Reading, the Early Years

by Katrina Fujisaka

The first big hurdle of homeschooling is teaching your precious child to read. When I started down that road I was terribly intimidated by the task. It is so important! EVERYTHING your child will do in life will depend on their ability to read the printed word. What if I messed it up and academically crippled my child forever? YIKES! I had to get this right.

Fortunately for all of us, kids' brains are wired for learning. I spent a few days actively observing my children and realized that they had an incredible ability to absorb information like a sponge. Time for a deep, cleansing breath. After all, I could read pretty well. What did I remember about learning to read? Not much. I remembered all of Dick and Jane's adventures from kindergarten. Mostly, however, I remember being read to.

My parents read to me. My Grandma read to me when we visited. My great aunt recorded herself reading books to us and sent the tape and a copy of the book to us for Christmas every year. I loved the sound of her gentle southern accent. She even rang a little hand bell on the tape to let us know when to turn the page.

Then there was my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. S was a large, terrifying woman. Her shoes squeaked as she walked, which was good because we appreciated the warning of her approach. However, my overall memory of her class is a very pleasant one, because she read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series to us that year. Every day after our lunch recess she read for half an hour. I raced in from the playground so I wouldn't miss a moment of that captivating world created for me by C.S. Lewis and Mrs. S.

It seems almost cliché to say that reading stories to your kids is the best way to teach reading...but it really is. From the youngest age kids can be taught that those funny marks on paper are really a transport to other worlds. From the comfort of the couch they can learn what happens when mice eat cookies, how heroic dogs saved an Alaskan village, or why foxes wear socks.

Reading aloud to your children is a natural motivator. These pages that you can translate for them are magic portals that can lead them anywhere they want to go. It's easy to get excited about teaching our kids how to access this wonderland of written words, but there are a few things we must keep in mind as we help our children through this initial and most important stage of their academic career.

First, keep it simple and fun. Read, read, read! As you read the words run your finger under them. Don't call attention to it or stop to try to teach the words or letters themselves. Just let your child's eye follow the flow of words with the cadence of your voice. Their brains will begin to recognize patterns quickly on their own.

Visit your local library and bring home books on tape for your children. It will give your voice a break and still allow them the joy of hearing the story and turning the pages to follow along. When my children were very little their Dad recorded himself reading their favorite bedtime stories so they could hear it over and over while he was deployed and away from home for months at a time. My teenage daughter STILL loves to hear The Big Hungry Bear as only her Daddy can tell it.

Then there is the ABC song. Start singing this song when your child is a newborn. Sing it in the car, sing as you make lunch. Have your kids sing it once through as they wash their hands throughout the day - the length of the song is the perfect amount of time for properly cleaning those little hands. I used to bounce my head back and forth with each letter in a way that made my pre-schoolers bust up laughing. Pretty soon we took turns on the letters, I sang one, and they sang the next, until they had it down. It took years before l-m-n-o-p was properly articulated, but that was a huge part of the fun.

After they could sing the alphabet well we started working on identifying the individual letters. We did ABC coloring books and posted the pages all over the house. We focused on one letter at a time. I wrote the letter on a plain index card, capitalized on one side and lower case on the other. Then we made the sound and tried to find as many things as we could that started with that letter.

My favorite way of occupying my little ones during Sacrament meeting at this stage of their lives was to hand them the program and a pencil, then ask them to circle all the A's, or whatever letter it was that we were studying at the time.

Then we started labeling the house. We had index cards on everything. The f-a-n, the p-a-n in the cupboard, the t-u-b in the bathroom. Once we had great fun trying to label the somewhat uncooperative c-a-t. Luckily our big d-o-g was happy allow us to label him as he snoozed on the floor.

Once we had the letter covered we moved to letter pairs that make unique sounds, all while practicing sounding things out.

If you are nervous about what to do when it is time to move beyond c-a-t and m-a-t, there are a tremendous number of reading programs available for purchase to assist you. I have used a good number of them and have some favorites that you may want to check out.

Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading by Susan Bauer (Peace Hill Press) is my favorite reading program. At $35 it is inexpensive, especially since one paperbound volume can be used to teach all of your children. It is totally scripted - meaning the book tells you as the instructor exactly what to say and what to have your child do.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegried Engelmann is another excellent resource. It uses the SRA DISTAR reading program, using a diasoltic alphabet system that some children respond extremely well too. The teaching method is backwords from what you would expect. The letter sounds are taught first - the names are not introduced until your child is an independent reader. It also is inexpensive and can be used for teaching multiple children.

Happy Phonics from Latter-Day Family Resources is an inexpensive collection of games that reinforce basic phonics rules. It is not a scripted reading program, but many of the games are wonderfully simple and fun. It is a handy way to help drill concepts as they are introduced.

Once your child has begun to decode words you can begin adding in my favorite reading resource....the Book of Mormon. Sit and read it with your child every day. Allow them to read the words they can and just gently read the words they cannot decode yet. Don't try to teach the technique, just give them the word and move on. It may seem counter-intuitive to jump to such complicated language, but I have experienced great success this way. One of my children was a late reader and took a very, very long time to learn the basic decoding rules. When we added in reading the Book of Mormon aloud daily, taking turns reading the verses, and within 4 months she had jumped 3 grade levels in reading.

I love reading...and I love sharing that love with my children. I am having a blast rediscovering (again) some of my favorite books as I help my youngest learn to read. It is such a wonderful journey to take together!