Idzie, a 19-year-old unschooled but beautifully educated blogger, sent me a link to an essay, on her blog, about her own memories of learning to read. She wrote, in part: "When I was something like age 8 or 9, my mother was reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my sister and me. But, well, she had things to do other than read, and if she read too long, her voice would get hoarse. So, being quite frustrated at how slow a process this was, and really wanting to know what happened next, I picked it up and began to read."

Be sure to keep an eye on the progress of each child. As soon as you notice one of the children is struggling, try to find some extra time to spend with that child. Talk to the child’s parents, and explain exactly what the child is struggling with. For example, if the child is having a hard time differentiating between a “d” sound and a “t” sound, spend some extra time practicing different words that make these sounds. Ask the parents if they can get involved and practice with the child as well.
This is one of the great tragedies of the American school system. It is even more heartbreaking when you talk to scientists about how the human brain reads. Researchers estimate that somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of children, most of whom have developmental disorders or profound neurological problems, will never learn to read. The rest? If they are given what experts say is the right kind of instruction, they will learn to read, and most of them will be able to read well.
This is a wonderful column, and all very true. My own four (unschooled) kids learned to read at ages ranging between 3 and 8 years, and each learned in his or her own way. I'm now watching my unschooled grandchildren following the same path - the 8 year old has just taught himself to read, and I can see his 5 year old sister is close behind. I often tell other parents with kids in school about my experiences because they worry so much if their kids aren't reading by age 6.
Instead, we should think about our children as whole readers from the beginning. In his NYT piece, Willingham writes that “comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.” He suggests that parents should leave the teaching up to teachers, and simply read with kids. Read often. Read everywhere. Read for fun. Read fiction. Read nonfiction. Explore different topics. Traditionally, the texts in early elementary grades “have been light in content,” Willingham writes. (“Mac sat on a mat,”etc.) Kids can soak in more complicated information and plots when you read to them than when they read texts themselves, so it’s important to keep at it, following their natural curiosity.
It is two years later. Oral family reading time is integral to our day and the Harry Potter series is our most recent read. A younger friend visiting had not read the Harry Potter books so he asked my daughter to read to him. I wondered how she would handle the request and then she started "reading" to them. The younger childeren were captivated for over an hour listening to the story as she went through it chapter by chapter. I thought she was reading it because of the vividness and vocabulary use in her telling, but I had never heard her read so well. As she continued the story it became apparent that it was all from memory. Obviously she is developing fabulous comprehension skills!
Take any alphabet toy, blocks, magnets, or whatever you have and make up silly words. Once they know most of the phonic sounds, it’s super easy and silly to make up your own words practicing the sound each letter makes. I’m sure you’re wondering about vowels and rules… we just don’t go there at this point. For now, all the vowels make one sound A – Ah , E – Eh, that kind of thing.
My son, Tristan, is 4 1/2 and just started to read. I wasn’t trying to teach him to read at all. I’ve been reading to him forever (I was an English major, I love books). He’s known his ABCs since he was at least 2. The only other thing that we did was let him listen to books on CD/tape/MP3. We tried to have the books so he could follow along, but he didn’t always. Usborne books has a great selection of books with CDs – Ted & Friends and Farmyard Tales are his favorite. That helped him identify the words himself (I think). :)
I’m a K teacher and it seems that you are more interested in blaming his former teacher for where he is in his development more than anything else. Since this is a whole year later….I’m sure that he has picked up reading. However, I just want to say as an educator of 15 years who has a reading specialist endorsement, that reading is developmental—and each child is in a different part of that developmental process. As a parent, you are truly your child’s first teacher. Please revaluate pointing the finger at the teacher–as I’m sure that there was learning taking place in his classroom after all!
If your child's still keen for more (and, again, there's no rush), you could have a go at helping them blend letter sounds together to make a simple vowel-consonant word: so, “a” and “t” makes “at” or “o” and “n” makes “on”. “Say 'a' and 't', then say it again, faster and faster, until the sounds run together and the penny, in theory, drops.” You could also find some simple letter-sound activity sheets from websites like Twinkl or try phonics apps like Jolly Phonics and Reading Eggs to reinforce this idea.
Marie, an unschooling mom, wrote about her son, now age 7: "[He] found the incentive to become a better reader through acting at a local theater. He has always been passionate about putting together ‘shows,' but now he is old enough to have real acting experience. He sees that reading is an integral part of this activity that he loves and it has given him a strong reason to grow and develop as a reader. He recently had a part in A Midsummer Night's Dream and had to read and memorize Shakespeare. It took no instruction on the part of a ‘teacher' whatsoever."

Most children learn to read by 6 or 7 years of age. Some children learn at 4 or 5 years of age. Even if a child has a head start, she may not stay ahead once school starts. The other students most likely will catch up during the second or third grade. Pushing your child to read before she is ready can get in the way of your child's interest in learning. Children who really enjoy learning are more likely to do well in school. This love of learning cannot be forced.
"There was also a time when, as an infant, I knew no Latin; but this I acquired without any fear or tormenting, but merely by being alert to the blandishments of my nurses, the jests of those who smiled on me, and the sportiveness of those who toyed with me. I learned all this, indeed, without being urged by any pressure of punishment, for my own heart urged me to bring forth its own fashioning, which I could not do except by learning words: not from those who taught me but those who talked to me, into whose ears I could pour forth whatever I could fashion. From this it is sufficiently clear that a free curiosity is more effective in learning than a discipline based on fear."
This program is the “gold standard” for teaching reading to kids with dyslexia. It focuses at the word level by teaching the connections between letters and sounds. Orton–Gillingham also uses what’s called a multisensory approach. It taps into sight, sound, movement and touch to help kids link language to words. Students learn the rules and patterns behind why and how letters make the sounds they do. Orton–Gillingham is the basis for a number of other reading programs. These programs are mostly used by special education teachers.
You can ask questions after you finish reading, but you can also stop to ask questions during the story too. For example, ask them what you think the main character should do about a problem they’re having. Ask them at various points throughout the story how they think a character is feeling. For example, are the probably sad, mad, happy, or tired?
my 3 1/2 year old hyper active daughter knows her alphabet and I am trying to teach her to real the two letter words “in, if, is, it , of , on “. However she does not seem to be able to differentiate between “if” and “it” or “of”. however I am not sure if she can’t differentiate or she is not interested. How to teach a child who CANNOT sit quietly.
Terrific post! My 4 year old is starting to ask me what random words start with and I have known for a while it was time to move forward with “reading” but didn’t have a clue how to proceed. Alphabet games and crafts will be great to continue learning letter sounds. Also, thank you for using wonderful pics of completely normal home crafts (“S” and the bingo game), and not dolled up pinterest ones. It feels accessible to everyone.
Education has always been extremely important to me. When I was a child I used to always say I wanted to be a teacher when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Well, when I finally "grew up" I changed my mind and decided on the computer field instead. Perhaps some day I'll be a college professor and finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of teaching. For now, I'll settle as being my children's first teacher.
Parents of infants and toddlers lay the foundation for reading success long before there's a need for systematic instruction. While some gung-ho moms and dads get seduced by products that claim to promote early reading, they should resist the temptation to buy them. Introducing formal instruction too early may actually backfire—making youngsters see reading as a task that wins parental favor, not as a pleasurable activity unto itself. Studies show that youngsters who receive early instruction are less likely to read for enjoyment when they get older.
Finally, I can't resist ending with a little story about my son's learning to read. He was a very early reader, and one of the first indications of his reading ability occurred when he was about three and a half and we were looking at a Civil War monument in a town square somewhere in New England. He looked at the words, and then he said to me, "Why would men fight and die to save an onion?"
We start off each lesson with a picture book (child's choice) then a chapter from a chapter book (my choice). Then we read the lesson. Sometimes we stop in the middle of the lesson (depending on attention span and how well the lesson is going, etc.) We always peek ahead to see if there is a "new sound" coming up. (A very exciting development, if you can imagine.) After the ...more
Create daily opportunities to build your child's reading skills by creating a print‑rich environment at home. Seeing printed words (on posters, charts, books, labels etc.) enables children to see and apply connections between sounds and letter symbols. When you're out and about, point out letters on posters, billboards and signs. In time you can model sounding out the letters to make words. Focus on the first letter in words. Ask your child “What sound is that letter?” “What other word starts with that sound?” “What word rhymes with that word?”
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