I LOVE being a homeschool mom. I love that I get to be the one to teach kids to read in our homeschool. I cherish the close learning time, the lightbulb moments, and the excitement when things finally click.
But let’s be real… it’s not always a walk in the park. It can be stress baskets for moms. Lol!
I remember one day in particular, before the lightbulb came on for one of my sweet sons. His big, dark blue eyes looked up at me with a concerned expression as I pointed to the letter on the page. My finger pressed just under the “s” as I waited patiently for him to say the corresponding sound. And for the fifth time that afternoon, his answer was “tuh?”
I just kind of stared at him for a while, not knowing what to say. It was clearly not a t. Neither was p, m, or u, for that matter. So I just stared and smiled (and maybe twitched a little) trying to figure out the next step.
I finally landed on “um…. hey, let’s have a snack!” Snacks always help. #stayingsane
Fast forward and now that same child is progressing well and about to launch into independent reading with confidence. A big reason for that is because we chose to go at his pace instead of rushing it.
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The idea of teaching our children to read is one that has given many a homeschool mom anxiety over the years. We wrestle with all sorts of questions… What if we don’t do it right and they struggle through school? What if we don’t start when we should, or we push it too early and kill their joy of reading? What if they have learning challenges?
It turns out, teaching our children to read is usually not as complicated as we think it is, and there is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the when and how of teaching reading.
So today I’m sharing a peek into how we teach kids to read in our homeschool and some tips based on my own experience. Here’s what I’ll cover:
- Three Important Steps BEFORE Teaching Reading
- When Do You Start Teaching Kids to Read?
- What is Reading Readiness?
- Curriculum & Resources I Recommend
- They’re Reading Now. What’s Next?
Check out All About Reading! Here’s Mr. Blue Eyes sporting his favorite Batman outfit and opening the All About Reading Level 1 kit he got in the mail! The Pre-Reading level was super helpful for him, so he was excited to launch into Level 1.
All About Reading is a fun, hands-on curriculum with short lessons. You have some options to choose from when you build your All About Reading Level 1 package. But here are some highlights:
- Level 1 covers letters and sounds for A-Z including a set of consonant teams.
- The lessons are engaging with magnetic letter tiles, an activity book, flashcards, stickers, Phonetic Sounds app and three full color readers that kids love.
- Play games with the Reading Games with Ziggy Zebra book (my son loved Ziggy from the Pre-Reading level, so for us this is a must)
- Just a tip: although many families love the letter tiles, if you hate tiny parts like me, get the Letter Tiles App – it’s awesome! Also, All About Reading is mastery-based rather than based on grade level. You can find a placement test for AAR Level 1 here.
Check out All About Reading Level 1 now!
Three Important Steps BEFORE Teaching Reading
It’s tempting to jump right into buying a curriculum and starting out on reading lessons. But there are a good handful of years where laying the foundation is just as important.
Here are three areas we focus on intentionally in our home:
1) Play with letters and sounds.
This happens in daily living, especially if you have older kids in the mix. But you can also use some simple and fun ideas to help your kids learn letters and sounds through play. Play with magnetic letter tiles together, review the beginning sounds of animals, read ABC books, and more. Here are more ideas to help:
2) Provide a feast of good books.
Fill your home with good books and a lot of variety. We have baskets and bookshelves around the house that I refresh every so often with new or rotated books. Occasionally I’ll spread a selection of books across the coffee table for the children to just pick up and enjoy at their leisure. And of course, letting them see you read books for learning and pleasure models how important and fun reading is.
Book lists can help inspire you with ideas to add to the reading pile. Here are some I’ve enjoyed. (As always, I recommend pre-viewing or at least looking up reviews for books you give your children. Even with wonderful book lists from great sources, we’ve sometimes found content that didn’t quite work with our worldview and/or the maturity level of the child.)
- Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
- Honey for a Teen’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
- Great Books lists from All About Learning
- Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
- Book lists from The Redeemed Reader
- Raising Girls with Character-Building Books, a list from Deep Roots at Home
- Character Building Books for Boys, a list from Raising Real Men
- Read for the Heart from Sarah Clarkson
- 1000 Good Books List
- Simply Charlotte Mason book list
- The Read Aloud Revival Book Lists
3) Read aloud to them often.
Reading aloud is one of the most satisfying and fruitful aspects of our homeschool life. Start early (it’s never too late) and keep reading to those teens, too!
Begin with one short read aloud session and build up to longer and more frequent sessions. Older kids can help by taking turns reading aloud when you have to tend to a younger sibling. Nowadays, we read aloud during most mealtimes (when Daddy isn’t home) plus one more session in the afternoon. Do what works for you.
Audiobooks count, too! Consider setting a quiet time, perhaps after lunch, where your kids can listen to audiobooks while they play with legos, color, or do handicrafts. They’re fantastic for car rides, too!
When Do You Start Teaching Kids to Read?
Moms are often concerned about what age they should teach their children to read. They see friends or public schools teaching it in Kindergarten, so of course they think they need to teach it then as well. But what often happens is that Junior isn’t ready and it becomes a battle of the wills, buckets of tears, or the assumption that there is a learning problem.
Now, there are times when learning struggles or dyslexia are a legitimate issue and some outside help might be needed to figure those out. I suspect, however, that the natural pace that a few of my kids have had with speech and reading may have been labeled a special needs issue had I not just given them the time and space to go at their own rate.
When it comes to reading, I’m convinced that how ready children are is more important then how old they are. Pushing them too hard or too soon is tempting for us parents, but it always leaves them frustrated and adds unnecessary obstacles to the natural learning process.
Whether they start “late” or “early,” once they are truly ready, they will learn more efficiently and will soon be reading along with the rest. Understanding some basics about reading readiness and observing your child to watch for those queues will do much to set you both up for success!
What is Reading Readiness?
Here are some things I watch for. Now, only one of my children did all of these before we started lessons, but the more of these types of things begin to happen, the more I recognize that they are growing in reading readiness.
- They begin to notice letters and sounds and recognize a relationship between them (a great time for sound and letter play).
- They start to pretend to read or dictate notes to me or older siblings.
- They begin to play with rhyming or word plays.
- They show interest in what road signs or other labels say and make guesses and/or ask us to read them.
- They ask questions about the books I read to them.
- They tell someone else what they heard in a story, narrating to them in a simple way.
- They have developed the attention span to handle a 10-15 minute reading lesson.
- They flat out ask me to teach them to read.
You can find more tips on reading readiness here with some things you can do to help.
One more thought on this: Once you decide they have shown readiness and you start reading lessons, you may find that as you get into the lessons they hit a road block and become discouraged. If there is a basic skill (“tuh”) that they can’t seem to move beyond, don’t despair! They may not be developmentally ready and it’s completely fine to take a break for a few months and then try again or try something different. We have done this a few times and I’ve never regretted it. Your child will be ok and they will learn to read in their own time!
Curriculum & Resources I Recommend
I’m an eclectic homeschooler, which basically means I draw from many methods and materials and just do what I want. 😆 Over the years I’ve developed some favorite resources that I either use all the time or would highly recommend checking out.
- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. People either love or hate this book. It’s fairly cheap and you can likely check it out from the library to give it a try. We’ve used this with most of our kids and, while fairly dry, it usually gets the job done. We print a blank 100s chart and use stickers to mark progress. I do NOT make them finish the book, but if they do, they get a prize at the end. A similar book that some have preferred is The Reading Lesson.
- All About Reading: For one of my kids, (Mr. “Tuh”) we weren’t able to get through even one of those “100 easy lessons” until he had completed the All About Reading Pre-Reading level. And he enjoyed every minute of it! After that, he got about 2/3 of the way through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and then asked to do the next level of All About Reading instead. In retrospect, we could have just moved forward with AAR. He prefers those lessons and the readers that come with it!
- Pathway Readers. We got a set of these a couple of years ago and I wish we had them sooner! They go from Kinder to 8th grade and make great joint read alouds and gentle reading reinforcement. You can also get workbooks to go along with these, but we just use the books.
- Learn to Read by Christian Light Education. We use the math and some other pieces from CLE curriculum and really enjoy them. Their Learn to Read curriculum is something I got in the early days of our homeschool but never really used. With one of my recent kiddos, I decided to go through this series since I had it on hand and he needed a little extra in terms of phonics. Learn to Read uses workbooks, flashcards, and short readers. It’s simple but it’s working well for that child!
So, as you can see, I’ve tweaked each child’s reading program based on what seemed to fit their needs best. Watching for reading readiness and going at their pace (as well as observing their learning style) was just as big of a factor in their success as the curriculum that was chosen.
They’re Reading Now. What’s Next?
After a child is able to read or has finished the curriculum, sometimes it’s a little unclear what the next steps should be. Here’s what we do:
- Keep reading aloud and providing lots of great books to read.
- Bring in some early readers, leveled readers from the library, and books like Dr. Seuss to practice with. Pathway readers and similar series can help as well.
- If you haven’t already, begin having them narrate back to you in their own words what the story was about. Do this one page at a time and build up from there. Children learn skills through the practice of narration that help with comprehension and, later, written composition.
- Around 3rd grade we start a “reading challenge” where they pick a book to narrate to me, then I pick a book for them to read and narrate to me. It’s a great way to incorporate new genres and topics.
- If you really want something more formal to add after reading lessons are over, check out the Reading curriculum from CLE (different from Learn to Read, and teaches comprehension). I have a daughter who loves it and refuses to stop. Lol! Also look into BJU Press Reading curriculum. Although I didn’t know about this until recently, it has great reviews and I really like the looks of it.
I’m sure there are many more ideas that will come to mind as you go on this fun journey of teaching your kids to read!
Here’s the Bottom Line on Teaching Kids to Read
No one size fits all when it comes to reading! I’ve had kids start anywhere from 4 – 7. Go at your child’s pace and watch for readiness. If something isn’t working, just relax and evaluate whether you can tweak your approach, take a break, or find something new to try.