I have a problem with the title of this post. Yes, I wrote it, but it needed to be short, snappy and clear to people who were looking for information.
How I Facilitated my Five Children in Becoming Confident, Voracious Readers was simply too long and confusing. But here’s why I think the second title would be far more suitable.
For some strange reason, we give all the praise to the teacher. I have been told a number of times how great a teacher I am. When my girls were young and reading in public people would come over and shower me with praise, while my seven year old reading chapter books was mostly ignored. Maybe they got a slightly patronising pat on the head, and asked whether they were enjoying their book in that ‘special’ voice reserved for kids (does that put your teeth on edge too?).
My opinion is different. I haven’t even put in a hundredth of the effort my kids have. All I do is show them how to decode the language, step by step.
They manage to remember it all – the varying letter sounds, the tricky and sometimes senseless digraphs, the spelling rules that seem to have more exceptions than inclusion – and apply it.
It takes me less than an hour a week. They will practice for hours and hours, over years, before they truly master it.
Therefore, the child is the one who deserves recognition of her effort.
Anyway, rant over. But I think it serves to put your role into perspective – the learner is the most important part of your duo. You simply supply the tools, the time, and the guidance. And the fun!
Without further ado, here’s how we helped five kids to become avid and competent readers.
Step 1 – Promote a love of reading
Don’t start with the reading programs! Learning any skill needs motivation. Loving books provides that motivation for your child.
Buy kids books as presents, take them to the library and encourage them to borrow whatever they like, provide quiet time for them to read (yes, just studying the pictures is great), and promote books as precious stores of enjoyment and knowledge.
And of course, read aloud. Reading aloud is the best thing you can do. If you can start young do so, but if they’re older you can’t start any earlier. Read anything that they want you to – kids of most ages still enjoy picture books.
Sometimes you’ll be bored – I have to read Rex his train and truck books ALL THE TIME. But because I do, his main motivation for doing reading lessons has been so he can read them himself. Kids don’t want to wait around until you have the time.
A personalised reading from you is always best, but feel free to supplement with audiobooks. They’ll also help you become a better reader – quality audiobooks are read by people with style and flair, and you can adopt any techniques that you enjoy. We use the apps from our library (most have either BorrowBox or Libby) and we love Epic! – they have so many great non-fiction audiobooks.
We also celebrate milestones. When mine were capable of reading an Enid Blyton book by themself (I have a set of about 70 from when I was young, and they’re treasured) I made them their own library bag in the fabrics of their choice. They were always so proud to take it to the library, with their card tucked in the pocket, and borrow their own books.
Step 2 – Use simple but effective resources WHEN YOUR CHILD IS READY
I know there are all those programs claiming to Teach your Baby to Read! etc, but they’re not realistic. The National Curriculum isn’t much better, drilling reading skills at a young age.
With such high expectations it any wonder so many kids end up in so-called remedial reading, with long-term feelings of being a dummy? They’re not remedial, they’re just not ready!
Just as bad are insanely expensive programs that overcomplicate things. You’ve probably seen them – you need to buy a series of student books, plus teacher books, plus flashcards, plus special early readers, and do the computer program too. They’re simply playing on insecurities. The harder and more mysterious they make learning to read seem, the more money you’ll be happy to pay them to alleviate your anxiety.
It’s that perceived difficulty that make people send their kids to school just to learn to read. Seriously! I’ve met a handful of people who love the idea of homeschooling, but are not confident enough in their ability to teach to read to homeschool from the start. It’s really not as difficult as schools and companies make it out to be!
Another rant over! Can you tell reading is a topic I’m extremely passionate about?
Here’s are the resources I used for my three girls and Forrest. They became independent readers (in our family that’s reading those Enid Blyton books) at 5, 6, 6, and 7.
Stairway to Reading – this is a remedial reading program, but teaches all the skills needed from scratch. You get structured lessons and reading material and bingo games to match them. The best part is that it’s FREE! A donation is encouraged, and when you see how wonderful this resource is you’ll be happy to give one.
Stairway didn’t provide quite enough practice for my kids. It’s fair enough, it’s a supplement, not a full program. Reading Reflex is also a remedial program, with plenty of stories. It has a great introduction section for the parent which I found reassuring – it’s very confident about your ability to help your child.
We supplemented both with early readers borrowed from the library, lots of reading aloud (by them and me), and lots of snuggling up together. Physical contact makes hard work seem much more fun.
If you choose to use another program, make sure it gives your child instant results. Kids want to read, and they don’t need to learn every single letter sound, digraph and phoneme before they do. Some programs don’t provide reading material until lesson 30 or later – it’s simply too long to wait. Stairway to Reading and Reading Reflex provide reading practice after the first 12 sounds.
Step 3 – Rinse and repeat for children with special needs, or those who need more practice
Again, you don’t need fancy-pants programs, unless your child has a specific condition requiring them. Repetition is best. You may need to show your child something lots of times before it sinks in. They may not pick up patterns automatically, and may need a lot of extra help.
Most importantly, don’t have any expectations. When a child is running to their own schedule you need to accept that they may not read until much older than you want them to.
And that’s OK.
Stick to their ability, keep it fun, and stay patient. Easier said than done sometimes, I know!
These are the best phonics readers I’ve ever seen! If I’d known about them when the girls were learning they would have used them too. They’re simple but interesting, and the grading in them is gradual and logical. Their progression matches all the programs I’ve listed.
2019 update – I’m updating this now Rex is 13. He’s since been formally diagnosed with a syndrome that causes moderate to severe developmental delay and intellectual disability – which is not news to us, but it’s nice to know for sure. He’s still making progress though, so we’ll continue reading aloud and doing short lessons
We’ll be in New Zealand all summer, hiking the Te Araroa, and when we return we’ll start All About Reading Level 2. I was very impressed with All About Spelling for my girls – it’s straightforward, simple, and not cluttered up with superfluous characters and activities. I’ll let you know what we think of it in 2020.
Hopefully, this has encouraged you to let go of some of your stress around learning to read, and to give it a try. You really CAN do it, I promise! All you need to do is keep it positive and keep working at it.