Gentle Reading Strategies for Early Readers

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I have a five year old who really wants to learn to read.  He has approached me before, but simply hasn’t been ready. His vision wasn’t developed enough to identify symbols (letters) or words.  He struggled to distinguish beginning sounds from ending sounds.  He approached me again recently and something was different.  He was reading sight words . . . and remembering them! While sight words were a go, phonics and blending were still a struggle, and the idea of sitting through long lessons trying to help him absorb concepts he wasn’t ready for simply was not an option in my book. (For more info, check out my post on why I ditched the alphabet.)

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After a day of panic, lots of prayer, and some thought, I finally came up with a plan that has been working beautifully.  It is stress-free, very gentle, and most importantly, my son sets the pace.  We do have to work on it every day so he doesn’t lose the progress he has made, but I’ve been so excited to even see his phonemic awareness soar.  Everyday he amazes me at how much faster he is picking things up.  It is so fun to watch him be so excited about his progress.  I think sometimes he even shocks himself. 🙂

Samuel set his goal all by himself.  He wanted to read my big Dick and Jane book. All of it. Before we started, I wrote a master list of the new words introduced in each story. As we read through to book, I look ahead and write any new words on post-it-notes and hang them on the wall. We play games with these words randomly throughout the day.  I might say to Samuel, “bring me ‘jump'” and he will run to the wall and bring me the word jump.  Then I will have him put it back and read it.  Sometimes as we pass by I will stop and ask him what words we are working on and he will look at the wall and read them to me. It’s all about exposure.  Then, when he comes across the words for the first time as he’s reading, he often gets excited because it’s a word he recognizes. Once he learns a particular word well, we move it off the wall and into his word book.  Then, we can play games with those words later.

Of course, phonics is still a struggle. I don’t want to ignore phonemic awareness completely. Phonics skills are very important when it comes to decoding and reading. To keep it slow and less intimidating, we work on one letter at a time.  I hang the letter by the words we are working on and we practice it just like we do the words.  As we go past the wall I might say, “What sound does that letter make?” and he’ll tell me.  When he has mastered a letter enough to point it out in our reading, I add a new letter on top of the one he just learned.  From time-to-time we will grab a stack of learned letter sounds and review and play games with them.

For a more detailed look at how this process works, check out my video:

And that’s basically it. This is working really well for us. If it becomes too much for Samuel, or not enough, we will adapt our methods as needed. But for now, this is perfect for our needs and we are all having so much fun!

What about you? Have you worked to adapt educational goals and strategies based on your child’s personal development? I would love to hear about it!

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