The method I recommend:
When my child was born I showed him picture books of large smiling faces in color. He liked to touch fabrics of different textures so I made him a book of wallpaper sample cutouts to feel. I read to him several types of books. One type was the picture books where he sat on my knee and we turned the pages together and the other was books of stories that he fell asleep listening to at naptime and bedtime. He was both bathed in language and shown the fun of pictures. I noticed he liked concrete objects and to touch and gnaw on things. Many parents noticing this hide the books so the child won’t suck on or tear them and they deny the child access to books most of his preschool years for this reason. But I tried to figure out a way to let him touch things but still learn to read. I did this by figuring that he could be taught the letters of the alphabet as easily as he could be taught to name his toys. We would not of course learn all 26 at one shot but we could learn one every two weeks for instance and after only a year we’d not only know them all but we would have played with them a lot. So I made letters for him (too big to swallow of course)- out of card board, colored paper, sandpaper and I bought ones out of plastic and wood. I sorted them so I only had the lower case because I want him to not be confused by two shapes for a letter and lower case was what most books used. Then I decided an order of teaching them with the goal simply to use frequent ones early and then add a vowel so we could make words as we went along.
I made the teaching sessions very short- maybe 5-10 minutes a day only. And I made them as absolutely relevant to his life as I could, and as much fun. We ate letters made out of cheese slices. We searched for the letter in alphabet soup. We spent time on outings noticing the letter of the day on street signs, especially the embossed signs; he touched the letters and noticed as I hoped that the size or color or material of the letter was not the thing that made it what it was,- it was the shape that mattered. I decided also that the task should be made very simple to appeal to his logical mind so I did not want to confuse him with exceptions. Better he should learn the easy stuff first and then move on to oddities – so I did not teach him the names of the letters in their formal way– a, b, c, except as a rhyme we could chant. I taught him the actual sound the letter made– buh, duh – and that was how he remembered it. To help him with a letter’s sound I made its shape refer also to a logical explanation so that `s` was a snake, and `t` was train tracks, and `c` was curl and `d` was doorknob. For each letter I made up a little story about the shape and we put the lines of the memory devices into a into a poem that we lengthened with each letter. It started `Huh` is for house, `muh is for mitten, `puh` pretty flower, suh snake is bitten. Pedagogically I was using very tried and tested methods appealing to the senses, making the task logical and fun, using music and rhyme, using memory devices. But I didn’t tell him all that of course. We simply were playing with letters. The first letter we did was `o` mainly because it was easy to identify. Then we moved on to `huh` which I said looked like a house with a chimney. We learned `muh` (mittens), `puh` (pretty flower), `suh` (snake), w (waves), t (traintracks), r (round the corner) and then I decided to teach `ah` which I said looks like half an `apple` - I print it the traditional way with the half circle and side. From there I put a few letters together and we made 'at, pat, hat, sat, mat, cat, map' and I slowly sounded each one out.
I did this a few times and then showed him pictures of a hat and he realized what I was doing. After a few other examples and over several days he too was figuring out how to sound out these letters to make them into kind of a train and link them together. The day he first did this on his own sticks in my memory many years later. He sounded out the three letters, said the resulting word and then drew a line from the printed word to a picture on the page I had made. He was reading! I nearly shouted with glee but he was not very excited about this pivotal moment - for him it was just normal and logical. With the many children I have taught to read since I have noticed the same detached matter of fact acceptance of this leap. For kids reading is very natural. It has been said that any child who can find his chair in the room can learn to read . I proceeded with the other letters in a sequence that I accompanied with a workbook, reminding the child of toys and food that start with each letter sound as we studied it. We sang songs using the sounds and we put together more words. I studiously did not teach him any exceptions but once we had done the alphabet he could then logically read hundreds of words. I put signs around the house and a few little stories and poems using them. He could read in fact any word in the language that had only the basic sounds I’d taught – ones as long as umbrella, mittens, attract, represent. And what was best about it was that he loved it - it was simply a game. We became members of the public library and went to story time there and borrowed dozens of books each week so we’d have lots of variety at our naptime and bedtime and other reading times. I liked to stop as I read and have him comment on the artwork or the plot and have him predict how the story might end. We were looking at books as ideas and I wanted to encourage him that it was OK to dislike a story or a book and that books were not in themselves always right or to be worshipped. This freedom was part of critical thinking.
Occasionally I would stop at a large-print easy word he had the skills to read and he’d read it to me. I noticed that print size had to be huge though. He could not notice fine detail differences in small letters yet. I also noticed with my other children that kids differ in personality when it comes to reading. Some three year olds are giggly and just scribble on the paper and are not ready to settle down for a few more months. Some are anxious to guess at what a letter says but others hang back and ponder. Some 5 year olds given all the instruction step by step easily read today’s words and do little joining exercises with pencil and paper but never sit down on their own and pick up a book to read it alone whereas others are keen to start independent reading. After I had taught the letters my son wanted to learn more so I put together a logical progression for a next book - to teach the upper case which I simply explained as the little letters growing up. B got a new bump, huh got another chimney (H) and so on. I taught stories about some letters making another sound when upset (get out of the way – ay) about the long sound of vowels and about the letters arguing about who talked and who was quiet (silent letters) Eventually we had four books and we had now covered even the exception words in the language.
On school entry all four of my children had completed this little course as a head start and could read. Two had actually started to pick up short books on their own and read to themselves in leisure time and all four once in school saw the value of reading in that new environment also.
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