Learning to read is a big milestone. It’s like toilet training: you know your child will get it, but when? It can also be a way parents ‘keep score’. Your child is learning the names of letters. Your neighbor casually mentions that her child the same age reads an hour a day. What happens if your child ends up in first grade with Montessori school kids who read at a 2nd-3rd grade level? Will your child fall behind? Is he dyslexic? Does he need a tutor? Medication? Of course not.
For a small minority of children, reading comes naturally. They start looking at books, get some help with what letters and words say, and gradually they start reading. Most kids need a bit more help and a planned out approach. But which approach? We love to categorize. Phonics, Whole Language, Sight Words – we make reading as complicated as everything else. All kids want to know is what all those words say so they can read their books.
You have a tremendous advantage – you are on an early learning web site. Hopefully, this means your child is young – another huge advantage. As Maria Montessori observed, children experience a natural Sensitive Period for learning to read when they are around 3-5 years old. Notice I said learning to read. Your child taught himself how to understand and speak the language some time ago. Your child is also genetically programmed to learn to read. It is so much easier to teach a child to read if you take advantage of this natural Sensitive period when the child is young. Before you buy sandpaper sounds and sight word workbooks, though, ask yourself two questions:
Does my child see me reading every day? and,
Do I read with my child every day?
You want to be able to answer both questions yes. Your home needs to be a place where reading is practiced, valued, and encouraged. If you don’t read and mostly watch TV, guess what your child is going to do? Your child needs to see you reading newspapers, books, magazines, your Kindle, etc. Read with your child every day. The factor most predictive of success with reading is having been read to as a child.
Read books your child has picked out and really loves. Read them as many times as your child wants to. Let out your inner child when you read. Use different voices for the characters, act amazed and surprised, show enthusiasm and have fun. Make reading time a warm, fun, loving experience. Point out words and encourage your child to read when he wants to. Talk about the story and the characters and get your child’s ideas. Be attentive, open, and engaged. Gradually draw your child’s attention to the print.
Your child at some point will show spontaneous interest in letters and words. Julie Josey, a home teaching parent who uses Montessori At Home! very actively with her kids, shared this about her 4 y/o daughter, K:
“I had all of her pre-school alphabet activities printed out for the year (4 binders that are 3 inches thick), from 1+1+1=1 and Confessions of a Homeschooler…apparently, I was not presenting opportunities fast enough…she had the desire to “teach herself how to write”…she took an alphabet chart to our back office and emerged in about 30 minutes with the entire alphabet copied.”Teach me to do it myself.” Somewhere along the way, that must have happened; she knows how to locate and teach herself in this circumstance!”
K is in her Sensitive period for reading! Now is prime time to give her all the reading activities she can handle & wants to do. Her natural drive to learn just didn’t follow the year-long binder plan – it happened quicker than that. That’s what Montessori is all about – following the child where their interests take them, as fast and as far as they want to go. With little ones, the Montessori way is to present a wide variety of activities that are always easily available and let the child choose what she wants to work with. Trust the Inner Teacher.
So, what activities should K be doing? Montessori At Home! offers parents a Three-Step Reading Sequence. It starts with Phonics, moves right into Sight Words, and from there right into Reading. Each step is straightforward and easy to implement at home. I show parents what to start with, what to cover, and when to move on. The steps move along at a nice pace that keeps a child progressing toward fluent reading, because that is the goal.
Phonics breaks the code and allows a child to experience quick success in decoding written language, building words, and reading her first books. These experiences give your child confidence and a positive attitude toward reading. Phonics has then done its job.
Sight Word games and activities then help children recognize common words on sight, which is how we all read. This leads seamlessly into reading, reading, and more reading.
Reading appropriate books (there is a long list in the book), with help to identify words as needed, moves a child into reading. Nothing builds reading skill like reading. If your child needs some extra work with letter blends and combinations, there are many simple activities. You can analyze blends and sounds and letter combinations all day long, however, and still not be reading. I believe reading is an organic process that is mastered primarily by doing it. The sequence in Montessori At Home! is designed to achieve the goal of helping your child learn to read.
Many ways will work. The important thing is to always follow the child. Watch for signs of that sensitive period for reading starting and then make the most of it!