How My Kids Learned to Read
As soon as a new mom realizes her child is “old enough” to learn how to read, she will start asking other mom friends and searching google for “how to teach children to read”. I was that mom over a decade ago!
My daughter turned 3 and I immediately starting thinking about teaching her how to read. My mom homeschooled me and began teaching me how to read at age 3. I could read fluently by the time I was 4 years old and reading chapter books before I turned 5. “How hard could it be?” I thought.
Oh, ignorance is bliss.
I tried everything from “How To Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons” to buying all the easy readers, apps and online programs like Reading Eggs, enlisting the inconsistent help of my mother, eventually looping my mother in law into the mix, and then even begging my brother in law for help. Nothing was working! I was so frustrated and I thought teaching her how to read was the MOST important thing in the whole world. I allowed my desire to “force” her to read completely ruin my life. Literally.
Fast forward 10 years and guess what? She learned how to read in her own time.
At age 14 she read Lord of The Rings cover to cover in 2 weeks on her own volition. Followed by The Hobbit in under a week. (Yes, I let my children stay up past their bedtime reading. That’s how we roll now.)
I’ve learned a lot over the past 15+ years homeschooling my children. One of the most important things I’ve learned (and deep down inside I knew all along but let other people cloud my judgement) is that KIDS LEARN IN THEIR OWN TIME.
There is no long-term benefit to a child learning to read at 4 years old instead of 8 or even 10 years old. The outcome is the same – a person that can read.
What I learned from that experience…
There’s no proven benefit to teaching your child to read early!
There is plenty of research that supports surrounding your children with plenty of books and reading aloud to them as often as possible, but no research supports teaching them to read at a young age.
Dr. Sebastian Suggate, a researcher in childhood education in New Zealand, actually conducted multiple studies looking at the benefits of teaching children to read when they are young (age 5) or late (age 7). His research showed that by age 10, there was no discernible difference between the two groups! The group that learned to read early showed no advantages over the group that learned to read later. Wow.
Furthermore, research has also shown that children who learn at their own pace are more motivated, get better grades, show improved leadership skills, and have a bigger love of learning compared to their peers.
Earlier doesn’t mean better.
Learning how to read at a certain age does not necessarily correlate with a child’s level of intelligence. You’ll even find that many “gifted and advanced” children didn’t learn how to read until the first or second grade, or even later.
They aren’t going to ask you on your college application what age you learned how to read. It doesn’t matter!
Albert Einstein is said to have not talked until the age of 4, didn’t learn how to read until he was 9 years old, was reading physics books by age 12, and passed his college entrance exam by age 17. Kids learn when they are ready. Period.
Don’t force them before they are ready.
The most important piece of advice I always give new mother’s is not to potty train children before they are ready. The second most important piece of advice is not to teach children to read before they are ready.
Just like potty training, you need to wait for their cues. Are they interested in using the toilet (looking at books)? Are they asking questions about the toilet (asking you to tell them what different things say)? Are they resisting putting on diapers (growing more interested in books)? Follow the clues and create invitations to learn rather than forcing it upon them.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. You can sit a child on the potty, but you can’t make them pee. You can point at the letters and words till you are blue in the face, but you can’t make them read.
So what SHOULD you do?
Create An Atmosphere To Learn
Make reading look inviting and fun and your child will naturally be more interested. With my 2nd and 3rd children, I took a completely different approach than I did with my first.
My 3rd child didn’t learn how to read till this year, but guess what? He went from not being able to remember the sounds of the letters to reading sentences and easy reader books by himself in less than 6 months. ON HIS OWN. Does anybody care that he didn’t learn how to read till he was 8? No. He learned in his own time and now loves to read! He even reads books to his younger siblings before bed or while they are sitting on the toilet.
Instead of forcing him to learn how to read, I took an “unschooling” approach with him.
Here’s what I did:
- I carefully built up our library with hand-selected books (lots from Usborne/PaperPie)
- I left baskets of books all over the house
- I got front-facing bookshelves and book displays
- Got book subscriptions like Literati during Covid when visiting the library wasn’t an option
- Got a library card at more than one library and made visiting the library FUN! (Field trip!)
- I read to my kids. All. The. Time.
- If a child asks me to read to them, I never deny their request. (inconvenient but critical!)
- I got each child their own Yoto Audio Player and age-appropriate cards.
- Listen to audio books in the car either on speakers or their own Yoto players.
- Encouraged older kids to read to their younger siblings. (But didn’t force them to!)
- Let my kids see ME reading books! (set an example!)
Did you know that by providing a steady stream of new books in your home, you can nearly triple a child’s interest in reading in just a few months?!
“Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.”
—St. John Bosco
Our Favorite Early Readers:
Some early reader book are great and others are just absolute garbage. Just because it’s a “leveled reader” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for your child.
Here are a few of our favorite resources…
Usborne Very First Reading Box Set is an excellent place to start. I’m not going to tell you to go grab the whole box set on my word though. Go search eBay for ThriftBooks for “The Fox And The Stork Usborne” and just try ONE book! If your child loves it, then invest in the box set. I especially recommend getting the entire boxed set if you have more than one child that will be learning how to read. The books retain their value well and you’ll be able to resell the whole set later and recoup most of your money if the books are still in good shape.
Dash Into Learning
Dash Into Learning has the most beautiful and effective Early Reader books available! Reading Set 1 has 10 Books plus a Parent Guide Book. There are phonics based lesson pages in each book followed by a 10 page story your child will love. Very simple and easy to use!
Use code raisingsaints to get 15% off the Dash Into Learning Reading Program!
Education Apps & Programs
Teach Your Monster To Read
This was a huge hit with my now fluently reading 8 year old. When he was allowed screen time, Teach Your Monster To Read was his first choice! Friendly monsters, playful designs and colors coupled with out-of-this-world storytelling. If you are willing to allow screen-time in your house, let them play the ground-breaking game that makes learning to read fun! Look for it in the App Store.