I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

What You Should Know About Teaching Reading

What You Should Know About Teaching Reading

Written by Jessica.

When I was a classroom teacher, I always had a group of students in my class each year that were significantly behind in reading. In the traditional school system, if you are behind in reading in fourth grade it's difficult to catch up. By then, reading is required for every other subject. My students who struggled in reading didn’t just struggle in reading, they struggled in everything. Conversely, my students who excelled in reading excelled in other subjects as well.

Reading is the cornerstone for so much of learning.

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What You Should Know About Teaching Reading

Today, as a homeschooling mom, I apply what I saw working and not working in reading instruction in the classroom to how I approach reading with my own children. Every family is different, every child is different, but here are some practices that have worked for me and mine:

The Little Years

Create a language and literature-rich environment

Much of what prepares children to be ready to read should happen well before they are of school age. Marie Rippel, of All About Learning Press, calls these The Big Five Skills.

From board books to pictures books to beautiful hardcover books, fill your home with print. Make books, letters, sounds, word play, and language a part of your every day. Infancy and toddlerhood are not too soon to begin preparing children for reading; in fact, that’s when it should begin.

You can solidify this foundation during the preschool years with a more targeted focus on letter recognition and sounds. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a DIY approach to letters and their sounds, a pre-reading program can help.

Emerging Readers

Remember that what’s true for one child isn’t true for all

The learning-to-read window for most children is between preschool and second grade. Many gifted and talented readers learn to read fluently at preschool age, while other are still sounding out beginner words in second grade. The vast majority of children begin to read in kindergarten and first grade. Try not to compare your child to others, even among your own children, and be mindful not too push too hard or to hold back. Every child should learn to read when ready.

Choose an excellent learn-to-read program

Without any reservation, All About Reading has been the very best curriculum choice that I've ever made. It uses a phonics-based, Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading, is extremely user-friendly, and is meticulously designed down to the last detail. I could not imagine anything better or ask for anything more in a reading program.

Despite my background in education, a program like this was new to me and was not being used in the schools in which I taught. Students were not mastering basics, were falling through the cracks, and were then being moved onto the next grade already behind. A mastery-based, learn-to-read program like AAR provides a strong beginning that can help any child avoid "behind." (AAR can also be used with older children who are struggling readers and students who have special learning needs).

Whether you choose AAR or something else, an excellent learn-to-read program is worth every bit of your investment of time and money.

Know that you’re going to have to work hard alongside your child

Unless you have a significantly gifted and talented reader, anticipate doing some hard work for a while alongside your child to help him/her become an independent reader. There is no such thing as a learn-to-read program that you hand to your child and then go about your business. There will be many years in the future when your child can learn to work independently in various subjects, but the early years of preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school are not that time.

Helping your child learn to read is work. It takes a lot of patience and time. Listening to a new reader painfully sound out words and labor through the simplest of stories can make you feel like you're going bonkers sometimes. Know that it’s worth it. See the beauty and excitement in it and treasure the time with your little, or not so little, emerging reader. Learning to read gives a person the world. What a gift to help your child learn to read and to witness their growth!

What You Should Know About Teaching Reading

Independent Readers

Focus on learning to love books and reading

Once your child has made the leap from learning how to read to being able to read independently, let the emphasis stay on books and on the pleasure of reading for reading’s sake for a good, long while.

Provide them with a feast of books to pick from. Give them choice. Expose them to high-quality literature, not twaddle. Give them time to discover authors and genres that they love. Subscribe to high-quality children’s magazines. Have them continue to read aloud to you each day, even if it’s just a short chapter or a few pages from a lengthier chapter book. And definitely keep reading books aloud to them every day!

Separate reading comprehension from reading for enjoyment

Do talk with your child about what they’re reading, discuss what you’re reading aloud, and ask them questions just for fun and questions to monitor their comprehension– but leave it at that. Reading can be a stand-alone experience and does not always have to be followed up with an additional task.

In schools today, the very opposite is too often true. No sooner are children tentatively, bravely reading, than they start being asked to do additional written tasks to “show” that they can read and that they “know” what they’re reading about. Reading ceases to be an experience and instead becomes a task to be completed.

To practice reading comprehension, consider something simple like this, this, or this. You can still work together on comprehension skills with your child without detracting from their experience of reading for enjoyment.

There’s such a thing as too-much, too-soon in reading

If you want your child to delve deeper into a book by having him do a book study or completing a book report, please do so sparingly. There is definitely value in those practices, but only if they are not overused. If every encounter with a book becomes a laborious project, you will quickly sap the joy out of your child’s reading.

It’s my personal opinion that these sorts of activities are best used only a few times a school year with older, proficient readers. Analyzing books and writing sentences or paragraphs as a response to literature are much, much harder tasks for children than just reading. If you require a child who has just become a reader to do these additional harder tasks in conjunction with their reading, you run a very real risk of causing him to avoid and to dislike books.

I witnessed far too much of this happening at the elementary age level when I was a teacher and am convinced that expecting too-much too-soon in reading destroys the reading potential of many children. Let’s give children time to become passionate readers before expecting more.

What You Should Know About Teaching Reading

Something to Show

Okay, you say, but…I want “something to show” for my child’s work in reading. And sometimes we really do need something visual, something on paper – be that for our own documentation/memory keeping of our child’s work at that grade level, or for state homeschooling requirements (i.e. a portfolio of student work, an end-of-year review).

Here are some easily implemented ideas:

Keep a yearly book list (not a reading log, but a simple documentation of books completed). They’re so simple to create and serve as a special memory of all the books enjoyed in a school year. Older students can complete these themselves, younger ones might need assistance. Use a specially designated notebook, nice stationary paper, or type it out with fun font. If you don't want to invent a brand new wheel, try these pre-made book logs or these ones that are ideal for older students.

Then, couple your child’s book list with a sampling of the ideas below. Far less time-consuming and rigid than a book study or a book report, these are more open-ended and focus on the reader’s feelings/thoughts/ideas about the book. Have your child complete these occasionally throughout the school year (Remember, use sparingly and definitely not with every book read!) and you will have a very solid representation of their reading experiences:

Draw and Write

Give your younger reader simple, concrete prompts like, “Draw and write about your favorite part in the book.” If your child doesn’t like to draw, take a photo of her holding the book, print it off, and glue it into the drawing spot. You can use draw-write journals, primary paper, or print-and-go prompts.

Written Narrations

Have your older reader write short narrations after each chapter as they read a book. These can be kept in a special notebook, like a reading journal, or they can be written on lined paper, fastened together, and decorated with a unique, handmade cover.

Kid-Friendly Book Activities

Choose activities that are gentler and more kid-friendly. A book response (like these or these) lets your child choose the pages and design her own book report-like packet. If she prefers to make something more arts and craft-y, encourage her to make an interactive book report. For readers of any age or ability, choice and variation always make responding to literature a lot more appealing.

Final Thoughts

Remember, your goal is to nurture a love of reading that lasts a lifetime. It needs to begin early, be cultivated gently, and given room to grow. That takes time and intention. As one children’s author has said,

"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift."  
 - Kate DiCamillo


  1. Yes, and amen! Great ideas for gentle leading in more task-oriented reading, while not letting these things sap the joy that can, and should, be the very act of reading!

    1. Yes, I think that's one of the biggest mistakes parents/teachers make with reading--they turn it into an assignment and then it's simply not fun anymore.