Monday, 20 April 2015

How Kiddo learned to read

When we were thinking about education and the possibility of home education, I admit, I had a few wobbles, worrying that I would not be able to teach. I soon realised that my job is not to teach a curriculum, but facilitate and provide opportunities for him to learn what he needs to, in a manner that is appropriate to his ability and interests.  When people ask when Kiddo is going to school and I explain (or more often, he does) that he's not going to school but instead being home-educated, one of the first questions is usually about how he will learn, and almost always "how will you teach him to read?" Well, he already reads. And reads very well.  I did not set out to teach my then 4 year old to read, but rather followed his interest and that meant helping him to read the words in his books.  He asked, I helped. But I didn't teach. I would say he kinda taught himself, once he had the tools, the time, the desire and an interesting topic with which to learn (dinosaurs).
So what tools did we use? In no actual particular order (apart from the first one, that was the motivation behind his initial interest in reading):
  • He loved (and still does) jigsaws and puzzles. My mother-in-law had bought a wooden board with the coloured letters to play with, slotting them into their corresponding places on the board. Very quickly he was identifying the different letters, then started putting the letters together, copying the words underneath the individual letters i.e. behind the letter L was a picture of and the word 'lion'. We used to spend ages copying different words, then trying to spell his own. At times it was more frustrating for him as there was only 1 of each letter, so trying to spell 'mum' or 'dad' proved a little tricky... but he could spell his own name and was extremely proud of this achievement.  In line with progress and his want to make words with duplicate letters, out came the scrabble tiles and so his learning/playing continued.
  • I'm not quite sure how we got to this one (or why), but Youtube have about a million videos all singing the ABC's, some are quite entertaining, others deserve a place in Room 101. There were moments when it was useful to distract him for a few mins and this was it! He liked the 'songs', learned his alphabet and can now also turn on an amazing American accent at will. 
  • Reading with me, his Dad, and his grandparents. My Father-in-law doesn't keep well and getting down on the floor to play is not something he can really do. He can however, tell a winning story. A true Jackanory. As a result, Kiddo has spent many an hour in his 5 years, sat on his Papa's knee either listening to stories or being read them.
  • It's not all about the stories. Kiddo also has a love for reading encylcopedias! Any factual book about animals, marine life, or of course dinosaurs, is fair game reading material.  Bedtime stories run the gamut from Shirley Hughes' Alfie stories, to any of the Julia Donaldson books (The Gruffalo, Tidddler, Tabby McTat and Zog being favourites here), to an atlas, to a comic, to traditional bedtime stories (Goldilocks and the 3 bears, Princess and the Frog and The Boy Who Cried Wolf) to an Animal or Dinosaur encyclopedia.
  • For his 4th birthday, he received 4 books from different friends and family members, all of which were read cover to cover. Repeatedly. Every. Single. Day. I admit, I had dino fatigue, but this enthusiasm to find out more meant he had to be able to read. And read he did. Pouring over dino books, trying to remember the words, asking what certain words were, reading and rereading sentences.  At one point we were at the stage where he could read ridiculously long names of dinosaurs but stumbled over little words like 'sit' or 'from'!
  • He wanted to use the laptop to play the games he saw on cbeebies. Again, he had to be able to read to follow some of the instructions - sometimes he asked, sometimes he either guessed or figured it out.
  • I bought the Letterland books, which follow the phonics path, Annie Apple and Harry Hatman. Initially there was interest, but it quickly waned as the stories weren't exactly leading anywhere, nor captured his imagination.  Had the Letterland characters been based onboard the Octopod and the stories been about Octonauts, it would have been a different matter entirely! Subject matter was really important when learning and maintaining the interest.
  • Seeing words and letters in everyday life : shopping lists, road signs, recipes (as he loves baking and cooking, this one was a no-brainer; providing both reading and mathematical learning) shop names, newspapers, food packaging, mail (including junk mail), posters and flyers all provided opportunities for reading and questions about what 'something' says.
  • When reading anything, and being asked "what are you reading" I always offered to read a bit.
  • When he started noticing words and letters, I tried the practice of following the words with my finger as I read, but more often than not, it got swatted out the way with "I can't see".  Also, when reading stories, and read aloud a word that was either unfamiliar or he couldn't see it on the page, he would and still will ask "where's 'that' word?".
  • Playing games. One of Kiddo's fabvourites is finding rhyming words. Just while I am typing here, he has brought to my attention that "bricks and sticks rhyme!" He LOVES rhyming words.
These cards were bought in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum last year. 50 cards all about different dinos. These have been invaluable, both the expanding a growing dino knowledge and enhancing reading skills

This is not meant to be a definitive guide or a how to learn to read, merely an observation of how my child learned.  A fellow home-educating mum, blogger and friend has written 2 excellent pieces about learning to read :
How to learn to read and How NOT to learn to read that are both helpful, informative, well written and when reading them I found myself sitting nodding in agreement with everything.
Reading; letters and words, are fascinating to Kiddo. He loves reading and will read everything in sight, or at least attempt to. It's his thing. Numbers too, he loves numbers and often pipes up out the blue with "what's 4+2?" or "Is 5+3 the same as 3+5?" and other simple sums.  This is not how I envisioned his learning to go, at all! I had plans of following a more Scandinavian path with no academics until he was around 6 or 7 years of age, instead focusing on play, but Kiddo had other ideas. Unfortunately, not everyone thought that following his lead was the best thing for his education. When he was in his ante-preschool year at nursery last year, his teacher acknowledged that his reading skills were good and that he was starting to" recognise words", ehm, no, he had already been doing this for almost a year by that point. It was clear to me that the nursery would only allow his progress to go so far, so as the children would all be a similar level upon commencing primary school.  I have lost count the number of times people, well meaning I am sure, advised me not to "let him get too far ahead" - why? Surely not encouraging him, or  restricting his love of reading would be far more detrimental to his love of learning in the long term.  And too far ahead of what? His peers? Why does that matter when all children learn different things when they are mature enough to understand them.  I am very confident that Kiddo's drawing skills and writing skills (with his 6ft letters, ok an exaggeration, but they are huge) are not inline with some of his peers; Kiddo's would definitely be deemed immature, but I'm not at all concerned by this. When he is able to, he will write properly and will or will not be able to draw. Having seen the handwriting of many an adult over the years, this is most definitely not a cause for concern at 5 years old. A love for reading and learning (through reading and being able to find out and discover for himself)  now and in the future is, by and far, the most important thing, in my opinion. As I mentioned, this is not a how to, it is also not a route that all home educating families take. It is purely the route that we followed, lead by the one person who wanted to learn to read.