How To: Teach Your Child To Read

This post is the first in my series on “How To” teach specific subjects.  Over the next few weeks I will be covering such subjects as teaching math, history, science, etc.  If you have any questions or concerns you’d like me to address, please feel free to fill out my contact form so I can address them in subsequent posts!

TEACHING READING

I have had both positive and negative experiences with teaching my children to read so I feel like I am in a position to address the concerns many parents have with teaching their children to read.  First let me give you a brief run-down on what worked, and what didn’t, in my “adventure” teaching my children to read:

  • The only time we sent any of our children to a traditional school was the year our oldest child, and only daughter, attended a Christian school for kindergarten.  She had a positive experience there, made straight “A’s” and was “valedictorian” of her kindergarten class.  Moreover, by the time she “graduated” she could read at a second grade level.  When I began home-schooling her the next year I really only had to do some phonics review and then we jumped right into using the Bob Jones University Press reading program.
  • My oldest son started home-schooling two years later and I decided to use the same phonics program that had worked with my daughter.  This program is a mainstream Christian phonics program and is used at many Christian schools but as I was to find out, it’s not necessarily the best program to use in a home-school setting (whether it is a good program to use at traditional schools I am not going to speculate on…it obviously worked for my daughter but how well it works for children who have a different learning style I don’t know).  I struggled for three years trying to make this program work with my son!  So if you are kicking yourself for maybe picking the “wrong curriculum” for your child, know that you are not alone!  I sincerely wish I had chucked this program and found something else but I was still a “newbie” home-schooler in some respects, so I decided to tough it out.  My son’s problem wasn’t that he couldn’t decode the words (i.e. sound them out) but rather, he struggled with fluency which is, of course, the goal.  I was fortunate to have a home-schooling friend suggest the “Explode the Code” series as my son was entering 3rd grade and just a few months of review with this program truly did explode my son’s reading ability.  He soon was so in love with books that he would bring one with him everywhere we went.
  • After my disappointing experience with a mainstream program it was a no-brainer as to what I would use to teach reading to my second son.  We started in kindergarten with “Explode the Code” and a set of readers (more on those later).  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to teach my son to read using just these two resources.  Totally painless.  For both of us!
  • I was 40 and had been home-schooling for over a decade when my youngest son was born.  My little guy is a very unique child who had a fascination with words from the time he was an infant.  It would take a whole post to explain what I mean, but suffice it to say that all it took was exposing him to a few phonics DVD’s and games and by the age of 4 he had essentially taught himself to read.  Now I know what you’re thinking because if anyone (up until this time) had told me their kid taught himself to read by the age of four I would have said (to myself, of course), “Yeah, right.”  But it’s the truth.  And considering what a difficult child he was in many other ways, I figure it was maybe God’s way of cutting me a break!

Now that I have given you a brief synopsis of my experience teaching my children to read, I want to explore my recommendations for resources you can use to teach your child to read, as painlessly as possible.

PRESCHOOL

There are many products out these days that will tell you they can get your child reading by the time they are sixth months old (give or take).  I don’t know about you but I never really needed my children to read at sixth months.  I was more concerned with them sleeping through the night, keeping them from eating the electrical cords, you know, stuff like that.

But, I did start introducing my youngest to the Leapfrog program when he was young and I do believe that is what connected the dots for him that got him reading at the age of four.  That’s not to say that your child will read at four using the Leapfrog program, because each child is different.  However, they have a solid method of teaching phonics (IMHO) and kids enjoy learning using this program so it is a win/win as I see it.

There are a variety of tools that Leapfrog uses including DVD’s, various hand-held games, and interactive books.  If you have been following my blog for some time you may have gotten the idea that I fall into the “relaxed home-schooler” category (and you would be right!)  My feeling is if I can find a program, resource, or curriculum that my child can use by themselves to teach them what they need to know, I am going to go with it.  Why make my job harder?  For this reason if you have a preschooler I strongly recommend you look at the Leapfrog program.  And if money is a factor check out Ebay and garage sales and I wager you can put together a nice library of Leapfrog products at a minimal cost.

In addition, if you feel your child is ready for it you might want to consider using the early “Explode the Code” workbooks entitled “Get Ready, Get Set, and Go for the Code.”  Many a four-year old could use these books and certainly your five-year old should be able to tackle them as well.

KINDERGARTEN THROUGH THIRD GRADE

For this age group I recommend using the “Explode the Code” workbook series.  These workbooks are so easy and fun to use that your child could easily complete a couple of pages a day.  Along with “Explode the Code” I used the Christian Liberty Press Phonics Readers.  I just happened on these readers when I was teaching my middle son to read and was surprised (and delighted) to find that they dovetail with the “Explode the Code” workbooks perfectly even though they are in no way connected to one another.  Using the “Explode the Code”  workbooks and the Christian Liberty Press Phonics Readers is a very low-cost, efficient way to get your child reading.

Once your child is beyond the Christian Liberty Press Phonics Readers then I suggest you find a reading program that is to your liking.  I use the Bob Jones University Press Readers in first grade through sixth grade.  One of the advantages of using the Bob Jones University Press Readers are the “Worktexts” that go along with the books.  The Worktexts are workbooks that cover various elements of reading such as: reading comprehension; applying and drawing conclusions from what is read; vocabulary; word usage; and other elements.

FOURTH GRADE AND UP

I continue with the Bob Jones Readers through 5th or 6th grade.  For middle school and high school I switch to an English program that I design myself .  (I will discuss this in a later post.)  This program includes the use of the composition resource “Write With The Best” – you can read my review of this fantastic resource here.

On the other hand, if you are teaching an older child who, for whatever reason, is still struggling to read fluently, a review of the “Explode the Code” workbooks may just do the trick.  In addition, you may want to look at “Apples Spelling Drills.”  I used “Apples Spelling Drills” as a spelling program for my middle son but it is advertised as being “designed for the older student who needs basic phonics review.”  It is not expensive and I highly recommend it.

And if your child is having more than the typical struggles with learning to read and you feel there may be a disability involved (or your child has been diagnosed as having a reading disability) I would encourage you to read this guest post by Tara Jenner: Neuroscience Meets Your Child With Disabilities – to find valuable resources that can help you with your struggling learner.

I hope that this information has been helpful to you.  Won’t you consider sharing your own experiences teaching your child to read in the comments below?  I would certainly be interested in hearing what has worked for you.  Or if you still have questions, include those in the comments as well – I’d love to be able to help!

P.S. When I first published this post I neglected to mention another valuable resource I used when teaching my children to read: the “I Can Read” series.  These books are published by Harper Trophy and can be found at Amazon, book stores, etc.  One of the helpful aspects of this series is that the books are divided into levels so you can start with the easier Level 1 books and work your way up.  I have a couple of dozen of these which include titles such as: Frog and Toad All Year, Little Bear, and The Long Way Westward among others.  I highly recommend them for your kindergarten to third graders.

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  • Thanks for a great post! I look forward to reading the rest of your how-tos.

    • Anonymous

      Linda:

      I’m glad you found this helpful! I keep coming up with even more ideas of what I want to share in the next few weeks. Hopefully you and my other readers will find it worthwhile!

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  • Now that you got me to think of it….I would say that we didn’t utilize any *curriculum* to teach our first son to read.

    My first wife swore by the audio books, though – the ones that came with the written book.

    But I think that may just be because it liberated an exhausted parent from nighttime reading!

    • Anonymous

      Well you know I’m going to stick up for your wife on this one! 🙂

      I think the system has probably over-complicated the whole “learning to read” process and that is why most parents are so intimidated by it…and by the whole idea of educating their kids. The establishment has made education into some kind of secret, mysterious process. Hopefully I’m doing my little part here to de-mystify it.

  • Harter

    Thank you so much! I have a second grader that is still struggling with reading. We pulled them out of public school because they weren’t helping at all with this issue, and I have been struggling to find something helpful! I just ordered the workbooks!

    • Anonymous

      I am so glad you stopped by. Let me know how things go and if you have any additional questions feel free to e-mail me: anne@homeschooling911.com

  • MB

    I don’t always wager on one curriculum, however, I will say that Explode the Code really helped my 2nd born to read. I wish I would have used it on my 1st born because she REALLY struggled with reading and I also used the BJU program with her. She did learn to read from it, but it took her much longer and she still has a hard time with interferences and figurative language. However, she can certainly read. It’s just knowing what she has retained. I think she gets the bigger picture of the story, but not the “between the lines” kind of stuff. My son is now four and I’m seriously considering getting him the ETC books. I have all the teacher manuals. I just need the books and I love that they are so inexpensive! I wish I could buy them locally and not pay shipping though 🙁

    I used library books to supplement our reading with my 2nd daughter. She is now in 3rd grade finishing off the last book (although she doesn’t struggle much at all with reading) and she is reading books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Last year she read Charlottes Web and now she’s really into the Boxcar Children. She loves it all.

    One last thing…did you know that Explode the Code has an online program? I might use it with my son. I think the books are ok all by themselves, but what a cool resource!

    Overall, I think reading can be taught in numerous ways and depending on your child, some programs might not work for them. My oldest has Aspergers so reading should have been taught much more visually with her. I brought her home from private school for 1st grade and she knew all the letter sounds, but I still had to work with her on them. BJU helped somewhat as she could use the readers to sound out words, but I wanted to pull my hair out that entire year. She just struggled so much with reading. By the end of 1st grade, she still wasn’t reading and I felt like a failure. So in the end, I just think you have to find what works for your kids. Starfall.com is another good website for young children. I am really keen on website uses. Kids love it. Also, not that TV is ever a replacement for curriculum, but my 4 year old son has learned the alphabet and some of the letter sounds by watching shows like Super Why and Word World. honestly, I didn’t do anything with him and he knows this stuff. I just had him watch some TV. LOL.

    • Anonymous

      I did not know that Explode the Code has an online program. That would definitely be good to know for those that like that option.

      I think my friend CaptiousNut (who commented above) likes the Starfall website. Leapfrog also has a good website but I don’t think all of it is free (although I haven’t been there in awhile so I’m not sure).

      My son has learned a ton of vocabulary from PBS shows like “Martha Speaks” and “Word Girl.” It’s funny/interesting that the shows he likes almost invariably have to do with vocabulary, which fits right in with his fascination with words.

      Have you checked to see if you buy the Explode the Code workbooks through Amazon if you can get the free shipping? I always make sure I order enough stuff ($25) to get the free shipping. And though I never mention this to my readers, I do have an Amazon affiliate link banner in my sidebar.

      I know that there are other programs that others have used with success (for instance, “Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons”) but I had such success with “Explode the Code” – and it is so inexpensive – that I always recommend it.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment! I really appreciate it!

      • MB

        Yes, the problem with Amazon is that I don’t always need $25 worth of books. I just need about $6. LOL. And next time I shop there (which I always do!) I will be sure to use your associate codes. I have them too. I realized I do not have mine on my sidebar. I better fix that. I also like to do the swagbucks thing and earn gift cards to Amazon too. I didn’t know Leapfrog had a website but then i never looked. I could never get into those Teach your child to read in 100 Easy lesson books .I looked at it and it seemed like a ton of work and heck, I’m busy. I can’t screw around with that kind of stuff. ETC is great. I’m glad we have it here.

        • Anonymous

          I have to say I agree with you about “100 Easy Lessons” – I do know people that have used it and liked it but to me it looked like way too much work. Explode the Code is easy-peasy.

          (And thanks about the Amazon affiliate thing. I really appreciate it.)

  • Brandy

    Thanks for the advice. My 3 year old loves books and it would be great to start teaching her to read. We use a lot of leapfrog toys but I am definitely going to check out the Explode the Code series. Thanks again.

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad you found this helpful! Sounds like you and your daughter are on the right track!

  • Melanie

    Wow, very detailed and well written post about teaching your child to read! Each kiddo is so different and we just have to adjust for what works best for them! Stopping by from SITS…

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for coming by from SITS! I appreciate the encouraging comment. One of the wonderful things about home-schooling is being able to tailor an education that’s a fit for your child, from reading and math to science and history and beyond!

  • Wow, what great information for people who homeschool! 🙂  Happy SITS day! 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Marie for the kind thoughts and thank you for coming over from my feature day!

  • Thanks for the great tips!

    Happy SITS day!

    • Anonymous

      You are welcome and thanks for coming over from the SITS site!

  • Laurieakirk

    Another great inexpensive “teaching your child to read” resource is Funnix. I used it with my son who was struggling with fluency. It not only covers reading, but includes comprehension and spelling. It is a computer based program that comes with printable worksheets. It’s great for Preschool -3rd grade.

    • annegalivan

      Thanks for letting me (and my readers) know about this program.  The more information from the real users of a product the better!  Because this post discusses one of the two most basic and necessary components of education (the other being math) I try to remember to tweet this post from time to time.  So by offering your experience your comment will continue to be a help to other homeschoolers, and I appreciate you taking the time to share!

  • Brian Brown, theBrarian

    Thanks for sharing. Fortunately, my first 2 were easy. Daughter was reading by 5 and son before he turned 4. We used Hooked on Phonics through their 2nd level. Hopefully it will work for our 3rd. We are regulars at the library and had them reading everyday.

    We use First Language Lessons for grammar and Sequential Spelling. They are now in 3rd and 1st grade.

    Our problem now is supplying them with enough appropriate material to read.

    • annegalivan

      Hi Brian! Thanks for stopping by and thanks for sharing the phonics program you used to teach your children to read. I know many have used Hooked on Phonics successfully. One thing I want parents to understand is that teaching your kids to read shouldn’t be painful! So if one program isn’t working, by all means try something else. So I appreciate when homeschooling parents share what has worked for them in the comments here.

      As far as appropriate reading material, I have often thought of posting a list of recommended reading by age group, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  I can tell you that all my kids loved the Boxcar Children series and that my boys enjoyed the Sugar Creek Gang books. In fact, my oldest son is now reading through that series with my youngest. My daughter loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and the Anne of Green Gables books. The Sower Series of biographies offer great stories of Christian scientists, authors, etc. I have several of them on our shelves. And as you know, I love the Ralph Moody series of books.

  • benj

    You know when you stumble upon something that seems to be just what you’ve been searching for…you are it today! Thank you. While I have not incorporated your methods, I have opened the links to order and give it shot. I am having a time finding the key to helping my math girl embrace reading. I am a relaxed home-schooler as well, and while I am not at all panicking at this point (she is 6) that she is not reading as well as she is tackling math, I want to provide the fundamentals to help her gain confidence. Maybe I can post again in a few months to let you know how things are going 😉

    • Thanks for the kind words! I’m so glad you found this helpful.

      Isn’t it amazing how unique all our kids are? I’ve found with my 11-year old that topics or lessons I think he’ll find difficult, turn out to be a breeze, while things I think he’ll breeze through turn out to be a challenge! You just never know. But one thing I learned from homeschooling my four children is that if you just keep at it, they will eventually learn what they need to know!

      I would love to hear from you again to find out how things are going!

  • Dani Rren

    Reading at home helps a kid develop an interest in learning which in turn forms a basis in learning to them. Parents need to be able to ensure a good basis for the learning of their kids so that they can carry them all throughout their lives. http://educationalplay.info

    Regards

    Dani Rren