Our Journey to Reading: Birth to 9
Before I begin, I wish to share with you my intentions for this post. It is by no means intended as judgement of the choices you make for your child or to advise you on the best course of action in supporting your child on their own reading path, as no two children are the same. My hope is that it may make reassuring reading for those of you with reluctant readers (I'm not a fan of that term, as I don't believe my daughter has ever been reluctant to learn to read. It implies that she was lacking in some way, which I don't believe she was, but I digress). If you have concerns about your child's reading progress, please seek professional advice.
Birth to 4
I started reading books to Bean when she was around 8-12 weeks old. These high contrast baby board books were a favourite in those early days. Then, once she was able to grip things, we moved on to soft fabric books like this one.
Then came short story board books with bold illustrations - we both loved this series - and books with rhyming text - this one is beautiful - which I found held her attention for increasingly longer periods of time.
I read to her profusely, and our home was always well stocked with interesting, beautiful and age appropriate books. A basket of books beside her bed, another in the living room and another in the kitchen/dining room. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, pop-up books, books with textures, books with moving parts. Books in my nappy change bag, books in the hood of her pushchair, books in the car, even books in the bath! We also visited the library once a week for baby rhyme time, where Bean was able to pick out books of her own. If I learned one thing during my teacher training, it was the importance of books and of reading to your child as often as you can.
The result of all this reading? A little girl with a deep love of books, who loves nothing more than to snuggle up and be read to. A little girl with an excellent vocabulary, who seeks out opportunities to use language to process her understanding of the world around her and to connect with others. A little girl with a vivid imagination, who enjoys hours immersed in a world of rich imaginative play.
During our first year of (unofficial) home education, I was of the belief that I needed to recreate school at home. Having been a Reception class teacher for the best part of ten years, this felt familiar and comfortable to me. The Reception year of mainstream schooling can be great fun, especially if you luck out with a young, creative and energetic teaching team. Learning letter sounds, key words and beginning to segment (sound out) and blend to read are often taught through songs, stories, games and crafts, with an emphasis on movement, engagement and enjoyment.
We spent the first half term working our way through the Phase 1 Letters and Sounds program for teaching phonics, playing speaking and listening games with the other children in my care (I'm a childminder). These short and simple activities didn't feel too different to the sort of things I might have prepared for my little 'mindees' regardless, so it felt like a smooth transition.
We then moved on to learning the Phase 2 letter sounds, using the multisensory program Jolly Phonics. Again, this was familiar and comfortable to me, having had lots of experience implementing it in schools. I planned practical, fun, hands on activities to introduce each letter sound, and Bean lapped them all up with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. Alongside this, we worked our way through the Alphablocks magazines (which sadly I think have been discontinued) which had great appeal for my sticker-obsessed child.
What followed were a good few years of worry and anxiety on my part. Bean learned her letter sounds easily and quickly, but seemed to get stuck on the segmenting (sounding out) phase of reading. She was able to blend with confidence, but found it hard to segment and didn't seem to reap any pleasure or satisfaction from working it out. She simply wasn't interested.
Her love for spoken language, imaginative play, storytelling and books has never dwindled. During this time she learned to swim and ride her bike, cartwheel and climb. She self weaned and learned how to sleep through the night alone. She made new friendships. She learned to cook and sew and tie her shoelaces. She learned how to follow Lego instructions. She learned her times tables. She made progress in so many areas, so it's not like her inability to read held her back in anyway, apart from that she couldn't read.
I am professionally trained to teach children to read, and am experienced in identifying difficulties, so I had no doubt about my ability to teach Bean to read, and no concerns about her ability to learn. In fact, it was my professional experience that was holding me back I believe, as I found it so hard to let go of comparison and the concept of her 'falling behind'. She had only just reached compulsory school age, and had we lived in many other parts of the world she wouldn't even be at school! My decision to home educate was made, in part, by my desire to follow her lead, but I spent my days going back and forth between feeling relaxed and happy with her development, and so full of joy at the freedom I was able to offer her by being at home and following her own interests, and feeling concerned about her lack of interest in reading.
Every so often, I would discover a new reading resource, or have a conversation with a well intentioned family member, or feel some sort of internal pressure and I would prepare a lesson or activity or schedule or program, but I always found that Bean resisted. I knew that she didn't have a problem with concentration or motivation because she'd happily spend hours, or even whole days, following her own deep interests. I had to just trust that she would come to it when she was ready.
In the meantime, I continued to read, read, read to her, at every available opportunity. I introduced 'morning time' - a gentle start to our day, where Bean works on art and craft projects, drawing and colouring, sticker books, puzzles etc. while I read aloud from various books that interest her. We began chapter books at bedtime, reading in the bath, audio books at quiet time. This has required a HUGE commitment of time on my part, but I've come to cherish this time together. I know that this phase will pass, and then I shall miss it terribly.
In the second half of this year, something has shifted. Bean suddenly and very urgently wants to learn to read. She actually declared one day that she was 'completely and absolutely desperate to learn to read'. So, I turned to my home education community, and asked for the very best recommendations of reading support for kinaesthetic learners. After a bit of research, I opted for Reading Reflex. The book includes a few diagnostic 'tests' to help the parent/teacher determine where the child needs to start, and then has simple, short exercises to support specific reading skills. I'm not suggesting that this is a miracle book, but it's been the right fit for Bean, along with her readiness to learn.
Bean is not yet a fluent reader. We still have some way to go. But she has made such almighty progress in the last few months, and is seeking out books to read by herself, and demonstrating so much deep interest and enjoyment. It's a joy to witness.
I've been making some of my own resources to complement those in the book. You can download and print them by clicking on the link below (I'll add to the post as I make more, so do come back to check). I'm also supplementing with reading books from our vast collection of reading schemes as the stories in the book are terrible! We've been using our Montessori Moveable Alphabet for a bit of variety. You could use magnetic letters too.
Is your child a 'reluctant' reader? How have you managed your own external/internal pressure while respecting the pace of your child? Do you have a resource to recommend? I'd love to hear about your child's journey to reading.
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.