Our daughter Bzidore has a dream to build her own robot. This at 3 years old is without a doubt an ambitious goal. Before she can fulfill her dream she needs to learn many foundational skills alongside computer programming, electronics, and mechanics. But one requirement is common for all of them – it’s the reading. Reading is the most important prerequisite for any learning, so this is where we start our journey…
Want to understand your kid? Try reading some Arabic or Chinese
Reading might seem like a trivial task for us adults as we have already done this for decades. But if you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, it is actually an extremely complex process, that involves the following
- keeping track of the reading position
- recognizing the letter shapes
- combining the letters into words
- recognizing the words and attaching meaning to them
- blending the letters together to create sounds
- forming sentences from words
- understanding the meaning of the word set
- applying context to the sentence
- and finally decoding the meaning of the story
If you have looked at any text in Arabic, Chinese or Thai you probably know it feels very confusing and intimidating. You don’t have the faintest idea of what these strange symbols mean or what do with them. This is exactly what your child is feeling when they start learning to read.
Understanding the importance of reading most parents spend weeks on research trying to find the best techniques and tools available for teaching their child to read. Good thing is that there are a lot of resources available on the internet, but it is not that easy to decide who to trust. That’s largely because the “teach your child to read” community is split into 2 conflicting schools of thought that each claim to be the one and only.
Recite words or Phonetics that is the question?
Firstly there are the “whole world” teaching advocates. They claim that instead of reading individual letters the child should be exposed to a bunch of common words that are repeated over and over again. This process is repeated until they memorize and can recognize these words instantly. The theory is that a child is going to pick reading up without going into too many details about pronunciation and the exceptions. Essentially they let the child’s learning-machine-brain take it up by itself from there. You will recognize this approach by their extensive use of recite words.
On the other hand, we have the phonetics advocates. Their teachings are the polar opposite of the recite word approach. They suggest teaching the child how individual letters sound like and how to pronounce them. Only when a child becomes proficient with pronouncing the letters they slowly move on to 2-letter-syllables and practice them until finally moving to 3 letter words and so on. Eventually, they will reach the same words the recite word community was trying to teach their children from day one.
We saw some good takeaways on either side and created our own approach that consists of the best of both worlds.
So, who is right? Who is to say? Both sides claim that they are the only right way to teach your child to read ridiculing another. They even claim to have scientific proof to back up their claims. So maybe both are right? Perhaps we should combine them together?
- 1. Make them curious and give reading a purpose
- 2. Involve more senses while learning
- 3. Let their subconscious mind work for you
- 4. Read to your child daily and show that you enjoy it
- 5. Teach letter sounds instead of names
- 6. Focus on having fun and don’t stress about the progress
- 7. Sing songs & Clap for rhythm, learn about rhymes
1. Make them curious and give reading a purpose
Before your child is ready to learn reading you need to build their curiosity and give them a concrete purpose of why they should want to learn it. It shouldn’t be just because you want them to. This purpose needs to come from within so you will have to sell it to them. Take them to the bookstore and let them pick up their favorite book. Keep this in front of them as a reward they get when they learn how to read it.
Make sure they know which way to hold the book and what side to start reading from. Teach them that books are valuable sources of information. Show your child how to handle books with respect, not leaving them on the floor or rip out its pages.
From a letter to the story
Sit down and take a look inside a book together. First, explain to them that if individual letters are grouped together they form words that have a special meaning. Then show how words are grouped into sentences and can carry an even deeper meaning. Finally, show them how the sentences are grouped together to create a compelling story. Mark individual elements with a black pencil to illustrate what you are saying.
Introduce your child to the benefits of reading as a tool to get answers to all their questions and quince their unlimited curiosity. Tell them that reading is a superpower that opens all the doors to knowledge and wisdom, gives them the ability to read thousands of exciting stories, travel to other worlds in an instant and even peek inside other peoples minds 🙂
2. Involve more senses while learning
Include touch, seeing, hearing and speaking into their learning process. More than one sense involved in learning will create a double or triple the amount of connections in your child’s brain compared with just a visual approach. This means these memories will become permanent faster and it will create an easier and fun learning experience.
For example, let them make their own letter shapes from clay or Play-Doh or draw them on the sand/snow. Any handicraft that involves cutting out the letters, using glue, glitter etc is very good on cementing these shapes into their memory permanently.
3. Let their subconscious mind work for you
Being surrounded by letters and words will subconsciously teach your child reading without them even realizing it. This is a great passive learning technique that requires very little effort and works for you 24/7.
Stick post-it notes all around your house
Leave little notes for them around the house. This will create a bit of mystery and build their curiosity. For example put notes saying “mirror”, “toothpaste”, “soap”, “shampoo” and “toilet paper” in the bathroom. Write similar notes saying their “<their name>” “goodnight”, “I love you”, “desk”, “chair” in the bedroom. Do the same also in the kitchen, corridor and living room, you get the picture.
You can also hang up larger print materials like posters, wallpapers, maps, and banners on the walls. Don’t make it too obvious. Having these words constantly surrounding them builds curiosity that is a great motivator and gives them a purpose for learning.
Teach your child to notice signs, words, and logos around them when going outside. Ask them if they can recognize any letters or words they see and help them if they don’t. For example, we have asked our daughter to spell out car license plates when walking through parking lots. She gets very excited about this game and can’t wait to get to another car to read its license plate. The bonus of this game is that they can learn numbers at the same time.
Play word games while driving. Say a word and ask them to find a word that starts with the same character. Then say another word and repeat the process. You can increase the difficulty by asking them to start a word with the last letter of your previous word instead and create an infinite chain of words.
4. Read to your child daily and show that you enjoy it
On contrary to popular belief parents are really the best teachers for their own children no matter their degree, IQ or teaching experience. This is because of the special trust and bond that a child has with their mother and father. It is important to do it regularly.
Reading to your child 15 minutes on a daily basis is the most effective way to help them start reading. As different the phonetics and recite word teaching approaches are, they both agree on this one thing. Reading to your child is the most essential part of your child’s learning process. When done right this activity has enormous benefits.
Better than YouTube
Firstly you are teaching them by example. It is never going to work if you are forcing them to read while you yourself are looking NetFlix and Youtube the whole day. You have a chance to show them that reading is a fun and exciting activity, not a boring chore. Let them feel that reading is a way to find out about exciting stories that will never be available on YouTube. Unlike a YouTube video or cartoon, reading allows your child to utilize their imagination and paint their own pictures and characters in their head.
Your child will be exposed to thousands of words and can hear how each of these words sounds like. Since there is a high level of repetition as well it will eventually make them able to predict what word you are going to say next. Reading for your child on a regular basis will teach them how fluent reading sounds like and they are all about copying you.
How to read to your child the right way?
To get the maximum benefits from reading to your child it’s important to do it right. The worst you can do is read them before bedtime sitting next to the bed showing them only the book cover. This is just wasting the good reading time as they can’t see what you are reading and are already sleepy from a long day.
- Sit up (instead of laying down) and have them sit right there on your lap. This way they can see the book and words as clearly as you do.
- Remove all distractions, to help your child focus. Close the phones, TV and other electronics. Put away their toys and just focus on reading for 15-20 minutes.
- Follow the words you read with your finger so they can create associations between what the words look and sound like.
- Choose books and topics they already know about and can connect with. This will grab their interest and give the story meaning. Such emotional triggers will increase their curiosity towards reading and speed up their learning process.
- Try to be engaging and use storytelling voice instead of just numbly reading the words. This will help them connect with the story. They will see how the letters and words will magically be transformed into another world.
After each reading session, ask them questions about the story. The questions could be trivia-style “What was the story about?”, “What was the name of the girl?”, to check if they paid attention to details. Or questions that require reasoning “Why do you think this happened to princess?”, “What do you think about John the shoemaker?”, “What do you think will happen next?” and so on.
When your child gets better at reading let them read to you in the same setting and help them out when they get stuck with a word. This is a fun bonding process you both will cherish for decades to come.
5. Teach letter sounds instead of names
The most common mistake parents do when teaching their children to read is to teach them the alphabet instead of the letter sounds (phonetics). Other than singling the classic A, B, C song the letter names are quite unpractical. There is very little you can do with them. When learning to read and pronounce the actual words your child needs to know what sound the letters represent instead.
Assuming you have already taught them the traditional alphabet. You can now teach them like this:
It’s smart to introduce vowels (A, E, I, O, U) first as these serve as a foundation for creating many 3 letter words called CVC’s (consonant-vowel-consonant). This will be the easiest way to introduce them to letter blending to form words. This is one of the most difficult parts of learning to read so let them take the time with that.
Words are just letters said quickly
From there on you can just show them that if they say letter sounds grouped together fast enough the sound that comes out of our mouth is very similar to words.
6. Focus on having fun and don’t stress about the progress
It’s much better to have a little bit of fun with reading every day than putting pressure on your child for a week and creating a negative disposition towards it for a lifetime.
Do fun and playful activities with your child like word bingo. Lay 16 words on the table in a square formation (4×4) and call the words out one by one. They have to find the word called and mark it with buttons or game pieces. After achieving certain combinations on the board they win a reward like a sticker, screen-time or their favorite treat.
Understanding the meaning is the key
Don’t bother with grammar and let them learn reading freestyle. Focus on extracting the meaning behind the words and the context of the story rather than making the reading itself perfect. Once they gain the ability to understand what they read they will have the motivation to learn independently. Everything else will come naturally after that as they are exposed to professionally edited sentence structure and other grammatical rules in practice.
Let them get silly with words, teach them to distort, twist and merge different words together just for fun. This will teach them to blend letters and manipulate their tongue. As a game you can ask them to read a word, then say it quickly, slowly, serious and in a funny way. They will have lots of fun and positive memories from these activities, which will light a bigger fire under their enthusiasm.
7. Sing songs & Clap for rhythm, learn about rhymes
Learning reading will become easier for your child if they recognizing the rhythm, rhyme, and structure in the words. Sing songs together and let them notice how there are rhymes and how the words are pronounced when singing.
Create funny rhymes of your own when speaking to your child on a daily basis and let them try to create their own. For example, you could say “I will start cooking, you can come looking”, “When the food is yummy, big will be the tummy”, “Can you be a good daughter and bring your mommy some water”, “If you want to dance, you have to take a chance”. This is fun and helps them to recognize there are similarities between groups of words and encourages them to play with them.
Long words can feel intimidating for your child. Show them how to split these words up into smaller chunks (syllables) like “um-brel-la”, “wa-ter-me-long”, “ba-nan-a” and ask them to do the same. Let them clap hands after each syllable to make this process more playful.