Whenever I ask any of my elementary school teacher friends for advice on what I should be working on with my 6-year-old twins at home, their answers are always the same: “Are they reading?” or “Focus on reading!” or “Read to them and have them read to you as much as you can.”
When I asked the teachers in my life why they seemed more concerned with my kids' ability to blend consonants over being able to add and subtract, the answer was pretty simple: Reading skills are so important because they’re foundational. For the rest of their education, they’ll read about concepts to learn them, so the sooner they learn the mechanics of reading, the better.
As an adult, this makes total sense, but try explaining to a soon-to-be-first-grader that they need to turn off the cartoons and work on sight words because they’ll help with high school social studies later on. I had to find something they would relate to that would get them interested in figuring out what all these words on a page meant.
I’ve tried pretty much every technique there is — reward charts, begging, setting a reading timer, even flash cards — but nothing really got them excited about reading until I called on their favorite animated characters for backup. Luckily, there are awesome and affordable phonic box sets that feature kids’ favorite characters to help them master sounds and sight words, so they can start reading on their own. (Here are more box sets for a steal!)
Here are a few of my kids’ favorites, and why we love keeping each on hand.
This phonics set is perfect for any little reader who loves to watch Rocky, Chase, Marshall, Skye, Rubble, Zuma and the rest of the gang in action. It comes with 12 softcover books that are the perfect size for small hands, and each story focuses on a different vowel sound or consonant blend, with review books halfway through and at the end of the series.
The first page of each book gives kids and parents a heads-up of what to expect inside. There’s a list of sight words used in the text, a list of words with certain vowels or letter blends in the book, and a list highlighting words from the cartoon, like character names. This primer page is super helpful! Logan loves to practice words before reading the story, and seeing how he does that with this page gives me a good idea of whether or not he will be able to read the story on his own — or if I should sit nearby to help.
Having the stories revolve around the familiar PAW Patrol pups also helps to boost my kids’ reading confidence! When Logan first saw how much text was in the review book, he said, “I can’t read that many words!” But when I encouraged him to give it a try, he quickly realized that he recognized all of the words (even "helicopter" or "truck"), partly from watching the cartoon. Once he realized he was familiar with what was happening in the story, he raced through the entire book on his own and asked to read another.