I feel like Frida has had a developmental leap forward recently. She’s suddenly much more confident with physical tasks – she’s more confident on her balance bike, suddenly capable of doing up and undoing buttons – and her interest in reading, numeracy, and focused time doing art-ish activities has really blossomed. She’s also taller!

As we home educate, whenever Frida has a developmental leap it always makes me reflect on how we can support her, both through our home environment (the materials available to her, how the space is used) and how my husband and I can practically support her too. Sometimes this support is nothing more than sitting back and watching her do her thing, sometimes it means suggesting ideas and activities we feel she might enjoy, but it never means pushing her to do something she’s not interested in or ready for. We want learning to be joyful, not painful.

Learning to read

The most important thing by far that we do to support Frida’s literacy is still reading, reading, reading. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Signs. Maps. Food packets. Long books, short books, picture books, chapter books. My husband and I both read a lot to Frida, We also use rich and precise language with her, and will often actively teach her new words which is something she loves. She gets so much genuine joy from expanding her vocabulary and using new words in real conversations. Today she learnt the word “emetic” (don’t ask – we were playing vets!)

Recently I have felt like Frida has been ready for something a little more focused when it comes to reading, though. She knows the phonetic alphabet, and some phonemes, and has been able to sound out simple words for a while now. So from time to time, when I feel like she might be in the right mood, I offer some simple reading games, where I write something and she has to read it before I draw it for her, or where she has to match a word I’ve written to a drawing. I’ve found that these work much better for her than just asking if she wants to read. For an extremely high tech example from this morning, see below!

Here, Frida simply reads the name on the “letter” and helps to post it to each mouse by drawing a line to it. Can you tell art was never my strongest point?! But I hope this goes to show that you don’t always need fancy, eyewateringly expensive materials or beautiful, water-coloured, laminated cards. Sometimes a five second scribble will do the job perfectly.

She has also been using these brilliant Alain Gree flash cards to read, and she really enjoys using them. I love that they have built in control of error, which although perhaps not at first sight I feel makes them pretty Montessori compatible. She can read the word and then turn over the card to check if her reading was correct. I’ve just ordered the sight cards pack for later use.

I have introduced a couple of early readers. I wasn’t planning on introducing these so early, but as Frida has been consistently able to read short c-v-c and other phonetic words, I thought I’d see what she made of them. We have set one from Miss Rhonda’s Readers (I liked that these are Montessori inspired), and also the first set from Bob Books as I found the set for £2 brand new in a charity shop – a thrift store for those of you in the US! – and thought it couldn’t hurt to buy them. I much prefer Miss Rhonda’s Readers, as does Frida who has read through one of the books on her own (I asked her if she would like to try, and she did. As with everything we do, I will happily make suggestions for activities I think Frida will enjoy, but I will not push her if she says no or isn’t interested). The only issue is that Miss Rhonda’s Readers are a little more challenging than the Bob Books, at least the stage one books are. That said, the Bob Books have not been very appealing to her so far despite being easier, she started reading a book with Sam but wanted to stop half-way through.

I had planned to support Frida to learn how to read and write using the classic Montessori method (the best and most comprehensive guide to this is the book Montessori Read & Write by Lynne Laurence, it’s now out of print unfortunately but you can often pick up used copies online). But like with so much of life with young children, Frida had other ideas. Classic Montessori materials have not typically held her interest for prolonged periods of time, and so I am following her lead and her learning style. I still believe the Montessori method to be the best I have seen for supporting children to learn how to read and write, and I really recommend learning about it (it also fits in really well even if your child will be attending a mainstream school) we just won’t be following it strictly.

You can read about our earlier approach here where I talk about laying the foundations for literacy, here where I talk about sound games, and here where I talk about using a moveable alphabet.

Learning to write

Frida has so far not been hugely interested in drawing, painting, crafts, or writing, although she has been a little more interested recently. She sometimes will want to do do art activities, and these are freely available for her to use whenever she wants. I have found that she really enjoys some of the tasks in magazines such as tracing a maze with a colouring pencil, and things like this “Magic Painting book” (I bought her one recently and she painted with it for nearly an hour and a half without taking a break).

With writing at this age, my focus as a parent is still very much in providing materials and offering experiences which will develop her fine motor skills, increase her hand-eye coordination, and strengthen her hand muscles to prepare them for writing one day.

These include:

  • Using modelling clay, playdough, and kinetic sand
  • Kneading bread dough
  • Free access to coloured pencils, crayons, paints, chalk, and other art materials
  • Using scissors
  • Using stickers, both freely and activities which require the sticker to be carefully lined up to an outline
  • Using beads for threading
  • Plenty of time for practical life activities (cooking, getting dressed, getting undressed, self care tasks; here is a list of 40 practical life activities for toddlers here and some tips on introducing practical life activities here)
  • Plenty of time for unstructured, self-directed free play

And that’s where we’re at right now.

I’ll also share soon our approach to numbers and numeracy, as again this is another area where Frida’s understanding and interest has suddenly shot ahead and so one I’m thinking about a lot!

PS. Did you see that my newest course Making Sense of Screens is currently open for booking? I designed it as a non-judgemental, informative, research-based and practical resource to help you navigate screen time as a family in a way that feels positive and leaves everyone feeling happier. There are still some spaces left, so if you want to join us you can find out more here. It’s a topic which I feel is so important for modern parents to understand, and I would be delighted to share this journey with you.

Posted by:Eloise R

2 replies on “Child-led learning: Reading and Writing (age 3.5)

  1. Great post, I just wanted to say that I love your approach and am so greatful to have found your feed and blog. I was hoping my Little F would be following a Steiner education after going to parent and toddler groups and never worried about formal reading and writing yet, we read to her all the time and she loves books, cuddles books, loves learning new words, she said the other day ‘I can’t wait until I am a big girl and can read myself’ this made me realise that I need to support her interests and thirst for knowledge more. We cannot follow the Steiner path for now for a few reasons, she had been settled in a nursery – preschool setting for 3 days a week for quite some time now and will be going to mainstream school. Your blog has helped me realise and understand that one size doesn’t fit all, you can take snippets of the various learning styles be it Steiner, Montesorri etc and work it best for your child, and to have confidence and trust in your child and yourself, thank you so much x

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