How My Children Learned to Read

“To introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.”

-Charlotte Mason

Ever since my oldest son was a toddler, we started immersing him in books. Having baskets of books in every room and reaching for those over the television remote was the culture of our home. You see, my son was diagnosed with hearing loss and sensory processing issues around 2 years old and had zero–and I mean ZERO–interest in books around that age. He wouldn’t sit on my lap for longer than one page, and I cried multiple times leaving the library because he had absolutely no interest in storytime and was a disruption. I wondered if he would ever pick up and enjoy a book on his own. Now, at seven years old, we literally can’t keep books out of his hands. He devours any book in sight and will tell you his hobby is reading. He wants to be an author (and a narrator of audiobooks) when he grows up. So what happened? I honestly can’t tell you exactly. I actually didn’t teach him to read, and that is why I didn’t title this post “How I Taught My Children to Read.” Did I play a role? Absolutely. But it’s not what you may imagine. Looking back, all I can say is that I created an atmosphere and invited him into it. 

I pursued the best living book lists I could find and made it a priority to read to him as much as possible. We made the library an important part of our week. I invested in a CD player and ReadAlong Books on CD for him to follow along in the physical books while he listened. Read this post on how I find good quality children’s books. Around 3 years old, he started following along in the books with his finger as I read or as he listened to an audiobook. He started picking up books without me and “reading” them. I honestly don’t know when it happened, but somewhere around 3 and a half, we were driving down the road and he said “Mama, what is Toys… R… Us?” He had looked out the window and read the sign. I was beside myself. When we got home, I pulled out a new early reader book and sat down with him, and sure enough, the child could read! He never had a stumbling-through and sounding-out phase. By 3 years and 8 months I got him the Frog and Toad Storybook Collection, and he read it fluently. I know that’s not every child’s story. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t my daughter’s, even though she has grown up in the same culture.

My daughter loved being read to and listening to audiobooks as much as her big brother, but her motivation to learn on her own wasn’t as strong until around 4 and a half years old. She started mentioning wanting to read like her brother, so even though we didn’t do anything formal, I decided to start gently inviting her into learning. If she didn’t show any interest, I would’ve waited until closer to age 6. From age 4 to 5.5, I used four main resources to invite her in to learning to read.

1. The Peaceful Preschool

There is no “phonics” instruction in this curriculum, and for good reason. The Peaceful Preschool is what we used for 2 years, and we loved every minute of this gentle, literature-based learning guide. While there is no formal phonics, the child is introduced to every letter of the alphabet and learns the sound the letters make through play and creating. You can read more about how I used this curriculum here.

2. ABC See Hear Do

This simple little book is so much fun for teaching sounds of each letter in the alphabet. Each letter is given an animal and motion to help children remember which letter matches which sound. While this book series goes on to teach blends, I only used the first book alongside The Peaceful Preschool, and they paired wonderfully together. I taught one letter at a time and its correlating sound, animal, and movement as we went through the alphabet. 

3. Three-Part Cards

I first discovered 3-Part Cards when researching the Montessori method of schooling. The official name for these cards are “Nomenclature Cards” coming from the Latin word nomenclatura, which means “assigning of names.” They are basically an image with a corresponding label. They come in a whole form and in a split form. The whole cards include the word and image together on one card. The split cards separate the word from the image. This provides endless opportunities for matching and word recognition. I created these 3-Part Cards for every letter of the alphabet, and as we focused on each letter using The Peaceful Preschool, I would offer the corresponding cards to my daughter to play with. I was always amazed at how she could decode even the most difficult words to read. You can read more about I used these cards here.

Dash into Learning Early Reading Program

4. Dash into Learning

I can’t say enough about this beautiful early reading program. Dash into Learning is a complete early reading program that is so simple and fun to use. Both of my children fell in love with the charming illustrations and activity packs that correlate with the early readers in the program. Each book has a short open-and-go lesson in the beginning and then the child proceeds to read the story with confidence. The skills build on each other as the child progresses through the books. Activities like paper dolls, finger puppets, board games, and sticker charts that come with the program really engaged my children and helped my daughter retain the information.

Although I used more resources with my daughter than with my son that were intended to “teach” her to read, I still can’t say that I did the teaching and she did the learning. She too, taught herself. I was merely the one creating the atmosphere and welcoming her in. It wasn’t forced and there was no pressure. I wanted her to read when she was ready and had a desire. I wanted her to take the lead and take ownership of it. 

Teaching your child to read sounds daunting and I have heard many parents say it’s the main fear they have in considering homeschooling. While I know there are exceptions, I am here to say that for the majority of children, it really is much simpler than you would expect. Take a deep breath, spread the feast of good living books and resources, and invite your child into the beauty. You will be amazed at how they will lead the way. 

I love this article about children teaching themselves to read. While I don’t consider us an “unschooling” family, I can agree with this article on many levels.

Here are Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling listed in the article. Click the link to read in more detail.

  1. For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
  2. Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
  3. Attempts to push reading can backfire.
  4. Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
  5. Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
  6. Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
  7. There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.

To summarize, I am under the belief that rather than stressing out and asking the question, “How can I teach my child to read?” we should be asking, “How can I draw my child into the beauty and fullness of life that reading will give them? How can I best set up their atmosphere so that they might desire to become an avid reader?” You may find that some of the resources I shared would be a good fit for your child. There are plenty of guides out there that gently invite the child into reading, these are just the ones that I found and loved. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing–trust the process, and watch your child fall in love with reading on their own timeline.

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