Today I started teaching my three year and three month old daughter to read. It seems early, and it seems ambitious, but I know in my heart that it’s the right decision for her. I’ll be documenting our lessons in the Learning To Read In Spanish series, but I wanted to start by providing some context for why we are reading now, what academic readiness behaviors my daughter has exhibited, why I made the decision to start reading in Spanish, and a brief overview of how the Learning To Read series will work.
Why we are learning to read now: Big Sister has expressed interest in reading for several months now. She has always loved to read, often having Little Sister and I sit down for rousing renditions of her favorite books (which she somehow can recite, word for word from memory, after only one reading. Apparently, I was the same way). We read consistently in both Spanish and English, and there had been a time when she would ask her monolingual English speaking grandparents to read a Spanish book, and her little brain was completely confuzzled as to why they couldn’t read it like mommy and daddy. For about a month now, we have been talking about how to look at a book and tell if it is in English or Spanish by looking at the ñ and the words with accents. During one of these conversations the other night, Big Sister asked us if she could learn to read herself. That was pretty much the only prompting I needed to get the reading train out of the station, as reading is by far my favorite activity, and I have been dying to share it with my child!
Big Sister’s Background Knowledge: Big Sister is three years old, and knows her alphabet and numbers in both languages, recitation and sight. She knows the difference between upper and lowercase letters. She also knows several of the sounds the letters make, and words that start with the letters. She did not learn these things because I taught them to her – she learned a lot at daycare during her second year, and a lot more since she’s been in school two morning a week for the past 10 weeks. She also took a huge leap in pre-reading skills when we started watching Sesame Street in both languages during Little Sister’s morning nap. Big Sister’s personality has a lot to do with how she learns… she soaks up every single piece of information she is given by a teacher, and spits it back out every single chance that she gets. This is why I was a bit nervous to send her to school in English, but she has learned so much so fast that I’m glad that we did.
Why Read In Spanish: That’s also why we made the decision to learn to read in Spanish at home, in addition to the fact that Spanish is our home language. We are hoping that Big Sister will be accepted to a bilingual elementary school, but the reality of our life now is that we live in the United States, and the academic language that she will receive in school will be in English. The best way to keep up her academic skills in Spanish is to establish from day one (in this case, day one of reading) that at home, we read and write in Spanish. After having spent 15 years in the classroom as a Spanish teacher, I know how important transferable skills are, and I know that any work I do with her at home will transfer over to her academic language at school.
About The Series: In the Learning To Read in Spanish Series, I’ll share the activities that I use to teach Big Sister to read. While I have taught reading and writing in Spanish to high schoolers, I can say that, here at the outset, I don’t know if the strategies and activities I will use are the most effective, most engaging, or even most efficient for teaching children to read. I’m learning as I go here. What I can promise is that I’ll show you what we do, how we do it, and reflect on how the lesson went so you can learn along with me.
About The Materials: Because we are raising bilingual children of Costa Rican descent, I chose to use the books that Costa Rican children use when learning to read. (Paco y Lola, affiliate link, and Silabario Castellano, which I have not found for purchase in the U.S.) The books we use are endorsed by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education, and are easily found for $4-$5 in every part of Costa Rica (so ask your friends to bring them back with them when they go!) However, every country throughout Latin American and Spain has their own reading primers, and you can search the keyword “silibario” as you decide which books from which country to use when teaching your child to read in Spanish. The important thing to know/understand is that while we use sight words in English to learn to read, because Spanish is phonetic, the Spanish technique for learning to read is based on syllables rather than sight words.
Final note: I believe that the techniques used here could very easily be used in the same way to teach children to read in English, and they will align with the Common Core standards as described here: http://www.corestandards.org/ . The idea seems to be very similar to that of the Bob Books (affiliate) which could replace the Silabario Castellano y Paco and Lola books that I have chosen to use. ¡Manos a la obra!
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