Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Helping Kids Read Well

One of the first posts I ever made on this blog was about helping kids become excellent readers. It's about time to bring up that important topic again.
When my daughter was little I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but couldn't afford not to work, so I ran a home preschool.
I didn't believe in trying to push academic learning on little kids because reading readiness develops at different ages and if children aren't ready to learn to read, instead they learn that reading is impossible. Working with special education kids I saw quite a few who were so sure they would fail because they'd done so in the past that they wouldn't try to read.
On the other hand, some young kids are ready and eager to learn and it's frustrating for them to be in environments that don't allow reading instruction.
I wanted to meet the needs of all the kids so I set up a program to do that.
Every morning at circle time we'd spend about five minutes on a letter and number of the day. We'd count objects according to the day's number. Then I'd tell the kids one sound the letter of the day made and go around the circle saying, "If your name started with... it would be..." or, "If you had ... in the middle of your name it would sound like...." The kids loved hearing the funny changes to their names.
At the end of each day we'd put away the toys and have Independent Learning Time while waiting for parents to arrive. The kids could choose a book, puzzle, coloring page or other quiet table activity. They'd put each one away as they finished with it and choose another, so everything would be neat when the children went home. I'd provide a workbook for each child according to his or her learning level and interests and if one workbook was completed I'd give another. Those who wished could use their own workbooks at Independent Learning Time and many did so, but there was absolutely no pressure to use the workbooks at all. That part of the day worked sort of like the Montessori method.
The rest of the day we'd have lots of free time to play, both inside and out, a special activity such as a messy art project, a visit to the nearby library for Story Time, a cooking or science project, or a Special Event such as a field trip, party, visitor, or (rarely) a movie.
Of course I'd read to the kids during morning and afternoon circle times, letting them choose from the pile of books related to the theme of the week. Some of those would be Big Books designed so teachers could point to the words while reading. Often the kids would keep requesting more stories for 45 minutes or more.
Many of the four year olds and a few of the three year olds spontaneously began reading independently and all those activities probably helped them do so, but I'll tell you about one of the most important things I haven't mentioned next time I blog.

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