In a comment on my apocalypse post below, designermama wants my "tips" for early readers.
I don't really have any tips, but here's our story. (It's good for me to write about it today because one week from today is Nat's first day of school and the early reading thing is causing me some consternation–do I mention it to the teacher? or not? if so, how? will she think I'm an ass? etc.)
Nat has always had an interest in letters and words. It was right at 17 months that we realized she knew all the upper case letters and most lower-case ones, too, because that's when she started hollering them out to us from the back seat of the car etc. At 18 months she was fingerspelling N-A-T and declaring "Nat!" whenever a stranger asked her name. By 2 and a half or thereabouts, she was sight-reading about two dozen words. But if I showed her a word two or three times, she'd have it locked in for the next time she saw it. I remember the first word I noticed her reading and recognizing out of context, as we drove by a truck stop and she read the side of the building "look, Mama Shannon, T-R-U-C-K, truck!" This was when Selina was about 9 months old that would make Nat just at 3 years. After that it just went rolling like a tumbleweed and she was picking up words far faster than I could keep track.
She could also sound out words phonetically before she turned three, but didn't distinguish between real words and nonsense sounds. We had a wheel at the playground with three letter combinations you could spin for–it would come up "cat" or dog" or "net" or "cap" and Nat would read these out, spelling the letters then announcing the word. But she'd also announce non-word, like "D-I-T, dit!" for example. So I didn't consider any of this real reading. Certainly some fab pre-reading skills, but not reading per se.
It was when we were in our rental loft last fall (Nat three and a half) that I started seeing that she was really starting to read for context and meaning. "Duck for President!" she read, "like Barack Obama!" Or a sign on the wall near the grocery store, "Let. Us. Help. You. Let us help you!" she lit up when she realized these word combinations meant something and were giving her information.
After that–about September of last year, her reading for meaning took off and she has progressed by roughly a half grade-level per month in her reading skills ever since. I keep track by putting text from various books she's reading into various reading-level analyzers online. Thus "roughly," but it keeps me abreast of her progress and remembering that she is progressing quite rapidly. I'd say she's at about a rising 4th grade level at this point (at 4 and a half, a week before beginning preschool). She reads almost exclusively by sight these days and so is quite fast. If she comes across a word she doesn't know by sight, she'll hastily rush through it and kind of make something up that has the correct first two or three sounds. I sometimes stop her and help her read it one part at a time by covering all but the first syllable, the the first two, etc. until she's got them all and put them together. Sometimes I stop her and just tell her the word. Sometimes I let her move on. I try not to spend too much "teaching" energy on it, because obviously, she's fine.
As she began this bizarro journey, I did a few things that encouraged it (though again, I have NOT spent any energy trying to get her to read. I have always, always, always, let her take the initiative and just kind of poked her in directions she was already headed). Here are a few:
1. I put ABC magnets on the 'fridge' that spelled out N-A-T. Then, under the N, I put a bunch of other consonants that would make A-T words. Every now and then we'd play the game of changing the initial magnets and reading each Nat-rhyming words. Works great with the name Nat. Not so much with Selina.
2. When I'd be watching the News Hour, and Nat would be on my lap, I'd magna doodle whole words for her and she'd read them. That's why she knew a couple dozen at two. "B-O-O-K" she'd read as I wrote, then "book!" We used all familiar words from her immediate environment, plus the names of family members.
3. When reading aloud, I'd sometimes stop and point to a word in the book–usually one of the ones I knew she could sight-read. I did this more and more as she got more and more literate.
4. I tried buying some of those early reader books, but (and this is still true) the ones at her social level were way below her reading level and bored her to tears. And I don't want her reading stories geared to 3rd or 4th graders yet. She doesn't (and shouldn't) get them. So we have given up on that. We like Frog and Toad but she's blown those out of the water for months now.
5. When we read bedtime stories (etc.) now, I ask her "do you want to read it, or me to read it, or us to take turns?" If we take turns, it's by the page. I totally defer to her on the choice. Most often, she wants me to read it. But if I do ask her to, she'll take turns or read it herself. I guess I don't totally defer, because about once a week I want to checkin with where her skills are and I ask her to read something for me. If she gets tired or bored I let her stop, though. Burn out is probably the number one danger with an early reader, from what I've heard.
6. Another way I encourage literacy without reading lessons, per se, is to ask her what she think is going to happen next as we read stories, or asking her what happens in a story we have already read, or asking her to pretend to be in a story we've read, etc. She initiates the pretend part. One of her favorite things to do a few months ago that was super cute was pretend to be a North-Going Zax and asking you to pretend to be a South-Going Zax and walk slowly toward each other until you bumped heads and got stuck like that. Simple, but funny! Now she and Cole make up their own stories with a set of stock characters every night. Nat tells a piece, then Cole tells and piece etc. until Cole falls asleep. Nat has also started invented spelling on her own and writes mostly single words this way but has also written a few sentences. I was trained in teaching literacy with invented spelling a million years ago in a former life, so when she reads her words to me, I say "that's great!" then rewrite them the correct way beneath her inventions. Last week, after I did this, she copied my corrections (while I was paying her no attention cleaning the kitchen or something) and she came and showed me. She likes now, to have me write words and simple sentences that she dictates, then copies them herself. Given her fine-motor limitations, I have not really attended much to correcting her handwriting, with the exception of making a connect-the-dots "S" for her now and then to practice writing S, as her Ss are more like Zs left to her own devices.
And there you have the story of Nat's reading journey thus far. You can all say you virtually knew her when she's the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with dreadlocks to her butt.