Teaching your child to read

I can clearly remember, when Prince was about 2 years old, watching a 5 year old daughter of a friend reading a book, and feeling suddenly very daunted at the idea of teaching my children to read. It seemed such a huge thing, and so difficult. Even though Prince could already tell you the phonic sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, and their names, reading still seemed such a distant and impossible achievement. Yet now, at 6 years old, Prince can easily read just about any book he cares to pick up.

For those of you who are considering home education and might be feeling the same daunting fear that I once felt, I want to encourage you: the path from then to now was easy – and I am no qualified teacher! Here are some things we have done to get to where we are today.

  1. From early on we introduced letters and their sounds in play. One of my favourite toys was foam alphabet letters for the bath. We found these useful for reinforcing the shape and sound of letters, as well as associating letters with fun – Prince particularly enjoyed using the letters to build up shapes of vehicles and buildings!  The other toy which really helped with learning letter sounds and names was a toy bus we borrowed from a relative. Prince would press the buttons and copy the sounds, all of his own accord, and learnt a lot in this way.
  2. Once Prince knew the basic sounds, I introduced two letter sounds like ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘ee’ etc.  I looked at the Jolly Phonics guidelines for which sounds were best to introduce at what stages. I printed out a chart which I put up for Prince to see everyday, and I also just talked about them as we came across them in our everyday life. For example, if we were reading a book and the word ‘food’ came up, I might say, “Look, Prince – F-OO-D.  See how these two ‘o’s’ make an ‘oo’ sound when you put them together?”
  3. We also began blending sounds to make words from early on. As soon as he knew the sounds for ‘c’,’a’ and ‘t’, for example, I would show him how they can be put together – slowly at first, then faster until he could hear the word ‘cat’. I didn’t do this formally, but simply as opportunities presented themselves through every day life. When you take time to see it, you notice that we are surrounded by words everywhere; walking through the mall can be a phonics lesson! Again, we also had toys which helped teach blending, spelling and reading, such as a Jolly Phonic’s puzzle, and a Melissa & Doug ‘See and Spell’ board.
  4. Enjoying books together.

    When I thought he was ready, I introduced Prince to the first ‘Jolly readers‘ books.  In retrospect I think I did this a bit too early, and I did find that I had to take a break and restart again later on (we first started these when he was four).  I think the ideal time to progress onto the next level is when the child is showing an interest, and this progress should be a natural flow, rather than a segmented step up.

  5. When Prince was five we made our way through the next level of Jolly readers, and began the third level. By this time his reading had improved, but the requirement to read for an hour everyday (this was about how long it took him to get through a level three book) was too much. Although he didn’t put up much of a fuss, I could see that the task was too hard for him, and as such was affecting his enjoyment of books in general. At this point I decided to take a break from any set reading schedule, and just let him do what he wanted with his time for a while.
  6. Since then I have not gone back to any form of ‘teaching’ reading, and it has been during this time that his reading has improved most dramatically! It took a little while – a few months – but I found that he started to enjoy reading so much more once the pressure to learn was taken off of him. And because he enjoyed it, he worked at it. He figured things out, asked questions and persevered until he could read the books he wanted to read. As his ability continues to increase, he stretches himself further and further, and so progresses without me needing to do anything more than simply answer questions like ‘what does that say?’ What could be easier than this?!

Overall, the single most important piece of advice I would give in teaching your child to read, is to enjoy books as a family. Enjoy them together, encourage them to value books of their own, let them see you reading, read out loud, create special reading times. Because out of enjoyment, comes learning.

Prince still has a lot to learn, of course – he is only six! But I am confident that he will pick up what he needs to know as we go through life together, taking opportunities to learn as they present themselves, and enjoying the process of reading for pleasure.

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Defining Moments

When I think back over my childhood, there are certain moments, conversations and events which stand out in my memory. Usually they were nothing special at the time – just a passing comment or a one-off situation – but as I grew older they stayed with me. And now, when I contemplate them, I see that each one has played a part in who I am now.

It occurs to me that the people who said and did those things in my childhood had no idea they were forming such a big part of my character. I’m sure they didn’t know that their words would stay with me for the rest of my life. In all likeliness, they don’t remember the situation themselves now. But I do – clear as day. I can hear the words and recall the feelings from years ago.

If that is the case with me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, then it is also probably going to be the case for my children. And for your children. Every moment we spend with them, every word we speak, might be the one to stay with them forever. We have no idea if it will be the careless cross word we threw out in frustration; the tender hug and kiss after a disciplinary issue has been resolved; the word of spiritual encouragement and inspiration.

How careful we must be. If the memories I want my children to live with are ones of love and joy, then I must intentionally create many opportunities to foster those experiences. Some of the memories that stay with me are positive – I remember one particularly encouraging comment made to me, that I still strive to live up to today. Some, however, are negative. There is one memory that still hurts to recall, as the unfairness is as clear to me now as it was when I was a child.

The defining moments in our children’s lives could come at any time. Are you and I armed and prepared with positive experiences for our children? We are not perfect, and we cannot guarantee that our children won’t have any unhappy memories. But if we can increase the odds. Let us stay aware of the influence each moment can have in the lives of our children, and strive to make as many of them as good as possible.

 

To my Prince

Last week was one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in a long time (hence the lack of blog posts). There were many things going on, but just one I want to share with you – my Prince turned six!

Baby Prince

Every year on his birthday I think back to my early days of motherhood, when Prince first came into the world. I remember how tiny and perfect he looked in my arms when I first held him. He had big dark eyes that looked quietly up at mine, and his skin was unbelievably soft. He had this cute little swirl on each ear lobe, and if you look closely you can see they are still there today 🙂

When we found out we were having a baby boy, we decided to give him a middle name that honoured God.  We chose “Samuel”, because he was a gift to us from the Lord. And what a gift he has been! Today I dedicate this post to him, and all he is to me.

To my Prince:

You are one of the greatest joys in my life, my boy.

I love the way you delight in snuggling me, and even though you are so big (nearly my size!) you still climb onto my lap and wrap your arms around my neck so tight.

I love the way you are a kind and caring brother to your little sister. You look after her when she is worried, you affectionately enjoy her cute little ways, you share and play with her nicely, and you teach her things that you know.

I love the way you are passionate about things. About drawing, about ocean creatures, about Octonauts, about Bible Snuggle time.  You take great care over things.  You notice little details that other people miss.  You look at the world in a way which opens up my eyes to a new and wonderful point of view.

Love.

I love the way we laugh together over silly and funny things. I love the way we enjoy stories together, the way we talk about new things, the way we sign ‘I love you’, the way we sing together at bed time.

I love the way you obey even when it is hard. I love the way you pray. I love the way you practise being a gentleman, and hold the door open for Princess and me. I love the way you seek to be strong like Daddy, and to take the leadership as a man when he is not there.

As you turn six I want you to know that you are so very, very precious to me – and yet you are even more precious to God. I pray that you will daily give Him your heart and allow Him to lead your life. I pray you will have strength to stand firm in faith even if others fall down. I pray that you will be filled with the Spirit and speak with wisdom and understanding. I pray you will give your life as a daily sacrifice to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. I pray that you will find a wife to help and encourage you as you live out your faith, and that your marriage will be a strong example of the love of God. I pray you will be a leader in the church, able to teach and willing to serve. I pray you will become a father who knows how to train his children up in the ways of the Lord. I pray that you will love others with passion, and always search out ways to do good.  And I pray you will always know that I love you.

With all my heart,
Your Mommy

Courage and resolve

Last night I finally got to watch a movie I have been looking forward to for many months – Courageous. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it! I won’t give the story away, but the general theme is that families need fathers who are committed to being strong, courageous, spiritual leaders in their homes – a principle that I couldn’t agree with more! Although Courageous is specifically aimed at inspiring fathers to live out their best potential, I found this film encouraged me in this way as a mother, too.

Never underestimate the influence fathers have on their children.

Raising children is one of the greatest and most daunting tasks I have ever undertaken. When I stop to think about the influence I have on my children it can be scary – especially when I think about all the time I have failed as a mother. As parents we need to take our role seriously – more seriously than we take our jobs, our hobbies and our friends. Specifically, we need to take the spiritual guidance of our children with the utmost commitment and care.

It is not always easy to follow through on a commitment to being the best parent we can for our kids. There is a spiritual war, and we are in it. Satan knows that if he gets our kids, he will have a good chance of getting many more souls in the future too. There is no doubt that as a Christian parent we will face opposition and attacks in all kinds of forms. It may be obvious, such as physical persecution, but it is probably more likely we will be attacked in more subtle ways. Maybe you find your time being filled with things of lesser importance so that you forget to make regular opportunities to read the Bible with your kids. Maybe you are affected with excessive tiredness, causing you to snap too easily when you should be responding with grace. Maybe you struggle with your marriage, and the effects filter down to your children. There are endless ways you might be attacked, and that is why we need to have courage and resolve. We must take on the fight with the power of God, and determine to overcome all obstacles through ‘Him who strengthens us’ – for this sake of our children’s souls.

A Godly heritage is a blessing we strive to pass on to our children.

The line that stood out to me more than any other in the movie last night was, “I don’t want to be a ‘good-enough’ father.” When we don’t take parenting seriously, we are in danger of thinking that good-enough is good enough. But I think if we settle for good-enough, we are taking a risky road. Instead of nonchalantly accepting that ‘we will never be perfect, so we should be happy with good enough’, let us renew our courage every day and resolve to stand up and give our children the best that we’ve got. After all, God gave us our children. How can we offer Him any less than our very best efforts to raise them in His good and perfect ways?

Putting the fun back into school

As part of our natural learning approach to homeschooling, most of our ‘schooling’ comes in the form of fun activities. Because of this, games and stories are major contributors to the education of our children. Here are some ways we incorporate learning through these mediums at our house.

Fun Games

  • Orchard Games has a lovely range of good quality games designed to help young children learn different concepts.  Some that we have and enjoy are:
    • Shopping List – builds memory and can be used to talk about life skills to do with shopping.
    • Ladybirds – excellent game for early counting and adding skills (we have also used it to talk about multiplication, patterns and art, with a bit of creativity!)
    • Tell the Time – really nice game for learning to tell time in both digital and analogue.
  • Time Bingo by Learning Resources is another great game for learning analogue time telling in 1/2 and 1/4 hour increments.
  • Boggle, Scrabble, Scattergories and other adult games can also be used with children. Prince especially loves playing simpler versions of these games with us, and they provide opportunities to improve writing and spelling skills.
  • One game we are about to start using is ‘top trumps’. Prince turns 6 this week, and we have ordered him this ocean creatures version for his birthday. I anticipate this being a great fun way to learn and memorise facts about ocean animals, and there are many other versions available on a wide range of topics that could also be useful learning tools.
  • Living Water Bible Games and Online Maths Tutor are two websites (created and run by my Mom!) which have a great range of games that can be used to teach lessons on these two topic respectively.
  • Some games can also be played when you are out and about, either walking or in the car.
    • ‘Bus Stops’ is a game my family made up when my brothers and I were little, and now we adapt for our own kids. The idea is to get as many points as you can by spotting various things on your journey. The point system is as follows: bus stops = 1, buses = 2, double-decker buses = 3, Volkswagen camper vans = 4. Playing this game has significantly improved Prince’s mental arithmetic skills, due to the Very Great Importance of keeping track of one’s score, and attempting to beat one’s Daddy.
    • I Spy has been a great favourite with our kids for a while, and they have learnt a lot about spelling and phonetics by playing this over the years.

Playing 'Shopping List'

Fun stories

  • At the moment Prince’s interest has been captured by Usborne’s phonic reader stories. We have the complete collection all in one book. Now, this a pretty thick book, and though Prince is really getting into reading now, I was still somewhat surprised when he picked up the book for the first time, and read all the way through 11 out of the 12 stories yesterday! I was yet more surprised when today, he asked for the book again and read all the way through the whole thing! I asked him what he liked about these stories, and he said, “I like them because there is a pirate one, which is called Big Pig on a Dig. And Ted in a Red Bed is a very nice one. I like all of them, Mommy.”
  • Another fun way to learn about all kinds of topics is through what Charlotte Mason calls ‘living books’. This simply means books which have been written about one topic, by an author who has an obvious passion for their subject. I like the definition given here:

“Living books are usually written by one person who has a passion for the subject and writes in conversational or narrative style. The books pull you into the subject and involve your emotions, so it’s easy to remember the events and facts. Living books make the subject “come alive.” They can be contrasted to dry writing, like what is found in most encyclopedias or textbooks, which basically lists informational facts in summary form. You might be surprised to find that living books are available for most school subjects — even math, geography, and science!”

Reading through Usborne's phonic reader stories.

I am sure that there are endless ways to have fun and learn at the same time – you just need a little creativity, a love for fun and an eye for opportunities. What fun opportunities do you and your kids enjoy?

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