Saturday 7 May 2011

Learning To Read...

Zoe over at Playing By The Book is going to be doing a festival of reviews about books for emergent readers which has prompted me to write this post that I have been meaning to write for ages. I get asked a lot about how I got Ebi-kun reading, what tricks(?) did I use, which books did I start with  etc. 
Now, before I start, you have to remember that all kids are different and that what works for one might not work for another, this is just what worked for us, and Ebi-kun should take most of the credit!

There are a few things we have always done since he was about 6 months old which I feel were important influence in reading and a love of books.

We ALWAYS have the same bed routine, bath then a drink of milk whilst either me or daddy reads a book or 3!

We ALWAYS show books respect, books are not for treading on, throwing or dumping on the floor, they should be treated with respect and looked after properly, I get so annoyed when I see kids chucking books around (and according to my mom I was like this as a child). Ebi-kun has only ever ripped one book and that was an accident and he sobbed and sobbed when it happened.

For the first couple of years we would point to the words as we read, this gets the child used to the reading direction (which is the opposite with some Japanese books, just to confuse matters!)

From infant to 18mths we always had board books available, some were the touchy-feely books, some named objects, lift the flap and some with short stories. His favourite for a long time was the Ladybird Baby Touch Playbook. We would also read picture books and when ever I wrote his name I would spell it out phonically, this turned out to be an important step.
baby touch play book
When Ebi-kun was 20mths old, he surprised us by recognising certain letters, see this post for our aha moment, I had finished my Montessori training but hadn't expected to need any of the language materials so soon. I got to it and made the sound pouches (tutorial here) and sandpaper letters. So from about 2 years to 3 years old I would put out 3-5 of the sandpaper letters and the corresponding sound pouches, changing them round every second day or so. We would also spell out words in some of his board books and play matching games with letter cards etc.

By the time he was three he started putting together 3 letter words so I got the Clever Critters set (review here) and also used Oxford Reading Tree books and printable books from Starfall by three and a half he was using the Starfall site a couple of times a week. The Clever Critters are stupid stories and illustrations but kids seem to love them, what I do like is that they use block building to end up with a full sentence, not so scary for beginner readers. Oxford Reading Tree books are excellent, I used them a lot when I was teaching and they come with a comprehension book too. Just be careful when you are buying them because there are two series, one is meant for native speakers the other for ESL learners. Starfall, the stories are rather lame but the site is good repetitive practice and there are little comprehension/work books to go with each story.

Now, Ebi-kun had a massive jump from 3 letter words and went straight into reading pretty fluently, he would pick up anything with writing on and attempt to read it. He would sit and read through his picture books and around this time Daddy-Ebi helped him learn hiragana, the first Japanese script that they learn here. It wasn't long before he needed something more challenging so the first chapter book he read was Fantastic Mr Fox by the wonderful Roald Dahl (review here). Since then he has read his way through four sets of the The Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne, what I like about these books is that they take the child on a different adventure into a different time each book and they come with a research book if the child gets really interested in something. These books has sparked off several adventures of our own with sudden obsessions with mummies, space and the Titanic to name but a few. The down side is that the books are all at the same level which meant that the last one he read - The Titanic he did so in one sitting!

So, now we are at the point where he reads fluently in English and can also read hiragana and katakana and a good handful of kanji. He recently read My Fathers Dragon which was recommended by a playgroup friend, Ebi-kun loved it and announced that he was going to read it again, it is a new-to-me book but I enjoyed it too and I have ordered the follow up book for him.
My Fathers Dragon
To round up, what works for us is....

Using the Montessori equipment, the moveable alphabet, phonics pouches and sandpaper letters.
Making time to read every day, we have very little TV time in this house! We usually read before yochien because neither of us are tired at that time and before bed, often in between too.
Having a great range of books to read/look at.
Having parents who love books too.
Making learning letters fun.
Observing the child, when he shows an interest in something we find a good book to go with it.
Having writing equipment set up to use any time, writing aids reading, The Write Start is a good book to get kids into writing (review here)
Having personalised magnet words on the fridge for sentence making and foam letters to play with in the bath.
♥ Making reading and writing fun not a chore!

Hope this helps, did you have any special tricks to help your little one get into reading?

*** all links ate to The Book Depository, my preferred online book site because they have FREE worldwide shipping ***


  1. Jo,
    Which are/were your favorite books/authors for Ebi-kun, when he was 2 year old and when he was 3 year old.

  2. Hi, until he was about 3 he liked Eric Carle but I think the pictures are too simplistic so once he got older he didn't find his books as interesting. Anything by Julia Donaldson goes down well, still! When he was 3 we were given some of the old Mr Men books, he really likes them although some of the stories are a bit rubbish (in my opinion). Anything by Barefoot Books, they have great illustrators and I have yet to buy one of their books that I am disappointed in. My granny went to market and we are going on safari are good counting books with an international twist.
    As I said in the post, he started reading at a young age so he probably jumped forward a bit, that said he still enjoys picture books and we will often get a pile out to read.

  3. Thanks for sharing this!!

    I just bought the clever critters for my boy, and to my surprise, he reads it excitedly!


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