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I well remember trembling when, as a young homeschooling mom, I realized that it was up to me to teach my child to read. My imaginative mind started racing down the path of worst case scenarios. As if on cue, a little voice message started playing in my head over and over, “If you mess up, she’ll never be able to read.”
Now, fifteen years later, I shake my head at the memory of that panic-stricken thought and gently chide myself for getting uptight over something that doesn’t have to be all that difficult. Yes, all four of my children have learned to read, and in all four cases (even my youngest with autism and developmental delays) I just had to get them started and they did the rest when they were ready.
Let’s take a few weeks to explore how to get things started—how to teach reading in a way that is natural, interesting, and easy. I think you’ll find that Charlotte Mason’s ideas can make reading lessons a delight!
The Baby/Toddler Stage: Alphabet Fun
The first thing to remember at this stage is to relax. You do not have to force your toddler to sit and look at flashcards every day. Simply introduce the letters and their sounds during play times. Make this stage a time of informal learning through play.
Get your child an A B C picture book and some letter blocks he can hold. Read the book whenever he wants to. Build with the blocks and mention a letter’s name every once in a while as you are playing. “B goes on top of the tower” or “Here’s T; put T away, please.”
As your child shows interest, you can make a game of finding and naming the letters. “Where’s Q?” or “Bring me C, please.” Just be sure to keep it a game, not a chore.
When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play (Home Education, pp. 201, 202).
As you read the A B C book together, you will introduce the idea that letters make certain sounds. That idea will naturally carry over into your play times. You can point out objects in the room that start with the letter in hand. “Oh, you have T! T for t—able, T for t—urtle, and T for t—oes.”
You can even play the I’m-Thinking-Of letter game at lunch time or in a waiting room. “I’m thinking of an animal that starts with the letter D” (and say the sound a couple of times) ” ‘d,’ ‘d’. It has four legs and soft fur. It likes to lick your hand, and it says ‘Woof.’ ” Start with obvious clues to reinforce the correct letter sounds. As your child gets good at it, you can make your clues a little more challenging so he has to depend more on the beginning letter as he guesses.
All of this play is laying the foundation for pre-reading skills. But the key is to relax and let your child take the lead. For some children, this stage might last a few months. For other children, it might last a year or longer. My youngest stayed on this stage until she was nine. That’s okay. In reading—as in every other subject—teach the child, not the curriculum.
Once your child knows his alphabet and the sounds the letters make, you can naturally introduce some word-building activities. We will discuss those next week.
What other fun, informal ways have you used to introduce the alphabet and letter sounds to your child? Leave a comment; let’s share more ideas.