New home-schoolers are often intimidated by the idea of teaching their kids to read. They know it is vitally important and therefore must be complicated to teach properly. I think it would be complicated to teach to a classroom full of squirmy six-year-olds of varying levels of readiness (my heart goes out to those poor teachers). But it really isn’t that hard to teach your own. It’s actually pretty fun – assuming you like to read yourself.
To begin with, it’s wonderful snuggling up on the couch or outside on a blanket, reading piles of delightful children’s books. Every day – not just before bed – read to your kids and enjoy the expressions on their faces and the comments they make. Don’t make them hold still. They can roll on the floor, play with blocks, draw or do whatever quiet thing they like and still enjoy the stories – but they will usually want a front-row seat to see the illustrations.
Eventually your child will want to know what you are doing when you read. They may ask questions about letters or words – then you know they are ready to start learning. Not all kids are ready at the same time and it has nothing to do with intelligence so don’t worry about it. In fact, I am fairly convinced that many of the so-called reading disabilities (apart from genuine dyslexia) are caused by forcing kids to read before they are ready. For more info on this, read Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s excellent book, Better Late Than Early.
When your child is genuinely ready – chomping at the bit to learn how to read – you don’t need a complicated series of phonics workbooks and flashcards. Just start with something simple like, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. You could always ramp it up later if necessary.
My first son learned to read at the age of six during his brief few months at school, so I missed it. My second son Aengus was ready to read by the age of five. He was already puzzling out road signs and other print in his environment and had somehow learned the alphabet but I don’t remember how (maybe from his older brother). So when I sat down with him and the 100 Easy Lessons book he was eager to learn. The sessions were nice and short, with engaging illustrations. Aengus learned enough in the first 50 lessons to start reading real books. We stopped the reading lessons there because he figured out the rest all on his own.
My daughter wasn’t ready to read until the age of seven. Before then, she lived in her own daydreamy world of play and imagination. She loved to be read to, but had no interest in reading for herself. Due to feelings of parental anxiety, I started using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with her when she was six. She liked the book and didn’t mind the short sessions so she acquired some very basic phonics skills. I also introduced her to the BOB books for beginning readers and she LOVED those. After about Lesson 45 of the “100 Easy Lessons” she asked to drop that book and just read BOB books with me. That’s what we did. As her fluency improved I checked out other easy readers from the library. She stayed in beginner/phonics mode though until she was nine. That was when she seemed to catch the reading bug and start reading naturally instead of laboring over every word. I honestly believe that I could have simply waited until she was nine to teach her phonics and she would have learned to read in a matter of months instead of years. Instead, I was too busy worrying about what the neighbors would say if they knew my eight year old couldn’t read!
Even after your kids have learned the phonics involved with reading on their own, it’s still important to snuggle up on the couch with Mom or Dad and a good book. We plundered the library every other week and came home with stacks of books! We also checked out every “Book on Tape” we could find and listened to them in the car. This was an excellent way to introduce the kids to a new author or series they were hesitant to read on their own. My oldest son loves fantasy stories but I couldn’t interest him in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Then I found the first book of the series on tape – not just read by one narrator, but dramatized with a complete cast of voices. After listening to that, Jesse was hooked and promptly plowed through the rest of Brian Jacque’s books.
Books on tape (or CD nowadays) are also good for squeezing classic literature into a busy schedule. We spent a lot of time driving – to classes, park days, choir and music practice, field trips, sports, errands, etc… The time flew by when we were listening to “Peter Pan,” “The Railway Children,” “James and the Giant Peach” or “Anne of Green Gables.” Many times we sat in the driveway with the engine running – not wanting to go inside until the chapter was over.
Listening to good stories builds a taste for literature and an ear for language. It helps kids want to read more because reading is supposed to be fun – not work. And teaching reading should be fun too. If you find that it is too stressful, you’re probably over-doing it. If you fear that your child may have a genuine reading problem then it is perfectly OK to get outside help. One great book to check out first is A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine, M.D.