My son is turning 6 in August and just finished kindergarten as one of the youngest in his class. He also had fairly bad far-sightedness that went undiagnosed and corrected until he was 4. As such, he missed out on a lot of fine motor skill development and early reading. He was never really interested in coloring and while he loves being read to (books are a major part of our family life), he has struggled to keep up with his peers.
Now I know that kindergarten is a silly time to be comparing your child to their classmates. Every child develops differently and we're far from having any serious problems. And don't get me started about No Child Left Behind and the fact that our child gets assessment report cards in Kindergarden...
So we want to take the opportunity that this upcoming summer provides to give him access to new kinds of books and activities that may stimulate or encourage him more than a classroom setting would. I'm not trying to pressure him in to practice, but instead provide him with opportunities to make learning and practice fun and see what - if anything - he takes to naturally.
Turning to my friends in the GeekDad community, what suggestions and advice do you have on what we could try. Are there good easy-reader comic books appropriate for a 6 year old? What about games (digital and in-real-life) that make writing more fun?
My wife and I really appreciate your comments. Thanks!
(Image: CC BY-SA Flickr User EraPhernalia Vintage)
For comic books, I recommend checking out some of James Kochalka's kids' comics like Dragon Puncher and Johnny Boo (but note that he's got some adult ones that you'll want to steer away from). Owly is a good one for pre-reading kids because there are only a few sound effects but it's mostly rebuses. Cute, but they won't necessarily help literacy — they'll just get kids hooked on comics, which can then springboard to things with more text.
The Toon Books series is also great: they've got some very simple books like Little Mouse, and then some slightly longer ones that would be akin to short chapter books. Plus you can read them online.
Another thing to do is to engage in activities in which reading plays a part but isn't the main focus: for instance, playing board games that have some amount of text on the boards or cards, like Castle Panic. At the start you'll be reading the cards to your kids, but as you play the game, they'll start getting familiar with the same cards and recognizing what they say. That's a first step to reading (and, of course, a first step to getting them hooked on board games).
As for writing, we found one of these little composition books that has a large blank space for a drawing and then some lines below for writing. My daughter loved to draw and she loved to tell stories — so we got her this journal to let her draw pictures and we'd help her compose stories below. She loves doing that and still continues to add stories to her journal. Granted, this works best for a child who likes to draw and make things up — but even if your kid doesn't want to tell stories, you can just write the name of the drawing underneath, and he might start taking interest in the ability to record a thought and come back to look at it later.
For reading, we used phonics and patience. Phonics gives kids the skills to figure out things for themselves. My son was about the same age when we taught him to read (my daughter, a little younger because she wanted to catch up). We would sit together, and I would help him out when he really needed it, but otherwise, he had the tools to figure it out and I would just encourage him. Within weeks he was able to read at a pretty good pace. However, all kids are different, so don't expect some sort of canned results. Let him read books about things he is interested in. My son really likes Geronimo Stilton, and there are different levels of readers in that series. We didn't use any phonics books, I just remembered enough to wing it, so I can't suggest any.
Writing, we've used various workbooks. If you go this direction, find one that you like. I was surprise at the different ways some books form letters. Some seem to me more awkward than others.
As far as spelling goes, I'm finding it to be a different animal. We are currently using "All About Spelling", which I really like. I just wish we would have started a bit sooner with our son, but I didn't realize how much of a chasm there is between being able to read a word and being able to write it.
I think the thing that ties all of these things together is that we do them together with our son, and that seems to be his favorite part. We have found that we are providing him with the tools for reading and writing and spelling, and he is using them as he sees fit. The previous poster mentioned his daughter likes to tell stories. Our son has illustrated little books with stories and poems and added captions. Projects like that are fun and I think he feels a real sense of accomplishment at the end.
It is never too early to start. It seems like the kids respond well to both eBooks and educational apps. We are liking a new app called WORD Pig that is a beginner Spelling app. It focuses on 3 letter words, using just one vowel "i" and kids can then just change the beginning letter or ending letter to make words or listen to the Pig to actually spell words. Kids earn a sticker for each set of 5 words they get correct and the Pig gives verbal encouragement. (foriPhone)
We also have the iPad version WORD Pig Spell. They are currently Free. Other companion apps for the other vowels are supposed to be coming out soon.
I can't say I've found any magic tools but two items that have worked.
For reading, choose books that connect to things the child is interested in. Our daughter struggles to read and so usually chooses not to but she is currently enamoured with the movie Brave. We got her a reading level appropriate book of the movie and despite the challenge she was willing to struggle through it all in one go because it was a story she was interested in.
For writing, our daughter likes to make shows and movies so we've tried having her storyboard and write/brainstorm point-form scripts. This has had mixed results but has been more effective than other methods. The writing pads that have an area for a picture and then lines below for writing are also good in this regard.
I have a few thoughts on this because I have two girls who both learned to read very young. One girl is 3 and the other is 5. The five year old is a very advanced reader who doesn't just read, she loves to read book after book, and that Is key--many people forget to try to keep that element--actually make reading something fun that kids want to do.
My 3 year old is getting to be a pretty proficient reader. Many people are impressed when she reads second grade level books (I hope this doesn't come across as bragging, because I think most parents can benefit from the advice written here so far.) I have a few more details to add.
There have been several things that have made a huge difference in getting my girls reading. One of them is the Hooked on Phonics program. I know that sounds cheesy (and no I don't work for them!) but it definitely really works. Note that this program involves a commitment from the parent to work pretty hard teaching them, but if you follow the program I think it should work for most kids--probably younger kids than mine could benefit. The other thing is the website starFall.com (nope, I don't work for them either). Starfall is free and their is a 35 dollar a year paid section. You can get pretty far for free though.
A few months ago, I wrote more about teaching kids to read with some more resources and ideas http://www.eroncohen.com/2012/02/how-my-kids-learned-to-read-young.... (moderator feel free to delete this link, but I think its useful). For instance tv shows like Word World are also helpful.
One more thought--kids whose parents would bother to inquire about teaching literacy to their kids are already at an advantage. So many parents don't think they have any responsibility or ability to affect this. They sure do and it would really help improve the world if there were more parents who worked with their children in a serious way on academic subjects before school and once their school career begins.
I'd agree with the starfall recommendation. I've used that volunteering in classes with first graders and found that they stay pretty engaged with it. Never touched the "paid" version.
Lots of good advice in your response, and your blog post. Young kids are learning to read. By the time they're reaching about a 3rd grade reading level, they're reading to learn. Strong reading skills will take your kids a very long way.
My youngest also had vision issues and started wearing glasses about a year ago. He's about to end his kindergarten year. As an active volunteer in his class (and the classes of his older brothers), I'd try to keep the writing practice "off-line."
If he likes to draw, suggest he draw three pictures -- a beginning, middle, and end of a story. Have him write something about each picture as a caption. I always remind the kids that kindergarten spelling is fine. It's not important that the words are perfect, but it is important that the sounds are in place. Some of the kids I've worked with, the ones who I have good reason to believe receive the least support at home, complain that their hands hurt after doing even minimal amounts of coloring and/or writing. This exercise will help with both the mental and physical tasks of writing.
Reading needs to key off of interests. My oldest son (7th grade) has been a voracious reader since he could crawl to the bookshelf and dump all his books off the shelf (while leaving all of ours right alongside them untouched). My middle son seems like he has always been able to read, but not until this year (4th grade) did he find the motivation and interest, and now we have to tell him to put books down. The kindergartner built his reading skills with phonics based series (the "Bob Books" were the first ones he would go pull off the shelf to read to us). Now he looks for the Lego beginning reading books. Before that it was "Star Wars." He also seeks out books with medals on the front (Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel, etc. award winners) when he's in the library because he's learned that they're books that many people think are worth his attention.
Take him to the children's section of the library and have him pull books that look interesting. Sit down with him right there and read a few. Take turns reading -- one page for him, one for you, one for mom, and so on. Talk about the beginning, middle, and end of those books, too. Don't just ask if he liked a book, ask about his favorite part. That will require more critical thinking and analysis. See where he leads you and go from there.
As several other commenters have suggested, exposing children to phonics on a daily basis can really build their confidence, ability and interest to read. I strongly encourage parents to first learn how to teach complete phonics and then find fun ways to deliver the material to your son or daughter.
First, to learn complete phonics, I’d recommend both of the following books:
1) “Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Solution to America...” by Denise Eide
This 200-page book explains the phonograms and spelling rules that explain 98% of English words. It’s great for any parent, but especially for the parents of left-brain thinkers that do well in math or science but struggle with reading. The first book review for this book on Amazon tells a particularly touching story of a 70-year old engineer who cried when he read it because it made him realize he had unnecessarily struggled with English his whole life. All he needed for success with English in his younger days was the information in this book.
The author also has a fantastic lecture on YouTube titled, “Logic of English Presentation.”
2) “The Writing Road to Reading” by Romalda Spalding
This 450-page book introduces readers to The Spalding Method, a phonics-based total language arts program for K-6 graders that includes integrated spelling, reading and writing lessons. It’s in use by some schools and in heavy use with home schooling parents. Its effectiveness is supported by a four-year longitudinal study by the Arizona State University that showed students in the program demonstrated higher and statistically significant learning. Pages 206-219 of the book provide a very useful list of 87 phonograms that make up most sounds in the English language.
Second, to make complete phonics fun, I’d recommend trying one or more of the following:
1) For young children, especially pre-k children, although older children benefit from this program, too, try Wordy Worm Reading. This phonics program simultaneously gives parents tools to better understand and organize the introduction of phonics to their kids and provides a wide range of ways to make phonics a regular part of every day. It really focuses on making phonics fun for the whole family by providing a package that includes tools like:
Ditties on DVD and CD - to teach phonograms through song
Books - to reinforce the ditties and show all phonograms and the sounds they make
Illustrations - to teach parents phonogram gestures (like sign language for sounds)
Clue box ideas - to help encourage the incorporation of real-world objects into the learning process
Word hunt tips - to turn daily life into a detective game where kids search for phonograms anywhere (like on signs while driving or on menus while out to eat)
Activity suggestions - provides tips for how the whole family can do activities that reinforce new phonograms being learned
2) Also for young children, there’s a book that I’m interested in, but have yet to read, called “Teach Your Child to Read in Just 10 Minutes a Day.” It looks like it takes a fun-based approach to teaching. It’s described on Amazon as revealing a phonics program by which preschoolers as young as two begin reading and there are user reviews to support this.
3) For kindergartners and above, a program called The Phonics Road could be good. My daughter is too young to try this, but from what I’ve read, the program includes the use of teaching through song. Consider how kids learn their ABCs through The Alphabet Song. Similarly, all of the phonograms and all of the rules of the English language can be learned through song. For example, there is a YouTube video of a kid singing the program’s “Silent Final E” song here.
Finally, I have many books on my wish list that could also help parents learn how to teach their kids to read. These include:
“Road to the Code: A Phonological Awareness Program for Young Children”
“The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Thir...”
“Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching You...”
“The Principal's Guide to Raising Reading Achievement“
“Handy English Encoder Decoder: All the Spelling and Phonics Rules Y...”
“The ABC's and All Their Tricks: The Complete Reference Book of Phon...”
Also, it's worth mentioning that most mainstream "phonics" content is highly incomplete. If you're using videos or apps that only cover one sound per letter, and that only cover the sounds of single letters, not the 2, 3 and 4 letter phonograms, that is not ideal. Another thing to look out for is programs that teach a lot of sight words. According to thephonicspage.org, of the 220 most commonly taught sight words, 150 are completely phonetic and can be easily learned by sound. For the other 70 words, 68 conform to simple patterns of exceptions and can be taught phonetically. I plan to steer clear of instruction based on incomplete phonics and/or sight words.
As a parent, I love playing a role in developing my daughter’s literacy. Sure, schools can help along the way, but the resources above show there is a lot of guidance available to parents who choose to use time at home to aid the learning process. And, it doesn’t have to be through homework and drilling. It can be through fun activities, family games, songs and talking/reading/learning together.
The buzz words that got our attention were: games (digital and in-real-life), far-sightedness, kindergarten and make writing more fun. After reading this, my wife offers the following suggestion:
Here is a link to her books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and they are also in the Apple store for iBook. Her name is Eva Wolf, her first book is "I See A Cat", and she welcomes the opportunity to help your family (custom books, worksheets, etc.).
She suggests books with a white background and a simple illustration on the page with contrasting colors. Don't go with busy or over illustrated pastel colored images. Hope that this helps.
I'm an elementary school principal and want to commend you and your wife for having such an interest in your son's school success. I wish all parents would show such advocacy for learning, because parents truly are the primary educators for their children.
The Geek Dad community has given you a lot of great resources, but I just want to offer some reassurance. There is a huge range of attitudes and abilities within any kindergarten class, so don't worry too much about how your son might compare to other students in his class. The achievement of students does level out as they get older.
I would just suggest that you keep the focus on the fun of and love for reading. When kids are young, that is best done by reading with a parent. Pick books that he enjoys and read to him every day. (The Captain Underpants books annoy me, but my son loved them and he would read them over and over.) For building his fine motor skills, working with play-doh and scribbling really help develop muscles in the hands and fingers that will be helpful for writing later in his life.
As a Master Reading Teacher I can assure you that "Reading Aloud for Family Unity" is the place to start: http://brainsarefun.com/read-aloud-for-family-unity/. It's simple, it's easy, it's free and it's a great way to get dads involved.
Thanks, Rory Donaldson
Lot's of very good advice here...
Three steps we took/are taking with younger son.
Step 1: Books with big, bright easily identifible pictures and one word text. Like CAT, with picture of a cat. Let them cheat and "read" by identifing the picture. Read nightly. After a month or so, start adding step 2.
Step 2: Begin introducting phonics while continuing with Step 1 nightly. Start to incorporate easy Dr. Suess readers. They have easy words that appear repetatively in a rythmic fashion. It's easy to coax a little one to fill blanks. "The -CAT- in the -HAT-".. etc. Keep repeating Step 1 nightly. After a month or so, start adding step 3.
Step 3: create a list and flash cards of 50-100 sight words. Break the master list into weekly 10 word lists and put them up in a place where he/she would see them daily. Common 2 - 4 letter words that you see and hear everyday. Strive for rote memorization from sight. "He, She, It, Can, When, Boy, Girl, Cat, Dog, etc.."
This seems to be working well with our 5 year old.. Good luck!