Whether you have a toddler starting to learn the alphabet or a preschooler learning first sounds... or in my case a kindergartener learning sight words, sometimes we parents need to get creative in order to engage our kids!
I'm not a big believer in skill and drill practice or flashcards for four year olds, but I've got a little guy who wants to read simple stories on his own, and without knowing some basic sight words, most early reader books get pretty frustrating.
His teacher has sent home a list of sight words for the kindergarteners to practice, comprised from the Dolch sight word list. Sight words or 'high frequency words' are words that appear frequently in text. The more automatic children are at recognizing these words (and often these are not easily 'sounded out' words), the most efficient their reading can become!
Here are some examples: a, I, am, in, and, is, see, the. Click here for the a link to Dolch word lists for different levels (preschool and up).
Soooo - how do we engage our kids in learning these words? Some don't really want to look at a page or flashcards and start to 'memorize' things. But they do need practice in automaticity to become more efficient readers (and to feel successful!)
My son loves his stuffed bears. So we lined them up along the hallway, and I told him today we would be giving them special 'names'!
I chose 12 of the sight words from his 'list' and wrote them on individual pieces of construction paper. This sounds basic but you really need to remember to use primary printing and write very neatly. Children are used to seeing letters written a certain way, and if you deviate from that it confuses them.
Then we took one word at a time, looked at it, and together we 'read' it. Some words you can sound out (am, in, it), and some you 'just have to know' (the, said, that).
One by one, we placed a word in front of a bear and told the bear that '"your name is 'and'!". When he put the second word on the second bear, I had him go back and repeat the first and second, pointing and reading the words. So as we built on, the next time he would read three words, four words, etc. That strategy seemed to work in terms of getting the repetition practice, and because it was tied to his favourite things, it didn't seem like work to him!
When daddy got home, Ben couldn't wait to show him the bears and all of the words he had learned. He was really proud of himself and said he wanted to play 'every day!' So we'll keep it up with the next set of words.
To reinforce what he had just practiced, we read a story together afterwards, a simple book that I chose because it had a number of the words in it that he had just practiced. He was SO happy to see the words that he knew in the book, and was able to read and recognize quickly. I think that helped solidify the sight words we had just practiced, and further show the power of reading for meaning.
Although I used sight words, you could easily adapt this for children learning the alphabet - break it down into just 5 or 10 letters at a time, use whatever 'props' your child loves to make it fun, and hopefully they will enjoy the experience and want to do it again and again!
We at momstown would love to hear what other early reading strategies have helped you with your kids at home - let us know by commenting on this post!