Thursday, September 5, 2013

Home-schooling: How I Teach My Children to Read

Warning: Very Long Post

Gosh, how do I even begin to tell you how I do this?

Teaching a child to read isn't just about teaching them their ABCs and getting to a point where they can read words without your help. It's so much more than that. It's guiding a child from

here (interest in books and letters)
 to here (catching them reading beyond what's assigned),
 and beyond. It's being able to sound out a word, but it's also understanding books read to them that are above their personal reading level. There's two distinct but intermingled parts to reading: reading and comprehension. The goal (at least in our home) is for each child to be able to read aloud and then to themselves well, to be able to understand more and more difficult and deeper literature, and to learn to enjoy reading for the purpose of learning and personal entertainment.
In my experience, reading comprehension has been a natural part of learning. I just read aloud to them again and again and again and again..........and again. Then, as they got old enough, I began asking them to tell me about what they just read or heard. We chose a large variety of books in different subjects and taught them to listen to longer and longer stories and chapters. If they tuned out and couldn't tell me anything about the reading, they endured a repeat reading at times. Their ears learned to perk up after a few times of re-reading a story, chapter, or poem.
Teaching children to decipher words and put them together to read sentences is much more complex, but only takes a short (in the span of their entire education) time. Where comprehension grows and continues to grow into adulthood, learning to decipher words (learning to read) is a temporary subject. Once they know and know well how to read, they know for good. For this reason, reading is one of only two subjects (reading and math) that I actually teach until about third grade. Where they learn bible, science, history, art, etc, I only have to teach reading and math until then. Once they know how to read well, then I turn my teaching attention to other subjects previously skimmed over.  

Personal Experience:

I guess the key two concepts for me in teaching our children to read were patience and foundations.

Reading is a lot like learning to speak. It takes for.e.ver....and then WHAM...they get it and fly. Some children just seem to catch on and others need to know why c and k say the same thing, and want to know all the "rules". Those children hate the exceptions unless they can be explained. I'm glad I was a logical child or I would have lost my patience.

It seems logical to plan ahead in reading (learn A in week 1, B in week 2...week 27 start learning 'at' words), but it just doesn't always work that way. Abby took an entire year to learn her alphabet and some of the sounds they make, then another year to learn just the cvc (consonant, vowel, consonant) words. I thought I would die! I had to clamp my lips shut, pray, and then calmly remind her what 'e' sounded like for the millionth time. When she was 8 (four years after I began the long journey of teaching her to read), all of a sudden she grew in leaps and bounds. In third grade, she went from cvc and cvcv words to small chapter books! Every few months, there was a leap in understanding, until mid-4th grade I was giving her full blown books, encyclopedias dedicated to history and science, and she began reading longer and longer teeny-bopper novels for fun. It wasn't just spouting off words, either. She was telling me all about the stories and what she had learned. Now, just beginning 5th grade, I'm confident giving her The Hobbit, Little Women, Arabian Knights, Island of The Blue Dolphins, and many others like them. She was my logical learner. She had to know why each letter "behaved" the way it did. Abby needed time, lots and lots of time, but once she learned, she was a confident reader.

Abram, on the other hand was totally opposite. I tried to teach him like Abby and he wasn't interested. I let it go. He was only 4 and I could wait. Then, at 5 years old, without ever giving him a formal lesson, I decided it was time to start. I pulled out the ABC books, settling in for the long haul. He knew over half of them the first day!! What?!! Then, Abby casually mentioned that she had taught him. Wow! I just skipped her first half a year of lessons. Within a couple of months, he had learned the entire alphabet and knew a lot of the sounds they made. Where was I in the 'book'? I skipped ahead to the cvc words. He picked them up at profound speeds. (Abby had been "playing" school with him!) The books that took Abby a year to get through, took him a couple of months. About mid year in 2nd grade, though, he just stopped moving ahead. He never quit reading what he had learned, but he just didn't move beyond that point. He's now just beginning 3rd grade, and we're in the same place. But, now, eight years into home-schooling, I'm getting used to these variations in learning speeds within the same child. I've learned to have patience when things seem to be at a stand-still. I've learned to stay consistent in requiring reading practice even when it's the same thing again and again. And, I've learned to skip ahead when they're ready. Even though he was my "easy" one in reading, I had to be careful. Somewhere along the way I clued in that he was just really good at memorizing, but when something new would come up he didn't know how to decipher it. I began adding in the 'whys' in small doses as we read. When you see 'ou' together, it usually says "ow" as in ouch. How many vowels are in that syllable? What happens when there's two vowels? Right. The first one says it's name and the second is silent. Good. But where Abby needed word after word lessons in this, Abram just needed to be taught and reminded while in the middle of books. He was my "natural" reader.

Teaching Tools:

Here are the reading curriculums and supports that have been consistently loved and valued with me and my children and how I use(d) them:

Before Readers:

A good, durable set of ABC flashcard.
These were individual mini books and we love them. While the older children are doing lessons, they're great to scoot around the floor, pick up and look at the pictures, stack and knock down...and then bring one of us a card and ask, "What's that?" That one's "I". It says "ih". And then he's back to playing. Abby had a really nice set of flashcards from Baby Einstein, and then we switched to these when Abram was little.

This little stack (plus a really good set of children's literature) is all I use for reading until they're ready for readers. 

This book was full of common sense reminders and suggestions. It has a lot of ideas about adding language learning to a child's everyday life. It includes poems, short stories, language games, activities, and teaching ideas. 
An Acorn In My Hand is a gem by Ethel Bouldin that really taught me how to teach reading. I didn't use it with my children until they were 4 or 5, but I've read it over again every time a child's on the brink of beginning to learn to read. It shows you the basics of how words are put together, what letters make what sounds, what combinations of letters make what sounds, and how to teach them. This and a good white board were all I used for formal lessons with Abby until she was ready for readers. Search for it and if you can find this old book, snatch it up!

A peek inside:

This was a fun read that I've done with every one of my children on a daily basis when they first showed interest in letters. They loved hearing the sounds the letters made in cute little poetic verses. Soon, they were reciting the letters and sounds with me and pretending to read the book. I've gone through two of these books because it wears plum out. 
These are another gem that I'm about to have to replace because we're missing quite a few. The children loved having letters they could handle off the page!!! They could literally put together and take apart words, rearrange sounds, and so forth. Our children start playing with these before they learn to read, but continue with them long after that. Later, the olders use these for spelling, too.

Beginning Formal Lessons and Early Readers:

(sorry, my pictures aren't rotating)

This is the all-inclusive teaching guide I use. It goes all the way from teaching the alphabet to the last formal lessons they'll need. It's very similar to An Acorn In My Hands in theory, but spreads it all out in individual lessons. When my children start the first lesson in this book, they aren't even confident in their ABCs and sounds. By the time we've made it through the book, they're reading full-length novels. It's really packed and thorough.
I don't actually use this book every school day. I use it to find holes in their reading. We'll sit and do lesson after lesson until I hit a page they didn't know very well. Then I know what to point out when they're reading, what to work on with the white board, what to remind them of over and over again, etc. Then, when they've learned that concept, I move on in the book again. 

A peek inside:

There's actually four books in this set, but one of them is probably in my son's bedroom or underneath the couch. These follow the same general phonetic steps as how I teach reading, so I use them on a consistent basis. These are daily practice, where the books below are read it through until you know it and move on. We work on these at the same time as the one's below.

We love these! Dr. Suess and P.D. Eastman aren't the greatest in Children's lit, but they're enjoyable and memorable. They also use common words over and over again, adding to the child's fluency in reading. These are the first to disappear for plain ol' enjoyment reading.
 These are the ONLY workbooks I use for Reading. They're easy to understand, you probably won't need the teacher's guides, and the kids' love them. Get Ready, Get Set, and Go For The Code work all the way through the alphabet and practice a little early handwriting, too. Explode the Code 1-8 work their way from early cvc words through as far as you'll want to go before skipping on to higher level workbooks. They're just fun and good practice.
Our Early Readers are selected with care. I let them pick a few readers just for fun, like Disney Princess or Transformers, but I want most of their readers to be an early introduction to the variations they'll get into later. Their books include stories, poetry, "chapter" books,
 Science, early biographies,
and various cultures.
About half of their Science, History, and other subjects are learned from real books we read aloud to them, and the other half is learned from reading books like these.

Early Chapter Books and Beginner Novels:

When I say "early chapter books", some may not know what exactly I mean.
I mean books about this size,

 with more words on a page then they're used to, but they still have lots of pictures. They are divided into mini-chapters lasting about 4-10 pages. The idea is to build endurance in reading more than to give them harder words. At this point, the formal lessons continue for word-building, and these start being their primary source of fluency practice.
I highly recommend the Magic Tree House books! If you'll notice in the picture below, #34 is quite a bit thicker than book #1. This series is great about gradually increasing reading endurance, with great adventures through history grabbing boys and girls attention. They're fabulous!
Gradually, their endurance increases.
At this point, I start handing over more and more bits of their everyday learning to them. All those gorgeous Usborn Encyclopedia's in history and science subjects are now part of their responsibility. The history book they're used to listening to, they're now reading to themselves. I gradually start challenging them to a couple of real novels (no longer dumbed down for children). I no longer have them reading out loud to me, but they still have to tell me about the book. I still believe reading aloud is important, but now it's to a littler sibling. I casually listen in to see how they're doing and to catch any words/sounds that may need reviewing.

Then, the day comes when you see huge changes.

They're ready for the books you read!!
They're reading the bible instead of turning their lights out!!
They're up in the tree house with a backpack full of all sorts of books!!
They're sneaking off with your favorite cookbook to see if they have everything for Chocolate Chip Cookies!!
They're learning history stories you were never taught or remember!!
They're eating anatomy books for breakfast!!
They're half way through a guitar how to book they found in an old box!!
They're bedroom floor is littered with novels!!
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