What's the best way to teach my daughter to read?
May 16, 2009 1:06 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to teach my daughter to read?

I didn't find anything in the MeFi archives; I apologize in advance if I missed some obvious discussions.

My 2-and-a-half-year-old loves books, knows her letters and their sounds, and has expressed distinct interest in learning to read her books herself. I've found dozens of methods (both free and commercial) online for teaching kids to read, even at this young(er) age, but I thought maybe some folks here had good recommendations (or warnings!).

Help Anya learn to read. She's pretty cute!
posted by lexfri to Education (35 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Read to her frequently, and encourage her to start reading along with you? That's the old-fashioned method that my parents and sister did with me, and I was reading by age 3 or so.
posted by scody at 1:14 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think skipping 'method' and just reading her books that you love and can transmit that love to her, I mean a love of particular stories, is the best way to teach her to read. But that's me, and I was an English major so clearly: not very goal-oriented.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:16 PM on May 16, 2009

read to her every day, read to yourself, engage her about signs with words on them that she can see. she will learn that reading is important and pleasurable: just like walking or talking she won't rest until she has figured it out.
posted by geos at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2009

That's the old-fashioned method that my parents and sister did with me, and I was reading by age 3 or so.

Me, too--and it's not like it was Dickens. My mom had a stack of Good Housekeeping magazines and would read them to me. I think my love of reading was formed by 'Can This Marriage be Saved?"

I have no idea how to parse that into a greater narrative of my life or reading skills. But I do think that frankly, she was probably pretty into it, was key to my thinking, oh, cool, awesome! Reading!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Different things work for different people.

Try the book "Teach Your Baby To Read" by Glenn Doman. Regardless of whether you use his method or not, you'll learn alot about how kids this age learn and process language.
posted by winston at 1:23 PM on May 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

The best things you can do are read to her often, and show her how much you enjoy reading.

not a reading instructor, but one of my parents has a PhD in reading instruction.
posted by zippy at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all this thus far. Anya's love of books is massive, though her current solo "reading" consists of looking at her favorite books and telling herself the stories (or variants thereof) from memory.

Thus far, the key advice here seems to be to keep doing what we're doing -- namely, reading to and with her. Is it important to run my finger along the words so she can see what I'm reading when? Or is this a process that happens largely on its own if I keep reading to her?
posted by lexfri at 1:53 PM on May 16, 2009

Yeah, I got read with and to and I was reading by three. Read with her in your lap, and encourage her to follow your finger as you move it across the page as you read. Make little games out of sounding out words. And let her "write" in her books. I've got an old copy of Ferdinand the Bull that's got "letters" and "words" I scrawled on some of the pages.
posted by rtha at 1:57 PM on May 16, 2009

Hit a bookstore and look for books that are focused on sight words, aka Dolch Words. Then read to your kid frequently and more importantly, at regular, predictable time (e.g. every night before bed). Trace each word with your finger, and start holding her finger over the words. Voila, you will create a reader out of thin air.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:57 PM on May 16, 2009

On non-preview: I think the finger-across-the-page thing will help her associate those symbols on the page with the sounds coming out of your mouth. The sound-it-out (c-a-t, cat!) with small words can help with that too (in my own experience).
posted by rtha at 1:59 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

just to amplify what i said before: both of my kids are homeschooled. doing little more than just reading to them incessantly my older one started reading on his own between 5 and 6 (and now does little else) and the younger one seems to be on the same track.

of course, results may differ.
posted by geos at 2:04 PM on May 16, 2009

I mostly taught myself how to read around 3 (apparently it was the dictionary?) but from what my mother tells me, she concurs with the other posts - read to her as often as possible, and the finger-across-the-page technique certainly works!
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 2:20 PM on May 16, 2009

This is all good advice, but remember that your kid might learn to read in fits and starts. I loved being read to, but completely ignored some learn-to-read activity books my mom got for me when I was 3 or 4. A few months later I picked them back up by myself and was reading pretty soon after. Your daughter sounds very ready to read, but if she's anything like me overt attempts to teach her will meet with stubbornness and refusal.
posted by MadamM at 2:27 PM on May 16, 2009

Best answer: I agree that the most important thing is to read to her, and to show your love of reading. Finger-across-the-page is good, too. Beyond that, make the reading experience interactive. Let your daughter fill in the blanks. (You: "I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them ..." Anya: "Sam I am!"). Do it while pointing to the words in question - this will let her associate her memory (from having memorized her favorite books) with the markings on the page. From there, graduate to you reading a line and her reading a line, encouraging her to try pointing to the words she's reading, just like you are doing.

At the same time, keep playing lots of language games. "What starts with a B?", "What sound does a T make?" and so on. Rhyming games, too. Sounds from your post like you're already doing this. Also make sure it's a game and not drill. If it ever seems fraught, it'll lose it's magic.

Those two skills, word recognition and letter-sound correspondence, will eventually meet halfway and the spark will be lit.

And tell stories, lots and lots of stories. Encourage her to tell stories, too. Explain things to her, and ask her to explain things to you. This won't help right away with the "cracking the code" parts of reading, but the more experience she has with words and how stories fit together, and the more experience she has with explanations, the easier time she'll have in the future with the two brands of reading comprehension: narrative (story) comprehension and expository (explanation) comprehension.

Above all else, patience. Patience and love without worry. Her interest can wax and wane, and if it becomes "have to" rather than "fun" she'll think of it as a chore rather than an exciting new frontier. Different kids learn these skills at wildly different rates. A certain number of kids - including very bright kids who love reading - cannot get it (or get all of it) through the games and shared reading, and must be directly taught the skills via phonics instruction. But the time to worry about this is 5-6 years old, certainly not 2 and a half. There is no reason at this point to delve into any kind of systematic phonics instruction.

/degrees in Language and Literacy, & Human Development and Psychology
posted by Chanther at 2:45 PM on May 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

Read to her as much as possible. Before kids are able to read, they develop concepts of print: how to turn pages, how to hold a book, moving the eyes from left to right (always point with your finger as you read). Let her explore books, flip the pages (buy board books with big letters), and pretend to read on her own. After she's familiar with the alphabet the sounds of letters, make flash cards with words and corresponding pictures that begin with digraphs (e.g. phone begins with a /f/ sound) and blends (e.g. truck begins with the two consonant sounds /t/ and /r/ blended together). Do those with her for 3-5 minutes a few times a day. Don't make it a boring drill and keep it brief. The rule of thumb is that a child's attention span in minutes roughly corresponds to his/her age in years. Read the same books over and over because she'll begin to recognize high frequency words, but always incorporate new books, too. Turn on the closed captions when she watches television. I once read that many Finnish children learn to read from watching closed captioned television. Finally, let her see you reading. She'll mimic the behaviors you model.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2009

My mom says I was raised on a steady diet of her and my dad reading to me, and Sesame Street, and one day before I was three it became clear that I had figured out how to read. Sesame Street was apparently a nontrivial part of the effort.
posted by crinklebat at 2:56 PM on May 16, 2009

Some kids learn to read fluently at 2. Some learn at 5. Some learn at 8. By the time they're 10, you'd never know who was whom. Read to her, buy her books she'll like, and be patient. If you push too hard, you may end up with a child who learned to read at 3, but refuses to read at 13 because she hates it. Let her go at her own speed, and she'll continue to love learning new stories, which will set her up to be a reader for life.
posted by decathecting at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Use unexpected opportunities to practice little reading and writing games.

If the bathroom mirror condenses, ask her what word she wants to see and write it for her with your finger.
Plate her food in the shapes of little words (baby carrots, cheerios, ketchup, etc).
Get magnet-letter fridge-magnets and spell words for her to make while you cook & she plays in the kitchen.
When applying lotion or sunscreen, squish it out into letter-shapes on your/her palms and apply that letter to the right body part (A for Arm, K for knee, etc).
Make printed labels on index cards, each one a different word in a different colour (table, plant, dog, daddy, couch, etc), that she runs around the house and places on the right object and give her points when she gets them right. At first you'll have to read them for her, soon she'll memorize them by colour, and eventually she'll be able to read which is which.

It's great if some of these words are long words, too- I remember being bored by easy, 3-letter words, and being very pleased when I learned to read long words, like "Moondancer", the name of my My Little Pony doll.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:18 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are many children's books that are just for learning to read. I'm not a children's librarian, but off the top of my head I can think of: My x Soundbox (where x = a letter of the alphabet), the Rookie Readers books.
Your library probably has a section of Easy Readers in the children's room. They're short books with short, easy to sound out words and simple sentences, but they're smaller than picture books, which are designed more for adults reading to kids.
I can't say whether or not it's appropriate for a kid as young as yours, but a lot of parents love the Hooked on Phonics sets at my library. They're full of reading games, flash cards, and easy-to-read books.
posted by willpie at 3:37 PM on May 16, 2009

Currently my aunt is teaching my little cousin to read by stopping every once in a while, and pointing to a word like "the" or "cat", and encouraging him to sound it out.

Sometimes this results in a frustrated wail of I DOOON'T KNOOOOOWWWW OKAAAAY, but just remind your daughter that she's already seen this one before, and she'll get the hang of it eventually.

Also point to words on the sides of trucks and store awnings and help her sound them out. One of my earliest memories is of going grocery shopping with my grandmother and announcing a different variation of "Veggie table! Vejeddible! Veg-eetableh!" every time I saw the word 'vegetable' because I couldn't decide which pronunciation was most aurally pleasing. You'd be surprised how much amusement words like 'vegetable' and 'delivery' and such can provide to a young child :)
posted by lolichka at 3:56 PM on May 16, 2009

If she's very visual and into words and reading, she probably learn to read by recognising whole words. It's probably useful to teach her phonics i.e. the sounds of letters and dipthongs to help with spelling later on. Magnets, eyespy, pointing out letters and making the sounds, and then teaching her how to blend and sound out words. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons gets a lot of recommendations, if you want a structured way.
posted by kjs4 at 5:13 PM on May 16, 2009

OK, so I total missed the "knows her letters and sounds" part, so I guess you're up to the "teaching her to blend and sound out words" part. The above book may still help, but I think my mum did it by making a book with me. We collected pictures out of a magazine and glued them into a blank exercise books, and my mum wrote the word underneath.
posted by kjs4 at 5:17 PM on May 16, 2009

Seconding earlier recommendation of 100 easy lessons. It worked well for our first, and is working well for the second.

I get the impression that there are a lot of ways to successfully teach reading, though.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 5:31 PM on May 16, 2009

Dick and Jane-type books aren't very popular these days because they're "boring", but the first book I read all by myself was my mother's ancient edition of Tags and Twinkle, which she also learned to read from. These books have a really straight simplicity and repetition that's really useful for beginning readers, I think, and they're worth a shot.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:35 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm one of six kids, and I echo the 'read to her'. But I also remember that by the time the littlest two were being read to, it was farmed out to us older kids. And at one stage I got frustrated with my little sister when I realised that she had memorised her favourite books, and was 'reading' them back to us from memory (let's say I was 10 and she was 4: we could tell because sometimes she'd forget to turn a page). My mother told me that was an important part of her learning to read and I should encourage her.
posted by jacalata at 6:15 PM on May 16, 2009

Hop on Pop is a great book for this. Read the word "hop" and emphasize the H sound. Cover up the H of "hop" and the P of "pop" and show her that the words have the same ending. Read the words through a few times, and then see if she can tell which word is "hop" and which word is "pop." Basically every page has pairs of words like this, and it's a silly book, so it's easy to do lots of goofy and amusing playacting which always cracks kids up.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:20 PM on May 16, 2009

Sesame Street was apparently a nontrivial part of the effort.

This cracks me up, because you want to know how my older sister and I each learned to read by age 3? Our mom bought this plastic record player that came with books and records that had audio recordings of the books on them. It beeped when you were supposed to turn the page. She then taught us how to use the thing. Aaaaand that's how we learned to read! She was, like, vacuuming or having a cup of tea or something.

Ah, the good old days.
posted by palliser at 8:36 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

After teaching her the alphabet and the sounds, start teaching her simple rhyming words. Say to her, "you spell cat, c-a-t" "now how do you spell bat", "mat", "sat" -

the next step is getting her to see that changing one letter in a spelling will change the word.
posted by Flood at 5:30 AM on May 17, 2009

When I was two-ish, my dad made me flashcards. He read somewhere that it was important for them to be big, so he used the cardboard inserts that were in his shirts that came back from the cleaners. I remember him holding up the cards and saying "M-O-M spells" and I'd shout "MOM!"...and we'd do dad, dog, my name, dog's name, etc.
posted by radioamy at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2009

Random House "Beginner Books" (logo: Image of Dr. Suess' Cat in the Hat with the words "I CAN READ IT ALL BY MYSELF" encircling him) are great fun and motivating. First book I remember reading was Suess' "One fish two fish red fish blue fish" which I love to this day (for sentimental reasons among others, obviously). "Go Dog, Go!" is another great early reader title, and a lot of fun. Some of these I have heard a gajillion times but find quite tolerable because with each reading the child gathers more info, does more of the 'reading', and that's always exciting to witness!

You DO want to point to the words as you read so she gets the concept of words spoken issuing from those lines on the page.

I have taught kids from age 4 (in preprimary impaired classrooms)to age 17 (in special ed classrooms) how to read using these books and others with strong text/image correspondence and enjoyable writing. If there is also a rhythm to the writing, such as rhyme, all the better. She will gain phonemic awareness (you want to know what this is) and begin to be able to finish the rhyme - 'read' - the word as you point to it. Don't push! She might love books but not start reading early. Loving books is the key to being a reader at any age, and as long as you support that, books will always be an enjoyable part of her life.

As one who has helped children of all ages become literate, Dr. Suess is my hero. He revolutionized beginning reading, and beyond. He had fun with words, we all get to share that fun. His imagination delights...he rocks!!!

Have fun!
posted by sparrowdance at 1:42 PM on May 17, 2009

My mom says I was raised on a steady diet of her and my dad reading to me, and Sesame Street, and one day before I was three it became clear that I had figured out how to read. Sesame Street was apparently a nontrivial part of the effort.

I learned to read at three by being taught how to sound things out, and Sesame Street. It's good stuff.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:53 PM on May 17, 2009

Our daughter loves Starfall games, which have taken her from reading words to reading sentences (she's in JK) and from reading very simple words to more complex ones. We learned of it from another thread here a few months ago, and then I found out her school also uses them during computer time.

posted by peagood at 4:46 PM on May 17, 2009

I learned my alphabet and how to put together words from my dad's Apple IIe. Being required to type specific prompts and read text-based instructions in order to play a game did wonders!

I don't know if there's an equivalent anymore, but it was one benefit to computing pre-mouse.
posted by Maarika at 1:45 PM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: I sincerely appreciate all the helpful, thoughtful answers shared here. Thanks so much! I'll keep you posted...
posted by lexfri at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2009

I'm tutoring in a reading program right now. They begin by teaching letter sounds, short vowels, and then consonant clusters - a says "ah" or "Ay", B says "buh," C says "Suh or Kuh", etc. And then ask her how she might put together letters to make simple words like "cat" or "dog," etc. Then they move onto more difficult sounds and clusters like sh or ch or sk.

The program I tutor for uses the Explode the Code book series, and a program called Lexia - the kids especially love Lexia, since as far as they are concerned, they aren't studying, they are playing on the computer.

Of course, this is in addition to reading books together, but this will help your daughter develop the skills to begin to sound out words. And it gives a really strong phonetic basis for reading - as crazy as English spelling is, it's so much easier to read if you have a strong phonetic basis because there is some logic to it, most of the time.
posted by jb at 8:22 PM on May 18, 2009

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