Though it really shouldn’t be, one of the most intimidating endeavors to a new homeschooler is teaching a child to read. You have already taught your child to do a host of other important skills as a parent: sleeping through the night, potty-training, talking. Reading is the next step. Parents get frustrated teaching their child to read when they feel pressured into thinking that reading should happen by a certain age or at a certain pace.
Here are some practical ways I have taught our kids to read. Though it is not comprehensive, the information in this post comes from my experience teaching in school and teaching our kids how to read.
These are simple principles for anybody to use. This is by no means a comprehensive description, but I hope it is enough to help someone get started. Teaching a child to read does not have to be difficult. It is slow work. It takes effort. The progression happens over a period of time, if you can be patient for it, but it is not difficult. And if you can relax with your child, it might just be enjoyable!
There are two things that need to happen every day for your child to become a fluent reader. One requires a lot of time. The other should be 15 minutes a day depending on the age of the child.
Here’s the first. Every child should be read to-A LOT. This can happen in small, scattered moments throughout the day, but it should be lathered frequently with pleasure.
The second. The child should practice reading 15 minutes a day. As they increase in level, the time also increases, but at the very beginning, 15 minutes of phonics/reading skills should happen daily.
Read to Your Child
When you begin teaching a child to read, you should make it your first priority every day to read to them often. This should not be in large chunks since that would overwhelm a young child. Read to him frequently in small chunks throughout the day. Imagine that as your child is learning to sound out words, he is drawing from the bank. He comes to a new word and as he is putting the sounds together, he is looking through the register to see which word is the closest match. He will be familiar with how to pronounce words, how they fit in the context of a sentence, etc. because he has heard them used many times before. The amount of exposure a child has had to the written word directly reflects the amount of words in his bank. The more words in his bank, the quicker he is to find a match and continue to progress in reading.
What should be read to a child?
With the exception of nursery rhymes for the youngest ages, all children can benefit from each of these types of books being read aloud to them. Even older children can appreciate quality picture books like those I have suggested.
Nursery rhymes. (young children) Why do children love nursery rhymes and simple songs? Because when you can’t read something, your mind is looking for some form of stimulation. Repeating the same sounds and rhythms is your reading. They are building a repertoire. What happens when a child hears nursery rhymes every day? They will repeat them throughout the day. Actually, when you teach a child nursery rhymes, you will hear, “Again! Do another one!” Children love to hear the same phrases over and over so that they can remember them and do them on their own. Many nursery rhymes have been put to song. If you can sing some of them and add motions, your preschooler will relish this time with you. You will be folding laundry and hearing them in the next room saying, “this little piggy went wee wee wee aaaaaall the way home!” with delight.
Picture books. Rather than a large collection of random books, I suggest a small library of 30-40 carefully chosen books. Set aside the cartoon character, “candy” books that do little to engage the imagination. Those are fine for fun, but a small collection of beautiful, timeless classics read to them by a loving parent, will draw them in AND fascinate them. When a child hears these stories read over and over again, they will become his friends. When the three year old lays down for nap or quiet time, he might be found looking through the book reading it to himself. You might overhear a fine rendition of “The Three Little Pigs”. He is not actually reading, of course, but he has heard the story frequently enough that now he can retell it in his own words as the pictures cue him and he feels like he is reading. This will fuel his desire to read more books on his own.
A Few Favorite Picture Books From Our Collection
Chapter books. Even if a child can read, he will benefit hugely from having someone read to them. You are adding to his bank. The more you read to him, the more he understands words. Additionally, reading aloud to a child creates a culture of shared experiences. When you read aloud to a child every day, you experience things unique to just you and your child. When a child begins reading chapter books, he moves from learning to read to reading to learn. The world is opening up to him!
A Few Favorite Chapter Books from Our Collection
Audio books. I highly recommend using audio books for bedtime. It gives them something to look forward to at bedtime. Most importantly, they are less likely to be distracted which often happens when they listen to audio books during the day.
Memory Work– Memorize something every day. Memorizing is a form of reading. It helps cement words and their meanings (and their spelling!) into their minds. Memorizing for school age kids is what nursery rhymes are to preschoolers. It is building a repertoire. Here are some memory suggestions: a poem, Scripture, part of a historical document or speech, Our kids are usually working on memorizing one chunk of Scripture and one poem. We don’t sit and read lines over and over or “try” to memorize. We only read the poem or the Scripture one time a day (usually in the morning) for a month or two. After a period of time, they usually have it memorized. Remember saying the pledge of allegiance in school? You never tried to memorize it. You just said it once every day.
Since it is helpful to see practical examples, here is a sample of how reading often happens in our home on an average day.
Breakfast– nursery rhymes (preschool children only) ,memory work , Bible story
After lunch-( for napping children) 2-3 picture books
(for non nappers) 20 minutes quiet personal reading, Mom reads aloud a chapter book, any other school-related reading
Dinner– Family reads a chapter of Scripture round-robin style
Bedtime Routine– Both of our extended families have a rich history of singing old hymns. Because we want to transfer this to our kids, we sing one hymn a night. Another reading opportunity.
Bedtime– everyone listens to audio books in bed
If I were to guess, this is an average of two hours a day that some form of reading or reading aloud is happening. And this does not include the times that they pick up a book just for fun!
15 Minutes Reading Practice
The second thing that should happen daily with your child is reading practice. A beginning reader should practice reading for fifteen minutes daily. Obviously, as a child progresses in their reading ability, the amount of time spent practicing reading or reading on their own naturally increases. Daily reading practice should include short review of phonics concepts (letter sounds, putting letters together, phonics rules) with a greater time spent on the actual reading. When a child has been read to A LOT, they will grow a love for stories and knowledge. At some point they will want the power to be able to do it themselves. They want the tool that gives everyone around them access to knowledge! Remember when your child was a baby and they reached a point in their development when they insisted on feeding themselves? That’s what happens when a child is ready to read.
If you are frustrated with your child’s struggle with reading, here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Does your child want to read? If not, don’t push!!! Scale waaaaay back on reading practice and vamp up your read aloud time with them. It will come. You can still require them to practice reading daily if you feel they need it. Fifteen minutes of something painful never hurt anybody. Fifteen minutes is short enough for a child to do continue to progress, but not be frustrated.
- Do you have expectations that your child should be reading by a certain age or grade? The point of reading practice is PROGRESSION. Ignore what everyone else says or makes you feel. Ask yourself, “Is my child progressing?” If they are progressing, they will be fine! Do not make the mistake of putting expectations on a child that will only discourage them! We live in a literate society. To do almost everything, you have to be able to read. The drive to want to read will become innate because of our environment. Reading to them adds even more fuel to this fire. If a child is discouraged, however, the distaste for reading may always be an underlying stigma. You want them to LOVE reading because that will fuel them for life.
Don’t look at their present reading level as the barometer for their future reading success. Gauge their reading success by how much they love hearing a good story or book read to them. That will be the force driving their reading mastery!
The rewards for teaching a child to read are huge. When you teach a child to read, you have given him perhaps the most useful tool that he will use for the rest of his life! You have opened up a world of knowledge and possibilities for him. I encourage you to relish teaching your child to read. You will be richly rewarded!
For more information on how I teach 15 minutes of daily reading practice with beginning readers, look for more in my next post!