Encourage pre-readers to play with words and letters by using search engines
And 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.
Also related (off-site): Children Teach Themselves to Read, Psychology Today