books take me back to the couch in my parent’s living room where a fire burned in an unlovely black stove and everyone had a favorite seat and a favorite read.  Others remind me of the life-altering moments when I discovered the beautiful language and characters within their pages.  Like the Sunday I first drew The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from the shelves of our church library and stepped into Narnia.  Or when I huddled in the dark of our family’s suburban during the late Christmas-night drive home from my grandparent’s house and read Anne of Green Gables for the first time by the thin illumination of my father’s key chain flashlight.

There is no childhood possession that can rival the fine words of my favorite books.  No toy can  stand against compelling images or beautifully drawn characters.  These precious books stimulate more than sensory memory.  They engage my mind, fire my imagination and inspire  creative responses. 

~K

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BooksI always have three to four good reads stacked on my bedside table, a symbol of the glass-is-half-full part of my nature.  It’s unlikely that I will read even one of those books in the time I’ve allotted (usually one week.) To imagine that I could finish all of them is pretty far out there. 

But that stack represents more than incautious optimism.  It’s my passport, a booklet bound by passion and stamped with memories. The world I first entered as a child always waits between the cover of a good book.  (Or even a not-so-good book.)

In this world, words are supreme.  Images are created, characters unveiled and plots unwound, without sound or illustration.  Words, crafted, invoke  emotions and memory,  and persuade me to momentarily disregard what I know to be true and accept the premise of the world they create. 

This is my current stack:

 

My Life in France, Julia Child, with Alex Prud’Homme

The City in Which I Love You, poems by Li-Young Lee

The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, Charles Neider, ed.

What are you reading right now?

Lovin’ my library card,

~K

 

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