Encourage pre-readers to play with words and letters by using search engines

bruce.jpgAnd THIS is a perfect example of how learning is a fun and natural part of everyday life! (An obvious fact I’m experiencing in new ways now that I’m homeschooling my son.) From Dave, the man behind Tweetage Wasteland, The Skeptical Hypochondriac, Rollyo, Addictomatic…:

Currently Hersch is obsessed with the song Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen. He likes to hear it and watch the video so he can see the guitars.

So I go to a music search engine and explain the search box and search button and make him find all of the letters on the keyboard and hit the space bar so he starts to understand how letters make words and words are separate etc. Once he’s done, his reward is actually my secret training of him to become a world known rockstar. Seems like a decent way to learn a few things and it beats the hell out of Old Macdonald.

It’s amazing how quickly and easily “learning” happens when it’s part of following up a child’s interest. We notice the “reading” part that’s happening here, but all Hersch knows (and cares about at the moment) is that he is getting better and better at finding out about Bruce Springsteen.

It reminds me of a recent moment with my six year-old daughter. She’s a beginning reader, so her ability to read lags behind the level of the kinds of books she’d like to read. She’d rather read a percentage of the words in a favorite picture book or her Daddy’s comic book than all the words in “See Cat Run.” We were in Disney World a few weeks ago, and she spent a lot of time reading bits of signs, menus, and the words that surrounded us as we toured the parks. Each time she correctly read a word out loud, she’d get a self-satisfied smile. “Mommy,” she later said, with a thoughtful expression. “I don’t know why, but it’s so much easier to read in Disney World than it is in my reading group [at school].”

This is not an anti-school dig (by no means). It’s just one of the ways I’m noticing the tiny, highly-individual ways each of my kids prefers to learn.

Related: Closed captioning helps TV-watchers learn to read

Also related (off-site): Children Teach Themselves to Read, Psychology Today


  1. Tracy says

    Also useful as kids get older: I found as a teacher that it’s a great way for kids to learn how to pull key words or phrases from a text, or to turn their idea into something short and succinct. If they’re trying to find out who designed the latest running shoe, they learn quickly that there’s no benefit to typing in “Who invented the latest running shoe?” for example.

  2. R. Davis says

    My son is only 2.5 but we use google images and the keyboard to learn letters. We have two computers and he sits at “his” while we sit at the other one. I open google images and change the filter to strict. I’ll then tell him letters to type or I’ll write down the letters and say them after he types them. Once the page comes up with animals, we discuss and look at this different types. I will think of different animals or characters (Elmo, Thomas etc) to cover all the different letters.

  3. Valerie says

    It is great to read about all the different ways parents are finding ways to encourage reading. I taught for 10 years and every chance I get I try to use school based and non-school based activities to teach my 3.5 son.

    I just recently started using Alphabet Workout with him and I am very happy with the results. It was developed by two teachers with over 30 years
    experience and are current with reading research.


    The Alphabet Workout is a research-supported, action-based phonics program that capitalizes on
    young child’s excitement for learning to read. Children march, jump, spin, and sing as they learn letter sounds, then blend them together to make words on the blending train. Letter sounds are taught through movement and music designed to stimulate brain development and foster letter sound memory.

  4. says

    I found your blog on momversation. Great idea! I’m not always creative enough to think of new ways to get kids interested in learning.