I used to think that every child had to read by 5 or 6 years old. I used to fear being “behind,” and I often pushed through curriculum to stay on track.
Despite my pushing and stress, however, one of my children still had a harder time with reading due to eye convergence insufficiency and neurological disorders.
The other decided she would read by 3 years old and now reads books well above her “grade level.”
Had I based my parenting or teaching on either one of them at that time, I may have felt like a failure, or I may have been filled with pride. Neither would have been beneficial to our children or homeschool.
Through the years, I have come to learn how very different each child is, and how much more important it is for me, as a parent to encourage, support, and uplift rather than label, stress, and box.
Teaching the Whole Child
I have learned how much more important it is for little ones to play and spend time outdoors, to explore and imagine, rather than solely focus on academics. There is so much more to a child’s cognitive, emotional, and social development than learning their ABC’s by 3.
I have also learned that education is not limited to age or manmade timeframes. It is a lifelong endeavor.
If you have a little one, who is taking a bit more time to learn to read, then I want to encourage you to enjoy those precious years without worry and fear. Allow plenty of time for imaginative play and outdoor adventures. Enjoy beautiful art, bake cookies, solve puzzles, and color and paint and build.
Enjoying the Art of Language
Read aloud to your child, and discuss beautiful books together. Read poetry, sing nursery rhymes and the alphabet song, and engage in finger plays and pretend play. Talk about the clouds and the rain and the little caterpillars on the leaves. Have meaningful conversations about all of the “why’s” and the “how’s.” Share Bible stories and pray.
The skill of reading is built upon a strong understanding of language. Embrace those opportunities to engage and enjoy language together.
Then, when your child is ready and begins to show an interest in reading, introduce the letters that make up the written word.
Teaching the Alphabetic Principle
Sing the alphabet song once again, this time pointing to each letter. Put together alphabet puzzles, and practice drawing letters on the sidewalk or chalkboard with chalk. Use a salt tray for a bit of extra fun, or build letters with clay.
Watch learning videos together, such as those by LeapFrog's The Letter Factory, and go on scavenger hunts as you search for letters in books or in a pile of magnetic letters. Play with the letters, call out their names, and introduce their sounds. Watch the short video below for specific tips on teaching letter sounds.
Keep track of your child's progress in a notebook or in your Preschool/Kinder Bucket Planner. Circle the letters as they learn to identify them, and then take note when they learn their most common sounds. (Watch my free Masterclass: Planning Your Homeschool Preschool and Kindergarten in Member Freebies for more information on how to do this.)
Early reading requires a strong understanding in each of the following skills:
Identifying capital letters.
Identifying lowercase letters.
Matching capital and lowercase letters.
Learning the most common phonograms or sounds for each letter.
Make sure to provide the necessary support for future success.
Teaching Phonics and Decoding
After your child learns the basic graphemes (letters) and phonemes (sounds), then the next big step is to learn how to blend those sounds together to read words. Begin with short consonant-vowel-consonant words, such as CAT, MAT, BAT. Teach different word families, such as those that rhyme with JET, DOT, HUT, etc.
As your child gets better at this, introduce the different letter combinations, such as consonant blends (bl, fl, tr), digraphs (ch, th, sh), vowel teams (-ai-, -ay, ea), diphthongs (oi, ou, -oy), etc. to read and write new words.
Then write words on cards and tape them throughout the house: door, window, toys, books, etc. Read nursery rhymes, and point out each word, pointing out the letter combinations and phonics rules. Try copying the words on index cards and then practice putting them in order. Enjoy reading beginning readers together to apply learning, and as before, keep reading aloud and enjoying language together each day.
Your child’s brain will begin making connections between it all when he or she is developmentally ready. And when they do, they’ll be able to begin decoding and recognizing larger words in print. It’s amazing how much more easily reading happens when you wait for your child rather than imposing arbitrary standards established by a system that often leaves many children behind.
In homeschooling, there is no “behind.” There is only moving forward.
Supporting Your Child
If your younger child is not making progress early on, I want to encourage you to take a step back, put away the letters, and try again a bit later. If your child is older and still struggling with letter recognition, consider checking for eye issues. Does your child need glasses? Could your child have eye convergence insufficiency or dyslexia?
If you rule out physical challenges, consider trying a different approach. Look for a curriculum that uses a multi-sensory approach, provides adequate repetition and review, and teaches phonics in an effective and systematic way.
Nurturing Connections in Reading is the curriculum I just released that targets each of these areas in an easy "open-and-go" curriculum. Download the Teacher Manual, along with FREE samples in Member Freebies!
Other great options are as follows:
All About Reading: Pre-reading This curriculum teaches all of the capital letters, followed by the lowercase letters. Children read a short poem for