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As a homeschooler, teaching your child to read for the first time, you might feel a little overwhelmed. After all, this is probably the single most important skill you will ever teach your child — the one on which all other skills are based!
I felt overwhelmed when I started out, too. Just breathe slowly and deeply. I’ll break the entire reading machine down into all of its components, explain each nut and bolt, and that when we are done here you will feel both capable and excited.
The first thing you need to know is how to tell when your little one is ready to begin reading. Reading is a little like potty training — nothing but frustration until your child is completely ready.
Reading readiness isn’t just about knowing letter names and their corresponding sounds. Your child must also be ready socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. Social and emotional readiness include knowing how to take turns and cooperate and how to persevere. Physical readiness includes the fine motor skills that are involved in turning pages and writing as well as a certain amount of brain development. And intellectual readiness involves being able to visually discriminate between letter shapes and auditorily discriminate between different letter sounds, many of which are actually quite alike and can be confusing to very young children.
The pressure to teach reading at an early age is often so fierce that schools and parents sometimes try to force kids to read before they are developmentally ready. If you push your child too soon, he could feel frustrated or dumb, which will lead to a dislike of reading and learning in general. We need to follow the lead of our kids. They’ll let us know when they’re ready.
This is not an exclusive list, but in general, these readiness signs should help you know whether it’s time to dive into learning to read or not. If your child shows these signs but is still resisting the actual process of learning to read, then he is not ready. Interest is number one on the list because it is so critical.
1. Your child is interested in books and wants to learn to read. You can cultivate interest in your child in various ways: example (one of the easiest and most pleasurable examples you get to set), gifting books as toys (especially touchy/feely books and fun activity books), strewing reading materials throughout your home and visiting the library often. Reading with your child (encouraging your child to interact with the book and pictures) rather than just to him is one of the very best ways to cultivate interest.
2. Your child can remember and retell simple stories. He will make up stories during pretend play or “read” a familiar book by reciting memorized words. He may even create books of his own by “writing” words on a drawing and telling you what they say.
3. Your child can recognize her own name, and probably even write it. She may not be able to tell you the name or sound of each letter, or how they blend together, though, and that’s okay. Children are naturally drawn to their own names and typically learn to recognize them before they know all of the letters or sounds.
4. Your child can handle a book properly. She should know how to hold books right-side-up, turn pages from left to right, and understand that sentences progress from left to right. She’ll learn all of that just by watching you and as she becomes more familiar with books.
5. Your child likes to play with word sounds. Rhyming is one of the first indicators of reading readiness. You can encourage development of this skill by singing books together. My babies (all 8 of them) favorite book ever was Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton because we could sing and dance the entire book together. We actually had to buy the book several times because my children loved it so well they wore it plumb out.
Don’t expect your child to create lists of rhyming words. Just look for excitement over them and a willingness to sing and dance to words.
Some other great books to sing are Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Five Little Monkeys, You Are My Sunshine, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Baby Beluga, Wheels on the Bus, and Down by the Bay. You can turn practically any rhyming book into a singing book. Your child should also be able to clap syllables and identify the beginning and ending sounds of a word. Clapping and stomping to syllables is a great way to get kids actively involved.
6. Your child understands that text has meaning. He should understand that the purpose of reading is to gain information. Your child will demonstrate understanding by pointing at text and asking you what it says.
7. Your child can recite the alphabet. Singing the alphabet just demonstrates memorization, rather than real comprehension, but is the first step in realizing that names represent letters. Knowing the alphabet song is an important step toward reading readiness.
8. Your child can identify and name most of the letters. This is important because individual letters make up words to be read and written.
9. Your child realizes that each letter corresponds to a sound. This is necessary for decoding, the act of sounding out words. Try to frequently point to letters (in ABC books, on posters, or draw them yourself) while singing the alphabet song so your child will realize that the names represent actual letters.
Leap Frog’s Letter Factory is one of my absolute favorite resources for this very purpose! Your child doesn’t need to know all of the sounds (or even all of the letter names) in order to be ready to begin reading, they just need to realize that there is a correlation between the letters, their names and their sounds.
10. Your child should also demonstrate several physical signs of reading readiness. As the neural pathways between the brain hemishperes develop in children, it becomes easier for them to sound out words and grasp abstract concepts. Skills that cross the midline are particularly critical. The following physical skills demonstrate proper brain development:
- Skip using opposite sides of his body simultaneously (swinging opposing arm with leg, rather than parallel motions)
- Follow your fingertip, held 12″ in front of him, smoothly and symmetrically as you move it in close to the tip of his nose
- Follow your finger symmetrically with both eyes as you move it from right to left and left to right at a distance of about 12″ from his nose
- Without losing his balance, stand on one leg, holding his arms out with his palms facing up, with his eyes open for 10 seconds and then closed for ten seconds
If your child is excited about learning to read and you’ve determined that you’re both ready to proceed, you’ll find the next several steps in my 10-day blog series, Teach Your Child to Read.
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This post is part of 10 Days of Tips for Homeschool Moms. I’ve partnered with 18 other homeschooling bloggers, all sharing their wisdom as part of this 10-day series. Be sure to check them out by clicking on the links below.