Dot, dot, dash.
Do you know what those symbols mean?!
According to this reading assessment test, "dot, dot, dash" means that my daughter Norah is reading on a 2nd Grade - Intermediate reading level! She's only five years old! So, I am shocked! I knew our phonics was "working," but I had no idea it was working so well. I expected her to be "ahead," but I thought she'd be K- Advanced or maybe 1st Grade- Intermediate. I never expected her to be 2nd Grade- Intermediate!
So, with these results fresh in my mind (and heart), I feel much more confident about passing along my advice and experience. By doing so, I hope to inspire and help other mom's like me, with limited experience teaching children to read, to feel more confident in their ability to start this journey.
First, I'd like to say that it is really, very simple. (That is, assuming your child does not have some very unique need that would totally void the advice I give you and make it completely useless. If that's the case, I would seek out other parents and professionals who have more experience with kids that require a more customized approach.)
But, in general, the advice below follows a very natural pattern, #1-#5, that most children follow when learning to read. And, I say it was "easy" because, I followed no fancy program or formal curriculum. In fact, up until this year, Norah only used one book to learn to read, Abeka's Handbook for Reading. Also note that I started this process when Norah was still a baby. But, if your kids are older than that, even if they are much older, you can just start the same process with them right now and move from steps #1 to #5 as quickly (and naturally) as they will go.
I say I only used on book, and that's true, but if I am being honest and technical and if I go back to the very beginning, I actually started "teaching" Norah to read a long, long time before I called it "teaching" or before we called it "home school" or before we even had her one phonics textbook. This journey started, like it does for every kid, when she began to (#1) identify her letters.
Norah was about a year old when we started holding up her baby blocks, as we were playing on the floor with her. We'd point to the letters on them and say things like, "This is a Q. *Q says 'Qu' in 'Queen.' There's a queen inside the block. Do you see the queen?"A few months after that, after we'd "played" like this long enough, we could ask her to "Give me the letter T, please." and she'd pick up the correct block, the one with the train inside, and pass it over to us. The blocks we used (seen in the photo above) only had capital letters on them. We still have these blocks, actually, and we are starting these same reading "lessons" all over again with our second daughter who is fourteen months right now.
*Phonics teaches that Q says 'Qu' not just 'Q' because Q is almost always found with 'u.'
Sometime after my first daughter learned all her capital letters from the blocks, I bought these alphabet flash cards that included upper and lower case letters this time, realizing, after-the-fact, that she needed to be able to identify both. I'd hold up a card and Norah would tell me what the letter was... or I'd tell her, if she didn't know. She started to recognize the "baby" letters, too, with practice. We'd go through half this deck or even less before she'd grow tired of the "game." We'd start again where we left off the next time we "played." No pressure. She was still so young. What we were doing was supposed to be fun, so anytime it got boring to her, we just moved on.
When Norah started playing simple board games like Candyland, meaning she was able to take turns and follow rules, etc... I picked up a set of Alphabet Go-Fish cards. This was a long time before Norah could even hold a hand full of cards, so I adapted "Go Fish" to her and let her lie her cards out on the floor in front of her. I'd ask, "Do you have a T?" even though I could easily see every single card she had. That wasn't the important part anyway. The important part was that when it was her turn to ask for a card, she had to first, determine which cards she already had and second, ask for what she needed to make a match. This game took the knowledge she had and really empowered her to identify letters without my constant guidance and apart from the more rigid, drill-like structure of flash cards and blocks.
We started with the inside cover. Norah knew the letters and could name all the pictures next to them already, so she could move very naturally on to the next step, which was (#2) learning each letter's sound.
I taught her how to "sing" the chart above. We'd say, "a (while pointing to the letter a) says 'a' in 'apple... b (while pointing to b) says 'b' in bell..." When we were finished, I'd ask things like, "What does 'a' say?" And she'd tell me, "a says 'a' in apple." If she didn't remember what sound a letter made, I'd just tell her the answer. Again, no pressure.
After she had mastered that first chart (which took months), we moved on to the first page of the book (#3) short vowels. We stayed with short vowels for a long, long time. Six months, maybe? Maybe more. After we learned the actual sounds, they were blended into words that she had to read, then short sentences made with those words, etc. We'd move forward until she showed signs of weakness, then we'd go back to the material she seemed to need reviewed and then move forward from there.
Eventually, Norah was ready to move to the next step, words with (#4) long vowels. We stayed in long vowels for a long time, too, moving ahead as she was comfortable, going back and starting forward again as she showed signs of needing review.
Along the way, her handbook would introduce "sight words." I told Norah that these words "Didn't follow the rules." That was a little confusing at first, but with practice, she started identifying these words, just as their nickname suggests, by sight.
From words with long vowels, we moved on to the last step, words with (#5) "special sounds." And, since then, that's all we've been doing. For almost two years now, we've been moving through the book at Norah's pace, learning and practicing chart after chart, page after page, story after story with more and more and still more of these "special sounds."
At this point, Norah has almost worked through the entire handbook. After we complete it, I think we will go back through it at least one or even two more times.
Up until a few months ago, I felt like Norah got enough practice just reading within her handbook. She never expressed a desire to read books outside of that. Of course, she wanted me to read to her and I did, all the time. But, even when she picked up something very easy, like Dr. Suess, she insisted that I read it to her. And, I always felt like one page in her handbook was plenty of work for a kid her age. If I ever got the feeling that she was bored with the handbook or needed a change, we'd pull down a box of Bob's Books and she'd read through those, but they were always so easy compared to what we were reading in her handbook, which presented a problem. I knew we would eventually need readers that matched Norah's level exactly, but I didn't buy anything at this point because, first of all, I wasn't sure Norah was ready to add more reading to what she was already doing. And, second, and probably more important, for a long time, I didn't have a lot of extra money to devote to readers.
Recently, though, Norah started doing more reading on her own. She'd shout words off signs, magazines and televisions, pick up picture books and sound out the words, she'd also trying to sound out, spell and write words on her drawing paper, showing those real signs that she wants to do more. So, following that lead, I've added another reader to our daily routine. Norah does a new page in her handbook, like always, but now she will also read through a story or poem from one of her readers.
Here's an interesting side note: the "signs" I mentioned above are, for most parents and professional teachers, the signal to start the process of teaching a child to read. And, so that's when they (start with step #1 and) introduce the alphabet to the child and then (step #2) move on to the letter sounds, etc.
I, obviously, feel like it's just fine to go ahead and equip a child with as much information as possible while they are still happy to please and while they do not resist the "work" of learning to read. That way, when their natural curiosity takes over, just like it's taking over in my daughter, the child is already past the "work" of it and is rewarded with the ability to go ahead and read for herself.
However, I don't think it matters much if you do wait, except to say, that it might actually be harder to teach an older child to sit and discipline their minds to learn these things. I've tutored a handful of children older than my daughter in phonics (third and forth grade students back when I was a classroom teacher) and it is painful to have to force these older kids to sit and do "work" because it's "time for them to learn this!!!" when they've never been taught to sit and be still and concentrate in order to do anything like it before.
Right now, Norah's working through Abeka's The Bridge Book in addition to her handbook. This photo shows the section she will do on her next "school day." This book is right smack dab in the middle of Abeka's 1st grade reading list. I did purchase all the other first grade books, too, but a little too late... The readers that come before this one on the list are too easy for Norah, so we had just shelve those for Avril when she is ready to read them.
After Norah finishes The Bridge Book, she will progress through the rest of their more advanced first grade readers, seen in one of the photos above, until she's done with them. From there, she'll move on to even more advanced readers. I am currently looking into Sonlight's readers for second grade, second intermediate and second advanced and the list of Abeka's second grade readers.
I've always avoided spending money on home school books, as you may have been able to gather from my lack of supplies, until I knew we really needed them. I've seen far too many families go into debt over-buying books and materials they never even end up using. But, I am happy to say that I think it's time to bite the bullet and fill our shelves with books Norah that can (and definitely will) pull down and get lost in on her own.