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Teaching children to read: 02/04/13
Literacy is one of the best tools a parent can give to a child. While it's tempting to rush the process, the child's brain needs to ready. While children tend to reach these milestones around certain ages, children don't come with pre-programmed schedules.
What parents can do to help the process, is to recognize what stage their child is at and provide skill appropriate materials. I know — that sounds really clinical and scary. Don't worry — much of this involves playing games with your child and can be done during down times like driving in the car between errands, during meals, or during bath time, for example.
Babies are like foreign exchange students. They've been studying the language but they either can't speak it or they don't speak it well yet. To get your baby ready for reading, talk, sing (or listen to music) and read those baby board books as often as you can. Baby talk helps children learn those tricky vowels but regular talk helps too.
If you don't know any nursery rhymes — your local library will have them — often both in book and on CD. The Dewey number for nursery rhymes is 782.4
If you don't want to sing nursery rhymes — any sort of nonsense song will do. Practice your rhyming skills and make stuff up. When my son was little, I'd sing: Mister, mister, Sean —
Once your little one is up and about and babbling, start singing that old alphabet song. Along with memorizing the order of the letters, start naming things:
Trying to name one thing for each letter of the alphabet helps link those letters and the things they stand for. Q, X and Z will be tricky but you can have fun with them. There are a number of these alphabet books available.
Practice those rhyming words! Here's where Dr. Seuss's easy readers come in handy: Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, and Hop on Pop, for instance.
If you have PBS, you can watch Super Why! with your child. Red's power is rhyming words.
If your child knows the alphabet and can come up with words for different letters of the alphabet, he or she might be ready to try reading. The last major hurdle are the blends. You can use letter blocks, Scrabble tiles or similar to bring together letters that make different sounds together: F+L, S+H, T+H, etc.
Either version of The Electric Company (the 1970s version or the more recent relaunch) are good for learning blends. Frankly, I find the new version has more practical advice for reading but the older skits go more for slap stick and might appeal better to the younger set.
Those first books:
When your child is ready to start reading on his or her own, pick books that are big on pictures and light on text. Reading in those first few attempts is HARD work. Fortunately there are TONS of fun picture books available for the beginning reader. For my daughter, the book that took her over the edge and made her a reader was Banana by Ed Vere.
Last but not least:
Let your child pick out some of the books he or she wants to read. Pay attention to your child's hobbies and pick accordingly. There is no one right book for every single child.