The Three Keys to Teaching Your Child to Read – Part 3

Once your child is ready and willing (at least most of the time!) to learn how to read, the third key to the door of literacy is easy to obtain.

Back in the days when I was a piano teacher, I had to teach children as young as five to read music. For most children, learning to read music is even more challenging than learning to read words. A single note has pitch, duration, volume, and articulation. When you give a child a string of notes to read in the treble clef and a completely different set of notes to read in the bass clef, you are asking the child to process several things at once. A lot of mental exertion is needed, so much so that the only way to learn the music is by repetition, repetition, repetition.

Effective piano teachers do not give their students a piece of music to read and struggle through once and then move on to a new piece. The student (unless he is Mozart) would make very little progress, if any at all. Rather, most piano students play the same pieces for a week or two at least. As the pieces get harder, the students may practice them for months until they can play them fluently, accurately, and by memory. As a child progresses, the teacher gives him or her some pieces that are challenging and some that are easy enough to sight-read. In this way, the student gains competence and confidence in reading music.

Well, that’s nice, but aren’t we supposed to be talking about reading books, not music?

Absolutely. In teaching my children to read books, I used a similar process. At each reading lesson, I introduced only one new story and/or word family. The rest of the lesson was spent reviewing word families and re-reading stories my kids had already been introduced to on previous days. I would have my children read an “old” story once every day until they could read it fluently and easily. Depending on the child, this could take two to four days. Also, I did not introduce any new sounds or word families until the child had mastered the one most recently introduced. For example, I would not teach any short o words until my son/daughter had mastered all the short a words with ease.

I used this process with both phonics and sight-word readers. The Faith and Freedom Primers give excellent practice with sight words. With these, we worked on one new story and one or two old stories each day. This way, the child was not overwhelmed with the task of learning new words. Rather, with lots of repetition and review, my children gained confidence as they mastered the sight words and and stories.

Once a child finished a reader, we would spend 1-2 weeks reading through the entire reader one more time. Again, this served as review and reinforcement, and I would always point out the child’s progress, noting how easy it was for him/her to read the stories. Then, when my son or daughter graduated from a level, we celebrated with a special treat.

Perhaps this may seem overly redundant, but I can assure you that this process really works. I had a piano teacher who used to say, “Go fast slowly”, meaning that when you practice slowly and carefully, you learn quickly. The same is true for learning to read. When a child learns to read with lots of careful repetition and review and with new concepts presented incrementally, he makes remarkable progress. I have seen this work with all of my piano students, and I have seen this work with my children, even my struggling reader.

In a nutshell, then, to produce fluent readers:

  • use both phonics and sight-word readers
  • spend 1/3 of the reading lesson on new material and 2/3 of the lesson re-reading and reviewing old stories, word families, and sight words
  • practice reading with your child five days a week, and if possible (I know it’s not always possible) two times per day. Start with short lessons (about ten minutes) and slowly increase the duration to about 20 minutes.

So there you have the third key to teaching your child to read: daily repetition and review.

If you have read Part 2 of The Three Keys to Teaching Your Child to Read, you would have noticed that I use a variety of reading programs, many of which are designed to be  stand-alone reading curricula. Using several programs allows for extra reinforcement and variety. With my three older children, I began with my own Short Vowel Stories  and Teach Me to Read Duets, which I wrote for my daughter years ago. I also used Little Angel Readers and the Faith and Freedom Primers and sometimes supplemented with Little Stories for Little Folks and Bob Books .

With my fourth child, who struggled a lot more, we used All About Reading Level 1 together with the Faith and Freedom primers. By the time he had finished level 1, sounding out words was not longer difficult for him, and we were able to switch to the Little Angel Readers. Why switch? First, I love the religious content, which allows me to combine religion and reading into one subject. Second, All About Reading, which costs about $100 per level is very expensive compared to the Little Angel Readers. And third, the stories in the Little Angel Readers read more like stories than exercises.

So, for our own review, the Three Keys of Teaching Reading are:

  1. Readiness
  2. Willingness
  3. Daily Repetition and Review

With these three keys, you can help your child unlock the door to reading  and discover the wonderful world of books. Best wishes and happy reading!







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