July 28, 2017
I have a confession to make. Despite teaching for over eight years, I had actually never taught a kid to read from the very beginning. I would always get a handful of kids, even in fourth grade (and in sixth grade…) who were still hovering around the first grade reading level, but they already knew their ABC’s and the general idea of piecing sounds together. I usually focused more on building fluency and developing comprehension. So when my daughter started asking me to teach her to read, I would smile and assure her that someday, yes, someday, I’d teach her.
Let me be clear, I was NOT planning to tiger-mom this, and I was never planning to teach her to read at age three. But I do try to be supportive of her interests, and I do love teaching. So when she kept on asking me to teach her and she seemed ready to learn, it wasn’t in me to say no.
But I definitely tried to put it off. As her love for books grew, her persistence in asking grew, and soon I started wondering when was too soon, and I began the rabbit hole of research that is when and how to teach your child to read. I was hesitant to introduce the alphabet to her, because I had read somewhere that the names of the letters will just confuse a learning child who should first learn the sounds they make. I read up on different philosophies, which left me feeling paralyzed and even less confident about starting anywhere. I asked my teacher friends who taught younger grades, and got a lot of great ideas, but still felt like I needed a program to guide me. I thought about buying a home-school kit or something, which is how I stumbled upon How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.
Honestly, it sounded like an unrealistic stretch, and I got the same feeling I have when I watch TV infomercials: If it sounds too good to be true…
If it weren’t for Amazon and the 2,000+ glowing reviews of this, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But it piqued my interest enough for me to read several reviews and I even took a “Look inside!” the book. I saw strangely scripted words and antiquated cartoons. I wasn’t sure about this.
A few weeks later, my friend put up a video of his young daughter writing and he mentioned this very book. HMMM. I asked him what he thought, and he also had glowing reviews! Still, there was a lot I was skeptical of. The “100 days” part. The “easy lessons” part. The “just 20 minutes a day” part. The “love, care, and joy only a parent and child can share” part, because if this were so effective, wouldn’t teachers have adopted this into their programs long ago? Well, I pulled out Sambla’s lanekalkulator, did the math, and I thought, I guess for $13, I can just buy it and see what it’s all about.
When it arrived, I did the nerdy thing I do and I read the entire Introduction and Parents’ Guide from start to finish. It was no small feat, with its 20 small-fonted textbook sized pages. It didn’t take long for me to get totally absorbed in it, nodding my head and learning new things the way I did in teaching school. I appreciated the introduction. Their methodology was clearly laid out, thorough, and thoughtful. I appreciated the strategies they offered for teaching, including how to keep kids on track, pacing, and the hurdles they predicted would happen (and what to do about it). These guys knew what they were talking about, and it was clear they had a lot of successful experiences with this program. I was sold.
I won’t outline the whole thing, but if you do get the book, I urge you not to skip the parents’ guide (and to also bookmark page 17). You’ll learn not only how to use the book, but get a window into how your child thinks, learns, and how you can be a better teacher to them. It helped that the authors and I already agreed on a lot of instructional philosophies, so I went into our first lesson feeling like this program was a really good fit not just for my daughter, but also for me as a teacher.
Today, we finished lesson 89. We only have eleven more to go, and I could not be more pleased with how it’s all going. Now that we are nearly done with the program, here are a few thoughts I wanted to share with you.
- Not all of the lessons are 20 minutes. In the beginning, some were only about five minutes. Some were seven. Sometimes, I did a lesson in the morning and another in the evening because they were so short and simple. Later in the program, maybe around Lesson 60, though, the opposite thing happened, and I found myself staring longingly at the clock at the forty minute mark, wishing she would go more quickly. I’m sure it all depends on your reader, but I just want to set your expectation that while the lessons are usually around 20 minutes, there are definitely the much shorter and MUCH LONGER days.
- Teaching her to read has been a highlight of each day. This was especially true at the beginning, when I could almost see her little mind spinning and making connections as she figured this thing out. It made my teachery heart burst when she learned something new and was excited about it, and it made my mothery heart burst to see how much she enjoyed spending this time with me each day. It is a part of the day we have both consistently looked forward to (except when the lessons were really long for a while- see point #6 below).
- Our reading times together are also quality time she loves to spend together. I think it’s so important to hug and play with and affirm and love our children, and setting aside 20 minutes each day to give them 100% of your attention is a pretty cool way to spend some quality time together. Your kid learning to read is a nice perk.
- It is SO COOL to watch your child learn to read. Ben would hide in the shadows and eavesdrop on our lessons, and I could feel the excitement and pride emanating from him. I mean, SHE WAS READING. How cool was that?! A whole new world was opening up to her, and she was just at the very tip of it. I have way too many videos of her progress, but I always tell myself that one day she’ll be a super fluent reader, and this phase of her learning and sounding out words is a very short one that I should enjoy and treasure while it’s here. They grow so quickly.
- I see why this is a program for parents, and not realistic for teachers in school. You have to give 1-on-1 attention for this for about twenty minutes a day. You can’t really monitor other kids very well during this time, or it would be way too disruptive for the child who is learning to read. So that makes it impractical to do at school (or when your one year old is awake and up and about).
- I would never have pushed her to do this at this age. She’s the one pushing me. I am 100% serious. Usually, we put her little brother down for a nap and then have a quiet space for an uninterrupted reading lesson. I was really consistent about doing it during this time the first 60 lessons or so, but at some point, the lessons were definitely taking more than twenty minutes (see point 1 above) and that was cutting into the precious minutes I had in the middle of the day when BOTH KIDS were napping. Parents, you know what I’m talking about: Let nothing come between a parent and the treasured minutes when BOTH CHILDREN ARE SLEEPING AT THE SAME TIME. That is NOT time I’m easily willing to part with, so more often than not, I’m begging her to let us skip the day’s lesson so I can put her down for her nap sooner, or at least push it off until later in the day. But she usually has none of that, insisting we do the lesson while citing all the other times I recently skipped lessons. So I give in and we (usually) do it. Not gonna lie- those lessons that lasted 45 minutes had me doing breathing exercises for a while. I’ve been lucky that she has been almost 100% enthusiastic about learning to read with me. There was a time early on, maybe lesson 7 or 8, when I sensed that she was struggling a bit and losing interest. I put the book away and told her we’d come back to it in a couple weeks. Sure enough, a couple weeks later, something in my Teacher Mommy radar told me she was ready to pick it up again, and she was. (Why won’t WordPress let me make separate paragraphs within this point? Sorryyyy…)
- Don’t push your child to do it too early. If she disliked the lessons or wanted to stop, I would have stopped. I have no reason to push my three year old to read, and I never have pushed her. If she hadn’t been so enthusiastic about the whole thing, we never would have started at this point, and if she had dragged her feet, I would have stopped. I want reading to be a joy to her, and there’s no way I would hinder that by forcing her to learn too early. I think there’s truth in what articles say about kids viewing reading as boring or rote. There are many kids who simply decode but don’t make much meaning, and who despise reading because they were forced to do it too soon and learned the techniques without the fun and meaning. If I saw that she was struggling a lot with it, I would have stopped. It’s only because I could tell this was in her good “learning zone” that we continued, lesson after lesson.
- Enlist “friends” to be guest teachers. There was one lesson when I saw she was super distracted and fidgety. I asked her if she wanted to stop for the day, and she absolutely did not. But she was so distracted. So on the advice of an Amazon review I had come across in my early research, I found a hand puppet friend, Mr. Chipmunk, and he proceeded to teach the rest of the lesson. She LOVED it and flew through the rest of the lesson. Sometimes, a little change-up like that can make a big difference!
- The stories aren’t my favorite. There’s a story about a fat man, and they call him that: “The Fat Man that Never Came Back.” There’s also a story about a fat eagle who gets made fun of by other eagles for being fat, and another one about kids making fun of another kid because he doesn’t catch any fish while fishing. There’s even one where a man tries to steal another man’s car. What the WHY, authors?! Can’t we write constructive and kind stories, even with limited vocabulary options? I used each of these not-so-nice stories as a character teaching moment with my daughter, but would have been even more happy to have more positive stories in there.
We’re almost done with the program, and I can confidently say that yes, my girl can read, and she loves it so far! I look forward to the time when I can teach my son to read, too. I always dreamed of teaching so many things to my children, and I love that reading can be one of them! If you’ve been looking for a way to be involved in your child’s reading development and twenty minutes a day is something you can do, check this program out. I think it’s $15 now, but in my opinion, that is money and time well spent!