Mr. December and I decided it was time to get a bit more serious about E learning to read. She knows all her letter sounds and understands the concept of decoding, but she sets up an inordinate amount of resistance every time we suggest that she read something with us.
Before we get too far into this, I’d like to acknowledge that nothing bad will happen if she doesn’t learn to read this summer, or even next summer. I’m aware that kids in Finland aren’t taught to read until age seven, and they’re not suffering academically for it, so it’s probably fine. K learned to read at the end of grade two (albeit with a very expensive remediation program for which we pulled her out of school every morning for six weeks); N began reading books to himself around the end of grade one, and R learned in grade one as well. These days they all have to have the books pried out of their hands at bedtime, so clearly there’s no problem with not learning to read at age three. Or four, five, or even six.
But this summer, with so little else to do, and with E home all day with us, it seems like a good time to get her reading. So I did what I do when it’s really important that my kids do something: the two-pronged approach of consequences and bribery (for more on my attitude towards bribing kids, read this post from my Montessori blog.) “Reading with Eema” is an item on her daily checklist; if the checklist isn’t completed, there are no screen privileges the next day. As far as bribery goes, we’ve created a star chart; Every time she reads a whole new Bob book she gets a sticker. When she’s read all the books in a set (usually about twelve books) she gets to pick a prize.
That piqued her interest. “I need to complete Peppa Pig’s neighbourhood,” she said, eyes wide with excitement.
“You know,” I said, “The first book only has a few words in it. I bet you could finish a whole book right now, before bedtime!”
“Let’s try!” She shouted, and we took out the first Bob book: Mat. She read it haltingly, but correctly. Then she slyly suggested that even though it was bedtime I should let her stay up to read book two. I knew better than to say no to a kid who was on a roll, so we got Book 2: Sam and she made her way through that one as well. Two star stickers went up on her chart.
E turned to me earnestly and said, “I never knew it would be this much fun!”
And with that, the bribery felt justified.
We’ve ordered a couple of Kiwi Crates (curated, themed activity boxes) for the kids. Today E opened up the “My Body and Me” box and was immediately engrossed in it. With very little help from anyone she followed the illustrated instructions to build her own stethoscope. After sitting for a while and listening to her own heart, E moved on to the next craft: sewing a stuffed felt heart, stomach, and brain. She probably spent three to four hours using the contents of the Kiwi Crate, culminating in her running a doctor’s office where her entire herd of stuffed elephants came to get checked out. She carefully made “notes” on the laminated form that came with the box and then provided recommendations. Recommendation #1? Hugs, followed closely by sleep.
Montessori talks about the “prepared environment”; The Parenting Junkie advocates “Strewing”. They seem to be two different ways of doing the same thing: setting the stage for learning and play. The Kiwi crate was successful in that way, and I’m sure that E learned a lot. But when it came to reading, displaying the books attractively next to a beanbag chair in a cozy corner just didn’t cut it — I still had to bribe E to even look at them.
Whoever came up with the saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” seems to have been missing a few tools of persuasion; I suspect those horses could have been bribed or tricked into taking that first sip. They’d have no use for Peppa Pig’s camper van, of course, but a good farmer or cowboy could surely come up with something.