Build up an archive of sight words. Certain words in the English vocabulary are spoken often, but don’t follow the typical phonics rules. These words are easier to memorize by shape association than by sound, and are therefore known as ‘sight words.’ Some sight words include ‘they,’ ‘she’, ‘an,’ ‘said,’ and ‘the.’ The complete list of sight words, called the Dolch list, can be found online and broken down into sections to work through.
If you have been sharing books with your child from babyhood, they will already know that the same pictures or sounds can be visited again and again within a book. They will also know that it feels good to sit in a loving embrace and to have the enjoyment doubled by sharing a book. For them, looking at books is never a chore or a forced activity. This child has a head start.

You, their parent, know what your child’s interests are and if you include these words into their lesson, you will soon have an enthusiastic child who will not only look forward to their reading lesson, but soon they will give you words that they want to learn to read, for example my son was crazy about dinosaurs, Winnie the Pooh and aliens. The best fun we had was making sentences using these words, one of his favourites was, “My daddy is a green dinosaur.”


Thanks for these tips. Your suggestions really put things in perspective for me. My 5 year old daughter’s friends seem to be so much better than her at decoding and sounding words out. I realize now that my first mistake was comparing her to other children and, in a panic that she was “behind,” I kept trying to make her sound words out and now I fear I’ve intimidated her when it comes to sounding words out. :(
Lessons 1-20: Let me start by being perfectly honest with you. The first 5 lessons were tortuous for both me and my 5 year old son. He does not like to sit still, he does not like to repeat things over and over again, and it was extremely confusing for both him and myself as we began this book. I was still getting used to the teaching aspect, and he was getting used to the sitting still and repeating sounds over and over and over again. I nearly gave up after the first 5 days. You may want to as well. PERSEVERE!
For children in standard schools, it is very important to learn to read on schedule, by the timetable dictated by the school. If you fall behind you will be unable to keep up with the rest of the curriculum and may be labeled as a "failure," or as someone who should repeat a grade, or as a person with some sort of mental handicap. In standard schools learning to read is the key to all of the rest of learning. First you "learn to read" and then you "read to learn." Without knowing how to read you can't learn much of the rest of the curriculum, because so much of it is presented through the written word. There is even evidence that failure to learn to read on schedule predicts subsequent naughtiness in standard schools. One longitudinal study, conducted in Finland, found that poor reading in preschool and kindergarten predicted poor reading later on in elementary school and also predicted subsequent "externalizing problem behavior," which basically means acting out.[3]

As you’ve probably noticed, there is no “magic formula” to teach your child how to read.  The points we’ve discussed in previous posts have highlighted simple, effective strategies that are easy to modify for your child.  After all, every child learns differently!  This series is not to be used as a “checklist” and think that once you’ve covered all the strategies your child will be proficiently reading.  Rather, this series provides valuable information to you so that you can guide your child while creating a print-rich, learning environment to foster his/her growth as a reader.  Don’t rush and don’t stress!  While it’s important to take advantage of the prime-learning time, it’s even more important to let your kid be a kid!
Sometimes, parents are told early teaching is harmful, but it isn’t true. You simply can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own children on the days they were each born! The “dangers of early teaching” has been a topic of study for more than 100 years, and no one has ever found any convincing evidence of harm. Moreover, there are hundreds of studies showing the benefits of reading to your children when they are young.
I love this! I am a preschool teacher who has been stressing a little! My 4.5 year old son has been challenging me… he is clearly showing signs that he is ready to read and I have no idea where to start! You have no idea how happy I am to have come across your blog about reading… the fact that its not memorize ABC’s, memorize sounds, etc but rather comes from a more natural learning has made me so happy! I have come across so many teachers that are no longer worried about letting children learn through their interests and it has turned into a very formal rote learning which makes me cringe. So YAY!!! Thank you thank you thank you! Tomorrow my son and I have a game planned where he is going to think of a word, which we will sound and and decide what letters are in it… and I will write out words that he will try and sound out to read! We are both very excited!
Let’s be real. There are countless other things kids are more interested in than learning to read. Shoot! Plenty of grown people would prefer to do countless other things rather than teach their children how to read. If you’re one of those parents, please believe I’m not judging you — remember, I’m the parent with the occasionally funky-breathed, sleepy child.
But in many schools, in all kinds of neighborhoods, there is a shockingly large chunk of kids — about one in three — who don’t master the skills they need to learn to read in a sophisticated way. Their road is a difficult one: although many will try to use their intelligence to cover the holes in their skill set, as the work gets harder and the reading grows more complex, these children will find they are unable to keep up.
Many teachers do a little talk (or write a letter) to explain to parents the method(s) they're using to teach children to read. (If your child's teacher doesn't do this, ask them for some pointers.) The favoured method du jour is (some form of) Phonics – decoding words by sounding out all the different letter sounds they contain. Try to bear this in mind when listening to your child read at home: if they get stuck on the word “dog”, for example, it's probably more helpful to say, “Let's sound it out: d-o-g” than “It begins with d and sounds like frog”.
Basically, we are just repetitive and always say the letter sound with the letter. Please note I firmly believe that every child is different and NEVER push your kiddo into something they aren’t ready for. My younger son, who’s 2, is still working on his letters while big brother was reading at this age. I’d hate for anyone to read this and think that their child is behind. There is no such thing!

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.


Is it any surprise that people who have been told, in a million different ways by most adults that they interact with "oh, of course this is so terribly boring and awful that we will have to force you to do it, or you would never do it" actually come to believe those lies, and build up an active fear and resistance to what is in fact (in English) a *very* simple 26 letter code? There is no reason at all why reading should take more than a week, but somehow schools turn it into a terrible 7-12 year production.
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?
Even if your child is fascinated with books from an early age, her fascination will quickly dwindle if she does not see reading modeled in her home. If you are not an avid reader yourself, make a conscious effort to let your children see you reading for at least a few minutes each day! Read a magazine, a cookbook, a novel, your Bible…it’s up to you! But show your child that reading is something that even adults need to do. If you have a son, share this article with your husband. Sons need to see their fathers read, especially since it is not something that young energetic boys are naturally prone to doing.
Because your child will also receive one-on-one tutoring from you they will also learn better and faster. When a child learns to read in a school classroom, they will be sharing their reading teacher with about 20 other children. This means that in a 30-minute lesson, your child will be getting one-on-one attention from that teacher for about one minute. This is mainly why it takes so long for a child to learn to read in school.
Set a good example. Show your child that reading is interesting and worthwhile by reading for yourself. Spend a minimum of ten minutes a day reading when your child is around, so that they see you enjoying the activity on your own. Even if you’re not an avid reader, find something to read - a magazine, the newspaper, or a cookbook all count. Soon they’ll become interested in reading on their own, simply as a result of seeing you doing it too.

In some schools, balanced literacy means that preK teachers work on letters and letter sounds. Kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers deliver an orderly progression of explicit phonics lessons and, as the children become competent and confident readers, push them to discover the best that literature and nonfiction have to offer while doggedly building up their comprehension through weekly word study, spelling tests, and story analysis.
Hi, I have a friend who lets her 6-month old son watch “baby can read” videos every day. She did the same with her older child, who, at 1 year old, is able to “read” words. Her daughter can decode common words such as house, but when the letters are jumbled so as to form another word, she couldn’t read it any more. I now have a one year old daughter. She’s recommending that I expose my baby to it too. What is your opinion on this? on the exposure of children to screen media?
Sue, thanks for your comment. I'd like to do a post soon on children's teaching math to themselves, but so far I don't have a lot of material on it. Several readers have sent stories with some relevance to that topic, but I'd like to get more. -- One of the most common questions I get about Sudbury Valley is, "Why would anyone learn math if they don't have to?" -- That says something about the attitude toward math that our school system instills.
Have your child read aloud to you. You’ll be given a better idea of your child’s reading ability when they read out loud, and they’ll be forced to slow down their reading to correctly sound out words. Avoid stopping your child to correct them while reading though, as doing so can interrupt their train of thought and make comprehending what they’re reading more difficult.
My son is 3 and has 2 full shelves of books. Every time we go to a store he always wants to get another one! He knows his alphabet and can recognize about 1/3 of the letters. I really have been wanting to teach him more but I don’t want to push him and have him lose interest. Anytime he sees words he will say look mom, ABCs! He doesn’t know what it says or what the letters are but he gets very excited to see them! Do you have any tips on how to get them to recognize the letters? We tell him what the letters are and what they say when he asks but is there a more structured approach that works better for a 3 year old? I can tell he really wants to learn, I’m just not sure how to teach him! lol
Quite a few of the people who wrote to me expressed surprise at the sequence that their child went through in learning to read. Some learned to read quite exotic words, which never appear in the primers, well before they learned simpler words. Some, as I said, learned to write before they could read. Some seemed to be learning at a rapid rate and then they just stopped for a couple of years before progressing further. We adults can enjoy watching all of this as long as we remember that it isn't our responsibility to change it. We're just observers and sometimes tools that our children use for their own chosen ends.

Build up an archive of sight words. Certain words in the English vocabulary are spoken often, but don’t follow the typical phonics rules. These words are easier to memorize by shape association than by sound, and are therefore known as ‘sight words.’ Some sight words include ‘they,’ ‘she’, ‘an,’ ‘said,’ and ‘the.’ The complete list of sight words, called the Dolch list, can be found online and broken down into sections to work through.


I absolutely love this book- it's very easy to present and I was amazed how fast my boys (4, 5) were learning to read. However, as others have noted, it can be boring. To me, this is actually a bonus because I want my boys to learn that boring isn't bad and that sitting still is a skill just as much as reading. That being said, I try not to torture them since God created boys to romp around and physical activity makes information stick. We introduced the "hot lava" game for the individual word reading. The ground was hot lava and each sound was written on a safe "rock" (a piece of paper). They walked from rock to rock sounding out the word. When reading the slow way, they step from one sound to the next, if they're not sounding it out, they can't move- that helped with pausing. In the "fast way" they had to put their finger over their mouths while walking or jump from the beginning to the end. They started looking forward to it and after getting some more wiggles out, they were able to sit down to read the story.
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?"
Español: enseñar a un niño a leer, Português: Ensinar Seu Filho a Ler, Italiano: Insegnare a Leggere a Tuo Figlio, Deutsch: Deinem Kind das Lesen beibringen, Français: apprendre à lire à votre enfant, Nederlands: Je kind leren lezen, Русский: научить ребенка читать, Čeština: Jak naučit dítě číst, Bahasa Indonesia: Mengajari Anak Anda Membaca, العربية: تعليم طفلك القراءة
My other children have all learned between ages 5 and a 1/2 and 7. It's never been a painful process. When they get frustrated or tired, I back off. It's not my accomplishment, it's theirs. The emphasis the schools place on early reading can easily discourage kids who aren't ready. By the time they would have naturally picked up the skill, they already hate it. They've come to regard it as a slog and a bore and to regard themselves as stupid/slow. It's a shame we can't just let the kids be.
Teach your child rhymes. Rhyming teaches phonemic awareness and letter recognition, in addition to the most basic English words. Read nursery rhymes to your child, and then eventually make lists of easy-to-read rhymes such as mop, top, flop, pop, and cop. Your child will begin to see the patterns of sounds that are made when certain letters are combined - in this case, the sound ‘o-p’ makes.
When my sons were in middle school, they loved participating in the “Battle of the Books,” a nation-wide program to promote reading. Kids formed teams and read selected books that were high quality and age-appropriate. Then they competed against other teams at their school and other schools, answering questions about the books: characters, plot, symbolism, etc. The team and competition aspect motivated my boys to read, and they had a fun time doing it. I also read a couple of the books aloud to them. Because the books were chosen by a committee of professionals, I enjoyed reading them and discussing the important ideas they covered (immigration, bullying, discrimination) with my sons.
Many teachers do a little talk (or write a letter) to explain to parents the method(s) they're using to teach children to read. (If your child's teacher doesn't do this, ask them for some pointers.) The favoured method du jour is (some form of) Phonics – decoding words by sounding out all the different letter sounds they contain. Try to bear this in mind when listening to your child read at home: if they get stuck on the word “dog”, for example, it's probably more helpful to say, “Let's sound it out: d-o-g” than “It begins with d and sounds like frog”.
Sometimes, parents are told early teaching is harmful, but it isn’t true. You simply can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own children on the days they were each born! The “dangers of early teaching” has been a topic of study for more than 100 years, and no one has ever found any convincing evidence of harm. Moreover, there are hundreds of studies showing the benefits of reading to your children when they are young.
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.
Hi, This really is very interesting and informative. I have an 11 year old and he still struggling with reading. Right now I am paying a private school for him, “They claim they can teach him” But I am very concerned, he is an amazing kid and he is so smart, but when it comes to reading, even if someone mentions it, he gets very frustrated, he loves books, he would love to read like all the kids his age, I have hundreds of books at home, and I read to all my kids, I always try to promote this skill, to encourage them (specially him) I just don’t know how to help him, I feel like I am not doing a good job as a mom, just because I can’t make him learn as fast as he want to.
Although I don't consider myself to be strictly in the unschooling camp (my children have assigned pages in math and grammar workbooks and some assigned reading), I am a fierce advocate of waiting until a child is developmentally ready for whatever learning experience I have planned. You are not only beating a dead horse teaching an unready child to "blend" sounds or do long division; you are, as one person in your study pointed out, taking his pride in learning away from him. He never gets to own the experience.
I'm so appreciative of the work you're doing, Peter! When we first started on our unschooling path, I wanted to start a Sudbury school where we live - it seemed so *ideal* to me, and just made sense. But I soon found I'd rather spend the energy I would have spent on starting a school, by being with my boys and creating our unschooling life. That's one thing Sudbury can't do - help form stronger connections in families. All of the research I put into Sudbury, though, helped me *so much* in our earlier unschooling days, helped me have faith in the process of learning.

I have a 7 year old with autism. He is in public school autism class (first grade). When he was a toddler all he wanted to do was listen to books. Now I cannot sit him down. He literally fights me and my 3 year old (who is homeschooling) makes it harder because she gets jealous and throws fits during the time I try to make him sit down and look at a book. He is nowhere near reading now.


I didn't make him repeat stuff as much as the book said, unless he was having trouble with a particular word. I let him set the learning pace so that he didn't get bored or overly frustrated. Only made it to lesson 70-something where the lessons start to repeat but without the special writing to help you pronounce the words. But he is reading books himself no ...more

Students think of something that has happened to them personally, sketch a picture, and then write about it. They may start by just labeling the picture, or they may be writing several sentences. I sometimes draw lines for each of the words they tell me, so they can see where they should be writing (for example, if they say, “I went to the park.” I would draw __ _______ ____ _____ ________).

Start with the letter A, literally and figuratively. I know that seems simple, but a lot of people don’t really get this part as well as they think they do. I simply mean start at the beginning and don’t skip important foundational principles. I am realizing that many people don’t always recognize foundational principles because they are so ingrained in the way adults process information. For example, the difference in the way we say “bit” and “bite.” It really takes around 27 separate pieces of information to be able to correctly distinguish between those words — and we don’t even think about it. I did my best to write out every piece in a logical progression for you guys.
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.
Hi! I have a 5 and 4 month old daughter who is really interested in learning to read. She won’t start kindergarten until the fall as we are in CA. I love these steps and they help A LOT. I’m wondering if anyone can chime in with how much to put into this now and over the summer before she starts kinder. She seems ready. Would I look into a program like Pathways to Reading? Or just keep it simple and focus on basics? What about ABC mouse? She knows all her letters and most of the sounds (though she sometimes forgets) and seems to enjoy sounding out words together, but maybe only 2 or 3 before she gets bored. I’m in no rush, but she seems ready.

Sight words, also known as high-frequency words, are the most common words in our written language are are often difficult to decode phonetically because they don’t follow the rules of phonics.  Because of this, they must be memorized.  As I’ve shared with you before, I am not an advocate of rote memorization for optimal learning because I feel it only utilizes the lowest level of cognitive processes.  However, sight words must be memorized in order for your child to become a fluent reader.  There are a few popular lists of sight words that individual researchers have found beneficial, including the Dolche List and the Fry List.  Don’t get overwhelmed when looking at this list…just start working on a few sight words at a time when you feel your child is ready.

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