Teaching A Child To Read

Here is a simple method I use when teaching a child to read.  It’s how I’ve taught all my six kids, including three who are dyslexic.

Teaching A Child To Read Begins With Reading

The first step is to read daily with them from the time they are babies.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, one or two short books a day is enough.  I like to sprinkle in some of the easy readers my kids will be learning to read later.


Now I Know My ABCs

Next, from the time they’re three or four, teach them the alphabet.  The ABC song is gold.  Plain old grocery store or WalMart workbooks are wonderful.  My favorite is Everything For Early Learning and More Everything For Early Learning.

Apps and computer games made for kids are excellent.  My favorite computer games are Jumpstart Preschool and others in the series.  We love the LeapFrog phonics video called Letter Factory too.  My newest favorite app is Homer, which is in the Apple store.  It is amazing for all kids, including those who struggle, because it helps in sounding out letters and words and kids read into the microphone and then hear themselves reading it back.  Brilliant.

Buy them ABC puzzles and ABC blocks for birthdays or Christmas.  Put ABC magnets on the fridge. Point out letters on signs, junk mail, books, and in the grocery store.  Your child needs to become so familiar with the symbols of language that it’s easy to do the work of putting them together in words and sentences.

In our formal work time with my four to five year old we review the ABC song and then practice the sounds of some of the letters (about a quarter of them each time) with the aid of a foam ABC puzzle.  You could use flash cards, a chalkboard, magnets, Montessori style sandpaper letters, letter flashcards, anything.

teaching-kids-to-read-2A note about your dyslexics, etc.

Kids who struggle with written language often have a tough time making the symbols and sounds stick.  One of my children had to be taught the letter sounds over and over and over for four years before he really got them.  It’s just that his brain was not wired for written language at the age of four like a “normal” child’s.  But the point is he did get them and never was he made to feel dumb or slow.  We just played letter games, practiced with the sounds, read ABC books, and varied our routines to keep it all interesting.  In retrospect I could probably have just dropped reading for a few years until his brain was mature enough for written language . . . but I didn’t know when that would happen, so we just kept it light and kept plugging along.

Reading Right Away

One of the keys I’ve found when teaching a child to read is getting into real books quickly.  They provide the motivation and excitement to keep at it.

So as soon as possible, you start reading books.  We have a selection of a dozen or so easy readers for brand new beginners.  I let my son choose one and we read it together.  We’ve read it often before so he has it half memorized.  Half memorized is good.  Over the next few weeks he’ll get it completely memorized.  This is good.  A big portion of reading is memorizing thousands and thousands of words.

I also make my own little readers, drawn with simple stick figures and using simple words, including my kid’s name.  Tip: kids like books they star in.

The other big portion is phonics.  At first I don’t make him sound things out, we’re still learning and mastering the ABC sounds and until these are easy and automatic sounding lots of words out is a big chore.  Instead, when we get to a word he misreads or doesn’t know I slowly, pointing at the letters, sound it out for him.  We read the same book every day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  Small children do not get bored of this.  They love repetition and the more they read a book the more they love it.


Memorizing and Phonics, Hand in Hand

To aid in memorizing not just the story, but the individual words, I make flashcards, one word per flash card.  I wrote the words in rainbow colors–red on the first card, orange on the second card, etc, because he’s five and loves bright rainbow colors.  He chose six words from the story on the first day we read the book.  A week later we added six more.  We go over the words every day, just once through.  If he doesn’t know one, I’ll make the sound of the first letter, pointing.  If he still doesn’t know it I’ll read the whole word.

An interesting aside, kids usually have an easier time memorizing long words than short ones.  Long words have distinctive shapes, easy to pick out in a line up.  So don’t be afraid to add in long words to a memory flash card set.


After we’d been reading Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit for about a month we added in a second book to read and memorize, Biscuit.  I made word cards for Biscuit too, six the first week, another six the second week.  We’ll read both books for another month and then we’ll drop Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit, and pick another easy reader to begin on.

But every once in a while we’ll pick up Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit and re-practice it.  As Harrison has more and more words memorized and has the letter sounds completely memorized, then I’ll have him sound out more of the words he stumbles on.  That will solidify the phonics.


Another thing I do to solidify the phonics is use the Explode the Code series.  I LOVE Explode the Code.  It’s phonics and spelling all wrapped up in one.  I’ve used it with all six of my boys.  They like it; I like it.  They learn phonics rules.  We don’t need another spelling program in the early grades, because Explode the Code covers it (we start more spelling in grade 2 or 3).  The levels take my kids through fifth grade, depending on how fast or slow they do the workbooks.  We start Explode the Code at the same time we start to read real books; roughly kindergarten, five to six years old.

Dyslexic Readers

And what about those dyslexic children?  We did the exact same thing I did with my other kids. It just took longer, years longer.  They weren’t reading fluently until fifth grade, while my others were reading fluently by third grade or earlier.  By fluently, I mean able to pick up a chapter book like The Boxcar Children, and read it without help and with comprehension.

One dyslexic son is still working on his reading skills, while my non-dyslexic kids were easily reading high school level stuff by the age of 10.  But he’s fine, he’s normal, he’s learning, and he loves reading. It just took longer.  It just took more practice.  He will get to the high school level stuff . . . in high school.  Seriously, it turns out okay in the end.

Every one of my dyslexic kids was a little different.  Even though there’s one label for “trouble learning to read”, every brain is unique and the speed each one learned to read and the things that tripped each one up were different.  So you really need to observe your child and pick up on what she is struggling with and realize that it’s just going to take longer.  No big deal.

The cool thing about teaching a child with learning disabilities at home is that he has no idea he’s slower.  He was never put in the dumb class or sent to resource or analyzed and tested.  He just sat on my lap or by my side day after day and learned to read.  No big deal.

And that’s how I’ve taught my six kids to read.  Hopefully you can try it too.  Teaching a child to read doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.  It just takes time, repetition, patience, and love.

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