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Make Your Child’s Reading Primers

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Formal lessons can be stressful to young children. Today’s public school curriculum includes formal reading lessons in kindergarten, an approach that can easily backfire if the child is not ready or if the reading material is dull or difficult.

Reading to a child can inspire the motivation to learn, and might even result in the child initiating the decoding process unguided. Kids, like adults, have specific taste in books. They ask for the same ones to be read again and again. They memorize their favorites, and start to stare at the words they already know, spontaneously learning how to read.

I took my kids to the library every week, and we each chose books to take home. In those early years, from birth to about age four, I read everything from Goodnight Moon (by Margaret Wise Brown) to nursery rhymes and fables, and we often chose picture books for the beautiful illustrations. Magazines like Ladybug arrived in the mail. Reading was a constant for us.

I wanted to find good reading primers—books that my son would start to read on his own. Inspired by the book Teacher , by Sylvia Ashton Warner, I decided to use my child’s world, our spoken vocabulary, and the things that interested him. I wanted him to love reading!

So my child's first readers were books that I made about him. After we went to the zoo, I brought home the zoo map and some postcards. That night, while he slept, I made a simple book. I used white cardboard squares for the pages, and punched two holes in the side for loose-leaf rings. My budget was practically nil. When my son awoke, there was a new book to read out loud, and it was about him.

I probably made a dozen books for Kalman, my first-born, when he was between the ages of 18 months and three years. My second child was not so lucky – you are always busier with two. (How I admire parents with three or more!) Yet I still made several books for Solomon, mostly about special field trips or visits to friends. Each book took some thought and planning, but not a lot of time, and very little money.

The books became our scrapbooks, full of treasured memories. But they were not just a place for photos and keepsakes. When Kalman was still crawling, just learning to walk, his toddler friends came over for a visit. He crawled across the living room floor toward the toy chest. I expected him to pull out some toys for his friends, but he passed the chest and stopped at the bottom shelf of the bookcase against the wall. There he pulled out the home-made books, which told stories about his life. He proudly opened these for his friends, who sat open-mouthed and slack-jawed. They shot Kalman looks of unguarded envy. His mother made books just for him, about him? Their mothers didn’t do that!

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Make Your Child’s Reading Primers


  • A black marker
  • Cardboard
  • Metal loose-leaf book rings, 1” (or whatever size you need for your book)
  • Clippings and photographs
  • Colored markers for illustrations (optional)

I used an ordinary black Sharpie to write the sentences.

I purchased a box of white cardboard squares, but you can use any cardboard you have around the house, such as the backs saved from writing pads. You can also use poster board or cardstock (heavy paper).

I wanted my little son to be able to focus on the words when I read to him. I kept the sentences simple and clear. Unlike most picture books, I separated the words from the illustrations. I wrote the title on a blank cover (or front page), and one sentence or phrase on each page. I gave each illustration its own page.

Here are just a few pages from Kalman’s first book, Kalman at the Zoo. Also pictured here are some pages from his favorite home-made book, Where is Kalman?. There was a book he enjoyed a lot called Where Can It Be? by Ann Jonas, about a child searching for a missing blanket. A favorite game we played together was a form of hide and seek; Kalman would play at hiding, and I would play at finding him. I took his favorite game and made a book out of it.

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Kalman at the Zoo (selected pages)

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Where is Kalman?
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