How to Teach Kids to Read: A Tale of Teaching My Four Homeschool Kids to Read

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How to Teach my Four Kids to Read

The Most Important R: Reading

Give a kid a book, open their minds to the world.

Once upon a time I bought into the notion that reading couldn’t be accomplished outside of a kindergarten class, a phonics program, or an easy reader series.

My children have taught me otherwise.

Each of my children had different approaches in learning to read, none of them determined by me. It was amazing to watch actually. It was my first awareness that learning originated from them, and didn’t require a teacher to import info into their brains.

Humans, big and small, want to learn.

And so I have learned that learning is a highly individualized process…especially learning to read. As long as there are words to be read on signs, advertisements, books and magazines laying around ones’ house, most children will learn to read.

If children are read to regularly, they will indeed want to read, eventually.

My kids began their letter and phonics awareness at different ages, but all of them approached it differently. Our first daughter attempted to read before the first grade. She was given a solid phonics program in kindergarten, and if I’m honest, I don’t entirely remember the approach of the phonics program (though I do remember houses with word families and daily review). This approach wasn’t welcomed by that child, but then, most everything I’ve introduced hasn’t been welcomed initially with that child. Still she learned to read at five.

I was intent on teaching her, though, because I was worried for her as her first grade teacher was known to be a tough cookie. My daughter put up a good fight. My voice got raised a few times. I was irritated that she was fogging. At the time, I wondered if her fogging was intentional. Now I don’t think so, and I wished I hadn’t pushed it on her, because she did eventually read at a typical age of five.

Our second daughter, always on task and eager to please, was sounding out words before kindergarten. Her kindergarten experience didn’t advance her sounding out ability, though she did learn ASL hand signs for all her letters. I didn’t begin another phonics program with her until after kindergarten. I did acquaint myself with a few phonetic concepts though…ones that I took for granted and discovered I understood intuitively. We just began reading with this daughter, based on her interest. She could read one paragraph or sentence, and I would read the next. (The phonics training was for me.) She learned to read easily, without effort. 

Our third daughter began sounding out words when she was three (before I thought about teaching her to read). I vainly attempted to introduce a phonics program, as I understood that was what one must do at five years old. I tried sitting her on my lap, hoping she would want to read her favourite books. No go. She would have none of this prescribed stuff. She could read: I knew she could. But she wouldn’t.

She likely sensed my intensity and anxiety and fought it every step of the way. I had to relax and wait for her interest. When I finally got into the right head space with her, I discovered she was sight reading, memorizing whole words at a time. Winning memory games with her parents since she was three, this shouldn’t have been surprising, but I didn’t see the connection. My phonics helps were little value with her. Her approach, instead, validated the 1970s whole word movement. Ever the sweet, little girl heart, at seven years old, she happily read picture books in my lap.

Our fourth child was a son, so I joked for a long time that he’d probably up the average of our children’s reading start, since each successive child read earlier than the last. I even joked that he might be twelve. Turns out, he began sounding out letters when he was four. Now, I finally knew better than to rush the process (always the benefit of the youngest child: a more experienced parent). He read fluently by six years, not twelve. And now, at age twelve, he is, by far, the most prolific reader and speller amongst them all, presently reading his older sister’s college Canadian history textbook. Go figure. 

Four kids learned to read, but there was a recurring pattern: independent interest.

No matter the child, I have seen a recurring pattern — an independent interest in reading that occurred somewhere before the end of second grade (of course, these are just my children).

Each child’s interest takes off like an air balloon just filled with gas: whoosh, they’re off and soaring on literary clouds. As long as we maintain prescribed quiet times where they have time to pursue reading, maybe pre-bedtime or an afternoon quiet time, there are always be children reading in our house.

Yet, no two children are alike. But one thing I’ve learned: there aren’t nearly as expensive and complicated solutions as some would have reading must be.

When they’re ready, they’re ready.

Sage advice given to me by a seasoned homeschooling mom of five: children cannot be forced to read. One can bring a horse to the trough, but can’t make that horse drink. One can lead a toddler to the toilet, but can’t make her pee.

And mama can bring the child to the book, but mama can’t make her read.

If you’re looking for a little encouragement or a little guidance and have a mama sense that something isn’t quite right with your child’s interest in reading or ability to process as she reads, trust that instinct. An assessment and objective resources might be useful. Check out GeerLinks Educational Therapy & Consulting if you are feeling uncertain about your atypical child learner.

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