I am currently teaching a six year old and a three year old to read. You may or may not know that I have a daughter who struggles with her reading. I say this not because I necessarily believe she should be further along or a better reader than she is, but because she is not where she would like to be. She has wanted to learn to read since she taught herself all her letter sounds when she was three. I truly thought she would be a doddle to teach. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Her three older siblings took to reading like a duck to water, and to this day read every spare moment. A6, not so much. In fact, she was beginning to lose the interest in reading at all, so hard did she find it. Not being an expert in these things it has taken me time to work out a strategy which allowed her to enjoy books whilst at the same time learning bit by bit to read.
As you know we have used the very lovely Mr Men books to base her school on. It is with these books, along with All About Reading, that she is learning to read. Progress is slow. And that’s alright. I think Mr Men as a theme has worked well to keep her school light-hearted and pressure free. I thought I would share some ways I have used these books to help my little girl retain her love of books and hopefully encourage in her a love of reading, even though she is finding it a hard skill to learn.
Reading aloud is a wonderful, completely stress free way to enjoy books. We put aside lots of little pockets of time, such as during her Mr Men school, during our morning meeting, bedtime etc. After Christmas I will be enlisted the help of my mum and Gary to also read aloud. We make reading together a specific and special time, with snuggles on laps and hopefully no interruptions.
The older children also love to read aloud to their younger siblings and this is something we encourage. Hopefully the little ones can then see their big sisters or brother in action and want to emulate them:
Mr Men are great books for this because they are genuinely interesting enough for the older ones and yet simple enough for the younger set.
All my children have quiet time for up to an hour each day. The younger ones choose books from their quiet time basket, which I make sure include some Mr Men books and magazines for them to thumb through:
This is hopefully supporting the idea that books are a fun, relaxing thing to have and that free reading time can be a form of escapism, to be transported to whatever world the child is reading about:
The old adage of more is caught than taught is true for both good and bad behaviours. This is one area that the children can benefit from you being a good book-reading role model. I have always been convinced we are a book loving family thanks to my Dad’s influence growing up. He took us to the library every week and modeled reading himself, every spare moment he had. I am mildly obsessed with books and am always happy to hear my older children tell their Granny that one can never have enough books. I couldn’t agree more!
Encouraging Attention Span
Having a very small attention span has been somewhat of a disability to A6 when it comes to learning to read. However, this year it has improved a great deal. She has had focused time from me, from her siblings and the aforementioned quiet time. We have also limited her screen time and have used a reward system for staying on task. We use gummy worms and make up a pack and call them her ‘Book Worms’ based on the worm character from the Mr Men books. She gets a book worm every time she completes her work for the day. We also keep Mr Men sweeties which we will use in the same way. The children, in general, don’t get sweets at any other time and so this is a huge treat for her:
Just recently we made some lovely Mr Men book marks to encourage A6 to use in her own quiet time reading books and also in her All About Reading. I hoped that might remove the fear that she had to read the whole book in one sitting. When she gets tired she simply pops in the book mark so we can return to it at a later time:
Utilise Different Reading Materials
Our home is naturally a print rich environment with magazines, comics, books, maps, ebooks, online access to blogs and ezine articles. A6 has access not only to the basic Mr Men books but also special editions, puzzle books, Mr Men magazine, the Mr Men website, Mr Men ebooks and lots of Mr Men toys and computer games which require some reading. The Little Miss Sunshine learning CD Rom is a favourite of hers and helps teach her to read:
We make sure she has access to all these by creating storage areas which are at her height and easy to get to.
Carry A Book
We have always encouraged the children to take a book with them everywhere they go. This back-fired on us somewhat with the older girls who are now incapable of going on even a short car journey without taking enough books to stack a library with them. However it really has been worth it with A6 because the first time she read a book all the way through was in the car. There was no pressure and nothing else to take her attention away, and she read beautifully. If only it was that easy every day!
Mr Men books are perfect for easy carriage being smaller than an average book and easily fitting in the little girls bags. Having them means they can take it out whenever they have a spare moment and are looking for something to do- waiting to see the doctor or dentist for example:
I use some of their school money to pay for a Mr Men subscription. These bi-monthly magazines come complete with Mr Men toys, lots of activities which require reading to do them, and comic type short stories with pictures:
These have been a huge hit. They love everything, from the toys to the stories to the activities and the 100’s of stickers which come with each edition. More than that, they are sent one each and ownership is very exciting when you are three and six!
The magazine also encourages its readers to send in pictures of drawing the child has done:
For me the magazines are a means of making reading more accessible and A6 often doesn’t even realise she is doing it. This brings me to my next point…
Reading Without Knowing It
I attempt to make reading as fun as fun as possible for A6. I never needed to do this before. For my older children books were enough. It was love at first sight and it is a love that has never dwindled. A6 finds reading so hard that I have needed to be far more creative with her than my others. I have to find ways to encourage reading without her really knowing she was. The magazine is one method, Mr Men ebooks, partnered reading (post to come) and computer games based on the Mr Men characters, board games, acting out the books with puppets…I do everything I can.
I have also utilised the fact she loves to cook by using simple Mr Men recipes, which she needs to read in order to cook. This has been a huge hit:
Rewarding Efforts and Progress
This year I have rewarded for effort rather than progress and I have done this using ‘book worms’ and Mr Men chocolate rewards. I give one for each extra book she reads or extra lesson she does. In general I don’t tend to reward for school work, only for skill based learning such as reading (for A6) and maths (for the girls). I find it helps them want to do extra work and the more they do the easier they find it. Both maths and reading are skills they can take into adult hood and so I am happy to use as many carrots (so to speak) as it takes!
Next year I will use a star chart which I will design around the Dr Seuss books. She will receive a sticker for each Dr Seuss book she is able to read fluently. When she has read ten she will be rewarded by an outing out on her own with either Gary or I.
After Christmas we will continue to focus on A6’s reading, finding extra special ways to make reading pleasurable for her. We will continue with Mr Men on Fridays, which is usually what we do when the children aren’t quite ready to give up a theme. However our main them will be Dr Seuss and I am sure this change will lend itself to a whole new set of fun ways to learn to read.
What do you guys do to try to encourage reading in both your older and younger children?