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Teaching Reading to Children by Annie of Bird and Little Bird


Today we are sharing a post by Annie of Bird and Little Bird. Annie was part of our Spring 2010 Rhythm fo the Home Edition, and we are pleased to share something else from her here!

Annie is:

I am a mom, special education teacher, crafter and arm-chair science head who lives and makes stuff in Burlington, Vermont


Teaching Reading to Children


I know that I often makes jokes here about all of the the things that I am and am not, but one thing that I can actually and truthfully claim to be is a teacher.  And, at the moment, I am primarily a teacher of new and struggling readers.  I thought, especially since there are a large number of homeschooling parents who read this blog, that I might share a bit of what I know about teaching reading to children.  So, a different kind of library Monday this week; strategies for helping your child to become a reader.

I should mention here that the strategies that I’m about to share are by no means the only way to teach reading to children.  There are about as many different methods of teaching reading as there are kids to teach and everyone has an opinion about what works.  I’m not trying to jump into the reading debate by any means, I’m just attempting to give some useful strategies that parents can use to help their children become readers.  I’m also trying to share ideas that require very little in terms of material or specialized equipment; strategies that are primarily book based.  Mariam is getting much of her reading instruction at school, but I am also supplementing by doing (very sneaky) mini-lessons with her here at home, using the ideas that I’m going to share here.

A Word About Reading Readiness

Generally speaking, your child should know the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that they represent before you dive into combining those sounds into words.  As kids move into words that are more difficult to decode (translating a written word into a spoken one by reading the sounds of each letter in the word and blending them together), knowing letter sounds well is what will allow them to have the flexibility to understand how those sounds can change when different letters are combined.

About Choosing Books

Your child’s desire to read may sometimes come in the form of picking up a long book full of huge words and plopping down next to you with a “Help me read this.”  The motivation here is awesome, because you will need it, but kids can become frustrated when they try to slog through a book that is beyond their skill level and in the long run, they may give up.  So, during the time when you are focused on learning reading skills, pick books that are the right level.  Save the tough stuff for read aloud time.

A good way to determine the level at which your child can independently read a book is to have them read you a 100 word long passage from a book or story and take note of any errors that they make while reading.  If the book is a good independent reading level for your child, they will read at least 95 of the 100 words correctly.  Also, if you ask them questions about the story (what was it about, what happened etc.), they will be able to answer these.

If your child reads the book or passage and reads 90 to 95 out of 100 words correctly, this is their instructional level.  In other words, this is a good level book to use to learn new reading skills together.  You’ll want to find other books that are the same level and use those for any reading lessons (formal or otherwise) that you do with your kids.

You can find the levels of common books by using this tool from Scholastic.  You can also subscribe to sites like Reading A-Z for a fee and download leveled readers from there.  I generally like getting kids into real literature as early as possible but I do find that until they read at an early second grade level or so, high quality picture books that are a good fit can be hard to find.  So, I will use early readers (short picture books with leveled text that supports a new reader through use of repeated phrases) available in my school’s library or download books from Reading A-Z.  If you are a homeschooler and may be teaching multiple kids to read, it might be worth investing in some early readers yourself.

Your Reading Routine

Once you’ve got a book that is a good instructional level (and that everybody wants to read!), get comfy and get ready to read it.  If the book is new, a good way to start is by you and your child doing a “picture walk” with the book.  Flip through the pages of the book and make some predictions about the story based on what you see there.  Point out any words that you think might give your child trouble as well as any sound spellings that you think they may struggle with or that might be new (“oa in this word makes a long “o” sound like in boat…”).

If your child is a new reader, try a shared or a guided reading of the book the first time through.  There are a couple of good options here; you can read the book and have your child follow the text as you read, or the two of you can read the book aloud together.  If you read together, you might expect that there are moments when your child’s voice drops off as he or she waits to see what word you will read when they are unsure.  The idea is to give the support that your child needs in reading the book for the first time so that when they read it back to you later, or the next day, they can feel confident in their ability to do it on their own.

Once you’ve read the book together, you can then have your child read it back to you on their own, or you can wait and have them do it later that day or the next.  The idea is to build up a stack of enough familiar instructional level books that your child can read two or three to you as a warm-up each time you sit down to read together.  You can then finish up reading time by reading a new book together.

For children that are reading above an early first grade level, try having them read the book independently after you have gone through it together to talk about what might happen and any tricky new words or concepts.

Mariam reading

Other Strategic Tidbits

Reading is understanding.  Could I decode One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish? Probably.  Could I understand what I had read afterward?  Um, no.  Being able to understand what you read is the entire point of doing it, so check in with your child frequently to make sure that they are able to tell you what their reading is about.

Building fluency matters too.  Part of being a good reader is building the speed at which you are able to read accurately.  Good readers can read aloud at a pace and in a voice that sounds natural and easy.  Fluency is absolutely essential to reading comprehension, so it is worth giving some energy to.  Remind your child to “make the reading sound like you are telling the story” or “make your reading sound like talking.”  Also, get that pointer finger out of the way as soon as you can!  Pointing to each word actually slows kids down and makes it hard for them to start reading with the automaticity that allows them to glance at a line of text and read it fluently.  They can get stuck reading word by word by word, and eventually this will be much slower than it should be.

Keep read aloud time separate.  You’d be surprised how many kids are secretly a little afraid of becoming readers because they worry that adults will stop reading aloud to them!  Read aloud time is precious for so very many reasons, both for us parents and for our children.

You can read an amazing story about the power of parents reading to their children here. It will inspire you to read to your kids until the day they leave for college- even when they are more than capable of doing the job for themselves!


Thanks again to Annie for sharing her words.

For more on Annie find her here:

Bird and Little Bird

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth Conroy permalink
    08.17.2010 3:15 am

    This is a great reminder of teaching reading. With all of the tools I have as a Montessori teacher, this really helps to put them into perspective.

  2. 08.17.2010 5:54 am

    I’m just starting “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” with my soon to be 5 year old. He just loves this book and can’t wait to learn how to read.

  3. 08.17.2010 6:35 am

    I really hope I teach my children to love reading! Both my husband and I thouroughly enjoy it, so I think they will… but I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks

    Also, I have a giveaway on my blog! Come check it out… today is the last day…

  4. 08.17.2010 1:04 pm

    Super advice – especially about read aloud time. We don’t plan on ever giving this time up even though I now have 2 out of 3 readers at home;-)

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