Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Friday, March 07, 2008 Young Reader
Trash and I have been worrying for a while about how we're going to start teaching M. Small to read. Both of us were pretty much able to read by his age, and it really gave us a head start in school and life (more on that in my case in a minute). Of course we want to pass that on. So how do you teach someone to do something? You remember how you learned yourself. But we can't do that because we were too young to remember.
Two stories about our literate preschool years:
One of us (I'm not saying which) had grandparents who didn't believe in the amazing three-year-old reader, until they came for a visit and the tot looked at their car and asked, "Grandpa, do you have a Con-tin-en-tal?"
And the other one became frustrated during a 1973 play date with other three-year-olds and said, "Mom, these friends are dumb. They can't even read. Get me some new friends." Alas, we were living in separate states at the time, or perhaps we would have gotten married even younger.
Neither of us remembers those stories, but they've been told to us so many times by people who do remember them that they must be true.
I know I learned a lot about reading from Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Trash did too. And if those were still on the air in an afternoon block, we'd be all over it. M. Small does get to watch some "educational" videos, but the problem these daysg is that in order to be marketable to an international audience, everything from Dora the Explorer to Curious George goes out of its way to exclude written words of any kind. This is particularly egregious in the case of the Blue's Clues episode where Blue and Steve put together a "newspaper" that tells all its stories in pictures, resulting in a travesty of print journalism that makes USA Today look like the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal.
Fortunately, he lately seems to be most drawn to those few videos that do seek to teach reading. Around Thanksgiving, for example, he became addicted to the "Grammar Rock" video Trash and I bought for ourselves back in the early 90s. He just about wore out his "Richard Scarry's Best A to Z Video Ever" (a title that makes me fear one day encountering Richard Scarry's other A to Z videos). More recently he's always asking to watch his Leapfrog DVDs about learning to read, and he never takes a bath without his floating letters. So he knows the alphabet, and the sounds all the letters make, and everything. And we read to him all the time. But so far the only words he can read for himself are "cat," "no," his name, and "USA." How is he ever going to catch up?
But enough about him; let's talk about me. I remember when I got to kindergarten, the teacher didn't know what to do with me when it came time to teach the other kids to read, so I got to crawl into this cardboard box in the corner of the room and devour books on my own. It was a pretty sweet gig, too, especially on the days she forgot about me until the end of the day. But then I showed my mom the box when she came for parent/teacher conferences, and the jig was up.
But I still think it was a valuable learning experience preparing me for real life. I mean, now I spend most of my day sitting in a box reading stuff. Yes, they like me to call the box a "cubicle" and I'm reading bidding and marketing materials instead of Beverly Cleary, but I clearly have the right temperament for it. Formative years and all that. How can I deny that to my child? posted by M. Giant 1:44 PM 41 comments
I learned to read sometime between year 2 and 3, and my parents tell similar stories (I would read product labels out loud at the grocery store as we rolled by them in the cart -- kind of like a much smaller version of the guy in Forget Paris).
My parents parked me in front of the same PBS rock block. The local stations would really be doing parents a mitzvah by reviving that.
I learned to read before kindergarten thanks to the book-and-record sets that were big at the time. When my sister was little, they were book-and-cassette sets. Now I assume you would just sign M. Small up for a podcast.
I'm a blog stalker and I love you guys, but really? You can't seriously be worried about him not knowing how to read yet right?
I promise M. Giant and I are not seriously concerned about this - we're impressed that he taught himself the alphabet (no lie - totally without our help). He even chooses the reading videos, because with the exception of Grammar Rock we would not pick ANY of the other ones, because damn but that's bad writing. And acting. And everything.
I learned to read when I was around three to four, and I do remember that it was something I desperately wanted to be able to do. If a pre-schooler can be driven, I was. And I had to do it without the benefit of Sesame Street, since we are talking about 1967-68. But I remember an endless repetition of "What's that word, Mommy?", and hearing books read aloud to me until I was reciting them along with my mom or dad.
I also was an earlier reader (Sears! - I knew that one VERY early). I was worried that I wouldn't know how to teach my children to read, but it turns out they must have learned exactly how I did. They just picked it up. My 7 year old started reading at 3. He's in kindergarten now (we held him back a year) and is light years ahead of the rest of his class in reading and writing (math too). But his autism puts him a couple years behind socially, so it all works out.
I'm-a have to go annonymous for this, because I'm going to sound like a twerp, but I did not know how to read when I was in kindergarten, I was still at the reciting books stage. However, I can remember desperately wanting to know how to read, and when it was taught to me in first grade along with all the other kids it clicked right away and within a few months I was caught reading Heidi under the covers at 10PM. By the end of the year the terrifying nun I had for a first grade teacher had me read from a big kid book to the fifth and sixth grade teacher in order to show off my mad skillz. So even if he doesn't get it the reading thing for years there's no reason to think he can't excel if he has a natural love of it.
I would have missed the cutoff for kindergarten (my birthday is in January), but my mother kindly had me tested in, so I could start a year early because I could already read, and sent me to private kindergarten. I was still light-years ahead of the other kids as far as reading went, and was also thus a year younger than everyone else in my grade forever.
Like Catherine (the first commenter), I was also reading by age 3 starting by memorizing the books my parents would read me until I could first "read" (recite) along and then apparently I matched the words up with what was on the page. PBS-wise, I was a diehard fan and faithful viewer of Sesame Street and Electric Company, too. (Never was a big fan of Mr. Rogers, though my sister was so we watched him daily.)
I'm afraid I've got to agree with the first anonymous poster above. I love your blog, M. Giant, and while it's wonderful that you and Trash were able to read at 3, it is also, believe it or not, really somewhat abnormal. The fact that M. Small is able to recognize his name, "no," "USA," "cat" and knows the alphabet sounds at 3 is actually quite impressive! I know that you're joking around about wanting him to be able to read, but he'll be fine, ultimately. He sounds bright, and take it from my experience: I was a precocious young kid in every sense of the word (I came home furious on the first day of kindergarten because they didn't teach me how to read THAT VERY DAY) who nevertheless was not literate at 4, and I caught up mighty quick, reading on a college level by the 5th grade. If I could get there from where I was, imagine M. Small's potential! There's actually no set, universally-accepted method for teaching pre-K and kindergarteners to read, so don't feel down on yourselves. The number 1 predictor of success in school - and literacy, obviously - is living in a home where read-alouds are frequent and there is ample access to books and other print media. M. Small is not behind the curve: he's actually slightly ahead.
"Sesame Street Old School" is out on DVD. I know this because I am 38 years old and asked for it for Christmas. (I, too, watched the same 1-2-3 punch of Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and the Electric Company--and then, later, 321 Contact, with its funkalicious theme song--and I read at 3. What is it about us 1970 kids?!?)
P.S. I think I learned to read quickly because (a) my parents read to me lot and (b) I was a quiet, coziness-motivated kid to whom the idea of sitting and looking at books appealed. I'm not sure how much Sesame Street really had to do with it, though it couldn't have hurt.
I have the same problem of not remembering learning to read. One really cool thing we found was starfall.com
I loved reading this because I am in the exact same boat -- learned to read so early that I don't remember /learning/, I only remember /knowing how/ -- and I've been wondering how to teach my son. And? I thought I was excessively weird for wondering so early, so thanks for letting me know that you are also excessively weird.
Y'know, i actually DO have a memory of learning to read. The timing is not precise. It was before i went to kindergarten, but since i have a Nov birthday and wasn't tested in, i was nearly 6 before i started kindergarten anyway so that isn't saying much.
I teach reading and about to go on a technical dork-out.
naginata beat me to it, but I have to echo huge kudos for starfall.com. It is a GREAT site, run by a non-profit, that my 2 year old adores.
"...the teacher didn't know what to do with me when it came time to teach the other kids to read, so I got to crawl into this cardboard box in the corner of the room and devour books on my own."
I'm not sure how old I was, but I do vaguely remember sitting on my dad's lap picking words I recognized out of the Time magazine. I guess I was probably 4? Or thereabouts. And that was in 1967 probably.
I couldn't read when I started kindergarten, but when I found out there were other kids in the class who could read, my mom says I forced myself to read in about 10 days. (That gives you a little insight into my competitive nature.).
Okay, I'm going to sound like a complete underachiever here. I learned to read in kindergarten. But I didn't learn reading comprehension until I was in second grade. I remember vividly the first time I realized that the sentence "the cat is on the mat" meant that a cat was on a mat instead of just six words that I knew how to say strung together. It's was revolutionary to my seven-year old brain. The stories suddenly made sense! The stupid worksheets made sense! I can read!
PBS has some fantastic shows for the preschool age kid. Sesame Street is still on the air, but at odd times. Anything you can do to encourage your child to read is a good thing! If he sees his parents enjoying books, he'll (hopefully) follow in your footsteps!
I really liked reading both this post and the comments, because I enjoy learning that it's not just me.
Re: Heather, upthread:
Man, are there any grandparents in the world who didn't have Continentals?
I learned to read at an early age with no apparent effort made by any of the grown-ups in my life. Therefore, my parents thought that teaching a kid to read was pretty easy. Then my sister, who was a perfectly intelligent kid with no learning disabilities required a lot of work from both my parents. My mom says that if she could redo one part of her parenting, she would like to teach my sister to read again, and try to enjoy it more, rather than being impatient and frustrated. Finally by around Grade 2/3my sister could really read, but it was such a challenge for her that she had a hard time believing that she was smart after that. I know it's irritating when people talk about self-esteem but she really did have a crisis of self-confidence that lasted for many years and she thinks it started when she couldn't learn to read as easily as everyone assumed that she would. She now has her B.Ed and is a high-school teacher so obviously the rough start in reading did not have long-term educational effects. My mom wishes she had worried more about the long-term confidence situation and not put so much pressure on her. Also, because it was a negative experience, it wasn't until she was in university that she started to read books for non-educational purposes and consider reading to actually be something that she could enjoy. Not to be naggy to everyone who reads this blog and has commented but since I have a few kids of my own now, I'm always interested to know what parents of grown-ups wish they had done differently. So, enjoy the process, remember it's not a race and they'll all learn to read eventually. But only the ones who have a good learning experience will actually love it and life without loving to read is a sad state to end up in.
I remember learning to read because I was the nerd who demanded to go to kindergarten at three when my sister started first grade.
You know, kids seem to vary wildly as to when their brains are ready to read. I started reading before I turned 3 (full disclosure: I'm another early '70s baby), as did one of my first cousins. My first memory of learning to read is a cloth alphabet book in my playpen. Other than that, I don't remember ever being "taught" to read. My younger sister, who is arguably smarter than I am and unquestionably has a better memory than I do, learned to read at school when she was about 6. One of my friends has a child, a bright, personable girl, who didn't really read until she was about 9. Now, a few years later, she reads above grade level.
@ anonymous upthread: Kindergarten sure would've gone a lot more smoothly (elementary-high school overall, actually) had G&T stood for gin and tonics... Alas, it stood for gifted and talented program, and before anyone starts thinking that I'm boasting about what a freakin' genius I was by the tender age of 4, well let me reassure you, it wasn't the case. Otherwise, my fellow "geniuses" and I would've known that what the teachers were saying was G *and* T and not G N T.
I learned to read at age 3-ish, and have been a prolific reader ever since. My two children, who are now 10 and 11, didn't really learn to read until about age 6, and are both ravenous about books, especially my 11-year-old son. Don't worry! He's already totally rocking on the reading thing.
Here's what worked for my little reader, who is now 4:
Long time listener, first-time caller checking in here...
I was visiting my brother this weekend and we were talking about just this thing. My brother was reading on a fairly high level by the time he was 3, I learned mostly in school when I was 6. As it turns out, my delay was due to Dyslexia (which I still have problems with...see all spelling related issues and please don't judge).
I started reading at three thanks to the Letter People and my grandmother's Little Golden books. She would point to each word as she read it. Eventually, she asked me read the smaller words, and then the bigger ones a while after. I had to sound out the bigger words for a time, but I got the hang of it before I was 4. I remember feeling like a badass in kindergarten because I was the only kid who could read a whole book.
Have to put in a good word for "Word World" here.
Way late of this thing, I know; but a practical suggestion: Yo? Yes! and Ring? Yo! by Chris Raschka. The words are simple, and he can spell them out. Doing it the hundred billion times, like you will if he likes them, will probably help him realize that hey, when you put those letters together in your mouth, they sound like words. Oh, they ARE words! My four-year-old even learned punctuation from these, although he refers to it as an "escalation point."
"Escalation point"! So utterly awesome. I'm going to start calling them that from now on.
Perhaps think of yourself as less of a teacher and more of a coach. Yes, kids need instruction and correction, but they also need endless guidance, motivation, patience and support. It's no good being the most precise reader in kindergarten if the very sight of a book makes you want to bite your teacher in anger.
Heh. Or you could get him a sibling. I learned to read by reading aloud to my little brother... and consequently taught him to read as well!
I have done some time as an adult literacy tutor and was interested to find that you teach an adult to read the very same way you teach a kid, and you reinforce it with auditory, visual and sensory repetition. I learned to read before I started school, so I had no recollection of the learning process, so it was pretty interesting learning for myself about what the rule is for doubling the trailing consonant before adding -ing, or All About The Schwa. If you want to learn how kids learn to read, get your mitts on a kindergarten or first grade textbook and follow that. A word of caution from my own formative years, though: being ahead of the class is not always good. Sometimes a teacher, having no idea what else to do, and not being able to provide individualized attention, will just have an advanced student work on things they already know, which is of course boring and also demotivating.