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I want to let you in on a little secret:
You don’t have to have a degree in education in order to teach your child to read.*
Reading = (exposure + practice) over a period of time.
It’s that simple for a vast majority of kids.
I acknowledge that a very small proportion of kids will end up having some sort of physical obstacle to reading (such as eyesight), or a learning challenge (such as dyslexia, etc.). A google search says 15-20% of children have Dyslexia. I know nothing about that, and I will not speak on it further, but that is a reality for some children, and I am sure there are excellent research based strategies to address those challenges. I do have friends who were told by teachers that their children would never learn to read due to special needs, and yet those same children did go on to learn to read once they were removed from the school environment. (This is anecdotal evidence.)
However, I can tell you that sometimes people suspect children of having Dyslexia when they don’t. I will dedicate an entire separate post to late readers and those kinds of (unfounded) allegations that were thrust at one of my kids, repeatedly. I will discuss what we went through with that kid more in a future post.
This post is dedicated to the parents who have young children, let’s say 7ish and under, who have not yet learned to read. This is for parents who have done zero percent research and don’t even know where to start– especially those forced into distance learning, etc. due to COVID-19, but it is just as applicable to families new to homeschooling (by choice) as well.
Tools for Just Starting Out
In this stage, you’re going to want to start with exposure. Having books, magazines, newspapers in the home will help create a foundation for a love of reading. You can check out these materials from the library, and I encourage you to let your children check out as many books as their account will allow, based on their interests.
The following materials are what worked for us. They may not work for your child, or maybe some of them will work and others won’t. However, I stand behind them as a good place to start!
My First Draw & Write Journal — literacy includes writing, the two go hand and hand. Expect your child to ask you what things say or how to spell things. Allow them to write in their journal however they are able. Encourage them to draw and help them write captions for their stories. Sometimes they’ll want you to write for them, and that’s fine! When they come back and read what you wrote, they’ll remember that time you spent together collaborating!
This Geospace Read Spin thingamajig was one of my favorites. I can’t remember if someone recommended it to me, but it was great. And, by the way, trying to figure out what the heck it was called was very difficult, LOL!
Popular Montessori Version can be found here. These are kind of similar, but are essentially letters printed onto math cubes, you could easily make these or do the pinterest hack where you write them with a sharpie onto plastic eggs or duplo legos, or what have you.
Second Step Up
Once your child begins to get a hold on phonics and basic decoding skills, they may be ready to level up. The following materials are great for kids who have mastered the BOB books (or equivalent) level of readers.
I Can Read it! Book 3 (we haven’t personally used this one, but I’m sure it’s great based on the first two, which worked well for us).
Reading Eggs this website is great because it is visual and auditory, and it utilizes game theory (ala badges, coins, levels — do you guys know what I’m talking about? This is a thing.) By completing lessons, the children earn eggs which can be spent on virtual rewards, such as furniture for their avatar’s living quarters, or they can play arcade games.
(Please note: the games can be turned off if the children are playing them excessively. However, I would caution that if the children are excessively playing games, you investigate the cause as to why. Is the work that is being asked of them too easy? Too challenging? Too much after doing xyz other things? Or are they really wanting some free time to play games. In my experiences, children (like adults) work in fits and spurts. Perhaps what they are needing is some downtime & less pressure. My $.02)
Libraries often carry leveled readers. You’ll have to have a handle of their reading level so you can compare their skill level to the options available. In our library, these were in the children’s section of the library that had early readers, and they were inside of small tupperware bins. They are the same size as the small BOB books, and probably difficult to shelf, I would imagine!
Third Step Up
Once your child is gaining fluency, it’s time to level up again!
One of my favorite resources to recommend is the Regular Readers Level 2 set from Bookshark. This collection of books is excellent. The books are on varied and actually interesting topics, so they are rewarding for the kids to read. Be sure that you get the reading schedule for the books as well. This was a crucially excellent component for two of my kids in gaining confidence and decoding skills.
I should mention, throughout this post, when I am recommending readers, I am assuming that you will be sitting next to your child while they read these books out loud. Reading out loud is critical for many reasons, not the least of which is to catch errors in decoding. I encourage you to be gentle and patient, however. Give your child many opportunities to sound out a word. So long as they are putting in the effort to try, don’t rush them along or tell them the answer immediately. Throw them the lifesaver when they need it, but don’t force it prematurely.
Throughout this process, you’ll have to take each child’s temperament & ability into account as you go along.
By the end of this step, your child should be a solid reader.
Whether they love to read or not, is a separate & somewhat unrelated issue. I will try to expand on this at some future point, but the ability to read is not the same as wanting to actually do it when not required.
In my experiences with three out of my four readers, if you start at the beginning at around age 5 or 6, children finish this third step at about 7 years old. Again, this depends on readiness, which is critically important. (If they are an older reader, they may blast straight through to this step within a few months, that’s what happened with our 9 year old, but that’s not relevant for the purposes of this post.)
McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, 7 Volume Set: Primer Through The Sixth — these were one of the old school tools used to teach readers. This is a reprint of the original. It has leveled readers from 0-6, with increasing levels of difficulty. They have beautifully drawn illustrations & little stories to read.
The Miniature World of Peter Rabbit: 12-Copy Miniature Collection Box (The World of Beatrix Potter) (I don’t know if these books that are linked are the real deal, but the miniature Beatrix Potter books are a great set for emerging readers. The stories are cute and more complex than most of the books written for early readers these days. Depending on your child’s ability, these may be too advanced for them to read on their own, but they can look at the books and have them read to them.
The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers — this is especially useful for older readers, and I will talk more about this resource specifically in a forthcoming post dedicated to that subject in particular.
Let’s Read: A Linguistic Approach — If I am remembering correctly, this book was recommended by John Holt in one of his books. It is essentially a collection of word lists. Thus, if left out for a child (in Holt’s hypothetical), the child can happen upon the book, open it up, and if the child is able to decode -an words, they will be able to read an entire page! Etc.
Please read Learning All The Time & How Children Learn, 50th anniversary edition (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) for additional information about how providing a print rich environment encourages literacy based on basic human curiosity.
Many, many, many people swear by Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but I have never seen this book, and thus cannot speak on it. However, I have heard that it works for some kids and not others (just like everything else, amiright?!)
Reading aloud to your children (audiobooks count) is another important component to literacy. Studies have consistently shown that exposure to vocabulary and language increases cognitive ability and decoding. See, for example:
I’m sure there are other books, but I have read those two and I think they’re great! The second one either contains or has a pdf link listed with book lists, as well as additional booklists available on Read Aloud Revival’s Site (and lots more content, I don’t even know what all is on there).
(I also highly recommend The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life by my friend Julie Bogart. I think she’s a magical bridge between unschooling and homeschooling, and is especially relevant for parents who are trying to nurture learning at home in unexpected circumstances. She has a website with curriculum & online course offerings, which I highly recommend.)
Please remember that you do not need all of these things. Consider this post as a menu of potential resources that are available to help. Start with one thing, see how that works, and go from there!
I will try to come back and make a downloadable list of all of these resources, so that it’s easier to keep track of!
If you try these strategies with your child, please come back and let me know how it went!
I’m rooting for you!