Learn to Read 2

Kaths account of her son’s reading experience.

Beginning learning to read has been a very, very gradual process so far for my son Mark, who is now 4½. He started Montessori nursery for 3 mornings a week at 3, and he was expected to be able to recognise his name for his peg etc. He was already recognising logos (Tesco, Tweenies etc) and reading his name came easily to him. At about 3½ Mark got quite interested in the idea of being able to read. He’s a perfectionist and thought he should be able to learn how to read immediately! We began with Ladybird’s Puddle Lane stories. They are fun (and easy to pick up secondhand or on eBay) and have a story that an adult reads on one side of the page and an illustration with a short sentence underneath on the opposite page. Being able to read each “Tim” or “Tessa” or “the Magician” as we came to them satisfied Mark’s need to read and he would point out odd words (e.g. “No”) he recognised out and about and ask us to read signs for him. For a while various rooms in the house had yes and no signs on the door which Mark had made, telling us whether we could go in the room or not.

Because his dad was recently diagnosed as dyslexic, we think its important that Mark gets a good grounding in phonics as well as recognising whole words, so he can sound out words and be able to spell the phonetic ones. I’d heard lots of positive comments on “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” both on MuddlePuddle and from another friend, so decided to buy that and give it a try.

For the first few lessons it went quite well, though we didn’t stick with the strict “you must do this every day for 15 minutes” instructions as that would have put him off reading very quickly!! As the number of different sounds built up Mark would get frustrated about the ones he couldn’t remember, and he was also finding blending difficult, so we stopped. I think he needed time to consolidate what he had learned before moving on. He didn’t have the patience/skill to plod on with phonics when he wanted to read straightaway. His nursery used phonics and the same way of sounding letters as we used at home, so that gave him extra practise until he left last summer.

What worked for us next was to change to having a longer story time at bedtime, where I would read a story and then Mark and I would read together, or he would read to me. For his reading we used the Ladybird books again – mostly Puddle Lane and occasionally Peter and Jane and Kate and Sam (the updated versions!) keywords books. The keywords books have no story line, but Mark got a kick out of recognising the words in the first book and then liked some of the silly pictures in the second book. We got into book 3 and it all got a bit too difficult to remember for him. But it helped him learn some of the words and he was chuffed at what he could read. For words he didn’t know, I would sound out the phonetically spelt ones in the slow way that 100 Easy Lessons uses, so he got practise at hearing sounding out.

We also read a lot of rhyming stories and silly poems and basically enjoyed books. A favourite game in the car or waiting for the bus was “I Spy” for several months, and through that Mark practised initial word sounds and blending very informally. All last summer he was obsessed with rhyming and making up silly rhyming songs and recording them on his cassette player – having fun with words. It seemed as though Mark was stuck at the same point for ages, but looking back he was probably firming up all he knew, ready for another jump forward.

We left 100 Easy Lessons for quite a while – maybe 6 months? – and I’d more or less decided that it didn’t suit us. Then early in January we tried out the Headsprout phonics teaching online was mentioned on the Muddle Puddle list, and that sparked Mark off with sounding out again. The program is hopeless for English accents, and if we’d actually used it I think Mark would have been very confused! There was such a twang on the “a” sound that he thought “van” was “ven”. So I said well why don’t we try your sounding out book again (always call it doing sounding out, as there isn’t much straightforward reading in it at the start) and suddenly he was able to blend when he tried. So far he is going ahead fairly well, and its less hard work than previously. I am starting to notice what sounds he can’t say, and he finds that frustrating. He can’t say “th” (like the start of the) so as soon as I know he is trying to say that sound I sound it with him. He also gets in a knot over “l” and so I sound that with him too. With practice he is finding the sounds easier. We’ll see how far we get comfortably this time, but I expect we’ll break again for a while when he reaches a block. At the moment we do half a lesson at a time, reading the words and sounds in one session and practising the short story in the next session – a whole lesson can be too tiring.

As well as practising phonics with 100 Easy Lessons we are also continuing “whole word” reading using the short printable books from ReadingA-Z.com. Mark generally likes the stories and finds them OK to read based on a combination of the keywords he knows, sounding out and working out new words from the context and pictures. Their worksheets to accompany each book are usually fun and use a combination of cutting and sticking, matching pictures with sentences or filling in missing letters. They reinforce some of the phonics he is learning and don’t take long to do.

We also play games such as “Spell It Out” and when the mood takes him do a page of a phonics sticker workbook. I recently spotted some Puddle Lane dominoes in a charity shop so we play that and we have Junior scrabble that we play for short sessions occasionally. Even things like typing emails to friends and family is practising sounds. Just this week I realised Mark recognises the names of his favourite programmes on the Sky channel listings. We don’t do reading every day – just when it naturally fits in with what we are doing or when I have a panic!! If we leave too long between 100 Easy Lesson sessions Mark does seem to find it slightly harder to get back in to though.

I don’t think learning to read is as linear as some experts would have you believe, and sometimes Mark seems to have learned something and then forgets it again later. We’ve found it is very much in fits and starts, and its only looking back over months that the progress is noticeable.