A friend asked me the other day whether she should buy some books to help her three year old learn his letter sounds. It got me thinking about the importance of teaching this skill at this young age and the method that I would recommend.
Children at this age have a natural interest in books and text. It is this that we need to cultivate and not irradiate. In my experience formal teaching too early can stamp out this literary fire and set the child up for a reading struggle rather than success. So do I think formal teaching of this skill is the way forward? To this I have to say no but this does not mean that phonics learning and reading itself should wait until school. So what would I recommend and what have I found works?
Sharing and cultivating a love of literature- Expose your child to books often and I mean often. Share books at home, take them to book readings at the local library, get granny to read to them and share her favourite book.
Playing games that involve listening for the initial sound in words- Play I spy, I spy something beginning with 'b' can you guess what it is?
Have fun with the alphabet- Can we think of an animal beginning with every letter of the alphabet?
Play fun sorting games- Lets sort picture cards into different groups depending on the letter that the object starts with. Put all the things that begin with 'b' in this container and everything that begins with 'l' in here.
Starting with what they know- Support your child to recognise their name, point it out when you write it, show your child that name sticker on their lunch box, read them their name on their bedroom door.
Point out familiar words in the environment, the sign outside the library, the sign outside Coles. You'll be surprised how quickly your child will start to recognise these words out of context, for example on leaflets and vouchers that you may have in your house.
Taking the lead from your child-When they are ready they will start to ask how to spell their name or what a certain word says in a book.
So to teach or not to teach? Definitely to teach but do it through fun and preserve that magic ! Don't rush it and leave the formal part until they get to school and until they are ready. Through taking it slowly and taking your child's lead you will build the foundations for a happy and healthy relationship with literature.