How I taught my daughter to read: Part two.


In my previous post I forgot to mention the fact that English is our daughters’ second language. We emphasize ‘no English’ policy at home except when we do literacy games/sessions or read aloud a book in English. Also at bedtimes, we read a mixture of English, Russian and Uzbek books. But I always translate it into Uzbek and point out the morale of the story/we have a little discussion of the content in Uzbek. Since recently Sumayya has been doing most of the translation herself. Still, I would say her English vocabulary is limited compared to her Uzbek vocabulary. She can’t express her opinions as clear in English as she would in Uzbek. Now she can read books like children’s encyclopedia, but I am not sure of her comprehension skills.

Anyway, this note was supposed to be about different methods of learning how to read and which one worked best for us. I just wanted to clarify the fact that for those who are native English speakers, maybe your children can start reading even younger. I have read and heard of cases where children started reading at 2, though I personally think it is too early. Perphaps, age 3 is ok to introduce a child to reading. what do you think?Anyway, the first thing I have used to familiriaze my daughters with letter sounds were wooden ABC puzzle and ABC building blocks (wooden cubes). Sumayya could recognize all the letter sounds of English alphabet at 18 months. Make sure you teach a letter sound not the name of the letter. Many ABC nursery rhymes, alphabet friezes follow the names of the letters instead of a sound. This can then be confusing when child shows interest to read. To get better understanding of what I am saying, you may watch “Apple apple a a a” song by Barbara Milne on youtube inshaAllah :). So I would get Sumayya to finish the puzzles and sing along to Barbara Milne’s song above, pointing to letter sounds on our puzzle. We have used this puzzle set extensively in a number of ways. For example, when finished sorting the puzzle, I would ask her point to sound “K” and she may point to letter ‘c’ or ‘k’. Both would be correct and I can remind different words with both ‘K’s. Later on we started playing a different game, I say K is for and pause. She then had to think of a word beginning with ‘K’ sound, as in ‘cat’ or ‘kitten’. You may take the chance to explain both ‘cat’ and ‘kitten’ begin with the same sound, but they are written differently. Sometimes we swap roles. We enjoy swapping roles where sumayya or safiyya becomes mommy and teaches me. So, they point to letters, explain what sounds they make then ask me the kind of questions I usually ask. Swapping roles can always be enjoyed when learning any subject, Alhamdulillah.

After being familiar with letter sounds, we always played different games such as

I spy- helps to identify the beginning sound in a wordRhyming game- if I say ‘bee’ she has to say something like ‘tree’Matching games -I would write on the right side of a paper different 3 letter words like dog, cat, hen as a column and on the left write the same set of words in a different order. She had to match words by drawing a line to connect two of the same words

Guessing game- I would write in the air a letter sound with my index finger and she had to guess which sound I wrote in the airAll these games can be played when you are busy cooking or baking, when travelling in the car or shopping etc. And for a more focused activities we used worksheets from KidsZone. They have plenty of printable worksheets at

Then around February 2011 I thought maybe we could move on to ‘more serious’ reading activities. (At this point her handwriting was still at initial point. She would use the whole of A4 paper to write just her name)So, I have made MTS pink cards and some 3-4 dighraph charts. If you would like to learn more about Montessori way of teaching how to read, I recommend you to read “Montessori Read and Write: A parents guide to literacy for children” by Lynne Lawrence. I read it when Sumayya was still a baby and mashAllah it was very useful. Followers of Montessori method have developed their own learning/reading materials over the years and happily share their resources. I have used the following website for my pink cards and dighraph charts. These are super easy to make and you can get all the instructions on how to use them., you have a set of 3 cards. on one card there is a picture with written name of the object- picture of a dog with DOG underneath. On the second card there is a picture of a dog only. And on the third a written print DOG only. Using the 1st card as a reference, a child has to match a picture (of a dog) and word DOG cards. These cards are really fun to use. Child does learn how to link an object/living things to a written print through play. And this matching game does stimulate child’s urge to be able to read. My plan was to move on to blue/green cards and finish learning all the digraphs. But Sumayya was reading long before I noticed, Alhamdulillah. So we never made it to blue/green cards.At around the same time using the pink cards, we were also learning about different word groups. For example, words like sack, black, crack, quack, attack belong to ‘ack’ word group. Again, there are plenty of websites offering free printables and worksheets on word groups. I have used the following websites

They offer online interactive activity like Oxford Owl (recently shared this link) and provides the printable as well. These printable helped us both to get into reading and writing. (At this point her handwriting has slightly improved)Then for a short period of time, I wrote on small pieces of papers different words that I thought she is familiar with and use them as a flashcard, as in Doman method. I would show each paper at a time and she would read it aloud. Or she would hold and I would read aloud. Thus I was doing a bit of everything to aid her reading, rather than following one method all the way through.

Around May 2011, she was still not reading books independently, though I knew she could recognize many words. At times I would find her in her bedroom reading a book: she would read all the words she is familiar with and skip the ones she hesitated, ending up with silly sentences being read aloud, subhanAllah.One thing I have come to learn from experience, we can utilize all we have around us for a child’s learning. Example, we could often point to clothing/food labels and invite a child to read. Sumayya always asked why some of her clothes say ‘Next’, it was one of the 1st words she could read. (The same with recognizing the numbers, I always asked her to find the label where it says the size in clothes and tell me which numbers a vest or a dress has. Now I do the same thing with Safiyya) At bedtimes, I would read a book and whenever I come across a word I think she knows in a book, I would point and she would happily read it. Then slowly slowly we established a habit when we read a book aloud, I would read one line and she would read the 2nd. (we have started reading from a relatively longer story books)

Then I was obsessed with her writing. Her letters were massive lol. So a dear sister passed on to us The Jolly Phonics workbooks she had bought for her son but didnt get used. She said they would help with writing. I looked through 7 workbooks and thought these were ideal to introduce spelling and improve her handwriting. We finished all 7 books in a very short time. And these really helped Sumayya’s reading to take off. So with that, at around the beginning of June, she started reading short story books indepently. It might have taken her around 4-5 months to really learn how to read, but like I said we were not strictly following any one method and it was not structured, target-based learning.To this day, I am not sure which method helped her best. We were using a mixture of Montessori, Doman, phonics way of learning how to read. I personally preferred the phonics method as I can see how Sumayya often uses this method to spell words in her letters. She likes reading but she absolutely LOVES writing, mashAllah. So, learning to read the phonics way helps with learning how to spell the words correctly (especially with English not being a phonetical language). It is easy for me when she asks to sound out a certain word for one of her letters. If there is an [ay] sound, she comes and asks me “which [ay], is it ‘igh’ as in ‘night’ or ‘ie’ as in ‘pie’ or ‘y’ as in ‘fly’, which [ay]? All I say is, it would be [ay] as in ‘pie’ in a certain word. Also I can see how she tries to blend the sounds shen she comes across a completely new words, based on the phonics method. For example she was reading the story of Musa a.s the other day and she came across the word “magician”. She was trying to sound out and blend the sounds to make out how to read this one. She is often quite happy with her own blended version of these new words, though she gets them incorrect sometimes.Looking back, sometimes it just feels like Sumayya’s reading came so naturally.  It was a great journey and experience where I made mistakes and learnt from them. One of my mistakes was not to find easily readable books. At the time I didnt know there were specially written books to aid child’s reading. Classic tales like Rosie’s walk is typical example. In these books, pictures speak more than words. Child often reads 2-3 words a page but the story is carried on by pictures. It gives them the impression that they can read books independently. I am trying to follow the same sort of reading activities with Safiyya inshaAllah and already feel better equipped, Alhamdulillah. Also, I think at times I pushed her too much for handwriting. I am now reading more on Charlotte Mason and realized how it was so unnessary to worry about her handwriting then when she was only 4 at the time. So i am not going to push Safiyya until she really shows an interest in writing. All I will do is provide a set of activities that stimulates her writing, that makes her want to write neatly and nicely herself.

In conclusion, I would say go with your child’s flow. Make sure your child sees you reading. Play those word/reading games while shopping, travelling, cooking etc.  Make sure you have plenty of printables, worksheets in reserve. Whenever you get 10-15 mins, invite your child do them. Find the best time that works out better for both of you. And May Allah help us and guide us all.


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