Teaching your child to read

I can clearly remember, when Prince was about 2 years old, watching a 5 year old daughter of a friend reading a book, and feeling suddenly very daunted at the idea of teaching my children to read. It seemed such a huge thing, and so difficult. Even though Prince could already tell you the phonic sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, and their names, reading still seemed such a distant and impossible achievement. Yet now, at 6 years old, Prince can easily read just about any book he cares to pick up.

For those of you who are considering home education and might be feeling the same daunting fear that I once felt, I want to encourage you: the path from then to now was easy – and I am no qualified teacher! Here are some things we have done to get to where we are today.

  1. From early on we introduced letters and their sounds in play. One of my favourite toys was foam alphabet letters for the bath. We found these useful for reinforcing the shape and sound of letters, as well as associating letters with fun – Prince particularly enjoyed using the letters to build up shapes of vehicles and buildings!  The other toy which really helped with learning letter sounds and names was a toy bus we borrowed from a relative. Prince would press the buttons and copy the sounds, all of his own accord, and learnt a lot in this way.
  2. Once Prince knew the basic sounds, I introduced two letter sounds like ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘ee’ etc.  I looked at the Jolly Phonics guidelines for which sounds were best to introduce at what stages. I printed out a chart which I put up for Prince to see everyday, and I also just talked about them as we came across them in our everyday life. For example, if we were reading a book and the word ‘food’ came up, I might say, “Look, Prince – F-OO-D.  See how these two ‘o’s’ make an ‘oo’ sound when you put them together?”
  3. We also began blending sounds to make words from early on. As soon as he knew the sounds for ‘c’,’a’ and ‘t’, for example, I would show him how they can be put together – slowly at first, then faster until he could hear the word ‘cat’. I didn’t do this formally, but simply as opportunities presented themselves through every day life. When you take time to see it, you notice that we are surrounded by words everywhere; walking through the mall can be a phonics lesson! Again, we also had toys which helped teach blending, spelling and reading, such as a Jolly Phonic’s puzzle, and a Melissa & Doug ‘See and Spell’ board.
  4. Enjoying books together.

    When I thought he was ready, I introduced Prince to the first ‘Jolly readers‘ books.  In retrospect I think I did this a bit too early, and I did find that I had to take a break and restart again later on (we first started these when he was four).  I think the ideal time to progress onto the next level is when the child is showing an interest, and this progress should be a natural flow, rather than a segmented step up.

  5. When Prince was five we made our way through the next level of Jolly readers, and began the third level. By this time his reading had improved, but the requirement to read for an hour everyday (this was about how long it took him to get through a level three book) was too much. Although he didn’t put up much of a fuss, I could see that the task was too hard for him, and as such was affecting his enjoyment of books in general. At this point I decided to take a break from any set reading schedule, and just let him do what he wanted with his time for a while.
  6. Since then I have not gone back to any form of ‘teaching’ reading, and it has been during this time that his reading has improved most dramatically! It took a little while – a few months – but I found that he started to enjoy reading so much more once the pressure to learn was taken off of him. And because he enjoyed it, he worked at it. He figured things out, asked questions and persevered until he could read the books he wanted to read. As his ability continues to increase, he stretches himself further and further, and so progresses without me needing to do anything more than simply answer questions like ‘what does that say?’ What could be easier than this?!

Overall, the single most important piece of advice I would give in teaching your child to read, is to enjoy books as a family. Enjoy them together, encourage them to value books of their own, let them see you reading, read out loud, create special reading times. Because out of enjoyment, comes learning.

Prince still has a lot to learn, of course – he is only six! But I am confident that he will pick up what he needs to know as we go through life together, taking opportunities to learn as they present themselves, and enjoying the process of reading for pleasure.

Story time = special times

One of the joys of parenting is reading to your children! As a child I was an avid reader, and it’s something I hope my kids will enjoy for the rest of their lives too. From a homeschooling perspective reading is a great activity, being useful for learning all kinds of skills. Reading to your child helps them appreciate literature and begin to learn to read themselves, as well as introduces new ideas, develops creativity and improves attention span. As your child begins to read alone the benefits continue, incorporating spelling, grammar, plot and thought development, rhythm, rhyme, confidence, speech, vocabulary, and much more!

Prince reading a library book to Princess.

I haven’t always read with my kids as much as I wish I had, but we are making up for it now! The library is a very short walk down the road for us, which is such a blessing. We regularly go and read there, as well as bring a bag full of books back home. Prince is becoming quite a capable reader, and will often sit and look at the books alone. Princess, who admires her big brother no end, loves to sit with him and listen to him read. This is one of my favourite thing to watch!

Last week we started our first chapter book together – Charlotte’s Web. Princess finds it harder to sit for long, but Prince easily enjoys listening to me read two chapters each day. I love the quality of the language and the depth of the plot – it’s just right for their hungry intellect to soak up and learn from. It’s also a special time for us to be doing something together – almost like going on an adventure! The time we spend snuggled on the couch reading will be precious memories for me, and, I hope, for them.

As well as reading many children’s books written in rhyme, I like to include some classic poetry in our reading. We really enjoy A. A. Milne’s poems: When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. These have always had a special place in my heart, and have captured Prince’s interest from early on too. Some of our favourites from these are ‘Forgiven’, ‘Lines and Squares’, and ‘Sneezles’.

Prince’s illustrated ‘Lines and Squares’ print out.

A great place to go if you are looking for ideas for books to read to your children is Ambleside’s book lists. There is a whole curriculum on this website, but I like to use it as a place to find ideas. They usually recommend good quality products, so I don’t have to waste time reading through things myself first.

If you’re looking for a good resource to help your child learn to read I recommend the Jolly Phonics products. There are workbooks, reading books, teacher guides, activity guides, DVDs, games and more. You don’t have to follow it a specific way (although you can), but rather you can pick the bits you like best and mix them with your own ideas, and your child’s own needs, strengths and weaknesses.

Do you read to your children? They say it’s never too early to start, and they are right – I wish I had started earlier. But it’s also never too late! Find a lovely book, cuddle up with your kids and start reading 🙂

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