Many four-year-olds can learn to read, but their lessons must be short and involve games and manipulatives to keep them engaged.
That’s what I have learned from many years of teaching little kids to read. After about ten minutes, many little ones lose interest or become distracted. Then it is time to stop or to move on to a different approach.
For example, last week I worked with a four-year-old girl who is learning to associate sounds with letters and to form her first CVC words. The lesson was supposed to last 45 minutes, but after 30 minutes, she could no longer sit still. Here is what we did in that half hour:
- We began using letter tiles which she loves to touch. She would pull one of the 26 letters I had presorted and tell me the sound associated with that letter. She knew all but two, “v” and “y,” so we set aside those two and every few minutes we reviewed them.
- Next, we reviewed last week’s lesson, making CVC words with tiles the vowel “a,” words like “cat,” “man” and “bad.” For five minutes she participated, moving some of the letters herself, but then she noticed my necklace and wanted to wear it. I let her, but from her attention was diverted. After another few minutes we moved on.
- I had created BINGO cards using CVC words, so her next task was to identify the word I said from among the nine words on her card. This worked for a few minutes, but then she became distracted by the BINGO markers themselves—pieces of plastic I had cut out—and she started making patterns with them. Enough of that.
- We returned to making words with the tiles to no avail. I cut the lesson short, grateful that she had worked for a half hour.
With a five-year-old last week, the situation was much the same.
- I corrected the few pages of phonics homework she had done while she dumped a container of letter tiles and put them in ABC order, chatting all the time.
- She told me the sounds associated with each letter, reminding me that “k” and “c” make the same sound. She gets mixed up with “g” and “j,” so we set them aside to review as the lesson progressed. I pulled letters to make words with beginning blends, such as “smell” and “stun.” She said the words but in a few minutes, she lost interest.
- We moved on to a workbook in which she read tiny sentences using CVC and CCVC words.
- Finally I dictated a few words with blends in them and she wrote them.
- A half hour passed, the scheduled time for her lesson. Now she got her reward: time to build houses out of the letter tiles.
For all elementary school aged children I plan several parts to each lesson, but for the youngest, I need one activity for each seven to ten minutes to keep them engaged.