Teaching Reading to Your Young Homeschooler

Once you’ve made the decision to take the plunge and homeschool your child, you have only begun to answer the myriad of questions out there concerning how and what you are going to teach. How soon do you officially start? How structured will the curriculum be? How much should you emphasize academics vs. fun activities? The list goes on.

A good place to start is to find out what the state requirements are for children the same age as your child. Those requirements aren’t necessarily going to be ideal for your child, but they give you a basis to work from. There has been a trend in schooling to push academic subjects on children at a younger and younger age. I was shocked to read about “the rigors of kindergarten” in a preschool handwriting teacher’s guide. But it’s true. Today’s kindergarteners are expected to read and write complete sentences and to keep journals. Is your child ready for those kinds of “rigors?”

The question of whether or not your child is ready for a certain amount and level of work is more complicated than it might first appear. Many times the reasons a child won’t or can’t do the work has little to do with his intellectual capacity to do so. It may have to do with developmental or other obstacles that are part of the curriculum but not necessarily related to the subject matter.

Take, for example, the scenario of a girl who makes the kindergarten cutoff age by a month now sitting down to learn her phonics. You take her step by step through each sound and letter, a little bit at a time. Through your phonics program of choice you introduce to her the principles of word decoding and sentence structure. Does your child have the ability to grasp all that? The answer in general is yes, but it depends on how you present it. Phonics is by nature a highly intellectual and structured subject. The most obvious way to go about it is to sit down at the table and go through it step by step.

And that’s where you can have problems which might cause you to believe your child simply isn’t ready for phonics yet, and what were those lawmakers thinking anyway when they decided kindergarteners had to learn how to read? But is it really the phonics that is the problem? Many parents teaching a five-year-old how to read have found that they grasp everything you throw at them with amazing speed, but many times the focus isn’t there. They have everything but the attention span.

It turns out the problem was the sitting down part. Children that young were never meant to sit still in desks for any longer than about ten minutes on a good day. They were meant to climb, to run, to play, to move around. Wise parents will figure out a way to incorporate more action into the reading lesson and most times they will find that their kids become the model of focus.

One mom typed up all the sentences she expected her child to read in large print on separate sheets of paper. Then she scattered some pieces of blue yarn down the hallway to turn it into a raging river. Each paper was a stepping stone that she could use to get her across the raging river. Once she read the sentence, she got to tape it down to the floor with masking tape. The first time one mom tried this, her daughter read twenty sentences in less than an hour with no complaints, whereas the day before it was a struggle to get her to read as few as two. She had a goal that she could relate to, and she got to run up and down the hallway placing her stepping stones and tacking them down with tape.

Another potential obstacle with young readers concerns tracking. The ability to follow words across a page one line at a time is an advanced developmental skill that not everyone has when they start school. It has nothing to do with decoding words and sentences, but it can result in a child feeling overwhelmed when he sees a page that to him seems full of tiny black letters. The way to solve that is to rewrite or type the words in larger letters–essentially turn each sentence into a miniature billboard so your child can focus on decoding the words without straining his eyes over trying to track. The tracking ability will develop sometime between age six and ten, but there is no reason for that to hold up the reading part.

It may be that after certain adjustments are made to present the material in a developmentally appropriate way, your child may still have problems with the reading itself. At that point, it may make sense to back off and give your child some more time to grow. But it’s quite likely that your child is ready to read, but not ready to track or sit still for very long. As long as you present the curriculum in a way that does not require the child to sit still for too long or to track beyond her ability, teaching your child how to read should be a joy for both of you.