“How Our Two-Year-Old is Learning to Read” by QACP Parent, Erika Brown (3.9.17)

Late in 2016, I decided that I would make teaching my daughter how to read a priority. By year’s end, I declared, she will be able to read short phrases and multiple sight words. Ambitious? Nah. I would use the methods my teachers used with me, which were also how I learned to teach reading when earning my Masters of Arts in Teaching Elementary Education, and how I eventually taught my own students during my 12 years of both classroom and tutoring lessons. My plans were to first teach her the alphabet, next explain that each letter makes a sound, follow up with consonant blends, instruct her to sound out entire words, and drill her on sight words. Later, I would provide her with the reading strategies like identifying text-to-self or text-to-text connections, predicting, and inferring. If it worked for me, it will work for her! This was until I came across Steven Bialostok’s Raising Readers: Helping Your Child to Literacy at a used bookstore, which has completely challenged my way of thinking___and teaching.

In short, the author, then reading/language arts specialist for the Sacramento-area school district and now a professor with a Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming, advises parents that the best way to teach their children to read is simply this: “talk to your child, provide experiences for your child, and read aloud to your child” (141). It could not be that easy, could it? I talk to her daily, we regularly enjoy our outings, and of course I read to her! Give me more strategies, Man! Instead, his message to us parents of preschool-aged children is not to stress about how early our children will begin actively reading because in the same way that we trust our children will crawl or walk when they are ready, so can we expect them to “emerge naturally into reading” (47). I know what you’re thinking—“Say what?!” In fact, he affirms, “The reason that walking and talking occurs without much worry is because we trust children. We trust that they’ll learn to walk and we trust that they’ll talk. We must also trust that they will read” (55). [Enter shocked emoji here.]

Now, being an experienced educator who proudly sees her daughter as her sole pupil, trusting that my toddler will read when she is (ahem) “ready” challenges all I have learned and practiced. How, tell me how, will this happen? Still, as I read on, his arguments began making total sense. For example, he points out that too much emphasis is given to teaching phonemic awareness first rather than teaching the child to use an array of skills to determine the meaning of the text as a whole. He illustrates this by pointing out how difficult it would be for an individual to put together a jigsaw puzzle if she was only given the pieces without giving her a chance to study the image on the box cover. This would cause the participant to become disinterested in the objective as a whole since it would become too difficult to complete (similar to one losing interest in reading because too much focus and distraction is placed on a single word’s phoneme).

Remember asking what a word said and hearing, “Sound it out,” as a response? This is how teachers and parents place too much emphasis on phonics when instead, we could offer to help our child to gather hints from context clues, illustrations, and even use the first letter of the word in question to help solve its pronunciation. While he does believe that phonics is indeed a tool an emerging reader can utilize when reading, his argument is that it should not be taught first. Instead, parents should be teaching children to infer meaning of the context or a word by using skills like predicting, discussing the context or setting, and providing hints constantly during story time (when caregivers read stories aloud to children) and especially not wait to teach these strategies until they learn what sounds the letters make. That is, we should be using these moments with our children to model good reading strategies from the start and eventually, trust that our children will engage in reading organically.

Almost immediately, my husband and I put Bialostok’s advice to work at home. We now practice Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) time where we sit and model that we too are readers by diving into our own books while she sits nearby and “reads” her stack of books—something I did not think she was capable of until she was much older. Rest assured, after some initial tears, “Mommy sit and read” requests, and telling me about her book repeatedly, she eventually understood that it is a quiet time when we both sit and read independently, which she can now do for 40 glorious minutes. Forty, People. We have also increased the frequency of reading books with repeated phrases and now, she regularly “reads” what she recalls aloud. Other times, our daughter will rely on her memory or use the illustrations for clues as to what the text might mean. This is precisely the reading skills Bialostok encourages us to teach because the child is then reading for meaning, not just pronunciation. Then, it happened. Just last month, our two-year-old picked up a book we had never read to her exclaiming, “A good night book!” The book was Good Night, Gorilla. We believe she was able to recognize “good night” from her plethora of books with that exact phrase. [Enter weeping emoji here.]

So although Bialostok published his book back in 1992, we strongly adhere to his advice since we are am now witnessing the very stages of reading he believes will take place naturally if we just make story time a priority and ultimately trust that our child will one day become an engaged reader.

“Raising Happy and Responsible Children: Instincts, Foundations, & Guidelines” by QACP Parent Educator, Kate Calhoun

“The behavior you consistently surround your child with will profoundly influence how your child turns out.”

“Most parenting successes are a result of what parents DO when emotions run hot and when things are difficult.  Actions speak louder than words.”

“Brains are pre-loaded with an innate moral awareness. (Loyalty, justice, empathy, respect for authority, and prescriptions against social violence.) How we parent makes the difference in whether moral behavior will develop.  Moral awareness does not equal moral behavior.  It has to be ‘taught’ and ‘caught.’”    -John Medina

Imitative Instincts

At birth babies have the ability to learn by watching and imitating behavior.

Example: A forty-two minute old baby who watches someone stick his tongue out will copy the behavior. Brains are designed to learn by imitating observed behavior.

Example: At about 14 months old, a baby develops the ability to understand ‘object permanence’. They learn this when parents play the ‘Peek-a-Boo’ game. Children delight in learning that things that can’t be seen are still there.

Children continue to learn by reading faces and body language, and by observing what other people are doing.

Laying a Strong, Firm Foundation for Young Children

“Parents must lay down the ‘bricks through the swamp’ to offer kids a solid foundation. Children develop social skills when parents lay down the rules and structure kids need to know to navigate the social world.” –John Medina

12-14 months  – Kids think: “The whole world revolves around me.”

14-24 months – Kids are learning: “There are rules and different perspectives.” They begin to realize that other people have a different point of view than they do.

24 months – Kids explore and test to see how stable and consistent the rules are.  KIDS MUST TEST THE RULES OVER AND OVER. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Terrible Two’s’…kids at this developmental stage need to test rules to make sure things are okay and stable in their world.

Toddlers test to get a predictable, consistent response. It’s not helpful or emotionally healthy to yell or use a loud voice. Stay calm. It helps when parents learn to say ‘no’, ‘stop’, etc. in a calm, firm voice with body language that offers a congruent message. This is not the time to give in to your child, or to let your toddler’s behavior influence your rules. Kids’ feel emotionally safe and their behavior improves when parents use clear and consistent limit-setting and guidance strategies.

Guidelines for Teaching Rules to Preschool Age Children (3-5)

HAVE CLEAR RULES – Use clear and simple language when telling your child about a rule. Make sure both parents and additional caregivers use the same rules as often as possible.

EXPLAIN THE RULES – Teach your child the importance of the rule. Give a simple explanation that tells why you have the rule. Children ages 3 to 5 are more compliant when rules are understood. They are more able to reason and make decisions based on information.

BE KIND AND FIRM – When telling the rules and setting your boundaries, use a tone of voice and actions that show your child that the rule is important, that you care about his feelings, and you that intend to stick to your rules. Being kind and firm at the same time takes some patience and practice. Think of yourself as a coach. You are on the same team with your child. You expect your child to learn new skills with the support of your teaching and guidance.

BE CONSISTENT – Once you decide on your rule or strategy, it’s essential that you make a big effort to follow through and be consistent. When your behavior is consistent your child will find it easier to follow the rules and become more compliant. Children feel emotionally safe when they can predict what behavior is expected of them.

“Parents need to be the source of stability for kids. Consistent parenting rules increase brain development. If rules are not consistent, there is an increased likelihood of pediatric psychiatric disorders.”  -John Medina

Hold steady to your rules. Having rules and routines that are stable helps young kids handle everyday life events, including changes within the family.

Kids can learn, adapt and respond to different people and their rules. They will learn Mom’s rules, Dad’s rules, and the teacher’s rules.  It helps when parents and other caregivers are consistent and use the same rules as much as possible.

OFFER PRAISE AND ENCOURAGEMENT – Remember to notice your child’s effort to follow rules and guidelines. Encourage your child with a hug, ‘way to go!’, ‘you did it!’, thumbs up or high-five to show you appreciate her effort and compliance.

Author Kate Calhoun is a Parent Educator for Queen Anne Cooperative Preschool (QACP). She regularly works with co-op families via her teaching assignments through both Edmonds Community College and Seattle Central Community College. This article was a part of Kate’s Winter 2017 educational series. The material she references is based on John Medina’s presentation for educators in Everett, WA (January 8, 2011) and in his book entitled: Brain Rules for Baby – How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, Pear Press  2010.