Who Wants to be a Reader?

Who Wants to be a Reader?


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All children want to become readers, eager to open wide an important door to independent learning. Children begin to differ, however, when it comes to the when, why, how, and what of reading. By being aware of and honoring these differences, parents can prepare the smoothest, most direct road to reading proficiency and a lifelong enjoyment of the skill. For a growing number of parents, hearing a child put together his first print sentence is thrilling, heartwarming, and easier than you may have imagined.

==== WHEN? ====

Your two month-old baby didn’t show any signs of possessing the preliminary skills necessary to tie his shoes, so you didn’t waste time and energy trying to teach him how. Instead, you patiently helped the little guy gain the necessary coordination and waited until he had a good chance to succeed before showing him how to tie. The same common sense applies to the “when” of teaching a child how to read, helping to develop, then watching for signs of readiness.

Anecdotal evidence from within the homeschooling community suggests the age of readiness, coupled with the very important desire to read, varies greatly, from three years-old to eleven years-old and beyond, but generally occurs between four and ten years of age. Learn the clues that children freely provide, and you’ll know when your child is getting ready to read.

Some Signs of Reading Readiness

  • Maintains phonemic awareness (knows the sounds that letters make)

  • Takes interest in the environment’s written words on street signs, cereal boxes, TV; in mail, flyers, books, etc.

  • Pretends to read

  • Looks at pictures and tells a story or repeats a known story in her own words

  • Can add the missing word to an incomplete sentence presented orally

  • Uses left to-right progression

  • Can pronounce own first and last names

  • Defines meaning of simple words

  • Prints name

==== WHY? ====

As an adult, you’d be hard pressed to spend hours learning something with no relevance to your life simply because someone tells you that you “must.” Why should we expect a different reaction from children?

Many who homeschooled as children and are now adults report they quickly learned how to read once they found good reasons to do so. For one, interest in the Indian artifacts he kept finding in his yard led him to want to know more. Knowing how to play a video game provided impetus for another. Yet another was spurred on by a desire for more stories than her parents could possibly find time to read aloud.

Helping your child find reasons to read is as important as the reading itself, so provide daily examples of the many motivations. Reading specialists recommend that you then talk with your child about why you are reading:

– To understand how to use your new computer (learning how-to)
– To know more about the earthquake (a way to get information and news)
– To discover how your friend is doing (personal communication)
– To see how the story ends (enjoyment)

==== HOW? ====

A “Reading War” has long raged between those who espouse phonics as the only road to reading and others who champion the whole language approach. If heeded, the results of two decades of research on the best way to learn how to read, funded by the National Institutes of Health, can end the war. Researchers discovered that the three important aspects of reading – identifying letters, identifying sounds associated with the letters, and reaching for meaning of the written word – are each accomplished by different parts of the brain. Here, then, is a three-part plan that incorporates this information to guide you as you help your child learn.
– Part 1: Phonemic awareness, or learning the individual sounds that constitute a language, for example, “buh” as the sound of “b”
– Part 2: Phonics, or the letter-sound relationships available in the language
– Part 3: Exposure to meaning of the written word through reading and being read to

Reading experts recommend using these elements as “building blocks,” each necessary to support the next. With phonemic awareness as the first block, a child can begin to puzzle out words in books. Add a helpful parent or sibling by his side and he’ll begin to ask questions, reaching the “phonics phase.” Now is the time to point out important clues, such as how letter sounds blend, how an “e” at the end of a word changes a vowel sound from short to long, how some consonants have more than one sound. Discuss lower and upper case letters. Point out the eighteen frequently used words best learned by sight. And through it all keep reading to your child to include exposure to meaning, the equally important Part 3.

10 Easy Ways to Get the Reading Ball Rolling

  • Read, read, read aloud to your child from books, but also mail, instruction booklets, grocery lists, etc. (and don’t stop even when your child can read independently!)

  • Take turns “drawing” a letter on each other’s back with your fingers, guess what it is, tell what sound it makes

  • Encourage hands-on play with magnetic letters and sponge letters in bath; sound out nonsense words your child creates with them

  • Trace letters with crayons or colored pencils, make letters from different types of paper

  • Play word games like Hangman, Junior Scrabble, Boggle, ABC Bingo, word searches, “What begins with ‘buh?’ Ends with ‘guh?'”

  • Write a single letter on Post-It notes and have your child place them everything beginning with that letter

  • Pick a “sight word of the day,” the have your child call it out each time you find it in a story

  • Leave interesting books around the house and car for your child to find and pick up

  • Provide a quiet period when you both go off to read alone

  • Get cozy! Snuggle under a quilt on the couch, read at night under a blanket with a flashlight, read in the morning in pajamas in bed

  • Then don’t be surprised if your child learns to read, seemingly by osmosis!

==== WHAT? ====

To maintain interest and encourage practice beyond any more formal lessons you may be providing, your child needs plenty of opportunity to read whatever captures her attention, be it comic books, Dr. Seuss, or the newspaper’s sports page. Get your child her very own library card and visit the library weekly, allowing her to choose her own books, supplemented by others you pick out. Make sure enough of them are at the appropriate reading level to ensure success and reduce frustration. Continue to read aloud the more difficult ones and progressively stretch her vocabulary.

Sustained practice allows your child to hone her reading skills, and your interest in what she independently reads provides encouragement. Ask what’s happening in the new story or what interesting facts she is gleaning from a nonfiction book. Not only will this allow you to gauge comprehension and answer questions she may have, it supplies warm approval and opportunity to share the fruits of her new-found skill.

Suggested Resources

Learning-to-read Favorites

Online Information and Tools


Eighteen Frequently Used Sight Words

the of was from any many could would should
one two says said some come there other people

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