Sunday, August 26, 2012

Favorite Resources for Teaching Kids to Read

As my daughter has reached school age, my first priority in homeschooling has been to teach her reading.  Reading is the foundation upon which she will be able to gain access to lots of great books and information. My daughter is now 5 and 1/2 years old, and we've been doing formal reading lessons for about a year. She has progressed beyond the simple phonics-based books and can now read words like "delighted", "memories", and "laughed" with no trouble.

I wanted to share some of my favorite resources for teaching reading. And these aren't just for homeschooling families!  According to The Well-Trained Mind (which is one of my favorite books about schooling), "Sometime around the age of four or five, most children are ready to start reading." Reading is so fundamental that it seems like a great idea for all parents to be involved in the process of teaching reading.

The list of favorite resources is broken down into reading programs, homemade resources, and early reading books. I've also included a short list of some resources that did not suit us. 

Reading Programs:

  • Bob Books:If I could only have one resource for teaching beginning reading, it would be Bob Books.  These great books take a gradual approach to reading, introducing very simple sentences initially and working up into quite complex sentences by the end of the series. There are 50 books in the series.  The first book has sentences such as, "Sam sat."  By the last book, kids are reading sentences such as, "They sat down together, and as far as I know, they are sitting there still."  Once or twice a year, you can get Bob Books Collections at Costco for a great price.  I much prefer the Bob Books in the Collection format because the books themselves are much larger than the normal Bob books you can find on Amazon or at the book store. (Additionally, there are now pre-reading Bob Alphabet books to teach letters and phonics sounds, but I've never seen these in person.) 
  • Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading: This book looks different than many "Reading" books because there are no pictures.  Rather it is laid out with many individual lessons that teach kids to read using phonics.  This book also incorporates optional simple games that my daughter loved, and these games really helped to reinforce the reading lessons in a fun way. This book was especially helpful for us in the early stages of reading.  My daughter would get easily distracted by any pictures in books and want to just start guessing at words without actually trying to sound them out. Since there were no pictures in this book, it worked very well for us.  As my daughter's reading progressed, she became less and less interested in using this book, so we only got about halfway through it.  But it was essential for those first few months of daily reading lessons, and some of our best homemade resources (described below) were inspired by suggestions from this book. 
  • Starfall (FREE!):Starfall is a great online resource for teaching the alphabet, phonics sounds, and beginning reading.  There are many different lessons and games, and they are designed in such a way that kids can very quickly learn to use the computer mouse too!  I generally limit screen time (computers and television) for my daughter to approximately 2-4 hours per week. I started letting her use the Starfall website once a week for about 10-20 minutes at a time when she was 2 & 1/2 years old.  It really helped her in learning the phonics sounds in a fun way, and she LOVED it!  As she progressed in learning to read, we relied much more on books we could hold in our hands, but I still allowed her to use Starfall about once a month to give her some variety in her reading lessons.  
  • Progressive Phonics (FREE!):I only learned about Progressive Phonics a few months ago, but it is a really great online resource that works up from basic alphabet recognition all the way to advanced reading using phonics. There are numerous books and also activity sheets that can be used for each lesson. One thing I really love about this program is that you can actually save the books on your computer and print them out!  The stories are silly, and kids love to read them.  The books incorporate some more complex words for parents to read (and it is easy to tell which words are for parents since they are color-coded). This is nice because the stories can be much more engaging when they don't have to strictly stick to words the kids can read. I have printed the Progressive Phonics books, and we use them as part of our daily reading practice.  My daughter thinks these little books are hilarious, and she often asks to be able to read more and more of them.  I also rely on these books on days when my daughter is a bit reluctant to read, as she knows I will read all of the "hard" words (although she often forgets to give me a turn and just reads them herself anyway). 
Homemade Resources
  • Mix and match word cards: Using halved index cards, you can make a fun game for kids who are learning to read simple words such as "cat" and "dog".  (This game and others like it are described in much more detail in Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.)
    • Cut some index cards in half, and write a short word endings on each card. Word endings would be things like "at", "it", "ig", and so on.
    • Cut some more index cards in half, and write a letter of the alphabet on each one. 
    • Then use both sets of cards to make sets that go together.  For instance, pick out all of the letters that go with the "at" card (which would be c for cat, h for hat, and so on). 
    • Put the "at" card in front of your child.  Place all of the corresponding alphabet cards face down, and allow the child to flip one over and place it next to the "at" card.  Let her try to sound out the word.  If she says it correctly, then she gets to keep that alphabet card; if not, then it gets flipped back over with the other alphabet cards. Repeat for all of the corresponding alphabet cards until the child has all of them.
  • Mix and match sentence cards: Using index cards, a fun game can be made where the child assembles and reads funny sentences. (This game is based on one from Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.) My daughter especially loved this game, and it was great because I could keep making more cards with more complex sentences as her reading level progressed.  Often times, we would use just this game with lots of different cards for our daily reading lesson.
    • Get a little stack of index cards and use a red marker to write a noun on each one.  My daughter especially liked to use the cards that said the names of her friends, stuffed animals, and family members.
    • On another stack of cards, use a green marker to write sentence endings that will go with the noun cards.  For instance, you could write "had a picnic" and "ate a rat". Just make sure to write sentence endings that will be easy for your child to read at her current reading level.
    • Place the noun cards face-down in front of your child on the left side, and place the sentence ending cards face down on your child's left side. Let the child pick one card from each side and put them together to make a sentence that the child will read.
  • Custom stories: One way I found for providing the variety and interest my daughter needed was to write simple stories based on her interests.  For instance, one story was about her and several of her stuffed animals having a party together.  The main thing point to write only words that your kid can easily read, and pick subjects that will excite them.  These aren't fancy stories; just use plain old paper and write up whatever you'd like.  They are especially great because you can emphasize any particular reading area that your child needs to practice.  When my daughter was working on the letter c making a "sss" sound when followed by an e, i, or y, I wrote a story for my daughter about a girl going to the circus, and seeing some tiny mice there.
Our Favorite Books for Beginning Reading

  • Dick and Jane books: Dick and Jane books have lots of word repetition that kids like when they are first learning to read.  While I find these books stilting if I read them aloud myself, they are perfect for kids to read aloud to their parents or siblings once they already know the phonics sounds.  My daughter was especially excited to be able to so easily read these stories, and she loved the illustrations. These books are readily available at the library, so they can be free to use.   
  • Biscuit books: These books are about a little puppy dog, and my daughter loved reading them.  There is lots of repetition of certain words in each book, which is great for beginning readers.  These books are also readily available at libraries.
  • HBJ Treasury of Literature: These books are wonderful compilations of children's picture books that are from schools.  I found many of these at our local used bookstore.  Books with the pink binding are the ones to use for beginning readers, and they get progressively more complex with different binding colors.  These books are great because they have so much variety in each one, since there are stories by many different authors.
  • Library books: Books from our local library are an integral part of our daily reading lessons.  They give my daughter the variety she craves, and this really helps in motivating her to read every day.

Reading Resources That Didn't Work for Us
  • Dr Suess books: It almost seems sacrilegious to say it, but many of the Dr. Suess books didn't work for us in teaching reading.  Books like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat use the same phrases extensively (such as "I do not like them, Sam I am"). My daughter would complain about reading the same things over and over, and that is a complaint I have myself when I read these books!  So I stopped including these in the stack of reading lesson books.  (Every kid is different, though, so I'm sure there are plenty of kids that do like to read such repetitious phrases.)
  • Hooked on Phonics: We were given a used copy of the Hooked on Phonics program, and this is one resource we never much liked.  This system uses pictures to teach phonics sounds, such as a picture of a cat for the sound of the letter c. As described in The Well-Trained Mind, this can slow down the reading process because the child has to think of a picture and then the sound, rather than just knowing that the letter c makes the short c sound. I also did not like that the books were not quite decode-able from a phonics perspective (meaning that some random words were thrown in that my daughter wasn't ready to read or that broke the phonics rules, and these just made us both frustrated). 

What are your favorite resources for teaching reading?  Do you want to hear more about my approach to homeschool, or do you find this to be a topic of little interest?


Lauren said...

My homeschooled 6 year old loves Dr. Seuss--I think the repetition was helpful to her. Once she knew those phrases, they gave her confidence. The Cat in the Hat was the first book she read independently from cover to cover. She still chooses a Dr. Seuss book 3 times out of 4 when it is time for her to read to me. As you say, every kid is different.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Good to know these resources when the time comes. My daughter is just 3 and we've never pushed her in learning something before she showed interest. She knows her name and the letters in her name and loves pointing those letters in other places, so I think she might be getting ready for starting to formally learning to read...Thank you again, you are amazing for homeschooling your kids on top on everything else you are doing.

Anonymous said...

We have had great success with "Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," followed by "Sound Beginnings," which is based on "The Writing Road to Reading." It's a very phonics intensive approach and combines writing the sounds with seeing and saying them, The combination seems to help them memorize the sounds more quickly. The 100 easy lessons book has been enjoyable for my kids and the stories are silly, so they like that, too. I find that it's a slower approach in terms of them becoming truly independent readers, but their ability to sound out words and read well above grade level after 2nd grade has amazed me. I just started with my 7th child last school year, because, at 3 years old, she was begging me to teach her so she could read like her brother. We did use the Bob books to supplement as well, and those were very helpful. I found that most of the Dr. Seuss books were not great until after the kids had learned most of their phonics, because most of them go beyond the basics, using silent e and multiletter phonograms. I read those alound though or have my older kids read them aloud, because they are fantastic in training their ears for rhyme and helping with listening comprehension. I admire your creativity. I don't know how you do it on top of blogging, etc. My creativity is definitely lacking at times.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing what methods worked for your family! I've heard lots of good things about "Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," but haven't actually looked at a hard copy yet. I may try that next time around with my youngest if he doesn't take to the other methods we've already used.

JoAnne Markov said...

A vote for, also free!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your resources. I am downloading progressive phonics now! We use many of the same reading resources as you do but I had never heard of progressive phonics. We use Hooked on Phonics as our primary lesson. I must have a different version of HOP than you do. Ours does not have any pics and works are introduced gradually such as in Bob Books. Our program has just a book with lessons and some matching readers. I pop in the CD and "she" tells use what to do. My daughter, 1st grade, loves doing these lessons by herself and then reading me what she learned. The readers do have pics but they do not require you to associate words with the pictures to read them. I like the CD version of HOP. I bought them all on ebay; yellow, orange/red, blue/green and master readers. Do you have the old cassette tapes or maybe the new DVD version?

Sarah Smith said...

My version of HOP was not cassette or DVD. It had a CD. But it was probably at least 5 years old since it was a hand-me-down from my niece, so maybe it has changed.