Reading Before 5 Years Old (What Did and Didn’t Work)

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We have two early readers in the house. Eva, the six year old, is comfortable with chapter books and just finished the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Calvin, the three year old soon to be four, can do Level 4 readers but prefers big picture books with a lot of rhyming. Both of them can read labels in the kitchen, instructions for toys, and the street signs in our neighborhood. Best of all, they can both read for an hour or more by themselves.

One of our big goals with parenting was to raise kids who loved books but our journey to reading was a little crazier than I thought it was going to be. Honestly, I think I complicated the process by buying into all of the chatter about how hard it is to get kids to read and, as a result, buying books and programs designed to make that process easier. I wasted a lot of money and time on things that were not fun and not helpful. I also stumbled into a few super helpful tricks along the way, so I thought I’d give you the hits and misses list.

Stuff that didn’t work:

1 /// Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I’m going to get pushback for this one, I’m sure, because it is the go-to book that was recommended to me by about ten different people. So, you can take my experience with a grain of salt BUT this was the worst of the worst for us. Drills, repetition, and mindless exercises that will do nothing but bore and frustrate both of you. This book also has nothing to do with learning to love books. Blah. I sent it off to the thrift store within two months.

2 /// The BOB Books Series. This was another series that I bought because everyone was using them. Yes, I purchased all of them and no, they don’t work. While not as bad as the book mentioned above, the BOB books aren’t designed to make kids love books so the stories are boring and the skill level felt a little inconsistent. We tried them a few times but never got into them.

3 /// Leap TAG system. This is a really cool system that gives kids the power to read by themselves before they’re ready by using a pen that reads aloud when the kids touch the words. The system incorporates a ton of books and familiar characters (Disney, Suess, etc.) so I had high hopes for it. While it’s a lot of fun, my kids were pretty lazy about using it as a learning tool and ultimately went from mindlessly running the pen across the words without trying to read to reading the books without a pen. So I don’t recommend it as a go-to early reading tool but I would say it’s a pretty fun toy that did get them to enjoy books.

Stuff that did work:

1 /// Alphabet Dice. This was a complete accident. I was at the grocery store and wanted to grab a little something to surprise the kids so I picked up Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game because I thought it was funny. I have no idea how you actually play the game but the dice themselves are the best tool for learning letter sounds and building small words. After practicing phonics, each kid started with “at” and then added the other letters to make rhyming worlds (cat, bat, sat, etc.) which was a great way to get them excited about sounding things out. As their reading skills progressed, we moved into using the dice to spell sight words, rolling the dice and writing words that start with that letter, and so on. We’re still finding ways to use them!

2 /// The Preschool Prep Collection. Another semi-accident here. This was a random Groupon purchase to use up some credit I had from referrals way back when and it became Eva’s favorite DVD set. I thought she was nuts because the production quality is low and it’s repetitive and there’s no story, but she loved these. Then, Calvin loved them even harder. They still ask to watch them. I don’t get it, but these DVDs were huge on teaching them phonic blends and sight words. Plus, they’re super chill so they aren’t annoying to have on in the background or during quiet time if you aren’t opposed to TV.

3 /// Having books absolutely everywhere. Finally, we stuffed books in all the places. Sure, we have bookshelves of books but we also have bins to flip through in the playroom, in their bedrooms, and in the living room. There are magazines in the kitchen to look at while waiting for food, waterproof books for bath time, pocket books in the diaper bag, and car organizers stuffed with books hanging in front of their car seats. (The ones meant for iPads work great for this.) And don’t forget a book light or two if you don’t mind them reading themselves to sleep.

It’s not the end of the world if kids don’t read early, but that extra boost definitely raises the chances that your kid will enjoy school. The way most kids are taught is so book-based that being a little behind in reading or feeling like reading is tiring in itself just adds stress on top of the exhaustion of learning everything else. Yes, Eva found parts of Kindergarten a little redundant, but I’d rather she struggle with boredom than with reading.

Plus, once kids can read on their own they become free to follow their own interests and find information out for themselves. Did you know that babies can taste with their cheeks or that the color in tornadoes is the dirt that the wind picks up? Learned that from my readers.

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