Friday, October 31, 2014

Developing a Lifelong Reader

In the past couple of months, Madison has become a reader.

I'd love to say that it has something to do with the fact that we're homeschooling now, and I'm just such a fabulous teacher and facilitator of knowledge (I actually do have a degree in reading education) that she had no choice but to grow by leaps and bounds, but that's not the truth. I'd love to say she's gifted - a prodigy who would leave the other four year olds in the dust, but I don't think that's the whole truth either (although, in my totally biased opinion, she is a very smart four year old). The truth is that she hit that beautiful, magical moment where her interest and her readiness converged and she exploded into devouring the written word and discussing all her favorite stories in great detail - and we were ready for it. For her, that magical moment happened right after her fourth birthday.

I didn't sit down and teach her phonics.

I didn't pull out flashcards with letter sounds and sight words and have her doing workbooks and directed literacy activities.

I don't make every book a lesson and a chore. We don't read the story and then ask her to retell it, or quiz her, or have her identify sight words. Most of the time she does that on her own.

I realize that it's ok to recite books from memory. It's ok to want to re-read books over and over again. It's ok to take clues from the pictures. It's ok to want to be read to, even if it's something you can read by yourself.

Now, to be fair, she had a few things in her favor.

Last May, on Teacher Appreciation Day, they had an amazing deal on the Hooked on Phonics app, and I downloaded it. I think it sat untouched until a few weeks ago, when Madison discovered it and breezed through six units in under an hour - on her own.

We own the preschool prep DVDs and coloring pages and easy readers. I bought them ages ago, when Madison was commuting to school from me, and we needed something for the long, dark car rides in the morning and evening (we also own this car DVD player, which we adore for long trips). Meet the Letters and Meet the Sight Words were huge hits. I wanted to gouge my eyes out and kept asking her if she wouldn't rather watch a nice Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but she wanted to watch those on repeat.

And we read. A lot.

Most - if not all - of our reading is child directed. We have a lot of books in the house. Some are childhood classics - Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Some are children's literature - chapter books - that I read to Madison at night, like Little House on the Prairie, Matilda, and Mary Poppins. Some are, admittedly, what I refer to as the "Bud Light" of children's literature - easy readers where the main character is Barbie as a pediatrician, or a conglomerate of Disney princesses, just lounging in their gowns talking about how much they love their pets. Right now the girls are into Strawberry Shortcake, and we're alternating between the picture books and the easy readers. I always browse through the books at the library sales and consignment shops. I just picked up about twenty Magic Treehouse books for under $5 that I can hold until we're ready for them. When I see a book on sale that I think the girls will read eventually, I pick it up and hold onto it. Books are everywhere.

And we read. Often. Individually and together. Because you don't need to be actively teaching to be a great first teacher for your child.

Recently I got a chance to participate in a webinar with Dr. Laura Bailet, Operational VP of Nemours BrightStart! reading program. This program is meant to help parents encourage and develop early literacy skills, so kids are prepared for the reading instruction they'll get in school. The site not only has reading lists, activity suggestions, and benchmarks to look out for, but it has a reading screener to help parents identify whether or not their child is on track and how to help their kids develop the language skills so critical to early literacy. Madison has whipped through the early milestones, but now I'm keeping an eye on Reagan, to see how she is developing as she moves from toddler to preschooler.

I've had a few friends complaining that their kids - preschool kids - just aren't interested in learning to read, and a lot of times they also bemoan that their kids hate when they pull out the flash cards or the letter tracing and letter sound workbooks. I don't blame them! If reading were all about flashcards and worksheets, I don't know that I'd be really interested either. This site doesn't do that. They give you ideas for great books to read to your kids, and extension activities to do afterward, to keep your kids talking about what they read. That's how you develop a reader. I love that they seem to get that.

And not everyone is as blessed as we are. We have books coming out of our eyeballs, but there are plenty of kids who just don't have the access. And although they might have a library, their parents don't know where to start. BrightStart! is helping to change that, so that every kid is getting a great start.

Because the way to develop a lifelong reader is to read early, read often, and read because reading opens doors and worlds and imaginations.

Thank you to BrightStart! for sponsoring this post with a fabulous bag of books and an Amazon gift card...which we already used to buy books. All opinions are 100% my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links - if you click and buy, I get a few pennies. Which I'll also use to buy more books.

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