Something magical happens at this age (it could also happen earlier or later for some children). A child begins to decode language and understand how phonetic sounds come together to make words. Words make sentences. And sentences make sense! Before this time, letters were concepts, independent of one another, disconnected figures.
Not all children will learn to read confidently by the age of 6. Some children may learn by age 9 or 10, especially boys. Do not be discouraged! If a child is consistently read to, has a lot of interaction, engages in play, has normal emotional, physical, and social development, then he will turn out just fine. There is plenty of time for your child to develop into a proficient reader.
Maximize this stage. Let him enjoy learning, encourage his interests, and answer his why questions! (There will be alot of these.) Above all, DON’T NEGLECT BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION AND CHARACTER! This will be the most important thing you teach at this stage. Character lessons, memorizing bible verses about character traits, dialoguing about character and the word of God, and giving your kids opportunities to apply character should be a priority. I like how Tedd Tripp put it in his book, Shepherding A Child’s Heart. ”No child is neutral.” We need to raise our children to love, know, obey, serve, and worship God.
HOW I TEACH READING…
(Just a note, I’m not an expert reading teacher. My children have, at certain times, been the “victim” of my experiments. But I have included here what has worked for us and maybe you can pick up something for your own kids, too.)
Start slow and gentle (10 to 15 minutes of daily phonics instruction is fine at the beginning until they can handle more). I used to do just 5 minutes with Titus everyday and eventually, he was ready for more extended periods of instruction time.
Master each letter sound through repetition. I use Sing, Spell, Read, and Write’s ABC song and flash cards many many times before my kids ever memorize the letter sounds or start writing anything. I also supplement with programs like Reading Eggs, Click and Read , Starfall , Hooked on Phonics, Bob Books, as well as games, Ipad apps, or my own home-made flash cards.
Invest in a good phonics program. I recommend Sing, Spell, Read, and Write. I like it because it is a complete program. If you get the U.S. print version, it includes the games and comes in color (but it is 3x the price.) The locally printed version from C&E Publishing can be bought as two levels in one, or separately. Get the All Aboard and On Track for Kindergarten, and Off We Go and Raceway for Preparatory. Be sure to purchase a copy of the CD. The intructor’s kit comes with charts, colored flash cards, readers, and teacher’s guides. One downside to SSRW is that boys don’t like the writing parts (there are lists and lists of vocabulary and spelling words to write in the Raceway level) and they haven’t updated it since 1999. But this program is pretty sure-fire. My three boys learned to read using it. But there are other great phonics programs out there, too.
Read to your child daily. Admittedly, there are days when I don’t get to read aloud to my younger kids. But I have noticed that my children learn to connect words they hear to the text they see on the page when I read to them frequently. Periodically, I will identify words by pointing at them with my finger as I read to them, especially words I am trying to teach them.
Make books and reading important (give books as gifts or rewards, go to the bookstore or library together, encourage older children to read to younger siblings, let your children see you reading, etc).
De-prioritize TV time. It’s just way more entertaining than learning to read and may affect your child’s attention span or his motivation to read. I noticed this with Titus, who got more “TV babysitting time” than his older brothers. At present, TV time is reserved for the weekends. There are days when the kids will watch a show or two, but we keep this to a minimum. Generally, extended TV watching does not happen often in our home.
Be positive even with the seemingly small milestones. Your goal may be proficient reading, but if your child is able to sound out a word like “Sam,” this is cause for a big celebration! Bring out the tambourines! Be generous with praise!
Be patient. When they get it, they will really get it, and they will take off like you won’t believe. I’ve seen it happen with all my two older boys. Titus is at that stage where he is beginning to get it. And there are days when he will read sight words that he has read only once or twice before and I will be like, “Whoa! How did you do that?!” (He’s still got a long way to go, but it’s an exciting time.) At the beginning of this year, he hardly had any phonics instruction. He wasn’t ready. So I waited for a bit. I had to be patient. I try to prioritise the love for learning in my children. When I sense that they aren’t ready for a task and my goals are too ambitious, I back off. (But, with my older kids, it’s a little different. I have to be discerning about whether they really can’t do a task or they are just being lazy.)
HOW I TEACH MATH…
First off, some inspiration:
‘The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.’ Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)
A child must understand that Mathematics, defined as the study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols, is not just a subject. It is everywhere, it is fundamental, it is universal. Unlike learning to read a language in one country versus another, mathematics uses the same rules. When you go shopping in a country like Singapore, you add up your bill the same way you add up your bill in the Philippines (currencies may vary, but computing for the sum of your bill does not differ). Numbers as symbols, measurement, sorting, classifying, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc…It all means the same thing no matter where you are. The irrational number π, is universally accepted as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — approximately equal to 3.14159. No kindergartener has to know that…I’m just saying that math is actually “easier” to teach than something like reading (and that’s coming from someone who never liked math but now enjoys teaching it.)
Use a math workbook as a guide for the skills that have to be covered, but don’t be dependent on it. I’m not generally an advocate of workbooks because I feel like parents can get so obsessed with their kids answering every single problem in a workbook and panicking about finishing the entire workbook by the end of the year that they get unpleasantly militant towards their kids. However, one positive thing about workbooks is that they are sequenced in the proper order for skills. (I use Singapore Math materials for my kids. You can purchase cheaper options at National Bookstore. At the beginning of the school year, they usually have a good selection of workbooks with answer keys at the back of each one.) Just be careful…many workbooks out there assume that a child can think abstractly. But at this age, they really need a whole lot of concrete examples and pictures. This is also Singapore Math’s philosophy (concrete –> pictorial –> abstract). So, if you get to a point in the workbook where your child seems to be struggling, take time to go back to concrete examples so they experience math and don’t just memorize concepts.
Don’t rush. Math concepts build on one another so the foundation has to be strong. For example, counting from 1 to 20 doesn’t mean squat unless a child understands that each number represents a quantity. Don’t be impressed with 3 year old children who can count up to 100 unless they can show you how many 100 is. If you feel your child isn’t ready to move to the next level, there’s no shame in repeating concepts to make sure your child has an excellent grasp of the basics.
Master Arithmetic. The method or process of computation with figures: the most elementary branch of mathematics. By six years old, children usually understand that numbers are symbolic of quantities. They know the difference between properties of things (big vs. small, more vs. less, tall vs. short, etc.). They can also classify based on properties (sort by color, shape, texture, etc.), and they can determine the next object or item in simple sequences. These are all very helpful, foundational skills. But what they will really need moving forward is good arithmetic skills — the ability to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and knowing when to add, subtract, multiply, or divide (or a combination of two or more of these) to solve a problem. You might want to consider a program like Abacus Math.
Practice, practice, practice. Doing math is like exercising a muscle. The more practice children get, the quicker they will be able to solve for solutions and the less prone they will be to making careless mistakes. A child may understand what 5 + 3 is but take 5 minutes to give an answer because he is counting his fingers. But if he gets lots of practice, he can work through problems quicker and with greater confidence. Personally, I prefer that my children do their math everyday (except the weekends). I try not to do less than 4 days a week of math to keep them “mathematically sharp.”
Play games. Games are a fun way to get kids to apply their arithmetic and problem-solving skills without feeling like it is “work.” We play board games with our kids, and I get apps on my Ipad for them, too. Check out Kids Numbers for some online math games.
HOW I TEACH WRITING
Writing is a big challenge for boys. I’ve got three of them and none of them are particularly fond of writing. However, boys can be taught how to write and write well. You just need to be, oh, so very patient, as they develop pencil-holding ability, coordination, confidence, and then learn how to take their ideas and paper-ize them. My 6 year old does copy work and I also dictate to him often. We correct spelling and grammar along the way. Titus, my 4 year old, still needs help holding his pencil at times. He is starting to write some letters and numbers correctly, but he does need daily practice. I don’t make my kids do pages of penmanship. Frankly, pencils will be outdated soon with all the technology out there. But, I still think it’s an important skill to learn. I just don’t believe in making a big deal out of penmanship. However, if you are sending your child to conventional school in the very near future then penmanship might be on your priority list. They will need to take notes in class and penmanship will matter.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER SUBJECT AREAS?
Everything else, like Science, History, Filipino, etc. can be introduced by reading from books, having discussions, doing experiments (for Science), and projects (for History). But I prefer to focus on the basics — reading and math — since they are foundational.
SOME OTHER THINGS…
This stage involves more structure, but I keep lessons SHORT, especially for my 4 year old. I give lots of breaks. Edan, who is six, will finish all his work within an hour and a half and not more than two hours. Titus, who is now four, will do about thirty minutes to an hour of work. An hour would be rare. This doesn’t include bible-reading time, read-aloud time or piano and violin practice.