Key Number Two: Willingness.
When Feisty was just about five, he was ready to learn reading. My precocious whipper-snapper had shown all the signs of readiness. But he was far from willing. He had done all the readiness activities happily enough. To him, it had all been a game. However, when we started with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, he balked. Perhaps the book looked too much like an adult’s book, with all those little letters for the parents to read. Perhaps all those oral exercises were too boring. I’m not sure. (By the way, I know many people who swear by this book. It really does work if you can get your child to co-operate.) But when Feisty decides he doesn’t want to do something, you’d better give up… unless you’re as headstrong as he is.
We struggled through the first fifteen lessons of the book. He would fight over every part of the lesson. It was emotionally draining, so I gave up on the book.
With Rascal, I encountered a different type of resistance. When I tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, he did not throw tantrums. He just would not concentrate. He would goof off, flop around in his chair, dawdle, ignore me, and get easily distracted. So, after a few lessons, I gave up on the book again, and did what had worked with big his brother Feisty:
We played games instead.
- I made flash cards with all the short A words. We would make a road with the cards on the floor and he would drive his match box cars over the cards while he read them. We eventually added words with all the other short vowels.
- We mixed the flash cards and sorted them into piles of rhyming words. Then he would read all the words in a rhyming pile.
- I had a Curious George puppet who apparently had difficulty sounding out words. Feisty and Rascal were always happy to correct him.
- I’d turn a bunch of flash cards face down and put a cheerio on top of each. Rascal would turn the card over, and if he read it correctly, he could eat the cheerio.
- I added flash cards of sight words, such as “the”, “my” and “down”. This allowed us to build sentences with the flashcards.
- We continued to build three letter words with magnetic letters. We would switch one letter at a time and discover the new words we made.
- When I read to him, I would point out words that he could sound out and let him have a try.
These games convinced Feisty and Rascal that sounding out words was not such a chore, after all. But after a few months, (in Rascal’s case, it was several months) I knew they were ready for more.
We began very slowly with easy readers. Here’s what we used:
- Short Vowel Stories I wrote for my daughter.
- All About Reading Level 1 – Despite the fact that I already owned several phonics programs, I purchased this program because Rascal was struggling much more than his siblings had. The steps in this program are very incremental – more so than any other program I had seen. Rascal liked the flash cards, the flipper books, and the activity pages, but oh, how he hated the fluency pages! We broke them up into smaller chunks and practiced them throughout the day. I’d make a Lego guy walk across the page as he read the words. We would take turns reading the words and make the Lego guys race.
- Little Angel Readers – I love this series! They are phonetic readers that give excellent practice with word families. Moreover, the stories are charming and teach the children about their Catholic faith. The corresponding workbooks reinforce the phonograms and word families.
- Faith and Freedom Readers from Seton. Here is another great Catholic series. This set of books teaches reading using the sight word approach. Some of my children have found it much easier to read sight words, especially when they are first learning to decode words using phonics. Using a combination of both sight words and phonics will boost your child’s confidence and speed up reading fluency.
- Bob Books – These phonetic little books that are short and sweet. Each book is one story. They don’t provide enough practice to be a stand-alone phonics program, but they can serve as a fun supplement.
- Little Stories for Little Folks – Each page in the book becomes a mini-book. This is a fine Catholic stand-alone curriculum, but I like to use it as extra practice reading.
- Explode the Code phonics workbooks. A great way to reinforce phonics and prepare the student for spelling.
I also tried to make the reading sessions appealing.
- I kept the reading lessons short, about ten minutes each day. Very gradually, I increased the length of his lessons until they were about 20 minutes.
- I let him choose which books he wanted to read first.
- Before we began a new story, I would read it to my kids first, slowly and with expression. Then I would ask questions about the story or have them narrate it back. This gave the boys a strong sense of what the story was about and made it easier for them to read.
- I gave prizes every time they graduated from a reader.
- We continued to play phonics games. Rascal really enjoyed the Ziggy Games games from All About Reading.
- I gave lots of praise and encouragement, especially when they were co-operative.
- I let Rascal play phonics games on Starfall as a reward for a good reading lesson. (For a child who never played video games in his life before, this was a real motivator!)
Finally, I read aloud high quality picture books to them. Learning to read can be really hard work. We need to show our children the wonderful reward that awaits them. Besides building their vocabulary and listening skills and creating an opportunity for bonding, reading aloud to my children helped them to realize what a joy reading really is. It was the most important thing I could do to instill a desire to learn.
With some children, the keys of readiness and willingness seem to come overnight, as if a light switch was turned on. With many children, however, both readiness and willingness need to be continually fostered and encouraged. So be patient and persevering. And be really, really positive. We need to share the joy of reading, because it’s not enough that they learn to read. What we want is that they love to read.
Next week I’ll discuss the third and final key …
Click here to see Part 3 of The Three Keys to Teaching Your Child to Read