Perhaps the most traumatic event for home schooling parents is teaching a child to read. It is traumatic not because it’s hard to do, but because we tend to believe that our child will be ruined forever if we use the wrong reading program. Reading is such an important issue, and choosing a reading program is such an emotionally charged topic, let’s examine both the subject of reading and the types of phonics programs available.
What do we want to communicate to our children about reading?
There are four main concepts we want to communicate about reading: (1) Written words have value because they are a vital communication tool; (2) Written words can be personally enjoyable; (3) Written words increase understanding and power over the world; and (4) Reading is something most people can easily learn to do. Parents communicate these concepts through:
Having a print rich environment. This simply means our house is full of good things to read. Cradles of Eminence studied common factors in the childhoods of 400 eminent men and women and concluded: “A rule of thumb for predicting success is to know the number of books in the home.”
Reading aloud to the child from an early age, pointing out simple words, running a finger from left to right under the lines of print, and encouraging the child that soon he will be able to read these books himself. Letting the child see you read. Children take their cues about what is worthwhile from their parents. If the parents seldom read, the children assume reading is not a valuable activity. Boys need to see their fathers read.
Letting the child see you attach value to books. This not only means that you have your own library of personal “treasures,” but it also means that the child sees you go to books for answers to questions you have.
Do we need a reading program?
Yes and No. Many children seem to learn to read all by themselves, but others need guidance. Those who need to be taught to read will tend to fall into three categories: (1) easy readers who only need a minimum of instruction; (2) children who need a good, “no frills” phonics program, and (3) children who need a program with lots of reinforcement.
Choosing a reading program
A child’s first experiences with reading will set a tone of like or dislike of books (and of learning) for years to come. For that reason parents need to be very careful about introducing reading. There are three factors to a good first reading experience: readiness, learning style, and the teacher’s attitude.
Readiness is a crucial factor in a child’s ability to learn and in his attitude toward learning.
Readiness means that the child is mentally and emotionally capable of assimilating the information presented; he/she has enough life experiences for the information to be meaningful; and he/she has minimal frustration in acquiring the skill or performing the required tasks. The two subject areas in which a child’s readiness is most often violated are language arts and math.
Because we home schooling parents are subject to peer pressure and because most states require testing, we tend to push our children in reading, writing, and math. The result is frustrated children and frustrated parents. Our boys learned to read at ages 6, 8, and almost 10 respectively. As adults, they are avid readers.
The best kind of learning has four ingredients: (1) maturity (the physical, mental, and emotional ability to process the information or perform the assigned task); (2) experience (enough general knowledge about the subject to provide a base on which further knowledge can be added); (3) a desire to learn (a receptivity to the information); and (4) a system (an effective way of presenting the information). How do we apply the four ingredients of successful learning to teaching the skill of reading?
The maturity necessary for reading involves being able to hear language distinctly and distinguish between letter sounds. It also requires the visual acuity to focus on a printed page without eyestrain or visual confusion. The experience necessary to reading involves understanding that letters stand for sounds and that groups of letters “say” something. Children routinely make these connections by themselves and begin asking “What does that say?” Next comes the desire to learn. Most children begin wanting to know how to read sometime before age 8. Once they really want to read they can learn at an astonishing rate. Some even teach themselves. The final component of meaningful learning is a system such as a good phonics program.
Some children learn best by hearing, some by seeing, and some by doing. Reading is by nature a visual activity, but it helps some children to have songs, or “hands‑on” activities.
A teacher=s attitude has a powerful effect on the student’s success. A child learning to read should not have to deal with feelings of inadequacy, being compared to others, or a teacher whose ego is wrapped up in the student’s ability to read. Remember, your goal is not just to produce a reader your goal is to produce a reader who enjoys reading and learning.