One of the questions I hear over and over again (and I bet this is one that you’ve had streaming through your head a time or two) is “But what about the ABCs?” Or, in other words, if I don’t TEACH them, how will my child ever learn to read or write?!
This is something that starts to freak parents out BIG TIME the second they get excited about child-led learning. That fear kicks in and a lot of times, they run away from the unstructured, free and flexible learning experiences for the rigid, “sit at a desk and learn stuff on paper” way of learning that they’re used to.
But you don’t have to do that.
You see, learning to read and write is actually a very natural process, and one that children will pick up on when they are developmentally ready. Just like they learned how to walk, talk, and eat with a spoon, they will learn to read and write as well.
And yes, there are things that you can do to facilitate this learning and make it a meaningful and enjoyable experience for everyone! And I’m going to share some of those with you right now. But first, you have to let go of that fear that it’s never going to happen. It will. I promise.
Ok, so what can you do to facilitate a love and learning of reading WITHOUT a “drill and kill” approach? Here are some ideas….
1. MODEL MODEL MODEL! This is huge. You want your child to love reading? You need to show them that YOU love reading too! Even if it’s not something you enjoy; even if you don’t make time for it anymore. The best way to encourage your child to pick up a book is to show them that it’s your favorite part of the day!
2. Include Literacy Materials in Play. Play is a child’s work, and how they learn best. A child who plays and explore with literacy materials every day is far more likely to pick up early literacy skills and habits before their peers who do not have the same experience. Of course this includes incorporating books in their play, but also include things like real-life print (restaurant menus in their play kitchen, junk flyers in their “mailbox”, etc.). You should also give your child as many opportunities to write as possible, even before they know how. The scribbling practice is a huge milestone towards writing.
3. Read Aloud Every Day. I’m sure you’ve heard this before – reading to your child every day increases literacy skills. It’s true, and it’s one of the best things you can do for your child! It increases their vocabulary, models for them what reading looks and sounds like, exposes them to a variety of genres, and encourages literacy skill development. Make time daily to create this habit. (PS.. it doesn’t just have to be at bedtime!! Read while they’re eating breakfast, read outside, read when they’re in the tub. There’s never a bad time to read to your child!)
4. Teach Letters and Sounds in Meaningful Ways. Perhaps you’ve seen “letter of the week” type of teaching materials or programs before. DO NOT USE THESE! Teaching letters and sounds in isolation does not encourage early literacy habits. A child needs to see things like letters and sounds and blends in real-life for them to be truly learned (just like with anything else). Instead of drilling letter names and sounds into your child’s head, focus instead on having fun with letters and sounds. Point out the letters on a STOP sign, read a map together, emphasize repetitive words and sounds in books, and have real, meaningful conversations with your children. Exposure and intention are what help children learn to read and write, and most importantly, develop a true passion for it…. not drill practice and rote memorization!
I could go on and on here, but I think that should get your thinking gears moving!
Oh, and incase you were thinking: “Yeah that all sounds great, but how do I trust that this is true?”
Well, not only did I spend years of research and time on this subject (my first Masters Degree is as a Reading Specialist and my thesis was on early reading development skills in young children), but this is exactly the path we have taken with our children.
Not once did my son fill out a worksheet or “practice” his letters. And at 6 years old, he’s reading at a 5th grade reading level and I have to pry books out of his hands at night so he can go to sleep. Not because of anything special… but because we modeled our love of reading, we read to him every day, we talked and engaged and played with letters, sounds, and silly words. And we trusted that he would develop these skills as he was ready.
Are most kids ready at that age? No. But he was. And you’ll never know when your child will be ready. So give them the chance to develop a love of reading naturally!
Leah McDermott is a Master Educator turned Mother of 2 and advocate for the encouragement and development of natural, child-led learning. Since 2009, she has helped families and educators provide their children with meaningful learning experiences in nature through her one-of-a-kind curriculum and community, Your Natural Learner. When she’s not teaching and sharing in her Your Natural Learner Facebook Group, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors with her family in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest.