The Gentle Mother Teaches Reading

(For those of you who know me, I probably lost you at “The Gentle Mother.”  Admittedly, I’m not gentle at very many things.  Teaching reading to my children is one of them, though.)

Bella (4) has been busy as a bee learning to read.

She follows a long line of readers in our family who start sight reading at 2 or 3 only to stall for a year before moving on to the next stage.

It took me two children to realize that that stalling is a normal part of the process.

Poor kids.

Teaching reading can be frustrating especially for homeschooling parents who may feel ill-equipped, but there’s a fun and gentle way to learn to read.  And guess what?  It doesn’t cost a thing.  (Okay, I guess you do have to pay for the index cards, but you probably already have the alphabet magnets and flashcards.)

Here’s how we do it by ages and stages:

6 months on:  We start reading to our children as soon as they are old enough to sit up and look at the pictures.  As they grow, we start talking about the pictures in the book, and we ask questions like, “Where is the cat?” to engage them in the story.  The ABC song is on the list of songs we sing and one of the first songs they start singing on their own.

2 years:  We start typical letter recognition activities – alphabet magnets on the refrigerator, flashcards, alphabet matching file folder games.  Matching games of all kinds are appropriate for this season of a child’s learning.  Learning to match one item to another lays the foundation for recognizing and recalling letters.

2-3 years:  We start teaching the sounds that accompany each letter.  Flashcards are useful for this purpose as we use the typical C, /c/ cat script.  This is where the real fun begins.  The first words all our children have learned to read are the names of the different members of the family.  These words are the most relevant and often used in our home, so it’s a natural that our little ones are highly motivated to learn to read each one.

I usually write the names out on flashcards and sit the child in my lap and read each card to them.  I point out the first and last letters.  We recently bought magnetic pocket charts that we hang on our metal doors (a refrigerator works too), and I have two copies of each name.  The child uses the pocket charts with one card for each name to match the other set of cards to.  It usually takes a week or two before the child can “read” the cards for themselves.  This is a very fun stage of learning to read, and our children are always delighted with themselves when they can master the name cards.  After they master the matching, they can usually start matching the name to the correct picture.  (This type of reading is sight reading, not sounding out the words.)

3-4 years:  This is usually when we start word families with 3-letter words.  We start with “at” and we teach our child how to read “at” starting with the /a/ sound and ending with the /t/ sound.  Then we show them a list of all the one-syllable words that end with at.  Placing our finger over our child’s finger and placing it under each letter as we pronounce it helps teach the child how to blend and the left to right progressive eye movement required for reading.  This process is taught in the popular Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (the DISTAR approach).

Next comes the rest of the word family.  Placing “at” at the top of an index card, I list all the one-syllable words that end with “at.”  I place my finger under the first letter of the next word and sound out the word moving my finger as the word progresses.  I read through the list in that manner and then return to the word “at” at the top of the card and tell the child, “Your turn,” as I place my finger over theirs to guide them in sounding out the word.  Keeping all the words covered except the word they are reading helps keep their concentration.  If they get stuck, I sound out the word slowly and they usually recognize it and say it all together as one word.  Bingo!

Occasionally I have had a child who struggles at this stage, and I find it helpful to only work on a few words at a time or even only put “at” and one word ending in “at” on each index card.

Anybody heard of Bob Books?  We LOVE Bob Books, and this is the stage our children start reading them.  Actually being able to read through a real book (still with help) is a great motivator and reward as these little ones make progress.

4 years:  This is where we start our word family word wall.  I make a set of 3-letter word family flashcards and have my child read through the stack, starting with the flashcard for the last two letters (at).   For word families that end with two letters that are not really a word (ot), I make a card for the ending but it doesn’t go on our word wall since it is not a real word.

For every card they can read without help, they get a Smartie (candy) and the word goes on the wall.  I make a column for each word ending, and we practice reading it daily.  The words that were not added to the wall are reviewed daily as well and are attempted at the next flashcard session.

We’re still reading the Bob books at this point, but this is where our children start mastering them.

Printable word wheels like the free ones over at  are a fun way to change up the drill portion of this stage. and and have complete sets of word wheels, but you guessed it, you’ve got to pay for them.

Word sliders work similarly, and if you click on the thumbnail below, you can print off a whole set for nada.  (See, Honey, I am learning some Spanish after all.)

Kindergarten worksheets - Recognizing word families - Advanced 1 (-an)

Noah (6 – Down syndrome) is at the 2-3 years stage, but as he is following the order, I am confident he will carry on the family tradition and will grow into an avid reader, just in his own time.

Questions about any of the steps?  Drop me a line and I’ll try to clear it up.

5 thoughts on “The Gentle Mother Teaches Reading”

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