We were heading to school on Tuesday morning last week with the usual stuff in tow including book bags, water bottles, kids, books we don’t need, toys which I’ve insisted should stay in the car but are being stuffed into pockets in an attempt to smuggle them into school etc. Abbie asked her older sister to read her a book. She dutifully did so. Abbie then asked her older sister to read it again. Her older sister said no, because reading a book repeatedly is boring and the cuteness of the 3 year old has no affect on the 6 year old.
Then the tears started because, in her own words
“I can’t read it myself, I can’t read the words. I need somebody to do it for me because I can’t do it.”
You would think I’d crack out the party poppers at this news. I’ve been banging on for the last 3 years that if parents make stories fun kids will want to read for themselves. Indeed, I’ve created a Social Enterprise based on that principle. Story Storks has played a huge part in delivering that philosophy and in the case of Abbie it’s not just worked but it’s totally kicked ass.
STORY STORKS WORKS!!!
But no, that’s wasn’t my reaction. My first reaction was “shit, she’s only 3. How the heck am I going to teach a 3 year old to read. I’ll try and talk her out of it!”
ME “Do you mean you want to do storytime?”
ABBIE “No, I want to learn how to read for myself mummy.”
ME “Damn it” Thinking ‘ignore it, it’ll go away’
ME “I’ll read your favourite book”
ABBIE “I want to read the words”
ME “Why? You’re ruining my fantasty that you’re going to remain my baby forever. STOP GROWING UP.”
Talking her out of it hasn’t worked. Time to embrace early years principles and actually listen to the child. She’s ready. I’m not. It’s not really about me though (again!)
I know from my extensive research into early years literacy that there is no right or wrong age for a child becoming ready to read. Although Abbie is coming in on the early side, anywhere between 3 and 6 is perfectly normal.
And not unlike potty training, it’s so much less painful if you don’t force it; kids are ready to read when they’re ready to read. If you start trying to teach a child to potty train too soon they will poo and wee all over your house. If you wait until they are ready they just pop on those princess pants and use the toilet without you even needing to crack out the chocolate bribes. Reading is the same but without the need for dettol and kitchen towels.
My first step was to write a note to the teachers in her pre-school. Abbie then came down with Chicken Pox for a second time (who has it twice!) so the teachers are yet to see that note and won’t until they return from Easter holidays. Not the start I was hoping for but I know from teaching my first baby to read that working with the school is vital for success.
Secondly I remembered the process kids in the UK go through to learn how to read. Behold, my wisdom in the form of a table.
I really want to leave ‘The Mechanics of Reading’ bit to the teachers. They go to university to learn this after all. I’ll be their wing man, but they’re flying the jet.
So this leaves me the ‘Joy of Reading’ side. Hooray!!!!! It’s just as important in my opinion as the other side and schools are oftened criticised for not ‘teaching it’. How the hell do you teach joy? I personally believe that parents should be responsible for creating this bit. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that parents have fun with their kids. I do think there are alot of parents out there who don’t realise that having fun with their kids will have knock on effects academically but that’s another blog post.
Back to Abbie.
I showed her some level 1 reading books. She’s not interested which is fabulous because some of my baby still remains.
Instead I downloaded a couple of Eggy readers apps* for the iPad which we used with Rachel and worked brilliantly. The games are introducing her to sight words. As she learns a new word we write it on a post it note and stick in on her ‘Wall of Words’. Abbie reads her sight words every night and then if she see’s them in her bedtime story book she reads them there too.
If she doesn’t know the word it doesn’t matter – we move on.
If it starts to become stressful for her – we move on.
In her head she’s reading – she’s happy. But more importantly she still loves her stories. It was her love of stories that brought us to this point so quickly in her little life and my job now is to make sure that as she goes through the tricky, frustrating, academic process of learning the mechanics of reading her love of stories doesn’t die. It’s that love of stories which is motivating her. Without that love there is no reason to read.