I want to continue summarizing the basics of how we have taught our children to read. This is the second of 2 long posts. In Part One, I described how we teach them the basic 26 letter sounds, using Montessori ideas, when they are 3 years old. Once these sounds are familiar, the child is ready to begin sounding out basic blends – a consonant followed by a vowel.
Montessori language albums can lead you through this process in great depth and detail, with dozens of activities for supplementation. In addition to these ideas, we continue to benefit from the use of the book, Phonics Pathways, by Dolores Hiskes. (This is where I deviate from a strictly Montessori approach, for the sake of comprehensiveness.) There is a game at the beginning of this book called the “Short Vowel Shuffle” we use to review the 5 basic short-vowel sounds which are so essential to memorize.
To start blending, you can use sandpaper letters, or a movable alphabet, or even letters written on paper – but the bottom line is that you spend time with your child, choosing a consonant letter, choosing a vowel, and saying the sounds separately, then joined. You could begin with the two letters about 6 inches apart in front of the child, then 3 inches, then side-by-side. “fffff” – “aaaaa” – “fa”. Over and over.
Once the child begins to “get” this concept – and it’s always amazing when they do – we read together the first few pages of Phonics Pathways, and when this is going well, we play another game in the book called “Star Search.” After blending 2 sounds is familiar to the child, she is ready to begin 3-letter, short-vowel words like “fan.” These are approached the same way as blending two letters, except the first sound will be a blend: “fa” – “nnnn” – “fan”. Over and over. Once the child begins to “get” this concept, guess what we do from Phonics Pathways? Yep, another game – the “Bug Game.” These simple games keep the process FUN and let the child learn with movement and laughter (and encouragement from older siblings!) And that’s it – your child is reading 3-letter words. It’s all easy from here on out, it just takes patience and frequent reading together to keep the progress going.
The first books we introduce at this point are the Bob Books by BL Maslen. These small, short, simple books are great because they enable the emergent reader to complete an entire book – and there’s something immensely satisfying about this to a pre-schooler. I know, and you know, that the most important ingredient to a child’s literacy is being read to. Hopefully as toddlers your children were frequently read to; now that they are beginning to read, you can begin to read together early reader books. It’s perfectly fine if the child is reciting the words from memory instead of actually reading them; the important thing is that his eyes are looking at the words as he says them – and you can help this by pointing to the words on the page. I should also point out that children reading picture books also take time to look at all of the pictures – so be patient, and don’t rush to turn the page until the child is ready. The pictures help the child understand the meaning of new vocabulary.
As I mentioned, this entire process can be supplemented with Montessori activities called the pink, blue, and green language activities. These are all great, but you don’t need them all for one child. You can make flash-cards of common digraphs like “oy” “th” “qu” and “er”. (A complete list is provided in the Montessori Homeschool Curriculum Organizer.) You can also make or buy flash cards of non-phonetic sight words; I like the ones made by Trend. We have always loved the “object box” presentation.
And that’s basically it! Your child is reading! Get ready to start checking out library books by the truck-load.