My approach to early literacy is inspired by the way I learned to read – and reinforced by the way my first three children have learned to read. It’s somewhat unconventional, but we have found it to be a very low-stress way for a child to learn to read – one that has worked very well for us!
Here are my top five literacy tips for parents:
- Literacy begins with mathematics. Not a popular idea in the math-fearing United States of America, but true. Children learn to recognize patterns long before they recognize letters – and recognizing patterns is a key part of learning to read. Sixteen-month-old Anna already knows when one of the three small plastic babies that sit in my bag for out-of-home entertainment are missing. She also notices when we change something around the house, and which clothing belongs to which child – even socks and underwear. Math is everywhere, and an awful lot of math is fun! You can promote literacy by giving your child lots of math manipulatives to play with: blocks, pattern blocks, beads, and little counters. You don’t need to give them problems to solve – they will create those for themselves.
- The easiest way to teach letters is to have them present. Emma, Johnny, and Lily have learned their letters simply by having them present – and I remember learning the alphabet as a child because my former elementary school teacher mother had them up on cards in our playroom. I love puzzles that feature the alphabet like this My First Alphabet Puzzle from ALEX Toys (sent to us by ALEX Toys), because the letters cannot be reversed, and children get to practice using logic (fitting the pieces together) while learning the shapes of the letters. And, most importantly, puzzles are fun! It’s okay if a puzzle piece gets used as a goofy eye patch. This teaches kids that letters are something that we play with, and enjoy – so that, later on, they can learn to enjoy playing with words!
- Limit screen time. I’m not anti-television and definitely not anti-technology, but I think it’s great to limit them so that kids can learn to entertain themselves. Children learn by playing! I think well-designed apps are brilliant – but not at the cost of time spent exploring the world at a child’s pace. We left our TV in Massachusetts, and – while we may get another one, eventually – I don’t miss it. The kids do watch movies – usually Kipper, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Little Pim (French and Spanish), or Reading Rainbow – on our computer through our (This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.) Amazon Prime account.
- It’s okay if your child is not an early reader. I spent my early childhood years being unschooled, back before the term even existed! My mother called her philosophy of education “school can wait”. Several of my siblings and I didn’t start school until 2nd or 3rd grade – learning to read only weeks before entering school. We did very little academic learning at home, but never had trouble catching up (and exceeding) grade level once we started school. I decided I wanted to start school when I was seven years old. My mother was dealing with a very difficult pregnancy/birth, and we had just moved. She handed me phonics worksheets and tapes, and my younger brother and I sat and did them together. We both learned to read – he was four; I was seven – and I was one of the best readers in my class when I started school a few weeks later. If you are concerned about learning disabilities, I’m all for looking into that possibility and getting help – but I think it is also important to understand that different children develop different skills at different times. My kids have all learned to read at very young ages, but gross motor skills have presented more of a challenge.
- Read to your child. I think this is the most important part of raising a reader! Some adults read more easily (and more entertainingly) than others, but all parents should read to their kids! Reading wordless picture books also counts as reading – as does flipping through a board book out of order talking about the pictures! Read books to your child that are above their reading level – especially if they are older. Those early readers can be a littler frustrating to be stuck in! I have a friend who learned to read in spite of pretty severe dyslexia because her mother started reading Lord of the Rings to her when she was in fourth grade. She wanted to find out what happened next without having to wait for her mom to read the next chapter, so she found a way to read them herself! Emma had a big reading breakthrough because I was reading the Ramona series out loud – and she decided to find out for herself what would happen next!
What are your best literacy tips for parents? How did your kids learn to read? How did you learn to read – do you remember?