The Three Keys to Teaching Your Child to Read – Part 1

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When I first began homeschooling, I read a book that said, “Teaching your child to read is easy.” And it was… for my first child and for my second. You see, there are two conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for a child to learn to read with ease: Readiness and Willingness. For the most part, my first two children were ready and willing when I decided it was time to begin reading lessons. They learned to read quickly and easily.

But then my third and fourth children came along. All of a sudden, teaching reading became really challenging.

Colicky as a baby, my third child would cry inconsolably unless I carried him in a pouch all day long. As a toddler nothing would distract him, and when he got mad there was nothing to do but let him scream until he wore himself out. My son Feisty is headstrong and choleric, and when he does not get his way, somebody has to pay. I should have known that teaching him to read was not going to be easy. My struggles in teaching him to read were mainly due to his lack of co-operation.

With my fourth child, Rascal, our difficulties came from his lack of readiness. All my other children had been ready to learn how to read by kindergarten. But not Rascal.  When I began teaching him to read, he simply was not ready. He quickly became frustrated and that let to unwillingness. Of all my children, he struggled the most, and I had to do a lot of back-pedaling,  waiting, and watching for signs of readiness.

Here are some signs of readiness I began to watch for. 

  • Recognition of all the letter names and what sounds they make
  • Ability to write all the upper and lower case letters
  • Ability to sit still for a span of fifteen minutes and concentrate on a task
  • Liked to pretend he was reading books to himself
  • Ability to rhyme words easily
  • If I gave him three letters, such as  A, T, and C, he could figure out what order to put them in to spell the word CAT.
  • Ability to differentiate between b and d, and p and q easily.
  • Had an interest in learning how to read. He pointed to words in a book and asked, “What does this say?”

Here’s what I did to help with readiness:

  • Every day I read picture books out loud. Here are some of our favorites.
  • I read a lot of Dr. Seuss’ books out loud to help my boys develop a sense of rhyming.
  • We played silly rhyming games during lunch.
  • I read several alphabet books, such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Kipper’s Alphabet Adventure.
  • I taught the boys to build the letters of the alphabet with the Wood Pieces Set for Capital Letters and with the Stamp and See Screen from Handwriting Without Tears.
  • We played with alphabet puzzles, such as Lauri’s A-Z Uppercase Puzzle
  • I taught him to write letters using Handwriting Without Tears’ My First School Book. You can offer additional practice using free worksheets from The Learning Page. As they learned to write the letters, they also learned their names, and eventually their sounds.
  • The pre-phonics books, Get Ready for the CodeGet Set for the Code, and Go for the Code gave them even more practice writing letters and reinforced the letter sounds.
  • We played with magnetic letters. I’d say, “Find the letter that makes ‘buh'” and they would dig through the pile of letters and find B. I would give them three letters that spelled a word, such as SAM, and help them put the letters in the right order. Then we would read the word together.

After  a year of all that, Rascal still wasn’t ready to read.  He still confused bs with ds, and while he enjoyed being read to, he wasn’t interested in trying to decode the words himself. He also had trouble rhyming words. I  had to give him more time and more practice with letters.

Waiting for Readiness isn’t easy when you compare your child to other children, and it is especially hard when you are a bit of a tiger mom. But the beauty of homeschooling is that you can wait for readiness.

Waiting for readiness makes all the difference. Here are two examples that illustrate how waiting several months and trying again might be just what your child need:

When my daughter was two years old, we bought her a tricycle. Unlike her brothers, who were whizzing around on their wheels at the age of two, Princess just scooted around. She didn’t have the co-ordination to use the pedals.  I tried to teach her how, by putting her feet on the pedals and moving the pedals with my hands. But after a few tries, my back was too tired and I decided to let her scoot around on her own. Winter came, and we put the tricycle away. In the spring, we pulled it out again, and lo and behold! Princess was pedaling all by herself!

At the beginning of this school year, Feisty, who is now in third grade, wanted to learn to draw in 3-D, using Drawing Textbook, a book recommended by Laura Berquist for fourth grade and up. It was not long before he became frustrated. Even when I tried to show him how to follow the steps, he just couldn’t draw the pictures properly. So we put the book away and went back to Draw Write Now. After several months, he wanted to try Drawing Textbook again. He liked the pictures his brother was drawing, and he was always one for catching up. Well, something must have clicked during those months, because suddenly, and without any help from me, Feisty was able to draw the pictures really well!

Waiting for readiness does not mean you do nothing at all. You inspire a love for reading by reading out loud to your child as often as you can. You keep on playing phonics games.  You might even try to move forward with sounding out words, but go really slowly, and watch for signs of weariness and frustration. Waiting for readiness means you take a relaxed approach, trusting that at some point your child will be developmentally ready for the complex task of decoding words.

Reading Readiness is the first key to unlocking the door to the world of reading. Without that key, teaching your child to read will be like trying to pound on the door in order to open it. You will only be met with resistance. So if your kindergartener isn’t ready for reading lessons yet, wait a few months and try again. If he still isn’t ready, wait even longer. When the time is right, he will produce the key, and you’ll be happily surprised by how much easier it is to teach your child.

Next week, I’ll tell you about the second key and how my sons Rascal and Feisty found it.

Click here to see Part 2 of The Three Keys to Teaching Your Child to Read

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