DS started kindergarten last fall. DD was still in preschool but wanted to do real school like her big brother. For a week or two, I tried some of the ideas that I read on various blogs and homeschooling sites for keeping younger ones occupied (special school time activities, etc.), but she insisted on doing more. So she just did what we did. (For more on what we did click here.)

I decided that the best place to start was to teach her phonics. DS had started reading phonetically on his own at about 4. We always played alphabet games in the car – “What does the letter P say?” “Who can come up with a word that starts with that sound?” We also read a lot together. This was enough for DS to start reading simple words on his own. DD is the more energetic of the two and needed a little more one-on-one attention just to keep her mind focused. (She also tended to rely on her big brother to tell her what everything was, which didn’t help her actually learn phonics. She was just copying him.)

I started by taking 26 unlined 3×5 cards and putting the letters of the alphabet on them. I put the lower case letter on one side and the uppercase on the other. I made the consonants blue and the vowels pink. For about 10 minutes every school day, we would use the letter cards in one way or another. Sometimes we just snuggled on the couch and named the letters and said their sounds (only the short vowel sounds). Other times, we would play a game that I made up. I would lay the cards out in a random order with the uppercase letter up and say a letter sound (or name). She would have to find that letter and tell me its name (or sound). If she got it right, we would flip it over to the other side. If she had trouble, we would come back to it after a couple of other letters. Once they were all flipped we would play again with the lower case letters.

These simple pink and blue letter cards worked out better than I could have ever imagined!

There were a few letters that she had more consistent issues with, and I had to make up little visuals to help her remember. For the short U sound, I would slowly raise my hand like I was holding an umbrella trying to float away in the wind. For the short I sound, I would act like I was itching myself. For S, I would put my hands together and pretend my arms were a snake.

After about 6-8 weeks, I was able to start putting 2-3 cards together to make simple words for her. Within a month she was reading simple words like at, cat, bat, it, hit, bit, etc. and recognizing them in books. Once we go to this point, I used the same simple readers that I used for DS, a series of 26 books called Fun Tales. She would read 2 books each day. The first would be a review of the previous day’s book and the second would be the next in line. If she struggled at all, we would just repeat the same books the next day.

There were a few times when she just got stuck on a word. DD tends to shut down when she can’t figure something out right away, so I would usually have to take her away from the book completely to get her focused again. We would go back to the letter cards and then build the word, sounding out each letter. Usually, she would get it after a minute or so then go back to the book with no problems. On occasion, we would have to stop at simply sounding out the word and come back to it later in the day or the next day.

We read through the Fun Tales series twice just to be sure she was solidly reading these simple books. We then moved into the I Can Read It series. By the end of the school year, she had worked through the first book once and was going through it a second time (by her own request) to be sure she could read well enough to move into the second book.

These days, she is reading anything shorter than chapter books on her own! I expect those aren’t too far in the future either.