I have been asked quite a lot over the last couple of years how I taught Ladybug to read. She’s quite a good reader and has typically been assessed at one to two grade levels higher than her age. While I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all way to teach reading (is that shocking coming from a homeschooler?), I thought I’d share a bit of my experiences with you.
First and foremost, I think you need to read to and with your kids. I mean from birth. I’ve always read to my kids – naptime, bedtime, quiet time…you name it. We read silly books; we read Bible stories; we read chapter books (like Magic Tree House); we read classic literature. And everything in between. We listen to books and stories on CD. We have developed a love of stories in our home. A love of reading has been a little more difficult. I’m not going to say that we’re there yet, either. But Ladybug is getting closer to it.
Back to reading skills, though. Ladybug went to preschool when she was three. She went in knowing her letters already. But her preschool used a phonics program that I really loved. It combined auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning so each child could (hopefully) find a way to connect. It’s called Zoo Phonics. Perhaps you’ve heard of it or even used it yourself. I liked it enough that I bought the CD of fonts to use in our homeschool.
The basic idea is that each letter is represented by an animal that starts with that letter (a – alligator, b – bear and so on) and is then shaped like the letter. The child is taught the sound and a motion to go with the animal.
For instance, the letter A is represented by an alligator who says the short a sound. The motion associated with the letter is A is holding your hands out, wrists together, to make the alligator’s snout and then opening/closing your hands as if it’s the alligator’s mouth.
If my child was going to have an apple for a snack, I might ask, “what letter does apple start with?”
Me: “Apple…a….a….a” while doing the hand motion for the alligator mouth.
Child: “Oh! A!”
You get the idea. It was great to be able to give various cues to my child to help her remember the letters and sounds whether we were reading or not.
Moving on from Zoo Phonics though, we struggled to find the right thing for Ladybug. We tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
I had heard stellar reviews from friends and read great things online. So I bought the book and we gave it a try. I think it’s a great approach to teaching reading for some kids. But for Ladybug, it wasn’t right. Sitting still with a book for 10-15 minutes, reading the sounds s l o w l y and then saying it fast while pointing to the sounds wasn’t interesting to her. Mostly the sitting still part (she may have been too young but I tend to think it was a personality thing). Many days she flat out refused to do it. After a couple of weeks of fighting, I decided we could find something more suited to her and put the book away. Again, I know lots of people who’ve used it successfully and, who knows, I may try it with Cookie when she’s older. But it didn’t suit Ladybug. And, as I have said before, that’s one of the things I love about homeschooling. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you can try something else. No harm. No foul.
We finally landed on the Bob Books.
It’s a terrific little series of phonics-based books that steps the child up one book at a time. Volume 1, Book 1 is simply called Mat. Aside from a couple of basic “sight” words like the and on, the only letters used are M, A, T, and S. The drawings are cute little shape people (Mat is a square, Sam is a triangle, and so on) which my kids love. Once they are able to master the first book on their own, they move on to book 2. The sight words aren’t challenging like you’ll find in many of the “I Can Read” type books out there. Nothing about the Bob books are scary. Sunshine just started on volume 2 of the Bob books and is doing pretty well. But she thinks that Bob books are the only ones she can read. She completely lacks confidence in trying anything else. That’s another issue altogether, though.
I’m not quite ready to do a full review on our latest curriculum choice for reading/spelling/grammar. But all indications so far are that it’s going to improve Ladybug’s spelling (she can read but not write very well) and Sunshine’s reading ability and confidence. If you want to jump ahead of me, the curriculum is called Logic of English (Essentials) and so far we absolutely love it. Check it out on your own, if you like, and in a few weeks I will have my full review.