I do believe that one of the most important things you can do for your child is read with them. After teaching literature for almost twenty years to adolescents, I truly treasured the time I had teaching my son how to read. It was so different than teaching my students how to analyze literature. There isn’t anything like this. To me, it meant everything.
At age four (almost five), we started the reading raceway program I did as a child. It is an old reading program where you race your car through the raceway chart as you learn how to read using a set of 50 or so phonics books! You can do this with any phonics reading program. Don’t get caught up too much in what you use for your phonics- based reading program. As long as it is a phonics based approach, that is all that really matters. Your child is not going to learn to read too well guessing what they are reading based off of the picture. They need to be able to sound out the words. As long as they are sounding out their words, that is where they need to be at this stage. Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t started yet or done much with this yet. It is never too late to start.
Make It Cuddle Time
Your child just wants to spend time with you and cuddle, so use this time as a cuddle time. Whether you are working or at home, they just want to lean against you, drink their milk, and cuddle. This is what made reading time natural and magical for us throughout the years. It was a never a chore; instead, it became a special bonding time I was able to cultivate throughout the years. I really enjoyed nursing my son for almost two years, so when that ended I was sad that it was over. Reading time then started to become cuddle time.
This is not a race. Every child is so different. What works for your friend will not work for you. Use this time to build your relationship with your child. We did one phonics book at a time slowly. We did not rush through the books. I did not move on to a new book until we mastered the phonics book we were working on. Sometimes, we would stay on one book for a month. Don’t feel like you have to rush. Enjoy this time with your child while they want to spend time with you. For our Sing, Spell, Read, and Write reading raceway program we did, each of our books targeted a different sound (th, ch, ea, etc…) with stories focusing on the sound. Each book built upon the next book, so we went in order from book one and then forward. We did go through the entire program and finished it around age six. We never rushed it or put too much pressure on our son with it. This way, reading never became a chore for us.
Make it Part of Your Routine
This ended up becoming a positive learning experience for our son, and he loved it! We made it an every day part of our routine. You may be wondering how. I would get ready for work around 5:30 a.m. (I am never a morning person, but I made this a priority) then at exactly 6:15 we would eat breakfast together as a family and read together at 6:30 before I started work. I know this seems early, but he was a morning person, and he did best at this time. Also, I had to get to work. I didn’t call it reading time. I called it “mommy cuddle time”, and he wanted to do this since he knew mommy was starting work after this.
Read A loud to Your Child
We have the power as parents to build lifelong learners who are curious, imaginative, and love to learn. Listening to a screen read to them is just not the same. They want and need to hear your voice, the way your giggle, the way your voice goes up when you are saying a character’s lines, and the way you pause and think through your reading. There is a reason I did reader’s theater with my students over almost twenty years of teaching; it works. Children enjoy interacting with the text. They enjoy hearing various parts read in different ways. They enjoy acting out the text.
When my son was an infant, toddler, and preschooler, I made it a priority to read to him 3 times per day (early morning before work, late afternoon after work, and before bed). When my son was around five and learning how to read, we would also then do mommy cuddle time again in the evening before bed with an additional reading time. However, this second reading time was me reading to him modeling it for him.
Find Your Favorite Books
There are so many fun books to read with your child. We made it a priority to go to the local library every two weeks. Scholastic is also a really great place to find books. We really appreciated the Berenstain books and Dr. Seuss during these early reading years.
Do a Countdown to Birthday/Christmas With Books
Each Christmas, we do a countdown to Christmas day with one book per night in the month of December. I would go visit Ollies to purchase inexpensive books, but as the years have gone on, I have hand selected books from Barnes and Nobles and Amazon for my son to read. You can also do a countdown to your child’s birthday with one new book per night leading up to their birthday over a week time span. Sometimes, we forget to buy our kids books since they are using their school’s library or their local library. It’s also nice to build your library at home.
Try to Not Use Screens For Reading
In my opinion, screens are not a good idea for early reading. The teenagers I taught did not like reading on a screen either. They would always ask for a book copy of what we were reading. Unfortunately, so much of the reading kids are doing now in public school is on a screen since the public schools are not buying hard copies of books as much anymore. Everything is on a screen. After almost twenty years of teaching, I have found that reading on screens often causes inattention, irritability, boredom, and restlessness in my students. They need and want to interact with the text. While there are wonderful educational apps out there to help with reading, I would limit those to no more than 10 minutes at a time especially in these early years of reading. We did not use reading apps or screens for reading, and we still don’t use them. My son is in the habit of reading before he goes to bed, and I’m very grateful it is not on a screen or it would interfere with the sleeping he needs for this time of growth in his development. Kids will be bombarded with screens everywhere they go. Try to not use screens for reading, so your child will not develop more hyperactivity and restlessness. If your child’s teachers are using screens for reading, ask them for a hard copy of the reading. I always provided hard copies of everything for my students so that they were not forced to read their books and complete their activities all on a screen.