More on How Kids Learn to Read

I wrote a while ago about a training I attended on teaching kids how to read. The focus in my last post was more on how we can prepare preschoolers for reading. At the training, there were things I agreed with our speaker about, and there were things that I didn’t. As a teacher, I find things all the time with differing “schools of thought”. Teaching reading, and teaching writing, seem to be two areas where there are MANY ideas on the “best” ways to teach them. The reason I bring that up, is because I tend to take some of the things that I learn, think about them, think about how it relates to my experiences with children, and either try the new ideas or not.

At the training with the Reading Recovery teacher, she made what many of my peers and I thought was a shocking statement. She said that we shouldn’t teach kids the names of the letters, rather, teach them the shapes. This was considered controversial among the preschool teachers because we are required to “test” the 4-5 year olds on their letters 3 times a year. We also know that within the first two weeks of Kindergarten, they are tested on their letters. If they don’t know at least 30 of them (testing includes upper case and lower case letters, so there are 52 possible), they are put into a group where they will receive extra help in getting ready for reading. If kids are expected to know the names of the letters, why wouldn’t we teach them?

In another training on Creative Curriculum, the curriculum structure we use in preschool, the trainer talked more about this concept. Children naturally learn shapes before they learn letters. When we teach children letters, we should talk about the shapes of them as PART of our lessons. By feeding into their natural way of learning, we can speed up their process of recognizing letters.

The training suggested that this was true with words as a whole. That when they are learning to recognize their names (typically one of the first words they can read), they are actually learning to recognize the shape of their name, rather than the letters themselves. The letters come 2nd. I’m not sure I fully believe this to be true. Here’s why:

At the beginning of each class, we have a name card for each child sitting on a table. When the children arrive at school, they “check in” by taking their name card, and putting it in a clear can. This encourages them to practice reading their name, and helps us identify who’s here for the day. For the 3-year-olds, we have their picture on the back of the card to help them check if they are right. While they are still learning to identify their name, many children will pick another name that starts with the same letter, regardless of the length or shape of their name. This leads me to believe that the first letter plays a more important role in name recognition, than does the shape of it (at least initially).

At the snack table, we have the children once again find their names on the table, so they know where to sit. As we are waiting for all the children to finish washing their hands, we have the children practice tracing their letters with their fingers, have them count the letters, ask them what letter they start with, end with, or have them tell us all the letters in their names. We change it up from day to day, but pretty much always have them interact with the letters in their name in some way. It seems as though this is helping their process of letter recognition.

In short, there are many ways to help children prepare to read. Some of these ways include, playing games to help children interact with letters, talking about what they look like, sound like, etc; giving children plenty of exposure to common words in print (such as their names, “stop,” etc.); playing rhyming games, and, reading to them.


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