Every once in awhile I like to stop and make a note about what the ducklings are picking up with regard to letters and reading. I suspect they’ll both teach themselves to read before I get to formal lessons, and I’d like a record of how it happened.
It seems like with both of them, it was the shape of the letters that got their attention first. (Of course, my aversion to premature teaching of the alphabet song may be relevant here.) D1 would play with scrabble tiles and I told her the first letter of her name. After a few months of this, she spotted a similar shape in sticks in the dirt. Then she started confusing it with similar letters, and I would tell her the sounds of those. Between 2 and 3 she learned quite a few of them in this way.
Now D2 is starting to do something similar. What he likes to do is play with D1’s letter magnets. (These live on the front door, where they don’t get in the way of food preparations.) He tries to match up ones that are shaped the same. He’s especially intrigued by ones that are almost, but not quite, the same, like capital Z and N, or M and W. (We have capitals and lower case, and D1 learned them all together.) At this point, it’s just like learning their shapes: That’s a triangle, and that’s an A.
I told D1 the most common sound of the letter, rather than the name. (This is confusing around other people, but that’s not a big concern.) I also would model sounding out words for her, such as if she asked me to write something on a paper for her, or if there was a large, simple word we came across. Obviously when we read books, we just read the story.
When she was about 2, she started doing random "sounding out" of letters when she saw them. Now D2 is starting to do the same thing. Of course, I don’t do nearly as much of this directly with D2, but he lays blocks and magnets with D1 and copies whatever she does.
Since she got all of the basic letter sounds down, D1 has been doing more and more "sounding out" of words on her own, but still not quite seeing the connection between the sounds she would recite and a word she knew. She cracked us all up one day as we were driving in the car and she sounded out something from the side of the road: aah, t, m. Doesn’t quite make a word, unfortunately.
Last week we were reading a book of opposites, one word per page along with a picture, and D1 started sounding out the words immediately after me, and then reciting the word at the end. I decided to see if she was ready, and on the next page, "up," I let her go first. Sure enough, she sounded it out and figured out the word. Then she did "down." We went on for several pages like this, and then she was getting tired so I went back to reading it.
Although the opposite book wasn’t limited to words that use only the most common phonetic sounds, it had enough to be rewarding (up, in, big), and many that weren’t quite so simple were close enough that she could work it out for her self (down, out, little). The pictures helped, but she couldn’t entirely rely on them. I saw her looking at the same book, sounding out words, on her own one day this week.
I’m not sure what to do next. We are singing the alphabet song now, so that she can learn the names of the letters. (And of course D2 wants to sing it too, so there goes my waiting until after the sounds theory.) I could teach her the multiple-letter phonograms, like "sh" and "ow", but I’m not sure she’s mentally ready to understand the possibility of a letter being one sound in one place and another sound somewhere else. I might just work on letter names and let her figure out the multiple-letter groups on her own if she can–as I could see in the opposites book, many times they are close enough that she can make the connection and figure out the word.