Friday, 12 February 2016

The Accidental Literacy Teacher

It's not what you expect, your 3 year old suddenly starting to read.

But it's what happened to us last year. At first it was the odd word on signs - mainly the word 'no'. She started tracing the letters on street signs and taking interest in text around us.

Then one of her preschool teachers mentioned she was pointing to words and reading them in books. At the time I didn't realise that was unusual, but the teacher's reaction told me that it was a bit out of the ordinary.

One day I went into a charity shop, I went browsing around and found some Level 1 and 2 Biff, Chip and Kipper Books. (Actually under the new grading they were Level 2 and 3 but I didn't know that.) I got them, thinking they'd come in handy when she was closer to 4. She found them and read the lot. She wasn't even 3 and a half at this stage.

We set about finding more Biff, Chip and Kipper books and managed to get a box set of the new levels 4 to 6. We thought that would keep us going until she was at least 5 or 6. By the end of the summer holidays she'd finished the lot. She was still only 3 years 8 months.

From there she just started reading everything. She would happily read her picture books to herself, and would often correct me if I went wrong when I read them to her. She would read text on boxes, packets, the blurb on the back of books, signs in shops. When we went out to eat she could pick her own food from the menu. All the while I was reeling in shock at this bizarre child who was still only semi-toilet trained yet seemed to be able to read almost anything.

She moved to a school nursery in January and they tested her reading. She now has a reading age of 8.9.

She was 4 in December. She has a reading age of more than twice her actual age.


By now you're probably thinking I'm boasting. But I'm not. Because boasting would imply I've had any sort of control over the process, and I truly, honestly haven't. She's done it all herself. Yes, I've read to her since an early age, but she was the one demanding stories as soon as she was able to grab her own book and bring it over to me. To be honest, there have been times when, having read about 20 books (or occasionally one book 20 times), I wished she wasn't so bothered! But apart from reading with her I've done nothing special. No Baby Einstein, no reading programmes, no second language, nada. 

So here I am, suddenly 'teaching' a literate child when I never expected to do that. I figured that she would learn when she started school, that the teachers would take care of most of it and I'd just have to read whatever came home in her book bag. Now I have a preschooler who already has a book bag - and is complaining the stories they give her are too easy!!

It has its annoying downsides. For instance, she has a thing for Pom Bears. (Show me a preschooler who doesn't.) We'd told her that they were to have with lunch only, but then she read that it says 'Potato Snacks' on the bag so wants then as a snack. Yeah, thanks for that. There was also the time she freaked out when I had a satsuma because the packaging said 'Just for Kids'. And she often reads the bizarre self-aggrandising slogans on packaging and asks why it says that, to which I reply, "It's marketing."

It's also a challenge finding suitable reading material for her. She is very sensitive to anything scary, and it's hard finding books intended for 7 or 8 year olds with a subject matter that's appropriate for a 4 year old. 

But at the moment it's not too bad. She's mostly happy to just read her old picturebooks with the occasional chapter book from the library thrown in. At home she's still quite happy to be read to, and that's fine. I don't want to push her. No, really! As someone who passionately believes in the importance of children just playing and delaying formal education, the fact my daughter took it upon herself to learn to read while still a preschooler is actually quite irritating!

So for now, I'm trying to play it cool. At one point I was worried that, having learnt to read by sight, she'd struggle with phonics and was desperately scrabbling round for phonics resources to help her 'catch up' and then I realised how utterly ridiculous that was! She will learn in her own time, as she has with sight reading.

Just turns out her own time was rather earlier than we were expecting!

Did you have a very early reader? How did you find it? What surprises are in store for us?!

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