I call my second son, now age 3, my Early Bird for two reasons. The first is because he was born early at 32 weeks. I had severe pre-eclampsia and at the hospital my blood oxygen levels started dropping rapidly. When he was born he was 3lbs and 1oz. He had difficulties at first. We learned the problems he was having are caused when the placenta wasn't working properly. So it was a very good thing he got out when he did. He stayed in the hospital for 7 1/2 weeks and I got to bring him home just a few days before Mother's Day. He will always be my miracle preemie.
(For more on our preemie experience I posted about it here.)
The second reason I call him Early Bird is because he started reading about six weeks before he turned three years old. Without any formal or informal teaching on my part.
It started when he learned his letters and sounds at 26 months. He had seen me working with Builder Boy and he watched him play the letter blocks at Starfall.com. Each letter has pictures, sometimes a song, sometimes a simple game, and frequently repeats the uppercase and lowercase symbol and sound. Builder Boy would play for an hour if I let him (he was 4 at the time) and Early Bird would sit next to him, watching, almost the whole time. He started identifying letters and saying their name and sound on things around the room, in books, at the store. So I brought out some letter flash cards just to make sure he wasn't mixing them up. He LOVED it. The second time we did it he got 90% right. He continued to play with the letters on the wood blocks we have, the magnetic letters, and the flashcards that he begged for. Builder Boy had learned his letters at 3 years old and started reading at 4 years old, so I began to wonder what I could do to encourage Early Bird to learn further without negatively influencing or stressing him.
I started lurking around the Accelerated Learners board at the Well Trained Mind forum. One of the ladies posting had a blog named Teaching My Baby to Read. I read her posts and based on her suggestions, four months after Early Bird had learned all his letters and sounds, purchased the Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder. That toy/learning tool is awesome. I recommend it to every parents with young kids. It has three levels: the first lets you put in a letter and it tells you the name and the sound and a silly sentence that reinforces the sound. The second level lets you put in three letters (there are only three spaces) and "sounds out" the word for you. It had a light above the letters and so it shows you left to right progression and shows you which letter is being sounded out. If it doesn't make a word it just says the sounds and then "that sounds great!" But if it's right it says the name, then sounds it out, and then says the word again and then a song about making the word with the word in the song. The third level tells you a word and you're suppose to find the letters to spell the word. Early Bird loved it, and Builder Boy loved it, too. He was still working on basic cvc words so it helped him, too. Early Bird played with the toy for 5 months and then one day he said "I spelled the word 'bed!' B-buh, e-eh, d-duh, spells bed!" I looked at the toy and sure enough he had spelled the word "bed" on the second level. I praised him up and down and all through that day and the next he kept repeating how to spell bed and name the letters and sound they made. On the third day he said "I spelled the word 'red'!" And the toy was off.
A week and a half later he read 40/52 cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) word flash cards that I showed him. I let him start playing Starfall.com on his own, especially the Word Machine game. (The vowels after 'a' are only available with the "moreStarfall.com" option. But at that point we thought it was worth the $35/year.) Some things he wanted help with, some he did not. He watched Builder Boy play, too. By his 3rd birthday he could read almost any cvc word he came across. The ones he had difficulty with were the ones he did not hear in real
life a lot (seriously, who says the word "sat" very much?) He also
started memorizing some sight words. Again based on recommendations from Teaching My Baby to Read I got the LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory video. By the time it arrived in the mail it was mostly review for him, but at the end it introduced the concept of consonant blends.
He joined (on his own) my reading lessons with Builder Boy and after only 2 1/2 months of reading he was at the same level as Builder Boy (working on Hooked on Phonics Levels 2 and 3 (orange and red) and Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading lessons 50-63, which cover consonant blends and digraphs.) I got them the LeapFrog: Word Caper
video which introduces the silent e and vowel teams. Builder Boy and Early Bird have continued to play on Starfall.com and they now know a lot of the basic phonograms. (Like O+R= /or/, or O+W= /ow/ or /long-o/, etc.) Early Bird has been reading for four months now and he can read more words than Builder Boy. According to the Hooked on Phonics levels he is working at a 2nd grade level, although it's probably closer to a 1st grade level. For now. I am working with him now, but only when he wants to (which is usually anytime it comes up) and only for as long as he wants (which is usually longer than I want to do it.) I will post about it on the Home page when I think there is something we have done that might help other parents. I don't want to come across like I'm bragging. I got a lot of help from parents (on the Accelerated Learners board) who have had early readers and if there is something I can do to help others, I would like to.
A group of parents on the Accelerated Learners board organizied a blog-tour of blogs and posts that addressed different issues regarding gifted kids, 2E kids, accelerated learners who also deal with other issues, and much more. I participated and wrote about how I dealt with the surprise/shock/panic and guilt borrowing that I faced when Early Bird first started reading at the age of 2 1/2. The Tour was from July 15-21, 2012. To read my post go here.