Are you the anxious parent of a little child who hasn’t started reading and whose friends have started? Or maybe you think your child should be reading more fluently? Is everyone telling you to teach “phonics sounds”? Do these sound correct —
- You have heard that children who can read fluently by age 5 do much better in academics and you really want to help your child pick up reading.
- A lot of people have said “different children start reading at different ages.” But this is not helping your stress levels.
- You’ve googled “phonics sounds.” You’ve checked out books with phonics sounds and phonics classes.
I understand that you’re worried. Relax. My 6-year-old can read a full 100 page chapter book easily and I’m happy to share what worked for us. Maybe it’ll help you.
For starters, let me tell you that we didn’t use “the phonics way”. We like the idea of phonics, and we did introduce some word families, but not much. Here are our tricks:
1. Clarify What a “Book” Means
My wife and I read picture books to our child from when she was 1 year old. She didn’t understand much, but she understood that there is a book which has a story, there are pages which have to be turned, sentences which have to be read out, and pictures which are also about the story.
She would look forward to us picking up a book because she knew a story would follow. This association that a book contains a story and that it’ll be fun is important and it’s best if children imbibe this at age 1.5-2.5 itself.
2. Read From 1000 Books
Read your children as many storybooks as possible. Even if you are narrating a folk tale, find a book that has the same story and narrate from it. This is particularly useful because you can show your child the words and the pictures. Getting a set of phonics books is NOT ENOUGH. If you’re serious about getting your child to be a natural reader, give him or her access to hundreds of books.
In 4 years (from age 1 to age 5), my wife and I would have narrated from at least 1000 storybooks. Yes. A thousand. That’s 250 new books a year. How did we do it? We are members of 3 libraries. We buy second-hand books and new books. We borrow from friends. We buy Kindle books. We use Storyweaver. We also used Epic and Farfaria for some time. Additionally, she reads books at her school.
3. Use Storytelling Techniques
When you’re reading the books, make the story come alive. Use your voice, make animal sounds, animate your body, make some props, go beyond your comfort zone for your child. I remember I decided to learn to make the sound of an elephant. It took me a month to do so and it was difficult, but it made all the elephant stories sound really good.
How to learn good storytelling: learn from YouTube videos, or attend a good storytelling workshop/course.
4. You Need Different Kinds of Books
As adults, we have a lot of say in what books our children are exposed to. You must make sure that it’s varied and there are many different kinds of books – old, new, Indian, foreign, paperback, hardback, cloth, popup, board, big, small, heavy, light, digital, physical … If you want to expose your child to 1000 books by the age of 5, you can’t be picky and choosy.
In my case, there are many books I hate – most fairy tales, and also the cheap edition “moral stories”. But I didn’t stop my daughter from reading them. We offered both Chacha Choudhary and Gruffalo to her. We told her that we don’t like that the princess needs to be saved in Snow White, and we don’t like the language in Chacha Choudhary but we didn’t hide it from her.
5. Everything is About Reading!
My wife and I make it a point to let our daughter know that we’re reading. We’re reading the newspaper. We’re reading messages on our phone. We’re reading emails. We’re reading instructions. We’re reading recipes. This reinforces the idea that reading is important. Your child will feel like he/she must learn to read fluently to be fully included in your world.
We celebrate reading. We make it an event to go to the library together. We spend time picking books to read in cabs. We read in cabs. We take books to picnics. We attend book launches and literary festivals. You get the idea, right?
6. Use Specific Reading Techniques
There are many basic techniques you can use to speed up reading skills:
- Phonics Sounds: Phonics is a popular methodical way of teaching how to read by decoding words into their sounds. It is very useful in early reading, but it’s not a good idea to rely too much on phonics. [We believe in using phonics sounds. But we didn’t need to use it much.]
- Repetition: Read the same books over and over again. This really helps the child understand it better.
- Recognition: Help your child recognize words he likes and help him associate the sound of the word with the visual look of the word.
- Picture Walk: Take your child through the pictures in a picture book. A picture book is usually between 100-500 words. But the pictures are worth another 5000 words. Speak to your child about them. Let him speak to you about them.
- Eye Spy and other games: You can play games with your child with the books. You could say, “I spy the word ‘cycle'” and your child would have to find it.
- Cross-referencing: When you come across a word or an idea that your child might have been exposed to earlier, acknowledge it. For example, you could say, “Hey this sentence sounds exactly like something your grandfather would say.” If a book you’ve read has a movie, watch it!
- Intentional Mistakes: Kids love to correct adults making mistakes. So one easy trick is to intentionally read sentences wrong so that they get to correct you.
There are many more techniques like this. I co-wrote a book on early reading called “My Reading Companion.” It’s a great book to have. You could check it out. It has a section on phonics and talks about phonics sounds.
7. Be Cool and Let Your Child Surprise You
Sometimes your child will like a book, sometimes he/she will hate it. Sometimes your child will learn quickly, and other times very slowly. Be patient and play cool. Don’t get frustrated.
The most important thing is to let your child surprise you. He/she wants to read, and is trying to read , and it’s hard for him/her. Things will click unexpectedly. You must let it.
My friend gifted my daughter a book on “simple machines” (meant for 8+) when she was 2 years old. Initially, my wife and I laughed because the gift was not “age-appropriate.” But, our daughter kept flipping through it. She asked us to read it to her many times over. Soon, she could recognize levers, gears, and pulleys in real life. By the age of 5, she could read the whole book and understand it. It really surprised us.
Looking back, I can understand that the book must have been fascinating for her. She must have really wanted to understand it. And she must have really given it her 100%. That made all the difference.
8. Bedtime Reading
There is no trick as powerful in raising readers as bedtime reading. In our house, either me or my wife, or both of us, read to our daughter for at least 20 minutes every day when she goes to sleep. This is not just about the book or the reading but also about sharing that special moment together. We would never miss bedtime reading ever (unless we fell asleep before her).
I co-founded a company called Multistory Learning Pvt Ltd in 2011. We help schools get their children to love reading through the Book Lovers’ Program for Schools. We also publish storybooks under the imprint MsMoochie. Our books are highly rated on Amazon, do search for MsMoochie. And we run the Best of Indian Children’s Writing Award.
We have a series of books designed for children who are just starting to read called the Little Book Lovers’ Reading Series. This series is very popular, especially the Ramu and Ramya series. If your child is just starting to read, then these books are for you.
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