Training wheels…Sometimes I feel like teaching children to read is much like teaching them to ride a bike. Some kids are super confident--“Take these training wheels off; let me go!” (These are the amazing early readers that apparently all the other moms have…If only kids reading too much was your biggest problem!) And then there are the kids that want the training wheels on FOREVER…You know they can do it. They have all the skills. They just need the practice–and a little extra support. Let’s talk about six reading strategies to help teach your child to read with more confidence and get those training wheels off!
Six Reading Strategies for New or Struggling Readers:
1. Teach Sight Words
Sight words (also called high-frequency words) are the words we use so much in reading that we just need to know them quickly. These words may or may not follow phonics rules. But we often we need to teach our children the high-frequency word before they learn the phonics rule in order for them to be successful when reading. Knowing sight words will help your child become more confident and fluent in their reading.
The two most popular lists of sight words are Dolch Sight Words and Fry Sight Words:
- The Dolch Sight Word List was developed in the 1930s-40s and includes 315 words–often divided out over pre-k through third grade. Words on this list make up 80% of the language in children’s literature and 50% of the words in adult-level reading materials.
- The Fry Sight Word List is a more modern list which was first developed in the 1950s but was again updated in the 1980s. This list orders words by frequency–so the first 100 words are the 100 most commonly used words in our written language.
So You have the Sight Word Lists…Now What?
I try to make sight word practice fun and “game-like” whenever and however I can! Here’s some ideas:
Make a set of cards for the sight words you’re working on. (You will make 2 cards for each word–I like to use notecards.) Place all the cards face down on the table. Flip two cards over to find a match (2 of the same word). If you find a match, keep going until you don’t. Take turns until all the matches have been discovered! Whoever finds the most matches, wins!
Hide and Seek Sight Words:
My kids LOVE this…I write some sight words on sticky-notes and hide them around the room. When I’m done hiding the words, the kids go find them…Then we read the words and celebrate! **To keep fights to a minimum, I often place “limits” on how many words any one child can find…That keeps my son from finding all the words and my twins from having a meltdown! I’ve also started hiding names of our family members and dog–they love finding their own names!
Sight Word Bingo:
Create a simple game board for sight words your child is learning. Use flashcards to call out words. (I like using candy for game tokens!)
Magnetic Fishing Game:
I bought this Sight Words Magnetic Fishing Game about a month ago and we’re obsessed! It comes with 220 wooden magnetic fish, a little pond, and 2 fishing poles. The sight words are divided into 5 different levels–grouped by color. It’s so well made and so darn cute!
We like to set a timer and try to “beat the clock.” We keep challenging ourselves to get all the fish out faster (the word has to be read correctly to get a fish out of the pond). After my son masters one color, then we work on the next level. It’s been such a fun twist on flashcards!
When all else fails, there’s always good ‘ole flashcards! To keep it fun, I give my son a little treat after he gets five cards correct…(a Skittle/M&M’s/fruit snacks…I’m obviously not above bribery!) I also try to keep the stack of words fairly small–I don’t go through all the sight words every day.
Another option with flashcards is to mix them into a regular game you already play with your child–say Candy Land (Bless your heart if this is the game!). Before each turn, practice 5 flashcards.
That should get you started on Sight Words…Onto our next reading strategy!
2. Read the Text Together
Use your finger and point to the words. In a soft voice read the words (the pace may be just a bit slower than you would normally read). Your child reads the word with you–which means they’re probably reading the word right after you.
**Extra Reading Tip:
Keep practicing the same stories over and over again! Some kids love reading their beloved favorites repeatedly–others will fight you on this one! But rereading stories is really important for gaining confidence and fluency! If they really throw a stink over rereading books–try to sneak in a previously read story every few days…
3. Take Turns
New or struggling readers easily get fatigued. We don’t want to wear out our sweet little ones! If you see your child is getting stressed, upset, or fidgety–that’s your cue to make adjustments. Often I suggest that we take turns reading. Depending on the situation, I will read a page and then have my child read a page. Sometimes I read a paragraph and then he reads a paragraph. We might even trade-off reading sentences. Reading confidence and stamina are built over time–let’s offer support and meet our kids where they are! Celebrate the successes!
4. Read Aloud–but give your child a job
There is much compelling research about the benefits of reading aloud to our kids–I won’t even attempt to go into all that here! But I will say that you can add a twist your read aloud time by having your child be “responsible,” for reading specific words.
For example you could choose to have him or her read specific sight words…maybe: the or says or said. Pick just a few, and as you’re pointing to the words while reading, stop at your child’s word so they can read it. You could also do this with words that follow a new phonics rule–“Today, you’re going to read the words with the oa vowel team, like in the word toad. I’ll read the other words–but you’ll help me with those special words!”
Side Note About Reading Aloud to Kids:
I have always loved reading aloud to my kids–but Sarah Mackenzie really make me reprioritize reading aloud in our home. It has truly become the lifeblood of our homeschool. Her book, Read Aloud Family, will encourage you to read aloud more, and it gives you all the facts about why reading aloud is so foundational to our kids’ development and education! Total paradigm shift!!
5. Teach Phonics Rules
Two things about phonics I’d like to share…
#1) If you’re a homeschool parent–I highly recommend using a phonics based reading curriculum.
I created a Level 1 Phonics Curriculum (Ready for Reading) for teaching letters and their sounds–it’s systematic, fun, affordable, and homeschool family friendly! I’m using it with my 5 year old twins–it was made with so much love!
BUT…I haven’t developed a Level 2 or Above (yet…)
Over the last 16 years of homeschooling, I’ve used Saxon Phonics, Sonlight, Bravewriter’s The Wand, Explode the Code, and I just ordered All About Reading for my 8 year old. (Feel free to shoot me an email or message me on Facebook or Instagram if you have any questions about specific curriculum!)
All the above curriculum are very good in different ways–but currently I want something:
- Systematic & Phonics Based: Specifically I want something very systematic with no gaps. I want leveled reading books that only included words that he would be able to sound out (or know the sight words).
- Open & Go: While in many ways I’m a pretty relaxed and eclectic homeschooler–when it comes to Math and Reading, I want structure. (I’m willing to be loosey-goosey with History and Science at this level.) In addition to structure, I want it to be very “mom friendly.” Which for me, means I’m not really lesson planning–I’m just opening up to the next lesson and away we go!
- Short and Sweet: I love directly teaching my kids–it’s like one-on-one private tutoring. (Which is actually pretty intense! How many kids get that kind of daily individual tutoring?!) For all of our sakes, it’s good to keep the lessons short and fun! Otherwise, the kids get overwhelmed–and aren’t learning. And I become less consistent!
I think All About Reading fits that bill the best for me right now…My little guy seems to be a bit of a struggling reader, and he just needs a little more support–I’m not in panic mode, but I want to be proactive. I’ll keep you posted as we begin this new curriculum adventure!
#2) If you’re a parent trying to help your child with reading and they go to a traditional school…
You will make great progress helping your child by reinforcing (or introducing phonics)! I know many of you don’t have a lot of extra time to go and buy a complete phonics curriculum like the ones I listed above–that’s what you were hoping they were doing at school! I get it!
If you have the time and are truly concerned that your child is falling behind, I will say that those homeschool phonics programs are great options for working on reading at home. But–if you are looking for something simpler and cost effective–I LOVE Explode the Code Workbooks.
More About Explode the Code Workbooks:
Explode the Code Workbooks are a favorite of mine–and great for homeschooling or for helping traditionally schooled children work on reading at home. They are divided out to teach very specific phonics rules–they are silly and have kept my kids’ interest over the years! (I’ve used them with my 4 oldest children.) You’ll be able to work on them with your child–there are no lessons to read or prep for.
Just do a couple pages a day…I like to do one page where my son has to write and one page where we are reading. I set the reading pages up as a game. For example, each lesson will have a set of “yes or no” questions. He chooses to be “yes” and I will be “no”…Whichever of us has the most boxes checked–wins! Or I will be the top choice; he’s the bottom choice–whichever of us has the most checkmarks, wins…Even though we are going to be using All About Reading–I still plan to use our Explode the Code workbooks to supplement or change things up! My son even requested that we not stop using them!
6. Let Them Stay Up and Read!
When I saw this advice for struggling readers in Julie Bogart’s book, The Brave Learner, (which is one of my favorite homeschool books ever) I actually wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it myself! Of course!!
I was a natural reader growing up…And I have such vivid, happy memories of staying up and reading by the dim hallway light that streamed into my bedroom. My mom wasn’t always happy about this–I had to get up for school the next morning (plus it probably wasn’t great for my eyes). But I know those late night reading sessions were part of my love for books and reading.
But because we homeschool, I can totally provide this motivation to read! (My kiddos sleep in…usually they are up around 8 a.m.) Julie suggests having bedtime–with an enticing caveat! You can stay up as late as you want, as long as you’re in your bed reading!
We decided to try it! Our son was so excited! We tucked him in, and he was on cloud nine with a stack of books, his light on, and permission to stay up!
I was really amazed at the progress he made reading to himself in the evenings. Within a few days, he was easily reading books that been challenging just a week before!
I usually make sure he has a stack of books that we have worked on together. We started with these titles…
Favorite Beginner Books
I’ve also discovered a lot of titles that resonate with him through in the DK Readers Series…just search for DK Readers Level 1 (or higher, depending on your child). Our son loves all the Lego Star Wars books!
Looking Beyond the Reading Strategies…They Will Get It!
I want to leave you with a big hug and lots of encouragement! Your child will get it! I’ve had kids who could read at age four, and I’ve had kids who struggled…One of my greatest joys in homeschooling has been teaching them to read–but I know it can also be nerve wracking! I promise–they all get there…Just at their own pace! And what a blessing that you are there to be their biggest cheerleader! At home, our kids don’t have to feel shamed or behind…just loved, supported, and encouraged!