Monday, February 3, 2014

Learning to Read & Write: An Easy 5 Step Lesson for Preschoolers

     Every time Marley sits down to complete some of her workbook, I write her name and ask her to spell it while I write.  After I write her name, I ask Marley to try to write it too.  She is willing to try about half the time.  The other half she says, "I can't do it." The first time I heard these words, it broke my heart.  I don't think anyone wants their children to feel incapable. We want them to feel like they can achieve the impossible.  We want them to be confident and happy to take on challenges.
     I thought long and hard about how to respond to these words.  My response is "You can do it Marley. But it's okay if you don't want to try it today. We can try again tomorrow."  I don't want her to feel pressured, but I want her to feel empowered to try things that seem difficult.  I occasionally throw in an incentive like a treat if she tries. ;)

     Her attempts at writing her own name increased every week.  She felt more and more comfortable trying. And today she did it all on her own and it actually looked semi-legible! Haha.  I was so excited and almost cried when I told her that she did such a great job writing her name. I reminded her of when she used to say "I can't do it" but she worked hard and did it. She was SO proud of herself.  I also internally reminded myself of those times when I would get frustrated with her refusal to interact during our lessons. Those are the times when I felt sad and hopeless and like a failure homeschooler.  This was a big victory for both of us! YAY!

     During our morning chalkboard activities, I review letters and sounds using a method similar to the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  It has been highly recommended by many moms, so I gave it a try.  I read the book through and liked the concept. But I gave it my own entertaining spin so that the lessons would be more fun. My personal belief is that children learn more when they think it's a game instead of a "lesson".

     1) IDENTIFY: Draw the letter on the chalkboard and ask your child to identify the letter.  If they know but have forgotten, give them a moment to try and remember. If your child still doesn't know, go ahead and tell them. Then immediately re-ask your child to identify the letter. Just getting your preschooler to speak the letter out loud while looking at it will help them file away the information.

     2) SOUND IT OUT: Draw a small button under the letter and tell your child that it is the "quiet sound button". Press the button and whisper the sound of the letter. Then erase the button and draw a much bigger button under the letter and tell your child it is the "LOUD sound button". Press the button and shout out the sound of the letter (maybe fall back as if the big sound scared you). This is usually funny for a child to watch.  [It makes my daughter laugh hysterically! She can't wait until it's her turn to press the buttons] Allow your child to draw the small and big buttons and make the sounds.  As you can see by this big smile, Marley is so excited to make the sounds that it motivates her to remember the correct letter sounds.

     3) REVIEW: After you have learned a few letters, review the letters and sounds. It is especially important to review the letters your child has had difficulty with.
(Advanced phonics involves pairing together multiple letters and learning the sounds, such as "Su" and "per", then putting it together to make "Super."  Above Steps 1 & 2 can be used to do this as well.)

     4) REVERSE ROLES: Children love to be the teacher. Ask your child to be the teacher and write the letter. You may keep an example at the top of the board so they can copy it.  [Marley writes the letter and asks me, "What letter is this mommy?" I pretend to think hard and give her my guess.  She likes this part.]

     5) WRITE THEIR NAME: Make sure your child sees their name written as many times as possible. Repetition is key!  This process works for all words, but it is common to start with learning how to read and write your own name.

     *I like to supplement this lesson with letter tracing worksheets and reading the Bob Books together.

     The key to early childhood academics is to make it optional, fun, and self paced.  There should never be pressure, stress, or sadness.  IMPORTANT NOTE: Formal schooling is NOT necessary in early childhood, but I like to provide the opportunity to progress if ready.  Remember to be patient with your child and follow their learning pace.  Don't get discouraged.  Have faith that the information is sinking in somewhere. Once in a while, we actually see the fruits of our labor. And then all the planning and effort is worth it! :)

UPDATE: 8 months later, Marley (4.5 years old) is now writing her name legibly without help. She is also asking to read the BOB Books to me now!  She has made great progress, and all without any expectations or pressure.  Age or school grade should not determine whether a child is ready to learn certain skills.  Each child is different and when they are given the freedom to learn at their own pace, they will advance with confidence and enjoy learning.