It has taken me a while to write this post. I decided when RJ was one year old that unless someone specifically asked me about RJ’s activities and academics, I would not voluntarily offer that information. Why? Because prior to that I found myself getting caught up in those mommy conversations that we all know so well.
“How’s Baby A doing?”
“Oh, great! She’s in swim lessons, gymnastics, and dance.”
“Really? I was thinking of dance, but we did gymnastics and music for Baby B instead.”
“Oh, Baby A does music too.”
And so the passive mommy competition begins.
Well, recently, several mommies asked me to write more about our homeschooling endeavors and, specifically, how we taught RJ to read. So, please take this series of posts as an answer to several requests and not a passive attempt at starting one of THOSE mommy conversations!
Let me start with our spin on the classic disclaimer:
Classic: “All children progress at different rates…” blah blah blah!
Our spin: While it’s true that all children progress at different rates, the next logical extension is to say, “my baby just happened to progress faster than yours!” I do NOT believe that is the case. At a recent homeschool conference, I had one of those Oprah “Ahhh Haaa” moments when a speaker said that we (parents) give “mental acumen” the credit for things that are simply a result of exposure. I really related to this because I believe that RJ just happened to like letters which, because of his continuous exposure, led to early reading. We do not believe that his ability to read is in any way an indication of his academic potential just like his INability to color in the lines is any indication of his future artistic skills. We believe his reading is a result of his continuous desire to play with letters, sound out words, and ask “what does that say,” and his INability to color is an indication of mommy’s desire to stay away from arts and crafts!
Whew, now that we have that out of the way, let’s begin! No, wait, a few more housekeeping items:
1) One of the most important things that made us successful in teaching RJ to read is actually in the title of this post: WE. You may notice it doesn’t say, “How I taught our 3 year old to read.” It truly is a WE endeavor. ”WE” for us includes my husband and my mother (who lives with us.) WE for you may be different but the WE’s in your life will help with multiple reinforcement opportunities! (more on that in Part 2)
2) This was just OUR experience. There are so many resources that have helped hundreds, thousands, bazillions of children to read so please don’t take this as a prescription but rather a description of what worked for us!
Okay, NOW, let’s get started!
Pre-talking (in sentences) Stage: 0 – 23 months
1) When we were designing RJ’s nursery, I taped the basic ABC poster to his wall at his eye level (something like the one below.) I have no clue whether or not this made a difference but we did it and it’s related to letters and reading so I’m including it here. But, as he started crawling and eventually walking, we did use it to identify letters. I would ask him to point out the A and after months of looking at me crazy, one day he did!
2) On his first Christmas (at 3 months), I succumbed to some mommy competition pressure (prior to my declaration!) and purchased one of those My First Computer toys that looks something like this (photo: AMAZON.com):
You attach it to your keyboard, insert a CD, and the child just pushes any button to see a response. After a few days, he was no longer interested. See, another incentive to ignore mommy competition: it’s better for your wallet! Later, a friend who teaches elementary students told me about Starfall and he loved it.
3) Starfall.com is a free computer resource that begins with letter recognition and progresses through phonics, and all the way to reading nonfiction and even comic books! As an infant, a couple of times a week, we would sit together at the computer and go through 4-5 letters at a time. He still wasn’t talking at this point but I was home alone with an infant so we had to find lots of different activities to fill our time. We have used Starfall on and off for almost 4 years and it has always provided relevant content for his age and reading level. Did I say “I Love it?” I DO!
4) Another “sorta free” resource we used was the Baby Boost section on Comcast’s On Demand. It’s “sorta free” because, of course, you have to pay for cable. But, the videos are no additional charge like other videos On Demand. Every few months they would change the videos and it really felt like we had a curriculum going with Comcast. From Brainy Baby with shapes and colors to the ABC’s, it is an amazing resource for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. I was sad when we switched to Verizon FiOS when Rielle was born as they have no comparable resource. Boooooo FiOS! Again, it wasn’t part of a planned early reading strategy; just a first-time mommy trying to fill up our
boring time at home during those early months.
5) Until I started thinking about this post, I always told people that purchasing LeapFrog’s Letter Factory was our first step in the reading process. So, it clearly wasn’t the first step but probably the first time we deliberately focused on the reading process. LeapFrog’s Letter Factory is a DVD (we paid $9.99 at Walmart; probably cheaper now!) that shows Tad learning his phonics through karate kicks, popping popcorn and getting some “zzzzzzz’s.” The song sticks in your head like glue and I found myself singing it to him during our walks around the park, while he swung in swings on the playground, and during bathtime.
“The A says “Ahhhhh,” The A says “Ahhhhh,” every letter makes a sound, The A says “Ahhhhh!”
“The B says, “Buhhhh” The B says, “Buhhhh”…You get it!
He would watch this video over and over again. While we ate breakfast, during lunch, and again at dinner. Mommy considered “losing” the DVD but it was educational so I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But, boy did I want to! After a while, we would be at the swings and I could sing, “The A says…” and he would say “Ahhhh!” Bingo! Success!
RJ loved (and still loves) the computer and television so these things worked for him. Some children (boys and girls alike) don’t enjoy sitting in front of DVDs and/or computers. So, other resources may be more in line with their interests.
6) Read, read, read! We did LOTS of reading each day. I read to him in the morning when he woke up, before I put him down for naps (2-3/day,) and in the evening before bed. He loved books and it always kept his attention so mommy used it for appointments, long phone calls, etc. One of the first books I purchased for him was “First 100 Words” by Bright Baby. He read it so much I had to buy a new one when Rielle was born. He also loved his Baby Bible for Boys and Brown Bear, Brown Bear (a classic!)
7) I can’t overemphasize the importance the role our local library played in RJ’s early literacy. It started as a way to meet other mommies with children RJ’s age. It soon became a staple in our weekly activities. He attended the local library storytime on a weekly basis for years until he turned 3. We no longer attend storytime weekly, but we still visit the library and check out books on a regular basis. He got his first library card at 1-year-old and currently has 22 books outstanding from Batman comics, to a book on Japan for his next public speaking presentation.
“Your Baby Can Read” and Me
In closing out Part One, I have to mention my internal debate over the “Your Baby Can Read” program. Throughout this “pre-talking” phase, I went back and forth about purchasing “Your Baby Can Read.” I just knew that MY baby could do that too! But, I needed to check my motivations. Was I interested because I wanted him to “read” for educational purposes? Was I interested because so many other mommies were talking about purchasing it? Or, was I interested just so I could say “My Baby Can Read” when asked about the latest with RJ at one year old? It was probably a little of all of the above and that was a problem (for me.) I was totally convicted. As a result, I didn’t purchase it because I knew that it was not coming from a sincere heart.
I later learned that there are phonics-based reading programs and those that primarily teach using sight words. I started asking teacher-friends of mine about the difference, their pros and cons, and determined the best way for us was through mastering phonics then introducing sight words. Thank God I did because in Part 2 of this series, I’ll describe how his reliance on the few sight words he did know vs. his phonics, almost caused mommy to give up on homeschooling (before we even got started!)
What types of resources did you use in the pre-talking stage?? I’m always looking for new ideas!