My kindergartener can’t read, and he’s not very interested in learning how. He’d rather be climbing trees, riding his bike, or taping together random items from the recycling bin. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
I don’t want to force my kindergartener to read before he’s ready. I know research shows that doing so can cause problems (anxiety, stress, negative associations with school), both now and down the road. And since by the end of third grade, kids who are early readers have no advantage over kids who are later readers, I don’t see a reason to push my son to read in kindergarten.
However, my child’s school, driven by the standards set by the state (which are similar to those outlined in Common Core) expects all kindergarteners to read — and the sooner, the better. Letter sounds, word families, sight words — read, kids, and read fast! Even the principal issued a letter to parents noting the number of sight words that he has personally set as a goal for all kindergarteners to know by the end of the year. Still, it’s fine with me if my child doesn’t learn to read this year.
Except for one thing. I really like his teacher. And it’s quite important to her that he reads — or at least that he makes some effort that leads to improvement. I respect his teacher, and I know her job isn’t easy. As much as I want to ignore the push for reading on a schedule, I also want to support her efforts to comply with the expectations placed on her. She’s been teaching for a long time — even before kindergarten became the new first grade. I suspect she knows about the research and would rather let the kids play a little more and work a little less, but it’s not entirely up to her.
Since the kids do work so hard in kindergarten, I try to let my son play a lot after school and run around outside as often as he can, but when we do work on reading and writing at home, there are a few things that have helped my reluctant kid have fun with it:
Sight Word Scavenger Hunt: A couple of months into kindergarten, we’d acquired quite a few index cards with sight words written on them (no, go, me, the, boy, etc.). I’d been making the index cards as his teacher sent home weekly lists of sight words, but my son mostly just resented their existence — until we started playing scavenger hunt. I “hide” the cards around the room, which really just means I scatter them around in open sight, and my son goes around the room finding cards and calling out what they say. He grabs the ones he knows first, and then I give him hints for the ones he can’t remember easily. (Like, “Find the word ‘boy’. You know it! Look at the green cards, and you’ll find it. What does it start with?! It’s over by the Batman chair! Batman starts with the same letter!” This all has a cheerleader/team tone, and for some reason, the urgency of the game’s pace is really to his liking — as if he doesn’t have time to decide it’s no fun.) Frequently he plays like he’s an astronaut on a mission when we play this game.
Gear Up: I’d liked these ZIPIT Monster Jumbo Pencil Cases for a while before I decided to buy one, and I wish I’d bought it sooner. We use it for our homework tools, and my son loves it. Obviously any box or bag that suits your child’s personality would work, but having a dedicated bag for homework has helped make that chore more fun. (We also use the bag for any writing work he wants to do, but we keep the bag nice and put it up when we’re done.) We filled it with good pencils, a good sharpener, and eraser caps, among other things. (The eraser caps were a big hit all on their own.)
Halloween Witch Finger: You know those witch fingers you can get around Halloween? They are great for learning how to read! They make pointing to each word on a page while reading (or being read to) super fun!
Children’s Literature: As kindergarten got started, we suddenly had much less time at home and a much more exhausted kid — plus homework. A lot of this work comes in the form of short, uninspiring learning-to-read books. At best, some of the stories are moderately amusing or at least have a twist at the end, but the illustrations and the feel of a stapled-together book are disappointing. Eventually I realized that we’d started to focus on these to the exclusion of old favorites at home and new picks from the library. So we changed our routine a little and made sure to work in more engaging books of better quality — and to read them where there’s no pressure on my son to help with the reading. We’d just snuggle up and enjoy the story. Another discovery that we made was, at this age, snuggly reading works best when I read aloud chapter books for older kids. He doesn’t always want a short story that ends quickly now that he’s older, and he doesn’t want the same stories over and over, so chapter books are great. He’s impressed that he’s old enough to enjoy a book with so many pages and so few pictures, and he waits in anticipation until we can start the next chapter. Books suggested for ages nine to twelve seem to work best (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) since I’m doing the reading.
Audio Books: As much as I’d love to snuggle with my five-year-old every time he wants to read, unfortunately there are times when I can’t. Audio books or Audible stories with a hardcopy work great for this. (I’m sure some would suggest read-along-apps, but I want to avoid screen-time when I can, and some of the apps have too much animation or poor-quality titles, in my opinion.) As long as the audio story is one he knows, he can usually figure out when to turn the page, which keeps him listening, imagining, and engaged, regardless of whether he’s agonizing over every written word on the page.
Reading by Flashlight: When bedtime is near, break out the flashlight! Just holding the flashlight to light the page is a fun (and important) task, or if your little one is interested, she can try to follow the words with the flashlight as she reads.
Baby Books: There are several books around our house that my son loved when he was a toddler, but even though I thought he’d outgrown them, I just couldn’t bring myself to give them away. Well, now I’m glad I held onto them a little longer. Pulling out these books for my son to read to me now is fun for both of us (and even his three-year-old little brother). Leslie Patricelli and Byron Barton books are some of our favorites! Yes, he has some of them memorized by now, but pointing to each word as he reads it in these books he’s so comfortable with gives him more confidence and independence than do the new, easy-readers he brings home from school each day.
Signs Around the House: Just like when learning a foreign language, it helps to label items around the house for your emergent reader. My son loves making signs and sticking them on things, so he helps with this project. We use post-it notes, which are more temporary by nature, or index cards with painter’s tape or sticky tac, which stay attached pretty well. (Sticky tac was as big a hit as the eraser caps.) Every few days, I like to make a couple of new signs, let him sound out the words, and then go stick them where they go.
Blank Books: I have blank (or mostly blank) address books, day planners, notebooks, etc. tucked away in drawers all over the house. My kindergartener loves them. He writes stories in them — sometimes with me slowly spelling every word he wants to write and other times with him sounding out the words himself — and then he reads his stories back to me. Blank books are nice for this, versus loose sheets of paper, because they encourage the creation of longer stories.
Strength: For a child, writing is more of a physical activity than many adults may realize. It requires strength in the hands and fingers for obvious reasons, but it also requires good core strength in order to support the upper body as it works. Short crayons promote good pencil grip and will help strengthen little fingers. (You can just break crayons in half; no need to buy anything special.) Another easy trick that helps with hand strength and pencil grip is to ball up half a tissue and have your child hold it with her pinkie and ring fingers while she holds her pencil with her other three fingers. For kids who lack the muscle tone or strength to comfortably sit and write for long periods, standing at an easel or lying on the floor when writing at home can help. Also, taking a break from writing to participate in other activities that strengthen hands or core muscles is just as worthwhile. Other activities that promote hand strength include working with clay and building with Legos, Duplos, or any blocks that require positioning and pressure to make connections. KidPT has a great list of trunk strengthening activities including airplane, rolling, superman games, and more. Hiking, riding a bike or scooter, climbing play equipment, and swinging are also good for the core (and undeniably fun).
We hope you found these tips helpful. All of the products we’ve linked to are ones we personally own and like. We’d love to hear about your experience teaching your own children to read and to know what’s worked for you. Thanks for reading! (Also, we’d love it if you’d share this post or sign up for our newsletter.)
Put together a fun Learning-to-Read Kit for your young reader with some of the items in this post:
- Colored index cards
- Zipper pouch
- Thin markers
- Eraser caps
- Painter’s tape
- Sticky tac
- Witch’s finger
- Post-it notes
- Small notebooks (or we love these memo pads for writing in rough conditions)
- Books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Knuffle Bunny are two great choices!)
- Amazon gift card (that looks like a bookmark!) for Audible stories or actual books
- Headphones (not mentioned in the post but good for audio books)
- Legos, Duplos