Mackenzie is not yet 3 1/2, and she can read anything you put in front of her.
We definitely played a role in teaching her, but that girl is just plain enamored with books and she really took to reading like a duck to water.
To teach her, I used the same book I learned from when I was 4 years old: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a parent thus far, and the most rewarding. There was laughter. There were tears. There were days the “15 minute” lesson took hours. There were days she begged to do extra lessons.
This past week she finished lesson 100 and I’m so proud of her!
Read on for the nitty gritty details. You know I’m happy to give ’em and I’ve had plenty of questions about how and why we taught her so young.
Before The Book
We taught Mackenzie her alphabet right before she turned 2. Honestly, she learned it mainly from watching the DVD “Meet The Letters” a half dozen times over the course of a few weeks. I don’t think she’d ever really seen t.v. before so it was mesmerizing (and it’s sorta eerie, actually, if you watch it) but it got the job done quickly.
We didn’t bother with letter sounds at all, since those are part of the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and they differ somewhat from the traditional “B says BUH” style.
Though I did sing her the alphabet song regularly and we had letter magnets to play with, really the only thing we did with her before she turned three was we read to her a lot. Scott and I both love to read, so it came really naturally for us to want to share it with her.
We’d read stories before bedtime. Poems or scriptures at mealtimes. Scriptures as a family at night. Board books, picture books, my journal, words on food labels and on signs… I just shared with her all the things I was seeing in the world. Any free time during the day, snuggling up and reading with Mama was a viable choice and she’d often pick it. We would truck home big bags of library books and she’d happily ask for repeats of her favorites.
She’d see us reading books and ask to be included. We taught her from early on that books were special and to be treated nicely.
Here’s Scott reading to her from his prep book for the boards:
I’m reading her favorite, The Little Engine That Could, while we wait for Caitlyn to arrive:
A False Start
Mackenzie was such a big fan of reading and I was chomping at the bit to unlock the whole world of words for her… so I blew it. I started doing lessons with her when she was 2 1/2. The book says you can start at 3 1/2 for “precocious” children, and 4 for “almost any child”. So yeah, I was way early. Although she was capable of understanding the instructions and she made it through a dozen lessons, her attention span was short and I was trying to keep it “light” so I’d let her bail whenever she said she was done. My policy was to only do a lesson if she “wanted to” .
She quickly picked up on how badly I wanted her to do them, and delighted in cutting lessons short and waffling as to whether she “felt like” reading. I noticed she would stop as soon as things got remotely difficult for her, and I did not want to foster that instinct so I put the book away and told her we’d wait until she turned 3.
Of course after that, she was anxious to turn 3 so she could start lessons again. Little did she know I would mean business the second time around…
Beans Don’t Do Half Jobs
When she turned 3, I knew she was capable of doing the lessons and I was confident that she would love reading once she became proficient. So, I jumped in with both feet. No longer were lessons optional. We did one lesson a day, six days a week, and until we finished the lesson for the day, we didn’t do anything else.
You may have heard of the book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which came out recently. Parts of it really resonated with me. I do believe that children grow from doing hard things, and that we naturally love things that we are good at. Kids are stronger than we often think they are.
I had unwavering faith in Mackenzie’s ability to do this, so I was pretty much unmoved by tears and claims that it was too hard. She saw my confidence in her and started to be confident in herself, not just in reading but in other areas of her life as well. It was rewarding to see her grow as she did something difficult.
One major difference between me and the Tiger Mother lady, however, is that I did not teach Mackenzie to read so she could go impress people. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed when people hear her read. Scott substituted in Primary (our Church’s children program) last week and it was Mackenzie’s turn to recite a scripture. Typically a three year old will repeat as an adult reads the scripture, but Scott just whipped out the book and pointed where she should read. I was mortified when I found out. I knew that would peg me as either “Wonder Mom” or “Crazy Mom” depending on who was doing the pegging, and I don’t feel that either shoe fits.
I was right about Mackenzie having a tendency to give up on things when they got tough. Sticking with reading lessons did wonders for her self-confidence, problem solving, and sense of independence. She is a much tougher girl than when we started.
Having a reading lesson on the agenda every day gave our lives structure it was lacking. We had to be ready for the day early enough to start that reading lesson and finish it before running errands, meeting up with friends, or tackling housework.
It taught me so much about my amazing daughter, and about myself. Although I spent all day every day for three years with her, sitting down and teaching her eye-to-eye and working with her strengths and weaknesses was very eye-opening and has been invaluable in knowing how to parent her in other aspects of our days.
Mackenzie is stubborn as snot. Forgive the expression, but I really haven’t seen anything like it before.
Most of the time she is as mellow as they come. Mild, meek, sweet and eager to please. But when she digs in her heels, she doesn’t budge. Remember the time she went longer than 24 hours without eating? At the age of 2 she was determined enough to spend an entire day sitting at the table rather than give in and eat four bites of food.
Here she is napping at the table during her second(?) and final(?) food throwdown:
Picture that applied to reading lessons, and you’ll understand why on two or three days, I hid in the bathroom and surreptitiously phoned Scott for moral support while Mackenzie sat at the table with her arms folded.
Just like with the food, she dug in her heels on something simple. It would be a word she can sound out perfectly well. Nothing tricky, nothing out of the ordinary… she would just decide to stop cold in the middle of a lesson and refuse to continue. I’m not a wheedler and the rules were pretty clear: Finish the lesson before you do anything else. So we’d miss music time, she’d lose all her play time for the day and just sit it out until lunch or later.
Eventually, she’d decide to finish the lesson and life would resume as normal. It’s been months now since we’ve had one of these bad boys. Maybe they are out of her system for now?
On the other end of the spectrum, I also dealt with frequent emotional breakdowns in the first several weeks. Far from the stubborn sit-ins she staged, these would be caused by perceived difficulty in the task at hand and she’d weep and wail and beg for a drink of water and a tissue and a hug and a kiss and a cuddle and on and on… sometimes it was hard not to laugh, to be honest. Other times I wanted to cry right along side her in frustration.
Just like the throwdowns, this behavior is something she exhibited outside of reading lessons on occasion as well, so I was actually grateful to be able to anticipate them and deal with them head-on. These were (and are) dealt with using tough love, distraction, or coping mechanisms, depending on the situation. Now when her emotions well up over something trivial, she knows to take some deep breaths, she tries to use her words, and she retreats to a couch or her bedroom to regroup as needed. She comes back ready to tackle whatever it was that set her off.
As I mentioned, we did one lesson a day. I started at the kitchen table and stayed there until we had worked out all the kinks (definitely beyond level 50). After that, things were like clockwork and she was much less easily distracted. I let her pick where we’d do each lesson: couches, floor, beds, etc.
The lessons did typically take around 15 minutes, with the middle lessons being the longest because the story was a full page but her speed was still pretty slow. They would push closer to 45 minutes of an hour, as I recall. The book is VERY easy to use and you just have to read what it tells you to read, and you’ll be in good shape. But I did find some techniques I used helped us a great deal:
I’d ask her to hold all questions, stories, etc. not related to the lesson until the end of the page. By the end of the page she had usually forgotten the thing that seemed so desperately important (and distracting) in the middle of the page.
- She had a chart that numbered to 100 where she’d put her sticker, and if it holds up I plan on giving Caitlyn a different colored sticker and letting her use the same chart.
- When we got to the longer stories, her excitement and motivation was waning a bit so I added a few things to make it more fun:
– A victory lap after the first read-through of the story. Complete with theme music and dashing around the house in circles and arm pumps, this got her grinning every time.
– A fancy countdown on my fingers for the questions I ask during the story. Each time she’d get to the end of a sentence, I’d make a big fuss about which question I had for her. She ate it up.
- Overall, I was very heavy with the praise. I praised her for being such a hard worker and for sticking with it when it got tough. I was careful not to become frustrated or impatient when she struggled with concepts and I focused more on her effort than on whether she got it right on the first try. She picked up on that and became more brave as we continued. This has been invaluable because now she will give ANY word a shot, even if it’s very long or unfamiliar.
- I reminded her often how much I enjoyed teaching her to read and how exciting it is that she’s becoming a “reader” (sort of like a club!) From lesson 55 on, I started asking her to help me read books. I would read and then stop and point to a word I wanted her to read, making sure to do a good mix of easy-peasy ones and ones that she was unfamiliar with. We moved on to her reading every other sentence, and then every other page. This was much better for us than having her read entire stories at first because it helped the plot and pages move along without her frustration building when she encountered multiple difficult words in a row.
We called grandmas and read to them over the phone, and I tried to keep Scott abreast of progress so he could scoop her up at the end of the day and hear all about the stories she read.
- We asked her to start reading part of our family scripture study each night and she was so proud to do it!
- I encourage her to read throughout the day, because sometimes she seems to forget she can! “What’s this?” she’ll ask a the grocery store and point to something. “Read it and see” is my answer. “What am I supposed to do on this page?” she asks about her coloring book. “Read it and find out” I answer. 🙂
Next Time Around…
Unless my next children are book-hounds like Mackenzie, I will wait until they are 3 1/2 to start, and maybe later if the circumstances aren’t right. Much like potty training, this is something I need to gear up for and commit to, so it shouldn’t coincide with a new baby or a move.
I absolutely plan on teaching Caitlyn and any future children using the same book and similar techniques. This post was focused on the nitty gritty so much, I feel like I may have missed sharing the forest for the trees:
I cry happy tears nearly every day when Mackenzie comes up to me and tells me what happened in the book she just read.
She’s always been a good sport about being in the car, but now she’s actually discovering things as we drive. She brings a stack of magazines with us and reads them cover to cover.
I love that she reads to her little sister already.
Much like when she learned to sign “hat” as a baby and soon spotted every hat for a mile around and eagerly pointed them out to me, she is a keen observer of all things word-related now and shows me things I would have missed if left to my own devices. Her mind is constantly synthesizing and she’ll tell me things like: “Oh! “Begins” begins with a B!” and “This book is called The Ant and the Elephant but ‘elephant’ already has an ‘ant’ in it! That’s silly.”
She is suddenly interested in typing Scott notes. Her spelling is atrocious and the note is always some variation of the following, but each one makes me so happy:
“I luv yoo.
Luv ciytlin and macinze and mama. I luv yoo vire much. I hop yoo cum hom luv yoo”
I consider myself privileged beyond measure to teach her, cheer her on, and watch in amazement as she blossoms. I’m so proud of her for finishing her 100 lessons!
Only three more years until I get to start lesson 1 with Caitlyn. 😉