By Mary Jo Tate
Read aloud to your children from infancy. Cuddle them on your lap and enjoy a special time together. Start with simple picture books, and then move on to more complex stories. As they begin to recognize letters and learn phonics, point out sounds, words, and punctuation, but don’t overshadow the story. As they learn to read, take turns reading aloud.
Include younger children in family read-aloud time. They can understand more difficult material than they can read independently. Continue reading aloud as a family even after all your children can read. Also listen to audiobooks in the car, while doing household chores, or at bedtime.
Draw your children’s attention to how words are used in everyday life. Read labels, recipes, and instructions as well as books, newspapers, and magazines. Point out billboards and street signs.
Nursery rhymes and poems introduce children to the rhythm and fun of how words fit together; read them aloud and memorize them together. Tell jokes and riddles, make up silly rhymes or songs, and enjoy playing with words.
There is no specific age at which every child should learn to read. Be sensitive to when your child is ready, and don’t push him too early. Be encouraging but patient. At some point, you might want to have your child’s vision checked or have him tested for learning challenges; but he may just need more time.
Persevere with struggling readers. When they hit a wall, take a break for a few days or even a couple of weeks. Three of my sons learned to read around age six, but one struggled simply to move from “c-at” to “cat.” At age nine, something suddenly clicked, and he was soon reading fluently. Persevere with reluctant readers as well as late readers. Keep offering a wide variety of books on different subjects—both fiction and nonfiction—and eventually something will capture their interest.
Phonics is a time-tested method for teaching children how to read well. They must learn how to identify letters and individual sounds, blend sounds into words, decode words and sentences, and read fluently without stopping to decipher individual words. Elaborate, expensive phonics programs are unnecessary; simple is best. Avoid pictorial clues; a child isn’t really learning to read d-o-g if he sees a picture of a dog.
Keep lessons short. Saying sounds while copying brief passages reinforces what they are learning. Don’t push new readers into harder books too fast; reading lots of easy books at first provides practice and builds confidence.
Integrate language arts.
Instead of teaching skills in isolation, integrate vocabulary, spelling, grammar, penmanship, composition, and literature as much as possible. Copywork and dictation provide practice in all of these areas. Reading good books provides models of well-written sentences, paragraphs, essays, and stories. Discuss how authors craft sentences, choose words, and structure arguments or plots.
Assign essays about what your children are reading in literature, science, or history. Encourage their creativity with fun assignments such as writing their own stories, imagining alternate endings, or rewriting a passage from one author in the style of another author.
Read good books.
Avoid dumbed-down, poorly written books. Instead, focus on classics that are well written, contain thought-provoking ideas, and have stood the test of time. Classics include both enduring children’s books by authors like Beatrix Potter and Laura Ingalls Wilder and the “great books” by authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Choose age-appropriate books. Young children need positive examples to emulate; older students can also learn from negative examples to avoid. Ask questions about characters’ choices and discuss how they could have handled things better. Use books to teach discernment. Reading books with which you disagree stretches your mind and teaches you to defend your position more skillfully.
Use narration and discussion.
Comprehension worksheets that merely test recall of facts destroy the pleasure of reading. Instead, provide open-ended opportunities for children to share what they have heard or read. Don’t look for specific answers; let them decide what is important. Ask them to tell you the story in their own words or explain what they learned about a topic or character. Write down some of their narrations; this is early practice in composition.
Focus on discussion with older students. Encourage them to form their own opinions about what they read and teach them to find something to appreciate about a classic, even if they didn’t enjoy it. Co-ops provide great opportunities for group discussions.
Write in and about books.
Teach older students to write in their books. This makes the book their own, makes reading more active, and makes it easy to review. They can underline, star, or bracket important points; write captions or keywords at the tops of pages; argue with the author in the margin; create a topical index; and mark favorite quotes. For library or borrowed books, they can take notes as they read or use an index card as a bookmark and jot down page numbers to come back to.
Older students should keep a reading journal to record their reflections on what they read. They should focus not merely on facts but on ideas, themes, characters, and literary style, as well as questions or ideas they want to discuss.
Make reading a family priority.
Set an example by letting your children see you read. If reading isn’t important to you, it probably won’t be to them either. Make reading a daily habit. Have older children read to younger children and vice versa. Encourage children to read books of their choice as well as assigned books. Provide a wide variety, both fiction and nonfiction.
When someone has a question, try to find the answer in a book before searching Google. Visit the library and the bookstore. Enjoy activities such as cooking foods mentioned in a story, drawing pictures, acting out plots, or traveling to locations where favorite books are set. Make books accessible by placing bookcases throughout the house and keeping young children’s books on low shelves. Set out baskets of seasonal books or books on interesting topics.
Build a home library.
Building a family library creates a culture of reading and an atmosphere for learning. You can find great deals at secondhand bookstores, thrift stores, library sales, and yard sales. Aim for breadth (books on a wide variety of topics) and depth (lots of books on specific topics). Collect books about your children’s interests, books by favorite authors, and good series, such as the Landmark history books.
Give books as birthday and Christmas gifts build your children’s personal libraries. Provide bookshelves in their rooms to hold their own collections as well as favorites from the family library.
- The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick
- You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick
- Alpha-Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld
- How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
- How to Grow a Young Reader by Kathryn Lindskoog and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker
- Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom
Mary Jo Tate, author of Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, has been educating her four sons at home since 1997. She is a book coach, international editor, time management coach, and speaker. Visit www.FlourishAtHome.com for a free e-book, From Frazzled to Focused, as well as ongoing encouragement, inspiration, and practical strategies to help you balance your busy life.
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November-December 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.