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Teach Your Child to Read in a Thousand Easy Lessons

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This is the first in a series of guest posts by Lexington Mommy contributor Holly Winters (who btw is pretty much a genius at teaching and mothering), reprinted with her permission from her personal blog, Abiding With Me.

Catchy title, huh?  To be honest, there’s this book with a similar title.  Maybe you’ve seen it; maybe you’ve used it, but the title is similar and I won’t name it, but you can probably find it if you tried.  Anyway, this book ruffles my feathers.  Well, specifically the TITLE of the book ruffles my feathers.  I have never actually picked the book up and looked in it (and maybe I should) because the title of it is terrible.  I have friends who have used this book and have loved it, so to be fair, this isn’t really about the book.  It’s about the dumb title.  You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I can certainly judge it by its title!

The reason I hate it so is because it sounds so….  CLINICAL.  So cut and dried, so step by step, when in actuality that’s only HALF of what it takes to teach a child to read.  Teaching is both an art and a science, and in particular, teaching a child to be a literate being is highly artistic as well as highly scientific.  If I had to rename this book, I don’t know what I’d call it, but it would be something at encompasses both the heart of teaching as well as the method.  Not to confuse the issue any more, but the teaching of reading is still one more thing:  it’s natural.  The human brain is designed to learn and think, just as the heart is designed to pump blood and the lungs designed to breathe.  So while I am waxing poetic on how artistic and scientific it is, it’s also something very attainable to you.  Because it’s a natural process.

The easiest, cheapest, and most effective method to teach a child to read is to…. Wait for it… READ TO THEM.   A lot.  All the time.  Every single day.   A variety of materials.  Really.  It’s that easy, I promise.  I’ve already written here about living a literate life, so you can go back and read that if you are interested.  But beyond that, you do have to be intentional.  Children WILL learn to read by simply absorbing it.  Although there are children and some skills who benefit from some further activities.  I do not mean to do worksheets.

I have this thing about worksheets.  They aren’t bad if they are used properly.  But they are NOT intended for 2, 3, 4, or 5 year olds, in my opinion.  The work of the child is play.  And that’s how they learn.  Don’t turn a 2 or 3 year old into a student in the most conventional sense.  Let them play.  They are only little once.  And whatever you do, PLEASE do not give them a worksheet.  Here’s why:  they live in the world, the concrete world around them (Piaget, anyone?  Sorry, I LOVE learning theory!), learning about the world through their senses.  Worksheets turn the concrete world into an abstract representation of it.  Little kids’ brains are not developed enough to comprehend abstract ideas yet.  It’s not that they aren’t smart; they are.  It’s a physiological development kind of thing.

Letters and sounds?  Yes, I think that’s the way to start. But certainly not with the traditional “letter of the week.”  You’ll see some things I do later on that resemble letter of the week, but move beyond that and I’ll explain that later.  Letter of the week is not BAD, it’s just that it’s often inappropriately used for the ages it’s intended for.  So often the curriculum takes a certain letter (which letter?  Any and every letter!) out of context.  Choose a letter at random, write it, practice it, say it, sound it all week long.  Great! Done!  We finished letter B!  Except here’s the thing:  Letter B is just a squiggle with a weird sound for kids who don’t get reading and don’t understand that letter B is actually used for something.  So there’s one reason you read to them:  So they know that reading has a purpose and it’s supposed to make sense!  And when we learn about letter B, it’s so that we can read the words ball and balloon and banana because we know what those things are and now we can actually read and write them!  It’s a theory called whole-part-whole.  So reading because reading is fun and enjoyable is the WHOLE.  It’s the broad idea.  Make sense?  I hope so.  Then we pull out a skill, a letter, whatever; letter B, for example, and do all the B activities.  That’s the PART.  Then, here’s the important piece.  We HAVE to put it back in context.  B activities are not important unless we USE them and know how to use them.  So we read again because reading is fun, and when we see the word balloon, we can say “Hey!  There’s a picture of a balloon!  Remember when we learned about the letter B and balloons?  Let’s see if we can FIND the word on the page!  What letter are we going to look for? YES! There it is!”  That’s putting it back in the WHOLE.  Whole-part-whole is so important.  And it’s natural.  I scripted it out here so help you understand what you probably already do!

So all of this seem a bit heady, so rather than explain it further, take a look at this video.  This is my daughter Ryan, who is 3 and I reading her bedtime story.  It’s one of her favorites, as evidenced by the condition of the book itself. J  We’ve read this book at least 1000 times because it’s fun and she likes it. Just a bit of background first.  The end pages of the book are something we take a look at every time we read.  It’s worth a mention that it’s part of our routine.  So, take a look at what’s going on here.  I apologize for the shaky camera operations.  My director was my 9 year old.

Reading with Ryan (<—-  click on that if the video above doesn’t work)

What did you notice?

Did you see how we pointed the words in the title?  We do that a lot.  We use our fingers and often count the words too. The reason for this is because I want her to develop a one to one correspondence, which simply means that one written word equals one spoken word.  What we are saying (reading) matches up with the words on the page.

Did you see how we looked at the end pages with the alphabet on them?  She immediately begins to pick out letters she knows.  I taught her the letters that make the most sense to her at the moment.  The first letter I taught her was the letter R because I wanted her to see it as “her letter.”  She knows H because her favorite doll’s name is Hippy, and H is Hippy’s letter.  She knows M for mommy and D for daddy and some of the letters for her siblings.  More later on how I actually taught those letters.  For now, I just wanted you to see how we talk about letters a lot, every time we read.

Did you notice how she’s heard this book so many times that she has it memorized?  That’s ok!  In fact, that’s a good thing!  It doesn’t MATTER to her if she’s actually reading the words or just saying them from memory.  If she’s learning that one to one correspondence and recognizing that the word she’s memorized is what she says when she points to that particular word, it’s getting lodged in her memory!  So don’t discourage rereading many many times, even if they’ve memorized it.

So, there you go.  When I named this article Teach Your Child to Read in 1000 Easy Lessons, it was my cheeky way of saying read to them thousands of times or read them the same book 1000 times.  And talk about what you see.  Show them “their letter” if they are in that stage.  If they are older, pick one of the sight words and do the same thing.  But DON’T turn it into a lesson. Do you see the lessons above (Hint:  it’s the words I have made bold)?  Those are lessons that happen again and again and again.  They aren’t supposed to be learned at one sitting.  Just read.  Just talk.  Just enjoy!   Trust the process.  The learning will happen!!

I believe in teaching with a light touch, but intentionally.  What exactly does that mean?   You do have to think about learning experiences. Plan for them. Know that you should point to words and talk about certain letters, go into it intentionally.  But don’t overteach it.  If you go on and on and on and on, you’ll bore the poor kid to death and you could possibly be ruining his pleasant book experience.  Teach lightly.  Trust yourself.  Trust the process.


I have a lot more to share with you.  A lot!  But I don’t want you to feel like you are drinking from a water hose!  Here’s what I’m thinking:

Next up:  Teaching letters and sounds holistically and organically.  You have to teach them, or reinforce what your child’s teacher is doing, how can you do that and still make it fun, meaningful and in context?

Then:  My kid’s favorite books are the ones I write.  Seriously, and you can too.  I thought I’d share a few with you.

Then:  Your Q’s and A’s?

For now, I’d love love love nothing more than to hear and see what you are doing with your kiddos along these lines!  I want to know if this series will be helpful to you.  Please feel free to email, facebook, or comment with your pictures, videos and questions.  Start sending questions now so I can be working on them!

Abiding in Him,



More about Holly

Holly is married to her childhood sweetheart. (I remember when they met when we were 12 🙂 ) She is a homeschooling mom of four cutie pies. Holly has a Masters in Language and Literacy and was an elementary school teacher for several years. Her blog, Abiding With Me, has wonderful posts about being a mom, a wife, a mother, and her journey in faith that are … beautifully honest ♥

1 Comment

  1. Judy

    August 24, 2015 at 12:50 am

    LOVE this! We read quite a bit in our home; but I have noticed that I’ve been reading TO my youngest and not including her in the act like I did with my eldest. What a great reminder to have the little ones participate in a simple, loving interaction. Thanks, Holly! I cannot wait to read more in this series and help my girls expand their interest in books!

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