All the steps! How do you teach a child to read?

When I first announced my decision to homeschool the minions, I was met repeatedly with the same two questions: "How will they be socialized?" (FACE PALM EMOJI!!) and, "How will you teach them to read?" Now that was a good question and one I was asking myself. Science, history and math all seem to be acquired easily enough through guided exposure. But reading... That takes a massive effort. It is the main skill learned in elementary school. I wasn't so certain I knew how to teach another human how to read. In case you are sitting in those same shoes, I'm here to tell you, You CAN! You can do this. Here is a series of step to walk through with your child.



Step 1: Language acquisition


Your child can not read words they don't know. Well... eventually they can. But you understand the principle. Exposure to language at an early age is a critical step. I could probably write an entire post on the subject, but it has already been done perfectly here. It is such an important first step that I highly suggest you follow that link, think about it, and come back to this article tomorrow. Don't build a house as massive as READING on a faulty foundation.


If you are in this first part of the reading game and looking to accomplish the language acquisition goal, you basically have two jobs. First, read to your child. Yes, read new stuff, but also read the same book over and over again if your child is interested. Your sweet joy is absorbing more than just the words. They are processing grammar, vocabulary, cause and effect, order of events, and social constructs. They are taking pride in their ability to predict and remember what happens next. They are enjoying your snuggles and equating reading to the love and comfort of Momma's lap. Reading is more than just sounding out the word. It is also comprehension and art form. You, super hero, are helping your Sweet Joy accomplish all of this.


Secondly, as you go about your day, carry on conversations with your child. It is easy to get in the habit of talking at your child instead of talking with your child. Discuss the life around you and pause to allow them to participate in the conversation. Narrate your frustrations and joys, your coping skills and your mistakes. Speak words of love and beauty. Explain what you are doing and why. You are building those comprehension skills!


Here are some books we have literally loved to pieces during these early years:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?

Little Blue Truck




Step 2: Phonemic awareness


A child who recognizes the similarities between box and fox can quickly transfer that "ox" pattern to nox, lox, pox and chox. Yes. I know those aren't real words, but they are real patterns. Reading many of the romance languages requires only the skill of blending letter sounds. Not English! If you can't start absorbing the patterns, you are going to struggle with words like "Important, generous, exceptional human". (This is why so many programs throw syllables into the lesson plan. Our patterns tend toward the syllable. If you have a feel for the cadence of syllables, you have one more trick in the bag.) The single best way to help a child absorb phonemic awareness is a healthy collection of rhyming books. Dr. Seuss is THE MAN! If I had to narrow down my favorite rhyming books, they would all be his!


Green Eggs and Ham

Horton Hears a Who!

The Cat in the Hat



how do you teach a child to read

Step 3: Alphabet Recognition and Letter Sounds


This is the step most people begin with when they think about teaching their sweet joy to read. It is pretty easy to find tools for the job, but I have a small list of favorites.


* Santa delivered Alpha-bots to Bubs this year. He has nothing but the highest esteem for Santa and all things Transformer. Momma Magic wins again!!


*Self Correcting Letter Puzzles. Just take all my money, Melissa and Doug. This puzzle has lasted through 4 different children so far. We are missing the butterfly thanks to Sweet Joy's desire to match it to a visitor in the garden during a heavy rain. The rest is in great shape!


*Lakeshore Learning has the most amazing collection of letter tubs. These are great because you can pull out the letter that is being focused on individually.


Step 4: CVC


CVC stands for Consonant, Vowel, Consonant. CVC words are those which can be sounded out easily using the basic letter sounds. Cat, hat, dog, hog, pin, and bet are a few examples.


Bob Books are a popular choice for beginning readers. There are many different box sets at each reading level. We own them all thanks to Sweet Boy's slow and steady learning style. He needs tons of exposure to reading concepts before it soaks in well. More books equal more practice. Win-win!


Learning Dynamics is a system which introduces CVC words in a slightly different fashion than most phonics programs. Instead of focusing heavily on word families, the program teaches one letter at a time. Each additional letter opens the door for more CVC words. Word families play a much smaller role in this program. The emphasis is on developing the sound it out skill. We own and love this too. What can I say.... I buy all the books. We need the extra practice. You need only chose one of these options, though. Most children will find this sufficient exposure.


Make sure as you are walking your way through these steps, that you have your child write the letters and words as much as they are reading the letters and words. This is one of the many areas of agreement between Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori. Copy work is essential to growth.


Step 5: Sight words


I can not stress this enough. Step 5 and Step 4 should be done alongside each other!! But the emphasis should be on 4. Like two steps forward, one step back; two steps phonics, one step sight words. What are sight words? They are those words that show up so frequently in the English language, that if you spend the entire time sounding them out, you will struggle with reading comprehension. (the, like, to, is, he, it, they, are, and) Why should step 4 be the emphasis, you ask? Because some children will try to make everything a sight word. If you have to visually memorize all the words, becoming a proficient reader will be a struggle. It is imperative you learn to sound things out in order to read a high quantity of unique words, but it also imperative you have the basics on sight to comprehend the sentence structure surrounding those unique words. I hope that makes sense. If not, shoot me an email. I'll try again!


Unlike the CVC step, it is fairly difficult to find quality teaching material for sight words. There are materials out there, but I have only found one that I love. I will cry and buy out the rest of their stock if I find they try to discontinue the product. Lakeshore Learning sells a set of Fiction sight-word readers and Nonfiction readers at levels 1 and 2. These are so good. Within the set you can find books that have just three or four words, and some that get progressively more complicated. They are repetitive, but not so repetitive that the child doesn't actually have to read. (This is the main problem with most sight word readers. They are so repetitive the child doesn't bother to look at the words.) They also have pictograms to represent the "extra" words in the book. This allows the story to have some substance, without teaching children to immediately look at the picture in the book. By putting the pictogram in the sentence, children learn to keep their eyes on the words, and not guess at the sentence by the illustrations. Another reason I Love, Love, Love! these readers is because almost the entire core science curriculum is covered in the nonfiction set. Of all the teaching materials I have stumbled across since homeschooling, this is my favorite. I say this completely unaffiliated with Lakeshore. (Believe me. I've tried!) Get these sets!


After you have finished level 1 of the readers, your Sweet Joy will be ready to begin combining the two types of words. These phonics sentence strips are great for this!! They have picked up the Montessori Mantra of child centered control of error. Each color package focuses on one particular vowel sound, and throws in the easier sight words. It is a great first reading job.



Step 6: Books that put it together, ING and S


Once your Sweet Joy has a handle on the two sets of Lakeshore readers and has made their way through a substantial chunk of CVC words, you can begin attempting real books. The difficulty here is finding real literature with a simple enough set of words. This is where those old Dr. Seuss favorites once again take first place. The Cat in the Hat... The entire title is comprised of CVC and Sight Words! There are a few extras that can be added to the pile. If you have been on the journey with me long, you will know by now that I prefer works that can be accomplished alone. Montessori Mantra!! Child led work! This is just one of those things that can't always work this way. Perhaps this is because reading is a bigger climb for Sweet Boy than the logic based subjects, but this step DEMANDS one on one time. The good news is that it is such a joy for both of us that there is no wringing of hands involved. Naturally as you delve into real literature, your child will begin to find words like cats instead of cat. No problem. When it comes up, explain the S and the ING endings, and it will be absorbed effortlessly as you continue along.


Little Critters

The Original Classics

Anything by Mo Willems

Have You Seen My Cat


Step ........7: CVCC and CCVC


So close!! Your Sweet Joy is really rocking along now. Time to introduce blends and digraphs. A blend is when two consonants sit together, but you pronounce both of them. Digraphs are two consonants who make one sound. If you sit for a moment, you can hear the difference between the beginnings of shirt and skirt. "SH" is a digraph and "SK" is a blend. Not so hard... just the next step on the way. We use this tool from Lakeshore to introduce and practice this skill. This is the stage when your Sweet Joy can really start exploring reading on their own, and it is the perfect time to introduce something like ABC Mouse. The program is amazing!! It has a library built into the program and you can manually adjust the reading level so that it is the perfect fit at every stage. Also, it does WAY more than just reading. It is the perfect "Surprise, you are a big kid who can read now!" reward for having made it this far. Extra bonus, their tablet time becomes school extension time and you don't have to feel guilty for taking a break!


Step 8: CVCE


CVCE words are words that contain consonant, vowel, consonant, and then end in an E. Date, rate, bone, cone, pine and fine are examples of these. This is the step that has the most potential to frustrate the child if they are not currently walking on steady ground. All of a sudden, vowels change sounds. Sometimes. (Love for instance keeps the short vowel sound.) Ugh. This is a great time to start introducing spelling words intentionally. Keep putting the work in the hands, and developing a habit for frequent copy work, and this step will be mastered.


Step 9: CVVC


These words take advantage of that old rhyme "When two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking. There is a matching work for these as well. Don't mess with what isn't broken, right? They are sturdy, clear, child-led and well priced.


Steps 7-9 can be done in a spiral curriculum arrangement. Focus on 7, focus on 8, focus on 9, then loop back to 7 with a new set of words. This is when public schools get serious about spelling lists, and I suggest you do the same with your homeschool curriculum. There are many patterns to be acquired along the road to proficient reading. The great news, is that that after a trip or two through the spiral, your child will begin to be able to read more things independently. Suddenly the world of literature options explodes!! It is an exciting time!! The child also begins to be able to read in order to learn, instead of just learning to read. Once these steps begin to solidify, it effects every other subject positively.


Alongside of this spiral, you will find an introduction into compound words presents itself organically. Like the ING and S, once pointed out, the concept is quickly absorbed.


Step 10: Vowel Combinations, Syllable Combinations


The last steps take a considerable effort and may take a few years. There are many vowel combinations that do not follow the rule, "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." Words like sound, field, bear, through, and though. The IEF curriculum chips away, one pattern at a time. The more patterns the child masters, the more words they are able to decode.


Finally, your child can take a stab at words like literature. They will no longer have to sound out each letter individually, but will instead begin recognizing the "lit" in literature as it's own chunk. They will no longer read l-i-t-e-r-a-t-u-r-e, but will instead read lit-er-a-ture. This is how most adults read new words. They chunk the words into accessible patterns and connect the patterns together.


Your role as a reading teacher then morphs from instructor and coach to model and library chauffeur. I can hardly contain my excitement at this upcoming stage of life. I love to read with my kids, and I do not want to miss a moment, but I am looking forward to the day when I can read next to my kids. I can not wait to see literary works through their eyes the way I currently get to see spiders, bees, trains and planes. The journey is just so much fun!!!


Blessings to you all. I hope our experiences inspire your own.

Buckets and Berries


living books