I believe that teaching children to read is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our kids. If a child can read, the entire world opens up. Reading ignites the imagination and allows kids to learn anything and everything they want about the world around them. Reading is the gateway to learning everything else.
I sent my first two kids to kindergarten. It was half-day and I felt that it was a good experience for them. When our elementary school changed to full-day kindergarten, which meant putting my five-year-old child on the bus at 6:40 am and having them come home at 3:30 pm, I decided all day was too long. At that point, I committed to teaching the rest of my kids to read at home before they entered school.
And that’s exactly what I did. I taught eight of my children to read. Most of them entered first grade reading two years above their grade level and couple of them read at a fifth grade level.
I also taught my youngest son, who has Down syndrome, to read. I had to do it differently because of his special needs, but he entered school being able to decode words and read sentences.
Read Books Together
The most important thing I did was read books with my kids. I started reading to them when they were babies. I added books all the time to my collection and now have shelves and shelves and shelves of children’s books (many of them I bought at the thrift store or garage sales).
I loved having my kids snuggle on my lap while I read them story after story. It was relaxing and bonding for me and for my kids.
Of course, some of my kids chose the same books over and over and over again. I admit, I ended up hiding some of the books I tired of reading. And I will also admit that I shortened many stories as I read them depending on how tired I was. But reading stories was a daily ritual and I believe it helped my kids find joy in reading.
I first began using The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding. I took a class on it and made my own notebook so I’d understand the concepts. In addition to the book, I also purchased the flashcards that go with the reading program. I used the book and the flashcards to teach my kids to read and I highly recommend this program.
One of my kids seemed to struggle with the Spalding method and reading in general, so I purchased the Hooked on Phonics program for him. I used both programs daily and he eventually grasped phonics. I believe that had I not spent time teaching him to read that he would’ve really struggled in school. He is now a member of the National Honor Society and loves to read.
My youngest son has Down syndrome. I wanted to teach him to read, so I began with the Spalding method. He didn’t respond the same way as my other kids to that method, so I tried the Hook on Phonics program that had helped his brother. Again, he didn’t respond. I refused to give up and ended up teaching him sight words first. After he learned sight words, I went back and taught him phonics and he picked that up.
I am a big believer in teaching kids phonics because phonics teaches them a foundation to build on.
There are lists on the internet of sight words that children should know at certain grade levels. I used the Dolch Sight Words found here. I made printables using these lists.
Sight words can be an effective supplement to phonics. I liked to use flashcards with photos or drawings so my kids could associate the words with images.
I also made my own list of frequently used words and phrases to supplement the Dolch list. There are some words that just don’t make sense when using phonics and sight word cards can help kids learn those words.
You can purchase flashcards. I purchased the Spalding flashcards because they have specific information on the back that helped me teach the letter sounds as well as the phonemes. But for simpler words, I made my own flashcards, and still do for my youngest son. I just bought index cards and a red Sharpie and printed a word on each card. I’d read that using a red marker, as opposed to black, helped kids read it better. I don’t know if that’s true, but I used red with my kids.
I’ve also used letter flashcards to make words and show my children how to spell. For example, I’d show them a “c” and “o” and a “w’ then put it together to spell “cow.” Once they mastered spelling words, I made word flashcards and showed them how to make sentences. For example, I’d show them “I” and “like” and “to” and “swim” to make the sentence, “I like to swim.”
Flashcards are so versatile. Many of my kids are kinesthetic learners, so letting them handle a letter or word card and make a word or sentence really helped them to learn.
When I read books with my kids, I would ask questions about the characters, the setting, and the events in the story to help them with their comprehension.
Asking questions like who, what, where, when, and how helps kids think more about the story.
Some of our favorite books are by Dr. Seuss. Anyone who’s read a Dr. Seuss book knows there are many made-up words and nonsensical situations. I would ask my kids questions about the funny words or what they thought was going to happen next. We’d talk about what the real words might be and if the story could ever actually happen. These books prompted some fun discussions.
The more questions I asked, the more my kids would think about the story. I found this to be an effective way to help them improve their reading skills.
You Can Teach Your Child to Read
I’m not a formal teacher with a degree. I’m a mom who wanted to teach my kids to read. If I can teach my kids to read, you can teach yours.
I wondered if my son with Down syndrome would be able to read. Even though he didn’t learn the same way as my other kids, he did learn. He is now a teenager and he uses the same tools I taught him to sound out and decode words. He has no problem reading difficult words. With him, it’s been more difficult to teach him comprehension, but we still work on that regularly.
After raising so many kids and teaching them to read, I believe that having a love of books and encouraging kids to read books (I loved to watch my toddlers “read” a book) will do more for their ability to read and improve their reading skills than anything else. Plus, there’s nothing better than snuggling with a child in your lap and reading a book.