I am currently in the process of teaching my second child to read using mostly materials around the house, and I thought I would blog our ideas!  When Aidan was learning to read, we did not have money for a reading curriculum.  Actually, we had money for curriculum, just not for each subject, and we chose to put it into a good math program with all the manipulatives.  Reading is easy to teach using what you already have!

Now, before I go any further, here are a couple of disclaimers.

1.  I have a college degree in special education and took 9 credit hours worth of college classes on how to teach reading.

2.  I have not used the approach I am about to recommend on a child for which reading is difficult.

That being said, I still think that anyone can teach reading with paper, homemade stories, and library books!  There is nothing wrong with having a good reading curriculum.  But if you don’t have the money – don’t despair!  And don’t worry that you are giving your child a second-rate education!

Start early by reading to your children often.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I can’t emphasize enough how much it helps kids to read to them!  When you read to them, they are building their vocabulary, learning how books work, and learning about the world.

When your kids are approaching the age of learning to read, start pointing to the words as you read.  You want them to get the concept that you are reading the print (as opposed to the pictures) and that each word that you say corresponds to a word on the page.

Look for signs of readiness.

How do you know if your child is ready to begin reading?  In my non-expert opinion, I think you’re looking for a couple of things.  Your child should know most of the capital and lowercase letters and most of the sounds.  I don’t think it’s essential to know all the letter sounds because you can learn them as you go.  Gresham does not know all the vowel sounds, but we’ll cover them as we read words with vowels in them.  Most boys aren’t really interested in sitting and memorizing – why not get on to actual reading?

The other thing you’re looking for is the ability to retain the information being taught – letters and letter sounds.  I don’t think many preschoolers retain information the first time it is taught, but if you keep covering the same things without much forward progress, then wait a while and try again.

Start with Word Families

Gresham and I started with “at” words.  Instead of trying to sound out c-a-t (because no one really reads that way!), I taught him that “a-t” says “at.”  I had him memorize that sound.  Then, we simply put different consonants in front of “at.”  Voila!  Reading!

The next word family that we did was “ad.”  Dad, sad, bad, mad, etc.

There are a lot of words in English that don’t fit the phonics rules, but you can get pretty far with word families…

-at  (bat, sat, cat)

-et (wet, get, pet)

-ack  (back, tack, jack)

-all (ball, wall, call)

-ook (look, book, cook)

-ight (light, bright, sight)

-etc., etc.

Teach Sight Words

Flash cards are good for words that can’t be sounded out and for high-frequency words. We did like, the, and, was, on, is, etc.

Choose words that will link together some words your child already knows, and you can write simple sentences to read!  Use their names, and it makes it more fun.  Ex.:  Gresham had a fat cat.  Aidan sat on a mat.

Use Real Books

There’s nothing like a boring phonics reader with stories that don’t make sense to kill a love for reading. We love the Scholastic Bob Books. They are simple, cute stories and a good size for little readers to hold.

Check out the easy reader section at your library for books for your new reader to read.  Continue to read aloud to them (harder books than they can read) because this builds their listening comprehension.

Consistency is the Key

Work for 10-15 min. each day on word families (phonics), sight words, and reading sentences or books you make, or real books.  You don’t need an expensive curriculum – just patience and time.

Today, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and made Gresham a quick worksheet with words he knows that look similar.  I gave him a row with had, has, and hat.  I asked him to circle “had” to see if he could discriminate between the different endings.  Then we did another row with sat and sad, etc.

To supplement this type of reading instruction, I recommend using the Explode the Code phonics workbook series.  Aidan loved these books!  They introduce phonics rules, writing, and spelling, and the activities are simple yet entertaining.

Hopefully soon we’ll have another reader in our house!  It sure makes school easier when they can read!

What suggestions do you have for teaching kids to read?

Linked to Frugal Friday


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  1. jamie Feb 28, 2011

    Sam has learned all of his uppercase letters (plus many lowercase letters) and most of their sounds by doing the alphabet activities on Starfall.com They also have great decodable stories using certain vowel sounds. Sam isn't quite to the point of understanding how to put words together, but he loves the stories and animations that go with them. Thanks for the fun ideas. :)

    1. Sarah Mar 6, 2011

      Thanks for the website suggestion! My kids hardly use the computer at all - I keep thinking they need to be more computer literate!

  2. Christine Mar 1, 2011

    Thanks so much for this post! I am just starting to teach my son to read. He is 2 and I do not have any education background so I had no idea where to start! I normally hate all things LeapFrog and VTech but he learned all his letters and their sounds from a FridgePhonics set. Right now he can read UP, ZOO, CAT and DOG. We are making our way through the first Bob book but so far he only makes it about halfway through at a time (and it is not a long book as you know!!).
    I knew it was time to teach him to read because he started asking to "do the letters" when we read books, which means he wants to point to each letter and name it and then have me tell him what the word is.

    1. Sarah Mar 6, 2011

      Yeah, I usually hate LeapFrog and VTech too, but we have that Fridge Phonics set! The battery is running low on ours, so it makes for some interesting letter sounds! Thanks for commenting!

  3. the messy mom Mar 4, 2011

    Ooh I like that. My son is 3 and I am just working on letters and right now, but this really good information to have. I am sure it won't be too long before we are to that point. Thanks!

  4. Amanda Mar 13, 2011

    Hi Sarah- thanks for the suggestions! My 2 year old son is at the point where he recognizes most letters as well as their sounds (we're reviewing lowercase right now). But he's nowhere near close to writing. How do you teach writing to your boys? My son will scribble but isn't interested in making lines or pictures. Do you have any suggestions for teaching writing to boys? Do you find that your boys are ready to read before they write?


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