Thursday, November 10, 2011

Literacy Readiness

Following the Chinese homelearning sharing below, I thought to share a bit on literacy readiness. Incidentally, I was having a chat with one of Dumpling’s classmates’ mum who is an Australian and she has very rightfully pointed out that in other countries, children are not expected to be able to read when they are in Primary school but that does not seem to be the same for Singapore.

And she is right of course. Just look at all the “reading” and “enrichment” centres sprouting across the island. I had a personal experience where I left my details because I wanted to visit a fairly reputable preschool as I was contemplating in the earlier days if I will homeschool Dumpling all the way through preschool. Interestingly, this school has a reading program where they were giving away complimentary reading assessments where you can then assess your kid (starts as young as 3) and see which “level” your child is at.

I only have 2 issues.

1) At 3 YO, where / which level would you expect most kids to be at? So why this unnecessary pressure?

2) The promoter could not answer / advise me when I asked how the school teaches and what methods it uses with its program. Is it pure phonics (and if so, what “system”) or whole words (how then do they attempt to teach this – flashcards?) or if the school has its proprietory program.

Needless to say, I did not turn up for the “assessment” and did not take up any of their repeated offers despite many follow up calls. Experiences as such, thus, prompted me to homeschool.

When I first started homeschooling, I did not sit down and analyse how big a task it is. I just jumped right in and the enormity of my decision only hit me much later when I suddenly realised that I alone, am responsible for her preschool years! Everything from reading to numbers to motorskills. I must confess that I freaked out a bit then. Ha ha ha…

Similarly, many mummy friends shared with me their worries, fears and how daunting it is to “teach” their child. It is just “safer” to send to the experts. It is absolutely alright with sending your child to enrichment centres but I wanted to also dedicate this post to how you can be part of the learning journey with your child, regardless if you are doing just 20 mins a day or 30 mins in 2 days.

Since “reading” seems to be such a hot topic and concern, I thought it would be apt to share what Dumpling and I do and how we do it at home. Each child’s learning style and interest is different so please adapt accordingly to best suit your child.

I have simplified the steps as below:

1) Letter sounds

2) Letter names

3) Beginning sounds

4) CVC Blends

5) Whole words

There are of course more “stages” after this – decoding of digraphs and word families, etc but I feel that once you have done the above, the rest should be much easier to catch on.

Just for today’s, I will share on points 1 to 3 otherwise; this post will be a tad too long.

1) Letter sounds

I did not teach Dumpling the letter names at all and still do not teach her now (more on that below). I started with just letter sounds for her to build the association where each letter makes a special sound. I also made a conscious effort not to teach similar looking shapes – e.g. b with d. A good reference to for the letter groups is using what Jolly phonics as a guide.

Letter sounds, to me, are more important than letter names because words are built according to sounds. For e.g. “cat” is sounded out as “ker / a / ttt” instead the child memorizing it as the letters C / A / T.

Though whole words are important (especially recognizing those on Dolch word walls), the main advantage of phonics for me is it aids Dumpling in being able to sound out words she does not know and it will definitely be useful for spelling.

For letter sounds, I only used one resource which is Letterland as I have initially shared. The CDROM is mainly song based which I personally feel is great for children.

It teaches a child the letter sounds through songs and not forgetting upper/lower case match through games and activities.

The writing of the letters is also taught using songs.

Some parents are concerned that the child will not be able to identify the letters as a standalone when it is paired with a character like that. For Letterland, I did not have such experience with Dumpling but what I did from day 1 was to also have letter tiles with us and I will get her to place it over the Letterland letter so that she can identify the standalone letter too.

I bought my Letterland items from an online seller which is not selling them now I believe. However, you can view some of Letterland's items from this seller. Two key things I like about Letterland is that you can buy other activity books and materials to support what you have learnt from the CD ROM. Additionally, it also uses the Queen's English which is what we are taught here in Singapore.

2) Letter names

I actually did not teach this at all but after learning all the letter sounds, Dumpling then learnt it via Leap Frog videos. A good place to get these DVDs at a reasonable rate locally is here.

3) Beginning sounds

Once Dumpling was able say the sound when I hold up the letters, I started building awareness of the starting word / beginning word sound. This helped her in being more aware that all letters make a sound and they then form a word. Additionally, this also set the basis of CVC blend for us.

If you like, you may wish to use the ladybird key words series C (starting from book 4). A seller at Singapore Motherhood Forum sells them here. However, what I personally did was to read a lot with her and using popular readers like “Oxford Reading Tree” and as we read, I would prompt her by placing my finger under a certain word and then emphasize the sound. For e.g. “I am kkkk /ipper” (I am Kipper).

I also read series such as the songbird phonics written by bestselling author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, amongst many orders.

As you can see, we read a lot in this household as I strongly believe that the key to reading is reading. More than that, it’s a wonderful way to bond with Dumpling as we act out parts, improvise on the story and discuss alternative endings. Nothing is as magical as going on a imaginative journey with your child and viewing her world through her language and interpretation.

This is post #1 of a 2 part series. Here's post #2 where I discussed other areas such as CVC blends and sight words too. 

Next post: should be on something math / science related? Or leave me a comment if you have a special request?

Note: I would like to add that I am not getting any commission or payment of any kind from the links provided above. I have purchased things from these sellers at one point or another and my experience has been quite positive hence the sharing.  


  1. Looking forward to part 2 of your post on literacy awareness! This came just in time as my son is about stage 3 now, he knows most of the sounds of the alphabets. And I am wondering how to go on from here. As to resources, agree that the Letterland software is a great one to use. Actually I didn't use it on a consistent basis. But to my surprise, one day I caught him mumbling to himself in bed, "Mike, stop munching!" Haha his favourite character from letterland =p

  2. lol... did KJ respond well to munching mike 'cos its a robot or 'cos its food related? :p

    still thinking what to write for part 2! ha ha ha... am glad that you find it useful :) enjoy the holiday period with him

  3. Good post! we were lucky to have DD go to a MOntessori based program where they followed pretty much the same steps as you mention above. But I can imagine the anguish that you went through! Thanks for sharing this post.

  4. Whatever method you choose, you made the most important decision - knowing when it was appropriate to "teach". Children learn anything best when they are developmentally ready to learn it! When they are little, they need to have environmental print and learning that books are fun and being read to by their parents. When they are older, they are ready to learn specifics. As a teacher for preschool students who are visually impaired or blind, I am asked about teaching Braille. With little ones, as with print reading, they are ready for pre-Braille, pre-reading activities, but not ready to formally learn Braille until they are developmentally ready, usually at 6 or 7! Good job!


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