Thursday, September 17, 2009

How my preschooler learned to read

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know Z started to read early--at age 4. She'll be 5 in November and her reading skills improve every day. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing she reads about as well as your average 1st or 2nd grader--level 2 on all those Early Reader/Learn-to-Read books.

It's impressive, seeing preschooler reading so well, and I'm enormously proud of my daughter. But with her accomplishment comes the persistent question: How did you teach your child to read?

The short answer is I didn't, her Montessori teacher taught her to read. Z's been fortunate enough to have a Montessori Directress who's been teaching preschoolers longer than I've been alive, and I've heard the Montessori method reliably teaches children to read before age 5. If you've never stepped foot in a true Montessori classroom, I encourage you to. Phonics, sandpaper letters and letter work help students form the building blocks of language, reading and writing.

And if there's a genetic component, Z won the language arts lottery. Both mom and dad are professional writers, as are both of her aunts and one great-aunt. She's got a former English professor for a grandmother and one of her great-grandfathers was a lifelong newspaperman. We write--and read--a lot.

Which brings me to my next point: books. Our house is filled with books--books we own and dozens more we bring home from the library each week. We read to both our girls from infancy on, and it was clear both girls loved books by about 6 months of age. Starting at 1, Z took board books to bed with her instead of stuffed animals, and she's always loved to stay up past her bedtime with a flashlight and a pile of reading material.

So what did I, as a parent, do to encourage her to read? Aside from enrolling her in the right school and taking her to the library, is there some other secret sauce, some juicy tip I can share with the rest of the world?

Okay, here it is. I spelled a lot. Josh and I spelled words like d-e-s-s-e-r-t, c-o-o-k-i-e, z-o-o and l-i-b-a-r-y when we wanted to make plans without sending the kidlets into a frenzy. Learning to follow along was highly motivating. So motivating that, when we finally gave up and switched to Pig Latin, Z picked it up in a matter of days!

And early on, I chose books with a rhyming structure and asked Z to "read" the final word in each phrase. We played rhyming and "think of a word that starts with X" games in the car. We read books until my mouth was dry and my throat ached. We bought her Tag reader books so she could "read" books alone before she could read books alone. We let her watch SuperWhy and Word World on PBS Kids.

That's it. No great secrets revealed. I think kids learn different skills at different rates, but I don't regret for a minute encouraging early reading. Reading is one of my life's greatest pleasures and the ability to read opens up worlds of adventure.