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.

My Must-Have Children’s Poetry and Story Treasury Books

One of the highlights of our home education is when I carve out the time to bake up some muffins or cookies and brew a big pot of herbal tea with wild honey and call the children together for “Read Aloud Tea Time”. 

Sometimes we read a few chapters in a book we’re working through, but other times I like to switch things up and pull out a poetry book or a treasury of stories from the shelf to revisit some old favorites or enjoy the prose of talented authors. 

Today I want to share with you my must-have children’s poetry and story treasury books that we own, use, and love. These are the kind of books that you display on your family bookshelf, open again and again, and that could be family heirlooms one day. 

I love to find books at my local used book store, garage sales, and homeschool consignment store. When I don’t find what I am looking for there I also love shopping on thriftbooks.com! If you are looking to purchase any of the listed titles new, you can click on them to buy on Amazon. 

Poetry:

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne – This is a book of thirty-five children’s verses told from the perspective of a young child who takes the reader through the previous years of their life, ages 1-5.

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson – This is a lovely collection of poetry that celebrates childhood in all its complexity and joy. The poems touch on themes of playful childhood, illness, play, and solitude.

Julie Andrew’s Treasury for All Seasons – This book is a compilation of a vast array of poems, old and new, that joyously celebrate each special season and day of the year.

Animals Animals by Eric Carle- This one is a light-hearted collection of poems by various authors about different types of animals with corresponding illustrations all by Eric Carle.

A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa – A Child’s Book of Poems is full of timeless poems and illustrations that depict children of all races sweetly interacting, the enchanting natural world, and adorable animals.

 The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright – This book is full of traditional nursery rhymes and original illustrations, originally published in 1916.

Storybook Treasuries

Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury by Arnold Lobel – This is the first book my son read on his own, so it holds a special place in our hearts. This treasury includes all the Frog and Toad stories about two friends’ silly adventures.

Little House Picture Book Treasury: Six Stories of Life on the Prairie adapted from the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Renée Graef – I love this one for the bold, bright, and detailed illustrations and the simple stories that are adapted from the Little House books. It’s a great introduction to the novels.

A Beatrix Potter Treasury – What’s not to love about Beatrix Potter’s collection of whimsical tales? This collection would be a perfect fit if you are planning to use A Year of Tales curriculum or just want some classics to read again and again.

Jan Brett’s Animal Treasury – Jan Brett is one of my all-time favorite children’s book authors and this one includes four of her stories featuring animals.

The Children’s Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett – This is a lovely compilation of folktales and fables that illustrate virtues like honesty, courage, and compassion.

Paul Galdone’s The Folk Tale Classics Treasury – This treasury includes the retellings of classic folk and fairy tales such as The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs with talented illustrations by Paul Galdone.

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem- This treasury includes the eight warm stories of the sweet mice of Brambly Hedge who live together in a close-knit community and make the best use of what each season has to offer.

Aesop’s Fables: The Classic Edition illustrated by Charles Santore – The captivating tales in this compilation help to illustrate basic moral issues through the simple classic stories and intriguing illustrations.

I hope you find as much joy and connection in these poems and stories as we have in our home. I am sure I will add many to my must-have list over the years of homeschooling that I have ahead of me. What would you add to this list?

My Favorite Preschool & Early Elementary Booklists (plus a free spreadsheet template!)

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I have learned in my very short time homeschooling that the primary resource necessary for every subject is good literature! I do not know what I would do without the public library. Over the last couple of years we have used The Peaceful Preschool curriculum whose foundation is fantastic picture books. You can read more about why I love The Peaceful Preschool here. Over time, I have discovered other incredible book lists that are full of rich literature that I want to expose my children to. Links to those lists are at the end of this post.

For the upcoming school year I will be using two main curriculums, A Year of Tales and Exploring Nature With Children. Both curriculums are so rich and full of beautiful invitations. A large part of what they offer are, you guessed it, weekly book lists! With so many booklists to keep track of, last year I found myself shuffling through binders, pdfs, and websites to request all my books from our local library. I just knew this school year I needed a better solution, so I created a master booklist spreadsheet! It was a time consuming task compiling all of my book lists into one place, but I am so glad I did it!

The spreadsheet is broken into weeks and contains the titles and the authors of all the books I need to track down. I have even added a column for the status of each book, such as “On-hold” or “Checked Out” to help me keep track of where each book is in the process.

In an effort to honor the authors of the curriculums and the work they have put in compiling the book lists, I have decided not to share my full and complete book list spreadsheet. Instead I have created a template for you to customize with the curriculum you have personally purchased or book lists you currently follow.

Download the Booklist Spreadsheet Template here.

Now on to my favorite book lists for Preschool to Early Elementary:

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The Peaceful Preschool

As mentioned above, I love the book selections used in The Peaceful Preschool. Even if you’re not using the curriculum, you can download the book list for free here.

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Read Aloud Revival

Hands-down, my favorite picture book list is A Year of Picture Books from Sarah Mackenzie at Read Aloud Revival. It is broken down into months, and I especially love the seasonal and holiday books she lists. She updates it with new finds each year!

I also refer to RAR for Early Reader Books and First Novels to Read Aloud. Honestly, anything Sarah Mackenzie puts out, I advise you to get your hands on it!

Ambleside Online

If you aren’t familiar with Ambleside Online, it is a free curriculum based around Charlotte Mason principles. I really love their Year 0 (Pre-K/ Kindergarten) Book List.

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Simply Charlotte Mason

Here is another great book list for the early years that I like to refer to. This includes picture books and chapter books for read-alouds.

Honey for A Child’s Heart


If you’re looking for a resource to help you know how to select good books for children of all ages, Honey for a Child’s Heart is great! The author also has a comprehensive list broken down by age in the back of the book. I like to add some of these books to our library haul as well!

I hope you enjoyed this round up and you found it useful in creating a plan for a school year full of creating connections over rich literature with your children. Happy reading!

You can download the Booklist Template here or if you’re a Google Sheets person, like me, you can view the sheet here. Just copy a version to your own Google Drive to edit.