Learning to read naturally

Here is our story of how TJ (turning seven in May) has been learning how to read.  There are so many different ways to learn how to read and lots of research about those many methods.  Take time to figure out what works for your child and family.  This is what worked for our son and we are so proud of his accomplishments.

When TJ was around 3 or 4 we borrowed the Leap Frog Letter Factory movie from the library.  Something clicked after watching the movie a few times and he learned his alphabet and the sounds.  Oh sure we sang the alphabet song together, did a few work sheets and letter recognition activities but a lot of that felt like review for him.  It did help with his writing as he got a bit older.

Over the next few years we explored different methods of homeschooling and unschooling.  TJ did have some direct instruction, games with sight words and help sounding out words.  He always did his best and enjoyed learning from different people (mommy, daddy, my mom and my sister). To be completely honest though we didn't do any of these things consistently or too in-depth.

Part of our goal/hope for our boys is to allow their natural curiosity to lead them into learning what they need to in their own time.  We didn't want to pressure TJ into reading (he often backed away when he sensed that).  In my research I have learned that children learn best when they are interested and want to be doing a certain activity.  So while I'm sure my boys would pick up some great reading skills if I directed the learning I know that it would stick more if the desire came from within. Also because our boys are still quite young I wanted to give us all some time to explore child-led learning first hand to see how that would actually work for our family.  So we gave TJ time and space this year.

What we discovered was delightful.  My boys both love rhyming and often play with words and sounds during breakfast.  Even my 4 year old MJ is always asking me if certain words rhyme.  We also found that TJ's mind is more clear when he is moving.  One day when he was only about 5 or 6 he was swinging upside down on our rope swing and started sounding out words.  He spelled 'hand', 'sand' and a few others just for fun.  We have taken time to explain some blends to him such as sh, ch, and oo so that he can recognize them better.  Daddy also found a cool toy/game at the thrift store.  It is a spelling game that you twist the dial to spell words.  We gave it to TJ just for fun and he loves it.  He zips through several levels in one sitting.  The repetition is nice for him as he often starts at the beginning each time he plays.

Motivation is really something that we found key in letting TJ come into reading more naturally. This winter TJ has been playing on the Wii more (it's been really cold outside!!).  He wants to be more independent so he has figured out how to set himself up, select and play games and follow the instructions.  I hardly ever have to go in to help anymore.  I know he has figured out what a lot of the words on the screen say.  We also let the boys choose whatever topic they are interested in and support that through the internet, library books and field trips, and videos.  Seeing certain words repeatedly has helped with reading and going into more depth into a subject is increasing their vocabulary.

Fun spelling toy

A few fun things we've done have encouraged his reading, but none were enforced (they were available and just fun to do).  We've done scavenger hunts with words clues using simple words, we have a magnetic poetry kit on the fridge and make up funny sentences, we own a few word/alphabet puzzles and games, we have also watched several other Leap Frog movies that my boys love. I signed the boys up for the website "Teach Your Monster to Read', as I heard it was good.  MJ found manipulating the screen tricky but he enjoyed it. TJ zipped through all the levels quickly but the concepts didn't really stick.  He was annoyed by having to do the reading section again before getting to the games.  We also read constantly as a family using a variety of genres, and we have some sets of beginner reader books out that he can try.  TJ especially enjoys special time reading to daddy in the evenings.

My husband said to me the other day something to the effect that, I'm not sure what you are doing but it's working.  Giving TJ the time and space he needed to develop was jut the right thing for us.  Something has clicked!!  TJ is reading, picking out words, and reading simple stories to us.  As he reads he sometimes sounds out words, or uses the pictures to help him guess he word.  We will wither help him to sound out what he is reading or tell him the words (it depends on his body cues to know how to help him).  I happened to mention that when I was a teacher we used to keep track of the books the kids read and made a reading worm all the way around the room.  TJ was sort of interested so we set a goal.  TJ decided that he wants to read 50 books by the end of April and we'll take him to the books store to choose any book he likes.  He and I made an awesome chart (he has a Mars Rover moving across the stars from Earth to Mars) and spread the news for more encouragement.  On day 1 TJ read 3 beginner reader books!

TJ's reading chart.  His goal is to read 50 books by the end of April.

I am not going to compare TJ to other kids as everyone learns at their own pace.  Down the road in a few years no one will notice if he learned to read at age 5 or 8 or anything.  He is so excited with every new word he sounds out or recognizes.  Just the other night he ran out of his room with excitement to tell me that he knew what the poster on his wall said.  He can see the progress he is making with reading books together right on the family room wall.

Actually it isn't that he came to me and said he wanted to read, it has just become a natural progression.

MJ too is well on his way to becoming a natural reader in his own time.  He sounds out words as we work with big brother.  One night as the boys were settling in bed I noticed MJ talking to himself a lot.  Instead of telling him to be quiet I decided to sneak over and see what he was up to.  My little guy was trying to sound out and read the brand name on the toy he was holding.  After we worked out what it said he settled right down to sleep.  He is fascinated with word sounds and rhyming.  And as reading, writing and learning is just a regular part of our day without setting certain times for each thing I'm confident he'll pick it up too.

So this is how my boys learn to read.  We support them and follow their natural progression.  The same is true for all things like writing, math etc.  We do these things all day and learn from the world around us.

Here is another good article about naturally learning to read.  Do check out the Reading: How children learn link below too.

I'd love to hear about your journey and stories too!!

This post is linked up to
Hip Homeschool Moms