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.

Curriculum Review: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind Level 1

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One

I want to share with you a book we are enjoying as an addition to our first-grade curriculum. First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level One is geared toward first-grade students. Although our current curriculum is very well-rounded and covers a good bit of language arts, I wanted to add in something gentle to touch on grammar skills and give my children more opportunities to develop language skills from a classical approach. Each lesson is short and concise and takes about 10-15 minutes, and I only add them in 2-3 times a week. Copywork, narration, picture study, and other classical techniques are used in this curriculum to develop language abilities.

The lessons are super easy for a parent to open and teach, as they lead the instructor step-by-step through the simple oral and written assignments that build reading, writing, spelling, storytelling, and comprehension skills. The guide includes 100 lessons to teach basic grammar skills such as nouns, verbs, punctuation, and capitalization. They will also memorize 12 poems and study many great pieces of art. They will be given the opportunity to practice oral narration and the beginning stages of written narration. 

This book has been a great fit for our home education and we will likely move to Level Two when we finish. I will say that some of the lessons are repetitive, so I meshed a few together here and there. The lesson presentation is incredibly detailed and is written in script form that tells the teacher exactly what to say and when to have children repeat things. At certain points, I found this too structured and controlled, so I just adapted it when needed. If you are looking for something light to gently introduce language skills from a classical approach, I recommend taking a look at this book. 

If you want to take a peek inside the curriculum check out this IGTV video where I go more in-depth.

Dear New Homeschool Mom: 5 Things I’d Like to Tell You as You Begin This Journey

New homeschool mama, you have been on my heart lately. 

You have just made such a weighty decision for your family, for your children, for you. You have taken the leap into being a home-educating family. You probably feel the full spectrum of emotions, from anxious and overwhelmed to excited for what’s to unfold. While I am only a few years in, I do have some words of wisdom to share that I hope will bring you peace and help light the new path that you are starting to walk down. 

While I may not be able to sit across my dining room table with each of you reading this with books spread out while we sip hot lattes, let’s try to imagine we are. This is what I would say to you.

You have what it takes.

The mere fact that you have made this choice displays that you are brave and that your heart is for your child to succeed. You do not need a teaching education or background to teach your child at home. You do not need all the fancy wooden educational materials or an Instagram-worthy classroom in your home. What you need is what you already have. You are the most qualified person in the world to teach your child because you have a mama’s love and a desire to see your child love learning. 

Let enough be enough.

Start simple. With so many amazing options out there on blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram, it can be easy to compare your lessons and curriculum choices to every other and feel the need to keep changing and adding more. You can start to worry if what you are doing is enough. You may want to scratch it all and start over. While there is the freedom to evaluate what isn’t working for your child, that’s not what I am referring to. I’m talking about looking around at everything else and having a serious case of FOMO until you jam pack your planner so tight that you choke out peace and joy in your home education. Your goal as a homeschool mom should not be to read every good book, use every neat printable, and teach every fact about every subject. Instead, your goal should be to offer your child inspiring opportunities to discover their own passion for learning, and usually, that means less is more.

Relationships are the foundation.

No one on Earth knows your child like you do. If that isn’t true, it soon will be as you walk down this road together. Home education means you are together a lot! Having all that time together with your children gives you the opportunity to form a close relationship with each one of them. Take the time to get to know their learning styles, their personalities, and to create special moments with them that will bond you closer and create memories. I’m talking about spontaneous dance parties, cozy read-aloud time, and silly games played around the table. That bond is built during nature walks, while you walk hand-in-hand and chat about the praying mantis you found or while mixing muffin batter over hot tea and stories. A deep relationship with you is far more valuable to their education than all the shiny curriculum and resources money can buy. That connection is the foundation and the rest will be built on that. As a new homeschool family, I recommend easing into lessons and focusing on the relationship first. That will make the new teacher-mom role that you are stepping into much easier for everyone to adapt to.

Home culture matters more than curriculum choice.

The culture and atmosphere of your home matters more to your child’s education than the curriculum you choose and how effectively you check all the boxes. Children soak up everything that they are exposed to from the minute they wake until the minute they fall asleep. If a home and family culture is full of strife, clutter, stress, busyness, shallow stories, bad habits, and hours in front of screens, that is what the children will soak up and produce, no matter what they are presented with at “school time.” Their entire day is education, not just the hours spent with books at the table. Learning happens when they observe how you interact with strangers and your spouse, solve problems, do house projects, and as they see what you value and how you steward your time. Learning is in the rhythms of your days including personal and home care, teamwork, and discipleship.  Your job as a home educator is to create an atmosphere of creativity, beauty, truth, knowledge, stories, and good character. This is done by being intentional about what is offered in their space and in the way their days are planned out. Children need time and space to thrive. As easy as it sounds, I have found that the best way to offer my children room to seek out learning on their own is by slowing down, simplifying their schedules, surrounding them with richness and beauty, and letting them be bored. You will be amazed at what your children come up with to discover, create, and learn when there is time to do so.  

You will be amazed at what your children come up with to discover, create, and learn when there is time to do so.  

You are free!

There is so much freedom in homeschooling, which is one of my biggest reasons for choosing this path. Don’t try to recreate a classroom setting and the way things are done for a room full of children for your one or small group of children at home.

You have the freedom of environment.

We have done lessons on the couch, on a blanket in the yard, in the car, and at a campsite. You can even scratch the formal lessons and spend the day at a nature preserve, serving in your community, or at museum and it’s still school.

You have the freedom of time.

Is your child struggling to get a math concept that “should” be covered in 2 days? Take two weeks! Want to move your formal lessons to the afternoons for a season so that you can go on morning adventures? Go for it. Want to school year-round so you can take vacations whenever you want or take off a month at Christmas? Why not? Time is your friend when you are a homeschool family. Make it work to your advantage.

You have the freedom of content.

Is faith important to you? You can make that the foundation of your children’s education. Is one of your children interested in a certain animal? Head to the library and create a unit study on it. You even have the freedom to ditch worksheets and do all of your learning through games and hands-on activities if you wanted to. You can adapt everything to your child’s interests, learning style, and development. Is your first grade child reading at a 3rd grade level? Ditch the first grade readers and move along. Same goes if they are reading later than their peers or needing more review in math for another school year. There is no “behind” as long as they’re being challenged and making progress.

There is so much more bubbling up inside of me to tell you, but this is a good start. This is a whole new chapter for your family. There will be tough days. Your kids will resist you and you will have days where you scramble and fail. It is okay! This is a new journey that you are all on together. If you commit to this lifestyle, I promise that the good outweighs the difficult. You will feel more bonded to your children than ever as you laugh together over a good book or discover nature together. You will see the lightbulb go off when your child makes a learning connection and it will all be worth it. You got this, mama.