Language Arts – Reading for Homeschool

Reading, writing, grammar and spelling; the building blocks of a great education. If a child can read fluently, he can learn anything. If he can write fluently, he can communicate anything. If he can learn and communicate, he can do anything.


How do you teach a child to read? One sound at a time. It may seem overwhelming, but kids have been learning to read for centuries! You can do this!

My all-time favorite reading program is Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I have used this program to teach nine children how to read (some of them weren’t mine). In 15 minutes per day, over the course of six or seven months,  you can take your non-reading child to a second grade level. It’s painless and even fun! The book begins with a few common sounds (m, s, a) along with rhyming exercises and games to help the child learn the mechanics of reading (sounding things out, reading left to right). The lessons progress quickly to reading words and short sentences, so the child really feels he’s accomplishing something. Each lesson includes a line drawing that relates to the sentence he’s read, and it’s a surprise. He can’t see the picture until he’s read the ‘story’.

You can begin teaching reading as soon as you feel your child is ready; usually between four and six, but don’t wait too long! It’s a rare child who will ask to be taught to read. If you start a young child on reading lessons and find he is very resistant or can’t keep the sounds in his mind from one day to the next, put it aside and try again in a month or so.

Once  you’ve complete 100 Easy Lessons (or a similar program), keep up the habit of reading every day for 15 – 20 minutes. Go to the library and check out the Easy Reader section, letting your child select books she finds interesting. Then go home, curl up on the couch and let her read to you. If she gets stuck on a word, tell her what it is. Remind her of the phonics rule if you know it; if not, just help her with the word. Heap on praise for effort and make it enjoyable. The idea is to establish early that reading is enjoyable.

Libraries utilize a system of numbering their young reader’s books from 1-4. Continue checking out books, slowly moving to more challenging books. Once your child is reading level 4 books fluently, move on to simple chapter books. My current first grader is enthralled with the Magic Tree House books. Some other favorites have been Geronimo Stilton, the Clementine books, Ramona, Amelia Bedelia, Nate the Great, The Boxcar Children and The Magic School Bus books. The American Girl Doll company also has a series of books for early elementary students.

As you child’s fluency level increases, continue feeding him new books at ever higher levels. Your children’s librarian can suggest titles for you, but you may want to specify that you’d prefer classics. Some of today’s popular books for kids are little more than trash. I have several sources for finding good books. Amy Lynn Andrew’s Living Books List is a good, if overwhelming. You’ll want to look carefully at the books she lists – she has both Winnie the Pooh and Last of the Mohicans as intermediate chapter books. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is a fantastic resource. One of my favorite things is to go to the Ambleside Online curriculum page and check their free reading and literature lists for each grade. The specific titles are less important than offering your children a steady stream of beautiful ideas and good books.

How do I know if my child is reading at the right level? How do I know she’s progressing properly? Try not to worry. The key is to make reading a habit, to make it an integral, life-giving part of your day. As long as you see progress, you’re probably doing just fine. If your child enjoys reading and continues to move to more challenging books, you’re doing it right.

If you have real concerns about delays or learning disabilities, see a professional. I know that we want to believe that homeschooling will solve all our issues, from bullying to ADD, but there are circumstances in which a child needs help we can’t give. It doesn’t make you a failure or a bad teacher to your child if she needs extra help. And if it turns out to be nothing, you’ll be more confident going forward.

Along with 15-20 minutes per day of reading instruction and practice, you’ll want to spend at least that much time reading to your kids. Select books from the above resources that are above their reading level – just because they can’t read them alone doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy them. Exposing them to great literature fills their minds with complex language and sentence structure, the pace and structure of plot, the idea of character and setting, and, most important, ideas! Great ideas are communicated through good books.

I read aloud every day to my kids, even though my oldest homeschooler is 12. I love to select great literature from whatever time period we’re studying, but we’ll also read favorites like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or The Hobbit. We all have wonderful memories of curling up together with hot chocolate and reading.

What about reading comprehension? 

Ask. Ask him to tell you about the book he’s reading. Chances are good you’ll be hard pressed to get him to stop, but if he has trouble, ask specific questions to get him started. Who was in the story? What did she do? Where did she go? What happened next? This is called narration, and it’s an invaluable tool in teaching kids to engage with what they’re reading. Narrating requires them to pay attention, remember what they’re hearing or reading, create sentences out of the details they’ve remembered, and express those sentences correctly.

In first grade, you’ll ask your child to tell you about the story, and you’ll write it down for him. Then let him read it back to you, if he’s able. Eventually he’ll be writing his own narrations, using the spelling, grammar and punctuation skills he’ll learn. If you reach a point of burn out with narrating, have him act out a story or draw a picture of it. These activities also engage him in the story.

Twenty to sixty minutes of free reading and twenty minutes of reading aloud, in addition the science, history and geography reading you’ll be doing (we’ll get to that) sounds like a lot – and it is. A classical education is built on books.

What if I don’t like 100 Easy Lessons?

Explode the Code is a series of phonics books that are very popular among homeschoolers.

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading  is another great resource.

I’ve used Hooked on Phonics, but found it to be ineffective and cumbersome. They drill with rhyming words, but once the child learns that all the words on the line rhyme, they’re no longer reading, they’re rhyming. The sticker charts and reward systems seem fun, but end up being a lot of work and I haven’t found that kids need rewards – knowing how to read is a reward in itself. Plus, I prefer chocolate chips to stickers if I’m going to give them something. I do, however, like the games available on their website. Very fun.

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