Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Teaching Toddlers to Read - Part II, Mom's Wisdom

I hope you enjoy this guest blog by my mother, Nancy, who taught both my brother and I to read years before we started elementary school. She has been a true inspiration to me, both in her career and as a mother. Would you believe my mother went from being a high school dropout (with a GED) to a bank executive with a MBA in less than 10 years? All while raising 2 young children (with my dad's help, of course)? She's pretty amazing.

Thanks mom for writing this, and of course, for teaching me to read (and love it!).

Here's Mom's wisdom on teaching young children to read:

Sara asked me to do a guest post on teaching small children to read, since I taught both of my children (Sara and her brother Brendan, six years older) to read before they went to school, starting in 1974. I had no formal training in education, having dropped out of high school to get married and give birth to Brendan in my teens; I later earned a BS and MBA in Finance when Sara was in elementary school. I’m providing this background to support the idea that no one needs a degree in education to teach simple skills to their own children.

When I began teaching Brendan to read, I was a 19 year old stay-at-home mother and he was 2 years old. I had bought a small-format paperback book called “How to Teach Your Baby to Read” by Glenn Doman. Brendan had some familiarity with letters from watching Sesame Street. I remember we started out with flash cards using the sight-reading method of whole words. I made the cards myself by carefully printing the words on index cards. We started with words like his name, and others from the Dr. Seuss book “Hop on Pop”. It was a game for him to learn to identify the words on the card, and then in the book. We did this for a short period every day. He seemed to enjoy it. We always read to him daily and always had access to a library, even when stationed overseas in Germany when his father was in the Army, so we had a virtually unlimited source of new reading material for him to learn words.

Later, when Brendan was 4-5 years old, I used simple workbooks for elementary school children to teach him phonics (letter sounds), so he could sound out words on his own, along with making up more flash cards for phonics games. Sight reading alone is not enough to make a proficient reader – they also need phonics. I also taught him simple math at home, basic addition and subtraction. I made sure never to push it on him or go for longer than his attention span. He always seemed to enjoy the challenge of learning. Because it was a one-on-one interaction, it was always at his pace and geared to his attention span. He also remembers dictating stories for me to write for him before he could write himself. He could then keep and read them.

I used the same techniques for Sara when she turned 2 until she went to kindergarten at 5 years old. Brendan went to a German Montessori kindergarten for part of his fifth year, but did not finish and directly entered first grade after we returned to the US without having attended either pre-school or US kindergarten. Sara did not attend pre-school either. Both children entered public school able to read several grades ahead of their peers and did well in elementary school academically.

I have always been a reader myself and was naturally inclined to share this with my children. They seem to remember it favorably as well. It was something fun and interesting to do for all of us. Also, we didn’t have much money when they were young, and this was something I could do with them that didn’t cost very much. Both their father and I read to them frequently, and we always read books to them that were well ahead of their ability to read on their own. That way their language development continued. We started reading them chapter books, one chapter per night at bedtime, before they reached school age. I found the book “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease inspirational on this subject. We also limited their TV watching in the elementary school years so they would read and engage in creative activities at home. Going to the library was almost always a weekly event, and they were allowed to choose their own library books from a young age, along with some I chose for them until they no longer needed me to do so. Again, the library is a free resource; for people who go through as many books as we did, it would have been impossible to buy them all.

As for lasting effects, I really believe that children benefit by coming into the school system with a mastery of basic skills. It gives them self confidence and helps them be received more favorably by their teachers. It can only be good for our children to create a favorable first impression in any stage in life. Most importantly, reading will be a lifelong pleasure and source of knowledge for those who love it.

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