Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teaching Our Children to Read




One of the hardest, yet most rewarding tasks I have accomplished as a homeschool mom has been teaching my children to read. I have to admit that I was more than a little intimidated when we first started our homeschooling journey. We were doing this thing for real now and the pressure was on. At least, that's the way I perceived it. So I was determined to do everything right.


Ha! Boy, did I have another thing coming. So far, I have taught two children to read and am working on a third. And I have been through 5 reading curriculum! Yep, that's right. I've failed. I've spent money on curriculum only to toss it later.
Anyone who knows me, knows that is a very hard thing for me to do. Not only do I detest wasting money, I can't stand to leave things unfinished. It goes against every fiber of my being to not read a book all the way through, even if I don't like that book. I can't stand it. Ooh, and admitting failure? OUCH. Especially where my kids are concerned!
However, throughout the last few years of homeschooling I have learned to let a lot of that go. I am so thankful for the counsel of some veteran homeschool moms who let me know IT'S OKAY. In fact, I have really started to embrace it. I try to remember not all children are alike and what works so well for some, may not be a good fit for others (one of the plethora of reasons why we love homeschooling-individualized curriculum). I love each of my kids' personalities and uniqueness. Each of them learn in a completely different way. And I love that I am so blessed to be able to tailor their education to that which best suits them.


At any rate, I really struggled through the beginning days/weeks (oh who am I kidding? MONTHS!!!) of homeschooling. I focused on reading and phonics instruction to the exclusion of all else because it was THAT important to me that I get this one thing right. I knew all other learning hinged on them learning this one thing well. And if I had to do it all over again, I would do everything the same, flubs and all. I have learned so much just through trial and error.


And believe it or not, after all of that, I discovered it's not all that hard to teach a child to read. After a few bumps in the road, and some studying and reading and learning on my part, I feel like we have a pretty good system in place for the process of teaching our children to read. Each child goes at his/her own pace, but the process is pretty consistent. Of course, I am always open to changing things up, should a particular child require it.


I have had many people ask me about how we go about teaching our children to read, so I thought I would share what I have learned here.


As I said before, I have used several different curriculum over the years-Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics, McGuffey Readers and the Classic Curriculum workbooks, The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. All of these are good programs and each has its own pros and cons (I can discuss those in another post or if anyone leaves a comment and wants a more specific review, I'd be happy to give it).


That being said, I think success in teaching your child to read has less to do with what curriculum you use (there are so many to choose from and most are really good and effective) and more to do with your attitude.


Most of all I want my children to develop a love for learning so I introduce them to quality literature at a young age-no junk allowed in our house! I am intentional about working to give our children a print-rich environment. We turn off the tv (and computer and video games-we actually don't watch tv or play video games but that's another post for another day), curl up in a chair and read, read, read together many times a day. This is the absolutely most important and first step to teaching your children to read.


As I am reading, I try engage my children's minds with lots of open-ended questions. I read with lots of expression and attempt to make the story exciting and fun. We also read together as a whole family on a nightly basis (we are currently working through the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, something we do every other year-right now we are in the middle of Prince Caspian). We make it a point to let the kids see us reading as well.


Learning to read should also be an exciting and fun, low-pressure kind of a thing. I take a heavily phonics-based approach (why I do so is another involved discussion, but I would be happy to answer any questions about that as well) and start teaching our kids at a young age (2/3) letter names and sounds (in a low key way, a-a-apple, when eating an apple for example) and then move on to a more structured approach at around 4 years of age.


That is not to say I want my children reading fluently at 4, just that's what I have found to be a good age in terms of the child's motivation level and excitement about learning to read. They really begin to see how limited their world is when they can't read. My goal is to try to capture that spark and run with it.


I also want to be sure to go at the child's pace-it shouldn't be a frustrating, pull-your-hair-out kind of thing. If they don't get it right away, I am persistent, unafraid to go back and review and repeat a lot, and most importantly, I try to be exceptionally patient. I don't ever want reading to become a chore for my children. If your child is struggling, stop and try again in a few weeks if you need to, being sure to keep up with reading good stories frequently in the meantime.


I always start by teaching individual letter sounds, teaching the difference between the consonants and the vowels. Then, I move on to teaching how to blend the letter sounds together, once they are able to recognize each letter and say its sound without really thinking about it. I will start with three letter words with short vowel sounds that follow the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (C-A-T). I also like to teach in word families, so along with cat, I teach hat and mat and rat and sat etc... I continue this way until I have done each vowel.


Once they have mastered these words and can say them as soon as they see them (not having to sound them out letter by letter) I move into more complicated things such as consonant blends and digraphs (two or more letters that when placed together make a single sound-sh, for example), still sticking with short vowels.


After that I will move onto long vowels and all the ways to make them. We start with the most common ways (silent e) and move on to the lesser ways (igh says long i, for example). Along with this, I will start to teach phonics rules and have them memorize these rules to help them learn new words.


Next, I will do words that are exceptions to the rules (although I will have been teaching some of the very common sight words already-words that don't follow a phonics rule and can't be sounded out such as the, of, two, have, give, love etc...). You will find that once you get to this point your child will naturally start sounding out bigger, multi-syllabic words on their own.


Another thing I like to do is get the kids reading right away. Teach them a few short words and then use them in a "story" they can read all on their own (the cat sat on the mat), and then keep having them read stories the whole time, not just words (Bob Books are great for this). Let them taste success!


So, that's pretty much it, those are the basic steps I follow to teach our children to read. As I am teaching them I like to engage as many senses as possible so we will do different activities to reinforce whatever we are learning, but the foundation is pretty much the same.


If you have any questions or you are struggling with the process, I would be happy to help any way I can-just leave me a comment, and I promise to respond. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have done tons of research and hopefully someone can learn from my mistakes besides me! Almost all children will start to learn to read using these simple steps. This may not apply to the struggling learner or the special needs child, but it often will even in those cases. Just remember to be patient and go at your child's pace.


There is nothing that makes my heart swell with pride like seeing the light bulb go on in my kid's head and see them truly start to get it. To see them pick up a book off the shelf and start sounding out words. To watch them get so excited as they taste the success of reading their very first sentence, and then their first story and later, their first book. Oh, it's so, so sweet.
What about you? Do you have any tricks of the trade that you like to use when teaching a child to read?