How to Teach Your Kids to Read . . .

. . . .wherein I share my foolproof secrets for teaching kids to read early and often–NOT!  The truth is, I’ve never taught a kid to read, not from scratch so to speak, and I don’t know what the best way is or even if there is a best way.
My mother started teaching me to read when I was two, following the method described in Dr. Glenn Doman‘s How to Teach Your Baby to Read. I still have the battered box of big red-letter words she used to teach me. [edit: not anymore.]  I read picture books at four and at six read at the sixth grade level.  I was eight when I read Gone with the Wind for the first time.  For years I was convinced that my academic success sprang from my early reading instruction.  I read the Doman book over and over again and vowed that one day I, too, would teach my baby to read.
Only . . . I didn’t.  Like I said, I have the cards.  And I seem to recall dragging them out and trying to teach my firstborn “Mommy” and “Daddy.”  But I was working part-time until she was past three, and I had three kids by the time she was four (my mother was all finished teaching me to read before I ever had a second sibling!), and she started kindergarten without knowing how to read.  And I felt like a failure, convinced that I had dampened her potential by my negligence.
Emily was always “reading,” in her own way.  At one year old she would sit for an hour in front of a bookshelf, looking at every single book until she was surrounded by a pile of them.  And once she did learn to read, in first grade, she never stopped.  She always had a book in her hand, just like me.   My oldest son started learning to read in kindergarten.  When I started homeschooling him in fourth grade, he was not a confident reader.  He read only when he was forced to.  So we started reading at the third grade level, using one of my old Catholic textbooks.  I would read one page aloud, then he would.  Page by page, his confidence increased.  One day he picked up The Tale of Despereaux on his own and became absorbed.  This once reluctant reader read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and THE SILMARILLION!!! of his own accord just a few years later.  Son number two learned at school, with no difficulty.  While not a voracious reader, he can get through a Harry Potter book in two days if he wants to.
No doubt I shall be writing many a post on son number three, who marches to the beat of his own drummer.  I anticipated no problems from him, even though he had not picked up on letters and numbers by his kindergarten testing date.  But by the end of kindergarten, he had not learned to read.  He did not even know all the letter sounds.
If there’s just one thing I’ve learned in the 14 years I’ve had kids in school, it’s that educational fads come and go.  Little William’s kindergarten experience was much the same as his big sister’s–learning letter sounds from worksheets.  Both his big brothers learned from the fabulous Letter People program, retired now from their alma mater for unknown (to me) reasons.  If I could have afforded to buy the program–even on ebay it was too much–I would have, because I think creative, imaginative William would have been captivated.
As it was, though, he got stubborn and shut down.  We nixed having him repeat kindergarten and instead sent him to first grade at our local public school, where he had a great time with a fantastic teacher who really “got” him and appreciated his strengths, especially his fount of animal knowledge.  But despite the extra tutoring offered by the public school system, and a stint in summer school, he was still not at grade level by second grade.   I’ve been homeschooling him for more than a year, and the situation is finally improving.  I got him a little more interested in reading last year with Extreme Readers which catered to his passions.  This year he is finally showing signs of reading because he wants to–picking up Bionicle instruction sheets or looking up facts in his book on cat breeds. [edit: William at 16 is now a voracious reader, although he prefers to get his information via computer rather than actual books.]
You would think being the mother of five would have made me an expert on many things, but it’s actually humbling because I realize how little I DO know.  All I can promise is that I am an expert on my OWN kids, and that I will always keep trying to find ways to help them learn the way they learn best.

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  1. CC says:

    I’m interested to hear more about how you came to homeschool. It sounds like you did it at the times you felt it was needed for an individual child. A lot of stories I have read are like that- started kids in school, kid ran into a problem, as a result started homeschooling. Some return back to school once the problem subsides, some end up homeschooling for the long hall. Having children that haven’t reached school age yet, I debate about starting homeschool in the beginning, or putting them in school and waiting to see if they have problems. What is your take on that?

    • lesliesholly says:

      I wanted to homeschool when my daughter was little, but let myself be talked out of it. My first son had problems in second grade, then was doing really well in third grade in a multi-age class with an excellent teacher who was supposed to teach him the following year as well. That left him slated for a teacher who had been at the school a long time–actually had been my third grade teacher! I felt it was a really bad fit for him, so I decided to keep him home just for that year. Next year my second son just asked to get a turn staying home, and since I’d taught 4th grade once I thought, why not again?
      Neither of them had any trouble transitioning back to school. It was like a little vacation for them and all their friends were thrilled to have them back. I kept my first son home again for 7th grade at his request. He spent pretty much the entire year lying on the sofa reading, and then went back to school and aced 8th grade.
      For me, I like to start them in school just because I have some discomfort with the idea of teaching them the beginning concepts. I guess I just doubt myself. I really think it depends on WHY you want to homeschool. Are you worried your child won’t get the right things at school? Is it just something you think you’d like to try? Is there a school that you feel comfortable with? If I had it to do over again, though, I wish I’d never sent my daughter to school. So much depends on the individual child.

  2. Check out these crazy reading fads at Crazy Reading Fads.

  3. ttoombs08 says:

    I have a 6 year old special needs kid that wasn’t progressing in school. I had to start doing the homeschooling/tutoring thing at home too. I was at such a loss at how to go about it! We finally figured it out together. Good thing kids are resilient. 😉

    • lesliesholly says:

      In the end, William–who is 12 now–progressed in reading via his love of looking up info about his various obsessions on the computer. So he reads at or above grade level now. But I never got anywhere with him in Math or Spelling or Writing. He’s gone back to school this year to our local public school which has been wonderful (as much as he hates going). Yes, it’s a good thing kids are resilient but too bad they don’t come with instructions! Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  4. Learning to read is such a kid by kid thing, there are so many methods around. Thanks for sharing yours and hooking up at the Hump Day Hook Up.

  5. Nicky says:

    All children learn differently… that is the drawback of the public school system. If a child does not fit into that mold, they are left behind. Great read!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thanks, Nicky! I have been pleasantly surprised by my son’s public school experience–they have been very understanding and helpful via the IEP process. However, it is the biggest school in town with a lot of resources. I have found what you you say to have been largely true of my children’s parochial school experience, sadly. The elementary schools are small and teach to the middle.

  6. Dana says:

    I have such respect and awe for homeschooling parents – I can’t imagine having the patience (and skills) to do it. And raising kids makes me aware of how little I know too, Leslie!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thanks, Dana! I find I know less and less every year as they get older. Babies, now, I’ve got that figured out! Homeschooling was actually easy for me with my other boys–but all kids are different. And I never had more than one kid home at a time. I know people who homeschool a houseful; now THAT would be overwhelming!

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