Friday, May 9, 2008

Learning to Read

When I post about homeschooling, I rarely have seasoned advice. I just share where we are at, what new things we're trying, our plans for the future, and whatever else comes to me. I don't usually post about where we've been because I'm trying to keep up with where we're going.

I've been focusing on Levi's education as he is my only son of 'school age.' I remember being so excited about getting started when he was Luke's age! Everything is new with Levi. I didn't want you all to think, though, that Luke is getting short-changed. Grin. Admittedly, the atmosphere in our home is quite different than it was for Levi at almost four, but that isn't a bad thing.

Luke has been exposed to so much more, and in a more relaxed manner, than Levi had been by the age of four. I let him join us when he feels like it and play when his attention wanders. What has surprised me, though, is his eagerness to 'do lessons.' He is less verbal and has less attention span for literature, but he desires a large amount of one-on-one time for projects. Apparently, lessons count as special mom-time.

Not that I am seasoned by any stretch of the imagination, but as a mom with boys at the beginning, middle, and end of the process, I thought I'd share with you how we approach learning to read. On my educational priority list, reading skills and a general love of learning are at the top.

The following instructional ideas should be used along with a great deal of reading aloud by a parent, and children should have quiet times with a selection of quality books available for them to look through (and read) on their own. Both of these help nurture a love of reading. Be sure your children see you reading on your own as well!

Around age 1:
All three of my boys have loved the picture book Museum ABC. This book satisfies both of my priorities. It is beautiful and inspiring, the boys enjoy it, and they've all learned their letters easily. One of my favorite things about the book is that each letter is very large and clearly printed on its own page.

We read this book at nap time or bed time. All 3 boys have requested it. Certainly nothing was being forced down their throats. Grin.

My best tip for reading this book (or any alphabet book) is to emphasize the letter sounds (remember to use short vowel sounds such as those used in cat, set, pig, pot, and mug). I simply say 'A says a, a, a, apple.' (Sometimes I only say the sound, particularly when the 1 year-old is rapidly turning pages.)

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art is also a great choice, as it features both upper-case and lower-case letters.

Letters learned. That's all there is to it.

Ages 2-3:

Levi learned his letter sounds after watching the Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD just a handful of times. (I didn't use the above tip with him...learned that the hard way.) Both Levi and Luke have loved this DVD. It also shows the lowercase letters but not prominently. (I wish I could find a really great children's book with both uppercase and lowercase letters. Any suggestions? ETA: I added a book selection above.)

This is a painless, fast way to learn letter sounds. Really.

The second DVD, Talking Words Factory, shows the child how to put three or four letters together to make words.

Around age 4 or later:

I started using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading with Levi soon after he turned 4. Luke begged for lessons at 3 1/2. You could easily begin this book between the ages of three and five.

We were able to skip the first 26 lessons since the boys had already learned their letter sounds, although we spent a short amount of time making sure they could recognize the lowercase letters. Section 3, Short Vowel Words, and Section 4, Two-Consonant Blends went quickly and smoothly since the boys had already been introduced to the concepts through the Word Factory DVD.

Levi surprisingly struggled with wanting to do his reading lessons. I knew he could do it, but I think he was feeling uninspired. The sentences and stories were particularly tough for him to concentrate on even if I used a blank card to cover up the words below and my finger to cover up the words ahead. There was just too much print on each page and too little for his imagination. I ended up taking a break with him and just used sight words flash cards and beginning readers.

I highly recommend the Now I'm Reading beginning readers by Nora Gaydos. Both of my boys have been completely entertained by them and, more importantly, became happy and confident readers because of them. Unlike Dr. Seuss books or I Can Read type books (which we've used later in the game), these readers begin with three letter, short vowel words. If a child knows his letter sounds, it doesn't take much until they are able to read a whole book. That is a huge accomplishment!Bob Books are often recommended, as well. I have a hard time getting past the quirky, childish drawings, but they are great for supplementing the Nora Gaydos books (which have colorful and entertaining illustrations). They might be a great choice for a child easily distracted by pictures. In particular, I would recommend getting sets 3 and 4 to use between levels 1 and 2 of the Nora Gaydos readers.

I strongly believe in phonics instruction, but there is certainly a place for learning sight words. I bought an inexpensive set of sight words flash cards and used them with Levi, but it it simple to make your own on index cards. Write down words as you come across them in the beginning readers or find lists online like these wonderful printables. Levi loved jumping on his mini trampoline while I flashed the cards at him. They had very bold words with a red border on the cards. He didn't get distracted by all the other words on a page.

Another recommendation of mine is the show Between the Lions on PBS. It is phonics and literature based. Both boys have picked up a generous amount of reading instruction during their short television watching times. Also check your library for the show on video. I know our library carries them.

We always make it back to The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (OPGTR) because it is a systematic and thorough instruction manual that will take a parent and child from beginning letter sounds all the way up to words at a fourth grade level. I like having this book to keep me going in the right direction and to fill in gaps and lessons that are missing from just using the beginning readers.

I've learned to be really relaxed with Luke. We actually started with letter magnets (we use these) and beginning readers when I realized he could already read simple words. We now learn the lessons in OPGTR and read the words, but he can choose whether or not he wants to do the sentences or story. He rarely reads them, but cheerfully reads his beginning readers. We go as long as his attention span allows, and I don't force it past that point. Things seem to be going much more smoothly at this stage than with Levi.


When Levi was ready to transition to something beyond the simple beginning readers, I had a hard time finding level 1 books that I liked and other 'real' books (quality picture books, for example) were still too difficult. Here are a few that I've found that I can recommend.

Johnny Appleseed was the first level 1 reader that Levi enjoyed:

Mister Bones is perfect for the dinosaur enthusiast:
The Mighty Mississippi is one of at least six in a series of Wonders of America. They are all level 1. Titles include The Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and others.
Wind is one of a series of four books about weather.

If you buy no other level 1 reader, be sure not to miss Little Bear. It is simple, heartwarming, and timeless. There are several books in the series. These are what I would call real books.

I'll continue my recommendations beyond level 1 readers in another post.


HopiQ said...

What a wonderful post! I know what you mean about posting what we are up to. :) We're just trying to keep up with today. And it is true that the oldest has a different experience than the others. I recognize some of your recommendations and will have to check out the rest. Little Bear is wonderful

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Great post! I also loved the Leapfrog videos. Oh, and I wanted to tell you that I sent my new great-nephew (and his parents) the Museum ABC and 123 books recently when he was born! Thanks for the suggestion!

Kindra-At Home With K said...

I just love your blog! My 4 year started reading when he just turned 3. He is now reading "2nd grade" level...whatever that means. :) So I can relate to having a reader at home. We have read some of your books on your list here. I would like to get the ABC book you have listed for my 11 month old, who has no "interest" in books what so ever. :) It's funny how "different" your children can be. Have a great mother's day!

Unknown said...

Great post. We love "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" at our house. I have 3 great readers courtesy of that 1 book.

Heidi said...

hopiq~ Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Glad you can relate. :)

SmallWorld~ I hope they enjoy the books! They're keepers around here. :)

Kindra~ It *is* interesting to see how the kids are different. Luke (my almost 4 yo) is actually the boy who was least interested in books as a baby and toddler. That is why it came as a huge surprise when he started reading so early, and without any sort of struggle. Weird. Who knows what #3 will be like when he gets to that age! Oh, and I would suggest getting the ABC book. Levi and Leif enjoyed it around 11 months and older, but Luke started enjoying it a bit later. It isn't a 'baby' book and will be appropriate for any age.

toomanyhats~ I've heard great things about 100 Easy Lessons. I would have used it if OPGTR hadn't been published. My sister and best friend are both using 100EL and liking it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this, Heidi! I've been looking for advice about what to get for teaching reading. Like you, my biggest educational goal for my 3-yr-old w/ future homeschooling is a love of reading. She loves looking at letters and making the sounds, so I want to start her on something soon (and still make it fun). I'm bookmarking this page for future reference. I really appreciate this!

Torey said...

Just curious, so how old are the boys right now and at what level are they reading? Our daughter is almost 5.5 and we bought her the Hooked on Phonics series when she was almost 5. She has known her letters since age 2 and sounds since age 3, however she doesn't seem to be progressing all that quickly with reading. She will read the books with us and sound things out, but she doesn't take an active interest. I can't tell if we should be trying harder to interest her with different materials and such, or back off and just let her do things at her pace. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Torey said...

Okay, so I figured out from another post that Levi is 6 (which is almost exactly a year older than my daughter), but from that picture it looks like he is really reading an advanced book. I can't really imagine her being in that spot a year from now. I guess I just need to take some different approaches to reading. Maybe ordering the books you suggested would be the way to go.

Heidi said...

Torey~ I'll try to answer as best I can! Levi didn't enjoy the learning to read process much. We backed off for a little while because I didn't want it to be a battle. He's very imaginative and loves interesting books with great vocabulary. Seems 'the fat cat sat on the mat' just didn't do it for him. :) I will say that he was reading level 1 readers 8 or 9 months ago (at 5 yrs 8 mo). He is now reading at about a fourth grade level. Once he was able to read 'real' books he just took off. He has great verbal skills, vocabulary, and a love of stories so that has helped him out a bunch. It was just the tedious skill building at the beginning that was tough.

I will also say that different kids have totally different learning rates. Some kids aren't ready to read until age 7 or later, some kids are ready at 3, but you can sure facilitate the learning as they are ready for it! I would suggest getting some good beginning readers (like the Nora Gaydos ones I recommended) but not to stress out about it. There is a good chance your daughter's reading will really take off at some point and you'll be amazed. :)

My second son turns four this month. He completely surprised me by starting to read several months ago. He is reading short vowel words easily and starting to read long vowels. I suspect that his learning will be a bit more steady, though, and not take off in the same way as his brother's. But who knows. :)

My third son is 20 months old and loves to do his letter sounds (as best he can... N sounds like M, C and K sound more like T, that sort of thing). He might learn to read at 2 or 9. I think it is fun to see them all develop differently!

Hope something I've said helps. If not, ignore me. :)

Busy Little Quilter said...

Heidi, You mentioned something about basic sight words. There is a list of basic sight words (Dolch) that you can find here:

I would write them on flash cards then hold them up to see which words your child knows already. If they don't recognize the word right away (maybe 2 seconds) then it isn't a sight word.

Whatever words they don't recogzine you can play all sorts of games with them making it fun for them to learn.

I hope this helps.

Busy Little Quilter said...


I was re-reading my comment and I see where I wrote something wrong. I said "If they don't recognize the word right away then it isn't a sight word." lol It's still a sight word, it's just one they don't recogzine as soon as they see it! lol For the ones they don't recognize right away, you make up little games so they can learn them. :)

Heidi said...

Amanda~ I understood what you meant. :) Yep. The printables I linked are Dolch words. I've used the flashcards both ways. If the word is phonetic (or uses phonics rules we've already covered) I might use it for sounding out a single word without distractions. A little bit later I've used the cards to increase speed, making sure the kiddo knows the word by sight rather than sounding out. It really helps to have those words in their tool box when it comes to reading regular books! Thanks for the comments!

Jennifer said...

Heidi, I am excited to learn about the Nora Gaydos books!... we too felt pretty blah about the bob books.

The only book I have found that focuses on lower case along with the upper case is Curious George Learns the Alphabet. The boys love it. I find it to be a bit long for an alphabet book... maybe I have just read it too many times. : )

Torey said...

Hey Heidi,
Thanks for the advice. And thanks for finding my blog and letting me know that you replied to my comment. I'm thinking that maybe my daughter just needs to plod through the basics some more before her reading will really take off. So I'm glad to hear that I'm really not doing anything wrong! I really enjoy your blog (I found you through Today's Creative Blog) and am planning on starting homeschooling in earnest this fall. Thanks again for all your interesting posts. -Torey

Anonymous said...

One of our favorite letter books that has both capital and lower case letters (and words)in it is Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. All 3 of our kids have loved reading it and the pictures. It has each letter in the upper corner in upper and lower case and then each word is written in upper and lower case so the children can see how they are next to each other. It also has a lot of different fruits and vegetables that we love and eat, but don't find in a lot of books.

Heidi said...

Kelsey~ Thank you so much for that recommendation. It looks perfect. I've added it to my cart at Amazon. :)

our little acorns said...

Have you seen the Dr Seuss ABC? My boys LOVE it...and I never tire of reading it...and it shows both upper- and lower-case letters!

BabyPop said...

I have enjoyed your blogg.

My son is a begging reader. I have struggled to find books that are harder then a picture book but not as difficult as ABC Mysteries (which my son has a hard time getting trough 2 pages with out being exhausted). My search was on a chapter book series that uses alot of sight words with some pictures so he has easy success, to build confidence. A boyish book series, so he will want to read about the characters more. I found it at a fishing supply store and can't recommend it enough to everyone that is trying to light a fire in a boy with reading. Buck Wilders Adventures by Mackinac Island Press.

The stories are about a guy who lives in the woods and is animal friends. The first book I found was "Who Stole the Animal's Poop.", my son read the whole book to me and got almost every word. Once he finished the 1st book he immediately look for the next one I purchased in the series “Worker Bees go on Strike”. I purchased the rest of the series on line from the publisher on line. If you get a chance get these books.

Heidi said...

Sherry~ Thanks for the recommendation! Those books sound like they would really capture the attention of boys.

Precision Quality Laser said...

Thanks for the recommendations!

We are still learning to read over here...even though my oldest will be seven in September. Sigh. All I can say is that his mother (me) didn't learn to read until she was seven. And now I am a voracious reader. Still it is hard not to feel the pressure of academics.

Jenny said...

Thank you so much for the Letter Factory tip. My 5 yo son loves it! He and my 3yo daughter watch it in the morning while I get the older kids settled for school, before I start with the younger ones.

Anonymous said...

This is great Heidi. Thank you for this. We are fairly relaxed with our children and our first learned to read early with 100 easy lessons. The other two, not so much. I am finding I need more help in getting them reading. I'm going to look into The Ordinary Parent's Guide. I hadn't heard of that yet - thanks.

Renee @ FIMBY

Jenny said...

I love this page! I had written a very similiar page on my blog about a month ago, and it's funny that we both have those Leap Frog videos on there. Aren't they great? Of course, your photographs are about 1,000 times nicer than mine...

Unknown said...

LoL It looks like we use similar resources! When it comes to the BOB books we love it. I can't really speak for the first couple of beginner sets, but the 1st grade (Sight words) & up have been perfect for my younger 3.