“ With the increasingly vast range of electronic products, books and programmes to choose from, teaching your child to read has never been so easy. Or has it? Share with us your methods, ideas, feelings and experiences. „
There are several reasons for a parent to teach a child to read, and each of these requires a different approach. But whether you actually teach your children to read on your own, supplement what they are learning at school, or just teach them to enjoy books and give them motivation to learn, you are your child's first teacher and probably the most important one. Vast fortunes have been spent by government officials looking for the magic key to reading success. Whether they recommend one programme or another, one fact comes up time and time again. The very best thing to improve children's reading is for parents to spend time reading to them, and with them.
One American study over 20 years very accurately predicted future academic success very simply. They just counted the books in the parents home. The overwhelming conclusion was that the more books in the home, the better the child's chances of success. Of course there are some flaws. A poor family who make ample use of a library will do better than a family with shelves full of books that no one reads, but providing a wide range off reading material, reading to your children and letting them see both parents read remain the most useful tools parents have in furthering a child's education.
I am dividing the rest of this review into sections for different types of reading instruction. I am sure I will miss some, but hopefully other reviewers will soon add their opinions. I have decided to divide this by purpose for home instruction rather than by instructional method, mainly because I prefer to use more than one method myself.
Can you teach your infant or toddler to read? Yes. Is it worth the effort? I'm not so sure, I personally prefer to focus on letters and sounds at an early age, but children can and do pick up words on their own. I still remember my shock when my three year old son asked for a car in the toy shop because it made bubbles. I pointed out that it did not make bubbles and he showed me the words "bubble car". Unfortunately they referred to the shape of the car, and it did not make bubbles, but try to tell that to a three year old! I still don't know how he picked the word up, but many words will become familiar through repetition of favourite books.
If you want to encourage your child to read words at a very early age Dorman's is recognized as the expert.
However I would recommend you read instead, "Anything School Can Do You Can Do Better" by Maire Mullarney, which tells how they accidentally taught a toddler to read while trying to instruct older siblings. Montessori is also very useful, but do keep in mind when reading about these brilliant Italian children who spontaneously pick up reading at ages 3 and 4 that they are not reading English. Italian is meant to be a much more phonetic language.
What else can you do? Well my mother taught my brother to read flashcards at two. He did not enjoy it, and it did not help him to read books any earlier. I personally do not like the idea of "lessons" for babies. But if you really want them to pick up words, you can put cards with labels on several things throughout the house, like "fish" "chair" and "toy box". You can label small sacks with treats and ask the child to help find the right one for each family member. I think the best thing though is to make photo albums or scrap books with items the child is familiar with and a single word under each picture. That said I made the books alphabet books with the letters at the top and a few words and pictures for each letter.
Finally the very best way for children to learn to read is when they just pick it up. If you read several familiar books over and over, running your finger under the words as you go, many children will begin to recognise the words from an early age. Books with large simple text and plenty of repetition work best for this. I would recommend books like "That's Not My ______" and the Spot books especially "Where's Spot".
I think the biggest worry for most new home educators is how they will teach their children to read. There are as many methods as their are home educators, but I do think having a fairly structured programme really helps with new home educators. In particular I have found Hooked on Phonics, BOB Books, and Starfall Phonics especially helpful for the phonics side of things. For whole language we like Oxford Reading Tree's Read at Home Series, Oxford Project X, and the Dr Seuss Beginner books. As a home educator, I am not tied to any particular method and am free to pick and choose what ever works best for my own child. I started with a good foundation in phonics and then worked whole language reading into our lessons, but as parents you are free to use whatever method works best for you.
We started by learning the alphabet and sounds. We used a photo album with familiar pictures and letters. To this day if I asked my son what Pingu's letter, or Zebra's letter he would remember. We then started with very simple phonetic books that use only a few sounds, and built up from there. At the same time, I read to my son daily and let him watch as I ran my finger under words. He gradually developed the ability to sound out words, but he knew more and more words from seeing them so often. We then found books like Oxford Reading Tree really gave him a sense of accomplishment as he could soon them read them himself. The whole language books are always more fun, having much more flexibility to create good stories. While occasionally now I will just have him read on his own, or read to his brother, most of the time I prefer for him to read to me. That way I can help if he gets stuck on a word. I might suggest he guess from the pictures, or the rest of the sentence, or suggest he sound it out. If it is a new a difficult word though, especially things like dinosaur names, I will sound it out myself and point to the object if possible.
I think the best thing I ever did with reading instruction though is knowing when to quit. If I tried a programme and found that it was frustrating my son, I put it away for future use. I kept actual lessons short, and used as many games as possible. Even now , I spend far more time just reading to my son then teaching him reading.
I found the Jump Start Programmes a huge help, as well as Starfall Phonic's Free site, Reader Rabbit, Living Books, and the Hooked on Phonics CD-Rom. We also played games like Silly Sentences, adding our own cards, and Hangman, allowing my son to use a flash cards from the Oxford Reading Tree Programme to spell his words, or look through them to help guess which word I was using. I did use Flashcards, but only occasionally to reinforce what he had learned from books.
I have reviewed all of these reading programmes separately except Reader Rabbit and Living Books ( will have to suggest those), so I won't go into further detail, but please feel free to message me with any questions. One other programme I would suggest for home educators who can not get a hold of Hooked On Phonics is "Teach Your Child to read in 100 Easy Lessons". I have not used this myself, but understand it provides an excellent structured base for phonetic reading. I have checked the Dooyoo data base and there is an outstanding review already here on this book.
SUPPLEMENTING WHAT THEY LEARN AT SCHOOL:
I think reading to children is one of the great joys of parenthood, but so is having them read to you. If your child is doing well in school, I think I would supplement with similar material at home. If the child's school uses Oxford, as 80% do, then Oxfords Read at Home series or Project X are perfect for building a child's skill and confidence. Schools have a lot of children and only a few teachers, but every child benefits from one on one shared reading. I personally believe shared reading is even better with a parent or loved one. I would also recommend that parents don't stop reading to children when children start to read on their own. Listening to a parent read will always be a nice way to relax, but it also builds vocabulary and reading skills as well. I have started reading chapter books to my oldest now. Some of them are awful ( Bakugan), but I think choosing stories he loves will encourage him to read too.
WHEN YOUR CHILD JUST ISN'T GETTING IT AT SCHOOL:
Of course many will advise you to leave it to the experts, but I have known many people who have taught a child at home after the schools said they were not able to learn. One of these children honestly did have learning difficulties, but caught up to grade level after a year of home schooling. Others remained in the system but were taught at home at night by parents. In one case the two boys were both labeled as ADHD, and parents told they weren't capable of reading. One parent accepted it, the other set of parents did not, and the father taught the boy at home. I have also taught older children myself when they have not made it with various literacy programmes.
Because most of the children I know of were being taught to read with whole language, and they learned with phonics, their parents will swear by phonics as the cure all for reading woes. Fair enough, but some children don't get phonics either. If your child is really struggling and getting nowhere, and your school uses a very one sided approach, I would go for the polar opposite. If you child were one of the ones who learn best by whatever method the school is using, you wouldn't have problems. So if the child can't get phonics, try whole language or vise versa. For most children though, I believe a mixed approach works best. Children need to learn to read by sight as too many English words are not phonetic and sounding out words takes too long. They also need to learn to decode unfamiliar words, and the more methods a child has of decoding a word, the better the chance of success.
All children reach reading readiness at different ages. Trying to force a child to read before they are ready can do more harm than good. Many studies recommend waiting until age 8 or later to even begin reading instruction, as is the practice in Steiner Schools. If in doubt with a school age child, discuss with your child's teacher. With a child below school age , just wait. Read to them as much as possible at let them enjoy books, the rest will come. Finally if home educating, I would also wait if the child is just not ready, at least until age 6 or 7. Read lots of books, play games, try different methods, but keep it all light hearted and things should fall into place. If not you may want to seek expert advice at some point, but again I would suggest reading Maire Mullarney's book as it does cover this as well. I have reviewed the book here some time ago so it is still in the data base. Just as every child will walk and talk at a different age, so will every child read at a different age. Unless there are other signs of possible problems, or they are going far beyond average ages, let them grow in their own time. I think it is far more important to teach children to love books and stories then to read early. I would rather have a late reader who loves books then an early reader who does not read. As Mark Twain once said "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."