Updated: Apr 8
Now that you’ve been reading with your little one, there will be a day that they will be ready to begin their academic journey toward learning to read, but this is not that day. Parents get a lot of pressure to get their little ones learning, but there really is no rush. Playing, experiences, and reading aloud are far more important during these first, formative years. Some children will want to learn to read from a very early age and some won’t show any interest until many years later. Either way, barring a learning disability, both will learn to read without issue.
For the little ones who are ready, learning the alphabet song is easy and fun to memorize, but it just one step in the whole reading process. Children must be able to connect that each letter represents individual sounds before the song is anything more than just a rhyme. That will happen with a lot of exposure to reading over a period of time.
Some will contend that children should not learn the alphabet, or names of letters prior to learning sounds. Research supports that this makes instruction unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Young children are concrete thinkers. Sounds without a concrete representation are often too abstract for young kids to retain. It is developmentally appropriate to take the time to learn each letter, along with their sounds.
At this age and stage, songs, games, and stories are the most effective vehicle for learning. Beware of products that claim to teach your baby to read fluently. They are ineffective and developmentally inappropriate.
What Does the Research Say?
Quite simply, baby reading programs are ineffective and are based on memorization, not literacy. Literacy requires a level of awareness that is developmentally beyond infants and small children.
Specifically, children are just memorizing words until they have developed a relatively large vocabulary, begin grasping abstract language, are able to connect purpose of print, and meaning to sounds and letters; as well as comprehend what is read. This all must be present for real reading development to occur and often takes many years. When it comes to learning to read, time is on your side. The pressure for kids to read early is real, however it is unnecessary, and potentially damaging.
More on Learning the ABC’s
There are million different ways to learn your ABC’s. Your child’s progress will depend on their developmental readiness to learn and retain them. Therefore, if you feel like it is taking your child a long time to learn, it typically means they just aren’t ready yet. That does not mean you must give up. Continue exposing them to the resources on our list until they are ready. Take your time.
The alphabet is learned best when accompanied with letter sounds. Letters and their sounds give meaning and purpose to print, which in turn, builds context and relevance while reading. Phonics is the connection of the specific sounds to letter and letter combinations. Teaching phonics alone won’t produce readers, but integrating them as part of a literature rich reading environment will.
An easy and effective way to teach phonics is through reading aloud. Together, point out and talk about the different sounds found in stories, on signs, or even the words you are speaking. Incorporating this strategy into your everyday activities can have a profound effect on your child’s progress.
For example, a sentence in a story may read,
“Aly ate apple pie for breakfast.”
You could show your child the page and ask them to point at all the letters that make the “a” sound. Conversely, you may ask them to find all the letter “A’s.”
At meal time, you could talk to your child about what’s on their plate. Ask the child to identify the various foods and casually inquire about the sounds of the words.
You could say, “How’s your rice?”
Wait for your child to answer.
Then ask, “Rice. Rice. R-r-r-r-ice. I wonder what letter makes the sound r-r-r-r?”
Wait to see if your child responds. Whether they do so, or do so incorrectly is not as important as simply explicitly demonstrating the connection of sound to letter. If they do answer incorrectly, give them an opportunity to correct their answer. You could respond with, “are you sure?” or “I don’t think that’s the one…” You can provide hints or even tell them the letter they are looking for. The point is that this activity should always be light, playful, and engaging. Don’t pull teeth for your child to engage. If they don’t want to answer, change the subject, or become belligerent, don’t sweat it. Just move on.
Finally, when riding in the car or in the store, there are numerous sound to letter connection opportunities. While shopping, instead of plying them with an electronic babysitter, why not have them find all the letter “t’s” they can find. Or have them find as many things that start with the sound “ch-”.
Engaging learning opportunities can be found in the most mundane tasks. Sometimes, it takes a little effort to remember to find them and make them a habit. Life is busy and we are often pulled in multiple directions, making such activities inconvenient and easily forgotten.
However, slowing down long enough to incorporate learning strategies into your everyday life is one of the most effective and rewarding things you can do as a parents and as a teacher. In the long run, it saves time. All those little games and quizzes here and there begin to really add up. Few things are as fulfilling as experiencing the lightbulb of epiphany go off in your child’s mind. Don’t miss out! Conversely, few things are as mind numbing as drill and kill workbooks, soul crushing as forced instruction, or as destructive as unnecessary power struggles over doing school work. Don’t miss out!
Why Bother When You Have an App for That?
Given that the last section was all about interacting directly and often with your child, I feel it necessary to address what’s on the mind of some at this point: “why do all that work when it’s much easier just to hand Junior the Ipad? After all, they are happy and quiet when they use it, AND they are learning!” I am talking specifically about apps, and touch screen devices (i.e. electronic babysitters).
Apps are cool and we all love them. There are a ton of “learning” apps available for little to no cost, and that makes them appealing and accessible. At the risk of upsetting many readers, I must contend that “learning apps” for small children are largely a waste of time at best, and dangerous at worst. Research shows that too much time spent engaged with a screen can have serious, long term effects on learning and social development. Once again, getting into the screen time debate goes beyond the scope of this guide (stay tuned to www.spritelymind.com for more on this topic!). Moreover, it’s really a lifestyle decision that each family must make for themselves. In most cases, the less screen time a child has, the better; but to each their own.
Ultimately, screens are a major part of our society and families are going to use them regardless of what I or anyone else says. While I strongly oppose the use of screens for young children, I have included some electronic resources to supplement this program. I figure, some will go screen free, but for those who won’t or can’t, some of the best electronic options are in the resource guide and peppered into the program itself.