Homeschool Reading: The Preschool Years
Should I be teaching reading in my homeschool preschool, you ask? And how?
This is Part 2, which delves into my recommendations for the best books, apps and games for emergent readers like your preschooler and mine. If you haven’t seen Part 1, it’s here. I explain my philosophy of reading and some key elements of what skilled reading is. We also get into some great ways to develop a love of reading in your child before even attempting to teach a single letter sound or sight word.
Welcome to the Homeschooling Preschool series! This post will talk about reading with your preschooler – how to gently introduce beginning pre-reading skills through read alouds, toys, apps, and phonics readers. Stay tuned for our other posts about math, science, social studies, music, foreign language, and art!
Check out the previous post in this series:
Strategies for Beginning Reading
In this post, we’ll cover some great strategies for getting your preschooler ready to learn to read. Each child responds best to a different mix, but these are great habits to get into as a family AND are all beneficial for future reading success:
- Start here: Read alouds with rich language, fun characters, and engaging stories
- Manipulatives and toys: Let your child explore, then hang on to them for skill practice later on
- Early reading apps: Only if you’re OK with screen time. Skip this one if not!
- Some kids might like: Beginning phonics readers, for when your child is curious about what words say
- Probably save for later: Workbooks I used (sparingly) during my years as a reading teacher
Start Here: Read Alouds
As I discussed in my last post, read alouds are the #1 way to get your child to love reading and books. You can explore vocabulary, talk about feelings, discuss why characters act the way they do, and model more difficult syntax or “book language”.
Read Alouds for Preschool
My #1 recommendation, if you have NO other books in your home (but of course you do) is to pick up the hilarious and clever Pigeon books. Pigeon is every young child’s alter ego. He knows what he wants and is not afraid to ask for it. And ask… and ask again! Your child will love saying “NO” to Pigeon even while identifying with him.
These are deceptively “simple” books. The characters’ facial expressions and body language are well developed despite the “simple” drawings. The emotions are clearly portrayed through facial expressions and body language. Even the speech bubbles have character!
Got room in your life for more Mo Willems? Of course you do! The Elephant and Piggie series is perfect for modeling great reading habits (especially tone of voice and dialogue), and when your child gets old enough to start sounding out words, they are great books to pick up again. My son, newly five, is in this stage now. He loves “doing” each character’s voice and expressions!
We really relied on our local library system for Elephant and Piggie access, as there are a great many books in the series! But we found ourselves checking out the same ones over and over again, so here are the ones that are our absolute faves.
If you have to pick just one, my vote would be for “Waiting is Not Easy“. That phrase has saved my sanity as a parent many times! My son learned very early on to say it to himself when he found it difficult to wait for something. And I say it to myself!
Books are a key way for our kids to learn about social relationships, emotional regulation, and situations that might occur in their everyday lives. When they see Elephant struggling with sharing a favorite dessert, or Piggie’s disappointment that her best friend doesn’t like her taste in food, they can relate!
Manipulatives and Toys
Young children are naturally curious and love to play. Giving them letter themed toys and manipulatives is a great way to pique their interest in the alphabet. At this stage, you don’t have to teach anything – just let them explore and familiarize themselves. When they start to ask questions or request to spell specific words, you can demonstrate it. They’ll start to catch on!
One of my son’s favorite games was to spell ‘nonsense words’ using the bath foam letters linked below. He would sit in the bath and arrange the letters in the most ridiculous sequences. He’d say “Mommy, look at this one!” and I would try to sound out whatever it was, even totally non-English sequences like R J W I G N. “Rejwigen? What’s rejwigen??”
Over time, my son began to move from spelling random sequences to approximating words he actually heard or wanted to spell. But he still enjoys a good laugh at nonsense words!
Any set of ABC blocks or magnetic letters would probably work for this category. Here are a few faves that we’ve come across in our household:
A Few App Recommendations
If you don’t do screen time for your little one, feel free to skip this section! We do 5-10 minutes a day, typically after dinner. It’s always helpful to sit with your child while doing these games – although your child will probably be able to do a lot on his or her own, it’s even better when you are nearby to answer questions.
Top recommendation for younger children: Endless Alphabet
Endless Alphabet is super fun! (The company also makes Endless Numbers, another favorite of ours!) Each letter wiggles and says its sound over and over as your child matches it up to where it needs to go. The payoff is a funny vignette featuring adorable characters, and a new vocabulary word. My son’s favorite was “gargantuan”!
My one semi-quibble with Endless Alphabet is that sometimes letters have more than one sound (think G in “Grover” vs. G in “George”) and the letters don’t always say the right one for that particular word. That is why I recommend this app for younger children, who need to learn that letters make sounds, rather than for older children who are gearing up to learn more structured phonics.
So far, we love everything produced by the folks who make Endless Alphabet. If you see a package deal where you can get more than one of their apps at a discount, I’d consider it!
Top recommendation for older preschoolers: Teach Your Monster To Read
Free on your computer and available for handheld devices, this game is a winner. I recommend it for older students because it really is a learn-to-read game, starting with letter-sound correspondence but also introducing sight words (“trickies”) pretty early on, and it progresses quickly. Many parents find that their children benefit from going through the entire game twice so that they are solidly getting the practice they need. It won’t teach your child to read all on its own, but it will help demonstrate to your child how to learn to read – how to blend sounds together and pull words apart, and how to recognize words that can’t be sounded out.
Beginning Phonics for Preschoolers
Once your child shows an interest in learning to read, you can gently (GENTLY) start to introduce phonics. There’s no need to worry if your child isn’t interested yet! But a great series to start with, for when your child seems ready, is Bob Books. Bob Books systematically introduce a few new sounds per box set and gradually increase in difficulty. It’s planned out extremely well, and the books are short enough that even younger readers can have the feeling of successfully reading “an entire book”!
While children can & do learn letter sounds out of order, it can be frustrating for a new reader to pick up a “phonics book” only to have a jumble of different skills to practice, some of which are easy review and others are too difficult.
There are MANY more Bob Books – but these are the best for preschoolers. Once your child has mastered these and is ready to move on, the set continues! I’ve even see companion workbooks, both on Amazon and for free on other websites – but I’d reserve those for older students, not preschoolers.
Speaking of workbooks…
What About Workbooks?
Generally, I am not a fan of workbooks – unless your child loves them! For kids who don’t love them, there’s no faster way to turn them off to learning than asking them to do a workbook page or worksheet. At least with worksheets, you can customize and print exactly what your child needs to work on – whereas the workbook can “take over” and waste your child’s time on skills that are too easy or too difficult.
If you’re looking for beginning phonics for a child who happens to enjoy workbooks (or wants to copy an older sibling), I recommend Get Ready for the Code. It’s meant to be a fun introduction to phonics, which is more systematically approached in the Explode the Code series, which I have used with many reading students over the years.
But again, there is probably no need to get a workbook for your young child. Spend that money on high quality books that your child will want to read over and over again!
Homeschool reading instruction for preschoolers really isn’t “instruction”. It’s fun, playful immersion. The best way to encourage lifelong reading is to model good reading habits yourself, and READ ALOUD often as a family. Have fun with it!
Some Awesome Books to Read to Kids
What’s your favorite book to read aloud to your little one? Post a comment below!