Learning to Read: Rhyme, Memorization, & Phonics {and a llama llama review}

You probably know by now, our family loves to read! My youngest children begin their love of learning with poems and rhyming books from some of the greatest authors of children’s literature. I have videos of my oldest at 18 months old reading a Llama Llama book from memory; that book, as well as many other Llama Llama books have become favorites in our home. But my favorite part of this character series is the rhyming!
The latest book from Anna Dewdey, a teacher, mother, and enthusiastic proponent of reading aloud to children, is Llama Llama Loves to Read. Anna’s passion for children and building their love for reading is evident in all her books. This time our children shared Llama Llama’s love for learning to read in this beautifully illustrated (as always) 40 page picture book.
llama llama loves to read
Llama Llama learns at school.
Counting, writing, reading, rules.
Friends and school — there’s nothing better.
Llama learning all the letters!
All of my children have learned to read organically; simply by listening to others read to them. We know research tells us reading aloud to children increases their own love for learning, as well as relationships, and test scores (yes, especially test scores!). What many may not know, is that reading rhyming books, poems, and nursery rhymes to children increases their overall literacy!
Rhythm and rhyming increase listening and speaking skills, which are the very foundation of learning to read and write. A child will not learn to read as easily if they lack the skill of hearing rhyming patterns and sounds-which is done by being read to early in life. (This is also why educators take courses in all areas of development, including physical education, where we learn to combine rhythm, motion, and rhymes! Think of the hand clapping games from your childhood-they were important, whether you knew it or not!)
Rhyming books like Llama Llama Loves to Read not only help build a child’s confidence as they learn the rhyming words on the pages, these books increase their fluency and set the stage for future independent reading.

Learning to Read With Rhyme and Memory Work

As I type this, I am thinking of my 3.5 year old daughter (3rd born) that read cvc words to me last week. On her own. Without an ounce of formal instruction or prompting from me. I don’t say this to brag, or inflate my mom ego, I say this to you because it truly has to do with our family culture and environment combined with her eagerness to learn to read. She has told me for months she was going to read soon “like Mister!” (her older brother).  I told her she could learn as soon as she wanted and it wouldn’t be long; she’s been asking all of us to help her write her letters so she could tell us the sounds, and eagerly listens to any book we will read to her. One day last week she brought her little journal to me at the homeschool table and asked that I write words for her … I randomly wrote cat, asked her each letter sound and then she read the whole word. Just blended it. Boom! She continued on to do several more and I was able to record her on video.
So how do I use rhyming to encourage literacy? Simply, we read a book, and the next time (after all, there is always a next time!) I leave out one word of each line or page. For instance, I would read: Llama Llama learns at school. Counting, writing, reading, rules the first time.
But the next time we read it, I would leave out the word school, and maybe even rules, allowing my kids to fill it in for me as I read. This pulls them even more into the story and encourages not only their comprehension but also application of vocabulary, as well as “reading” along with me. So far of my 4 children, none of them have ever been disappointed with their chance to say the next word. Even my youngest, only a toddler, can fill in the simplest words in rhyming books (Llama Llama Time for Bed being one of them).
We also start learning poetry very young, simply because it is SO fun! My oldest memorized a few poems during each season starting at age 3. I am not sure how many poems my oldest three kids know now, but it is probably more than me (I can’t remember them all like they can without some prompting). That same 3 year old that is reading CVC words has spent this year memorizing more poetry than her 2 older siblings combined! Her absolute favorite is The Fairies by William Allingham, along with several others from A Child’s Book of Poems.

Learning Letter Sounds

Before I began reading lessons with any of my children, we sing a phonics song throughout our days. From the time they are about 18 months old (?) until … well, my oldest is 7.5 and we still sing it haha, we don’t say our ABCS.
We sing them along with their correlating sound; during our morning time we do the song with a little letter chart like this one: 
The song goes something like this:
A, /a/, apple
B, /buh/ball
C, /ck/, cat
D, /duh/ dog
… you get the picture. When we sing it while swinging on the swing, playing in the floor, or walking down the driveway, we learn to use other words that make those sounds; instead of E, eh, elephant I may say egg or elbow. It is always fun to hear what other words they can come up with (you will be surprised); sometimes we extend that and just start naming words that rhyme with a word, who knows where we may bunny trail to! But it is a fun and easy, loving, and memorable way to connect with and teach my children naturally, without any formal lessons.
This simple song, along with reading aloud to them, truly lays the foundation for learning to read later. Sometimes when I talk I will just say “t, /t/ train!” when we see a train. Obviously my 7 year old gets less out of this than my 3yo and toddler do, but so often we can forget those little ones are still soaking up everything around them, as Little Miss showed me just last week. Having a literature rich family culture helps support children in their love of learning which, when they are ready, will help them learn to read.

If you want to submerge your children in a literature rich environment, reading rhyming books, poetry, and teaching letter sounds through play are the best places to start!

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