If I were to define our homeschool by what we do most, I would say we are a reading school. Books form the spine of our studies. We revel in the written word in ways I cannot fully express.
And it is one of the greatest joys of my day to sit with each of my kids and read to them, every day. There are not many days I can remember where I have not read to each of my kids. For each kid a special book, a special connection.
There are times I am sad to think there will be a day when they will not want to read with me. I hope it is not until they are fully grown!
But if I am being completely honest about homeschooling my kids, I would have to say my greatest homeschooling fear was teaching my children to read. Reading is a magic trick.
I have NO idea how I learned to read. By the time I got to kindergarten I was a reader; the mystery is: how? I have absolutely no memories of being read to. I have no memory of how I learned the magic trick. And I certainly had no understanding of how best to teach a kid to read.
My first kid made it super easy on me – she taught herself. And my second kid was a very reluctant student at first. We tried a number of “programs” and failed to gain traction. But when we settled on the just right combination of schooling and practice, she learned the magic trick. She is now an amazing reader!
So, with just my experience as a guide, I would love to share with you the resources we used (and LOVED) to teach our kid(s) to read. I am not an expert on anything and I understand every situation is different. I am just a mom who thought teaching reading would be the biggest hurdle to jump over and discovered it wasn’t all that bad.
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Here’s my best recommendations, for what they are worth:
READ aloud often, often, often! Our first kid couldn’t get enough of the written word, from the earliest of ages. Our second took a LOT longer to come around to books. I treated them the same and read to them as often as they would allow me to. Now our little ones wait their turns and joy in sitting with Mama for their turns to read books.
(P.S. I have read some crazy read-aloud people who say read to your baby while they are in the hospital – like newborn. And I DO not subscribe to that. I felt so much mom shame when I wasn’t using every waking moment to engage my first kid in learning opportunities. But really people – there is no shame in waiting to read books with your little ones for a while – a long while. I say that as someone who promotes reading aloud.)
Reading is the most important educational activity we engage in from the earliest possible stages around here. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Phonics vs. Sight Words
We did a sight word reading program for a short time in trying to teach our second. She loved the activities and she loved doing the “work” but she really did not hold much of the information in. We have and still read-aloud Bob books, but none of my kids have learned to read through those sight word programs.
What did work for us was a phonics program from IEW: Primary Arts of Language. We tried another phonics program before this one and my student did NOT like it – if I am being honest I didn’t like it either.
When we found the PAL program, I knew we had found the right fit. We love it because it uses poetry to teach the new phonemes. As a poetry loving family (who had just finished Level 1 of First Language Lessons), we settled into reading the poems and delighting in language together so easily!
The PAL program also has a number of games (in a work book, out of which parents create file folder games) to reinforce the concepts taught in the Reading portion of the program. The initial games are super easy and fun! My kids absolutely loved them. As my child became a stronger reader, she didn’t need or want the games as much. Thus, we dropped them from our daily routine and I don’t believe she missed anything.
Primary Arts of Language gave my student the tools to learn the magic trick of reading; the American Language Series of readers gave her the practice necessary to give her confidence in reading.
I cannot say enough about these wonderful readers! They have a bit of the old-fashioned feel (like the readers of one-room schoolhouses). And they start from the most basic phonics concepts and grow with the student.
What my student loved most about them was the fact that she was reading “chapters.” Each book has a lot of stories and she viewed them as chapters. When she finished an entire volume, her sense of accomplishment was SO HIGH! It was wonderful to watch her confidence grow so quickly.
With the PAL program and the American Language Series readers, she went from barely reading 100 simple sight words to reading voraciously anything she can get her hands on. She was able to complete the PAL program and read all 6 volumes of the AL Series in 6 months. Then she was off on her own and not intimidated to read!
If you are interested in these books, they are an investment. I think they are totally worth it.
A Word About Spelling
Where my first student (the one who taught herself to read) was confident in reading, she was reluctant to learn (or attempt to learn) spelling. I believe a phonics based reading program and a spelling program ought to go hand in hand.
Once our second student was off and going as an official reader, we started using Level One of All About Spelling. She excelled at it because the rules for spelling are based on the rules for phonics. There was so much cross over from the two curricula that reinforced her understanding.
In addition to being a confident reader, she is also a confident speller. Bonus!
A Rough (really rough) Schedule
If I were to map out the road to reading success for our student in order to share it with you, I would say it looks like this:
- read aloud often (I have some tips here and here) – Birth to forever
- First Language Lessons (I wrote about it here) – pre-K to 1st grade
- Primary Arts of Language – Kindergarten/1st grade (6 months)
- Started with Reading for the first two months
- Added Writing after two months
- All About Spelling – 1st grade
Of course, it may look completely different in other homeschools. Just wanted to give you an idea of how we did it around here.