“The end,” I concluded as I closed the book and handed it to my son.
He sat down on the floor, curled up, and opened the book again. “Father Bear Comes Home,” he read and then proceeded to repeat what he remembered from each page.
His memory was astounding.
“Liam, do you want me to teach you to read?” I asked gently. He was only three, but clearly, he wanted to read.
“Yeah!” he answered excitedly.
Now I just had to figure out how to teach reading.
With a BA in English, a teaching credential, and experience teaching ELA and ELD (English Language Development), you’d think I’d have some idea. But I didn’t. As with all things, I set out to find the best and most effective method.
If you find yourself with an eager 3 or 4-year-old or in a classroom with students who should be reading, here are a few simple steps that will have your child reading in no time.
Teach Your Child to Read with These Beginning Reading Words
There are two main camps for teaching reading—whole language and phonics.
A Whole Language approach focuses on reading in context. Children/students learn to read by reading.
In whole language classrooms students’ time is occupied by writing, reading, listening and talking about the world around them and their relationship to it. They are literally placed in the middle of language. These experiences are essential for making meaning out of language and developing within our students the motivation to read and write and learn.(Peterson, 1988)
This is the method backed by my credential program. I see the value in this approach, It develops a love for reading and thinking and teaches reading in context.
The problem is that there’s a gap between reading to a child and the child picking up a book and reading it on their own. The solution to this problem was memorizing sight words and high-frequency words. Teach children to recognize a whole word, instead of breaking down its pieces.
Research has proven this method to be ineffective. Furthermore, it causes bad spellers, poor pronunciation, and doesn’t develop good readers (Hanford, 2019Hanford, 2019). But there is still value in the philosophy.
The phonics approach to teaching reading focuses on the phonetic sounds of words and looking for patterns in language. Phonics program teaching often focuses less on reading stories and more on worksheets and isolated practice.
This approach can be effective for teaching reading but can also place an overemphasis on sounding out words. In turn, children become bored and discouraged during reading instruction.
Marrying the Two
The best way is a combination of whole language (in-context education) and phonics (specific practice with repetition) instruction, which is labeled “balanced literacy.” And is the blended approach that most teachers use for teaching reading today.
By mixing all of the pieces, we focus on the science of reading approach, which tells us that phonemic awareness, phonics and word recognition, fluency, vocabulary and oral language comprehension, and text comprehension are all essential pieces in learning to read. This combines the two methods (and more) to say that value comes from direct language instruction, but that making meaning of a text is essential as well.
When kids learn from our planned sequence […], we should see engaging practice—word work, often masquerading as play—followed by both reading and writing practice that applies those […] skills purposefully.(Jiban, 2022)
It’s important to remember that drill and kill can kill a child’s desire to read. But never focusing on the small parts of language can develop poor readers.
When to Start
Read to children as much as possible and discuss what you read, starting from a young age (as soon as they can talk). Encourage your child to look at pictures and take in all the context clues to determine the meaning of the text.
When your child shows an interest in learning to read, begin reading instruction (around the age of 4).
However, if your child seems resistant, wait a few weeks/months, and try again. Children learn much better when they want to learn. Forcing reading instruction may cause an aversion to reading.
Let’s Start Teaching
Use these steps to begin teaching your child to read. Keep reading to your child throughout this process. The more you read, the more familiar they will become with language. And the more they will love reading.
Step 1: Start with Sounds
Begin by introducing letters as sounds.
Start with common letters that can be used to create words, like “m,” “s,” “t,” and “a.” Make it fun by introducing a letter a week. These beginning sounds are necessary so your child can learn to sound out unfamiliar words. I suggest having children repeat the sound multiple times, trace the letter to help solidify the sound, and then practice saying words and noticing the letter sound.
Use the Beginning Reading Introduction to Letter Sounds to introduce children to one letter at a time. Children will repeat the sound 3-5 times, trace and repeat the sound, and identify words with the letter sound. All in a friendly and engaging format.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons* is a reading curriculum that teaches your child to read in 100 lessons. It starts by introducing a few letter sounds and then forms words from the introduced letters. These lessons are great, but the format isn’t engaging, which is why I suggest combining these two resources. Introduce letters from Beginning Reading Introduction to Letter Sounds in the order Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons introduces them.
Step 2: Practice Sounds
After you’ve introduced a letter, practice. Find games and fun ways to practice. You want your child to memorize each letter sound. Give them lots of practice with letters sounds. Grab anything you can find that helps them practice in a fun way.
Use this Consonant Sounds Matching Game to help reinforce and practice consonant sounds that have already been introduced. Mix up the pictures and have children stick or glue them on the boxes with the correct letter sound.
Once you’ve introduced vowel sounds, use this Vowel Sound Matching Game to help children practice sorting short and long vowel sounds. Using one letter at a time, mix up the pictures and have the child place the correct letter sounds in the correct boxes.
Step 3: Rhyming Words
After introducing and solidifying a letter sound, you can add that sound to other sounds. For example, after introducing “m” and “s,” you can talk about the word “at.” Have the child add the “m” and then “s” to “at” to form “mat” and “sat.” This helps the child recognize familiar sounds and create new words.
As more letters are introduced, play games that help the child form rhyming words.
Continue using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and use this Beginning Reading Rhyming Word Puzzles to practice forming rhyming words. Have children create as many words as they can with the ending sounds provided.
All words are from a list of cvc words and are perfect for early readers. Vowel sounds are short vowels to avoid confusion.
Step 4: Forming Words
Once children have learned a few letters (and one vowel) they can begin creating words and reading easy books. Continue using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but adding books can help build momentum.
The first book in this set uses the letters “m,” “s,” “t,” and “short-a.” Once you’ve introduced those 4 letters, your child can read the first book. As you add more letters, your child can practice reading with the letters they’ve learned.
I suggest introducing these once you are regularly completing reading lessons. If you let time pass between letter introductions and practice, the child will have trouble remembering the sounds.
Bob Books comes in 5 sets of books for each level of beginning reading. Set 1 includes 12 books that introduce all the letters of the alphabet, except “Q,” in simple sentences. They also introduce a limited number of sight words (common words). The books are simple and a great way to help a beginning reader build confidence. They will teach your child to practice sounding out letters to make words and meaning. As your child progresses through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, you can move on to the other sets.
Ditch the list of high frequency words and use this plan and your preschooler will be reading in no time. Get your enthusiastic reader ready for first grade and teach him/her to sound out words, rather than memorizing books.
Hanford, E. (2022, January 20). How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. At a Loss for Words | APM Reports. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading
Lexia Learning Systems. (n.d.). The Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy: The History of the Reading Wars | Lexia. Retrieved November 8, 2023, https://www.lexialearning.com/blog/the-science-of-reading-vs-balanced-literacy-the-history-of-the-reading-wars</a>
Jiban, C. (2023, May 16). The science of reading explained. NWEA: Teach. Learn. Grow. The Education Blog. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from https://www.nwea.org/blog/2022/the-science-of-reading-explained/
Phonics Instruction | Reading Rockets. 2023. Reading Rockets. Retrieved November 8, 2023, from https://www.readingrockets.org/topics/phonics-and-decoding/articles/phonics-instruction</a>
Rethinking Schools. (2021, August 16). Whole Language: A Refreshing Approach to Language Instruction – Rethinking Schools. Retrieved November 8, 2023, https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/whole-language-a-refreshing-approach-to-language-instruction/</a>
Whole-Language sneaks in everywhere | Reading rockets. 2023. Reading Rockets. Retrieved November 8, 2023, from https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/right-to-read/whole-language-sneaks-everywhere</a>