02 Oct - 2013

by mamaschmama

This is a post about what it looks like to motivate my three year old child to read.  If you have done this before I would love to know how it is similar or different for you.

I know my son is ready to start reading because he shows an interest in reading books on his own and because he’s started to point out words he knows (stop, truck, [ahem] Target).  He also gets frustrated when he has directions to a toy that are telling him something but he can’t figure it out alone from the pictures.

Do I use that last one as motivation?  Totally.  He stayed at preschool later one day this week to eat lunch and I made him directions about eating his food and put it in his lunch bag.  The directions were a combination of pictures, numbers, and words.  It took me about 30 seconds to do this- I ripped out a piece of paper from a notebook and did it all with a stubby crayon I found on the kitchen desk.  His teacher is certain I’m a crazy control freak parent now but he totally loved it because he loves reading directions.

I digress, sort of.  I’m playing to my son’s strengths and interests to get him into reading.  Halloween is his favorite holiday so I use that as motivation too.  We went to the craft store to waste time until Costco opened one day (honestly, who opens at 10?)and while we were there, I remembered a trick my coworkers and I used during guided reading in the classroom.

Are you ready for it?  Take a deep breath because this is a super complicated.

Witch fingers.  The rubber kind that slip over your finger and make you want to point at everything.  Yes, for a mere $3, you can get around 25 of these and they’ll last you the whole year.

But how do they help my son’s literacy?  I told him they were Reading Fingers and they can only be used by someone who is reading words in a book.  [Truth:  They have only been used for this purpose until today.  I caught him sucking on one about 5 minutes ago.  If I can ignore this one indiscretion and use them only for reading, their motivational magic will last longer.]

We use the fingers to point at words in the book as he reads them.  It makes him want to read (more often) because he gets to have an ugly ole’ witch finger.


By doing this, I can also talk about word parts with him (“What letter does truck start with?  What sound?”).

It reinforces his tracking (left to right, top to bottom) so when there are more lines of text his eyes wont jump all over the page.

We can start to use the concept of picture clues to help him figure out unknown words.  (“Hmmm.  The word I don’t know begins with t and I see a truck on the page.”)

But. BUT! I never ask him to read words that he can’t easily figure out.  Example:  He knows the word car but if he didn’t that is a real tough word to “sound out.”  We would have to discuss what sound the c could make (s/k) and how the sound of a changes when it comes before an r.  Too much.

But. BUT! Part 2:  We do not read books like this every time.  This is usually a once a day or once every other day sort of thing, when the time is right.  If he only reads books like this he’ll never understand what a fluent reader (me, the literate adult) sounds like nor will he get to think about the actual story because he’ll spend the whole time trying to figure out each word. *Also, we read words around the house, like on cereal boxes, not just books.

So, anyway.  Witch fingers.  Or old lady fingers if you don’t celebrate Halloween or talk about witches with your kid.

I took a video for you to see how it works out.  It’s not perfect because it’s real life.  At one point you see the camera jerk.  That would be my daughter coming in to sit on my lap.  And YES, that is Dora you hear in the background.

And listen, if it doesn’t work out for you, you could make a disastrous Halloween plastic parfait like I did this year.  I’m sure yours will look much cuter.

So, tell me what you think.  Would you try this out?  Do you have any other simple motivational tools to help young learners?  Thanks, as always, for reading!

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