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Helping Your Child Learn to Read

Added by Heather Idoni

Monday, March 17, 2014
Vol. 15 No. 5, March 17, 2014, ISSN: 1536-2035
(c) 2014, Mary Beth Akers and Heather Idoni

Welcome to The Homeschooler's Notebook!

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Notes from Mary Beth
-- Teaching Reading
Winning Website
-- FunBrain.com
Helpful Tips
-- Better Late
This Issue's Question
-- Talent and Hard Work
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
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Notes from Mary Beth

Helping Your Children Learn to Read


I sometimes wonder whether home school parents are intimidated more by teaching reading than they are by teaching higher level math. Perhaps this is partly because reading is one of the first skills addressed in schools, and beginning homeschooling parents find themselves being judged early on by their child's reading progress.

So -- let's clarify a few issues.

1. Regardless of how early or how late your children learn to read, the important thing is that you are there when they do.

2. Early reading does not predict success in other areas, nor does late reading predict low achievement.

3. Although there are exceptions, in general, girls will be ready to learn to read earlier than boys. Don't be surprised if all your children, regardless of gender, learn to read at different ages. And don't expect them to all learn to read in the same way.

4. Forcing formal reading instruction on a child who is not developmentally ready is not only counterproductive, it has been linked to neurological damage, social disorders and learning disabilities.

5. The heavy emphasis that conventional schools place on early reading is completely unfounded and without merit.


I would urge you to postpone formal reading lessons until your child is ready. More important, I would encourage you to cast off any worries you might have about teaching your children to read.

Of course, if you suspect visual, auditory or perceptual impairments, it would be wise to monitor closely and consider having the child evaluated. But be aware that a child can be diagnosed as learning disabled when, in actuality, his perceptual processes are simply not fully developed. If you have the government school test your child, be aware that they receive additional funding for each remedial child they enroll. So it would be to their advantage to label the child and then pressure you to come to them for "help". If your child needs testing, use a private evaluation service if you can afford it.


Before we get into a specific reading method, I'd like to share some basic principles regarding teaching reading, some of which are backed by extensive research.

1. Real-life experiences enhance reading ability. TV and other electronic devices inhibit it. So take your children through life with you and expose them to the real world. Limit "screen time".

2. Inspiring a desire to read and a love for books will almost guarantee success. Read aloud to your children using quality literature. Make read-aloud time special. Cuddle together while you read; if the weather is nice, read outdoors. Serve a special beverage or snack to enjoy while you're reading. You will cultivate a blessed memory which will provoke happy thoughts about reading. To this day I recall having my ear against my daddy's chest and loving the rumble of his deep voice as he read to me. When he grew tired of my childish books he would quote Shakespeare from memory as he turned the pages. I didn't know the difference -- or didn't care. I just loved snuggling with him and hearing him read.

3. Reading lessons should be relatively short but consistent. Stop before the child becomes fidgety. Try to have lessons every day, or almost every day.

4. Let your children see you using and enjoying printed material of all kinds. Look up words in a dictionary; whenever possible, do research from real books rather than the internet. Use the library regularly.

5. Consider allowing your child to have a pen pal. Pen pals are a great way to give purpose and meaning to reading and writing. The pen pal can be a relative who lives far away, a missionary's child, or you can find a pen pal via the internet. At first, you might have to write the letters from the child's dictation.

6. What works for one child might not work with another. Some children practically teach themselves to read; some require minimal instruction; others need a more lengthy, specialized approach.


Several years after my children learned to read, I came across Charlotte Mason's method. I was intrigued by it, and wished I had known about it in time to try it with my children. Charlotte Mason lived before computers and printers, so I have modernized her approach somewhat. Since I am not speaking from experience, I hope that those of you who are using this method will comment and clarify things that I might not be explaining well.

It will help if the child already knows letters, but I believe that you can use this method either way. If the child does not know letters, you will proceed more slowly and include whatever writing instruction you need as you go along. I believe that a chld should learn to read a word before he is expected to write it.

Some children respond better to sight words, others to phonics. This approach uses both, and the child is reading meaningful material in the very first lesson. It accommodates visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. Writing with a finger in sand will enhance the kinesthetic aspect.

Day 1 -- Select a short passage from any source you like. Our example will be the opening line of "Battle Hymn of the Republic": 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.'

Type the text in rather large letters, and print about six copies of it. Leave one copy intact, but cut the other copies into single words. Put the words in a box. Slowly and expressively, read the uncut copy, pointing to each word.

Choose a word and write it in large, neat letters. I would use a wipe-off board, but paper works fine too. We'll start with 'Lord'.

Scatter the words on the table and find five 'Lords'. Do the same with 'glory', 'eyes', 'coming', and so on until all the words have been used. Do 'the' only once, even though it occurs three times.

You will build a column of words on your board or paper. After you have found all the words, have the child read the words from top to bottom, from bottom to top, and in any order of your choosing.

Have the child arrange the words into random columns and read those.

Finally, dictate the passage, one word at a time, and have the student find each word one more time, arranging the text in its original form as you dictate it. Allow the child to read the uncut copy. Then have him read it backwards. If interest fizzles out, you can stop at any time. You can pick up where you left off next time.

Day 2 -- You will now have a phonics/spelling lesson. Select a word from yesterday's passage. For our example, we'll begin with 'mine.' If the child knows his letters, see if he can spell the word from memory; if not, allow him to copy it. See how many new words you can form by replacing the 'm': dine, line, fine, wine, tine, nine, pine, vine. If he suggests something like, 'sign', simply tell him that word uses a different spelling and that you'll study it later. Have the child read the list of new words in varying order. Of course some words will have few or no rhyming words.

The following day, you would go to the next line of the hymn, alternating sight reading with spelling/phonics activities. Use passages of a length appropriate for your child's attention span, letter knowledge and interest level.


You don't need to spend a lot of money teaching your children to read. Some available programs are worthy, but not essential. My daughter mastered reading after six lessons in Alpha-Phonics. My son did not respond well to that approach, or any approach, until he was well past nine, and learned to read using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Then he jumped directly into Jules Verne classics. He went from being a non-reader one day to reading novels the next. I have heard of some children not learning to read until well into their teens, and they all have grown into productive and successful adults.

-- Mary Beth


Reader Feedback

"Hi, Mary Beth!

I have been a long-time reader of Homeschooler's Notebook -- since it was started by Lynn Hogan, before Heather took over. I am greatly enjoying your newsletters!

I live in a little town in Oklahoma -- also 25 miles from town. We also attend a small country church with about 25 members when everyone is there! And my oldest child is 21 as well. So, I connected with you right away. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, and for encouraging us to be in the Word with our families!

I especially liked the list of questions inspired by Chris Davis for forming our own education plan. Even though I am halfway through my 15th year of homeschooling, I can ALWAYS improve, and I am looking forward to sitting down with my husband and talking through these questions. Besides, my youngest is in 1st grade, so I have plenty of time and opportunity to make positive changes. :o)

Also, I wanted to tell you that our oldest son is in the military, and no, he did not need a GED or college courses in order to join. He did have to take that extra test that someone else referred to, but he also said it was very easy. It is the ASVAB score that matters. I also had to write a letter outlining his education, but it was very simple. Our son's recruiter also said that he enjoys working with homeschoolers because of their character and capacity for learning.

Oh, and I loved the idea of minute books! I had never heard of that concept before, but I think it is a great idea. What a wonderful way to finish a study or review a course! Thank you for sharing that.

I'm sorry that it has taken me until now to give any feedback, but I appreciate your efforts, and I am enjoying reading your thoughts and advice. Keep up the great work!"

In Him,
Mindy in Oklahoma



Helpful Tips

Better Late than Early!

My absolute favorite resource to recommend for understanding why pushing early reading is really not a good idea is the classic book by Dr. Raymond Moore, "Better Late than Early". I have bought this book several times over in the past 15+ years to share with friends. Highly recommended to put any parent's mind at ease about when to teach reading.

-- Heather

Winning Websites


Fun Brain has a wide selection of interactive games for math, reading and just-for-fun. Their activities appear to be appropriate for about four or five to about thirteen or fourteen. They have some interesting parent/teacher resources. The site seems to be very safe; they go the extra mile to protect you and your child's privacy.


Free Interactive Electronics Projects!


"EEME makes hands-on project kits paired with an online video curricula to teach 7-12 year old kids electronics. Our goal? To nurture the curiosity & critical thinking kids need for the science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) opportunities of tomorrow."

Sign-up and login with your email address (no password required) for really cool, interactive electronics projects right on your computer screen. Build an LED light circuit and more!

Last Issue's Question...

How do you motivate and inspire your children? How do you determine what their unique gifts are?

Our Readers' Answers...

"I want to address the second question first. I once asked my mom the same question. I had two sisters, one who went on to be a professional opera singer and one who was Miss Majorette of Florida, and yet I was average at everything. I wondered if maybe I had a special gift or talent that was never discovered and how my sisters' gifts were so readily apparent at such a young age. My mother told me that if my children were blessed with a talent, it would make itself known to me. (She also told me that it was quite obvious that my gift was motherhood.) Sure enough, my one son shows promise as a collegiate baseball prospect and my other son has recorded his first original song. As far as directing their God given gifts, I encourage them to read inspirational biographies, especially ones that deal with overcoming an obstacle to pursue their dreams. The boys' favorite by far is Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow. In it he says his motivation was the following quote: 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard'. Work hard, talented young people!"

-- GatorBridget

New Question...

Whether you use a method similar to the Charlotte Mason method or some other approach, what are some techniques you have found that have helped you in teaching reading?

Please share! :-)

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