Teaching Beginning Reading in the Homeschool

Toby and I had a fun year last year. I use the word “fun” carefully. Of course we had plenty of chaotic and crazy moments. It was stressful at times. But it was also a pleasant experience, as I watched him learn and worked with him for about an hour every day.  Teaching Toby to begin to read last year in “kindergarten” was one of the highlights of my homeschooling experience thus far. I ended up really liking the approach that we took. I have tried various things over the years, and kind of landed here last year. So let’s just get practical! I do love talking philosophy and theory, but there is a time to say, “What did you actually DO?”

Toby was five years old at the start of last school year. He had not done any formal schooling before that point. I know each child and each family is different. I am not necessarily saying this approach to teaching reading will work for everyone and every situation. In our homeschool, it turned out to be sensible, workable, and even fun (as I mentioned).

Here is what we did last year.

flashcardsFirst, the flashcards. I used two different sets, because I had them on hand and they provided a nice variety. The set on the right is from A Beka. The other set is one I happened to find at the Goodwill one day. We used these to introduce new sounds, and to review the sounds every day.

workbooksNext, the core workbooks. The main one I used was “Letters and Sounds K5” from A Beka. I used it as my guide for which letters to introduce next, and our general pace of learning. Most days, Toby would do a full worksheet out of this book. lettersandsoundsHere is a typical page out of that workbook. It does an excellent job of giving the child plenty of variety as they practice the concepts each day.

I used the “ABC-123” workbook (a K4 book) to supplement. My initial thought was that if he needed to review anything, or take things at a little slower pace, this book would be useful. As it turned out, it was hardly necessary.

We used the “Writing with Phonics” workbook about three days a week. Great workbook for practicing penmanship and also for reviewing sounds and letter combinations. So much of learning is often just review, review, review! Repetition is the key to learning. (Teacher’s challenge: how to make repetition as interesting as possible.) penmanshipHere is a page from the Writing workbook. I tried to be very careful not to over-use this kind of thing. A boy the tender age of five can get burned out very quickly on anything that requires fine motor skills. They generally aren’t wired to handle too much detail work at this age. A little bit goes a long way!word stripsHere are some of my attempts to keep the repetition interesting. I made quite a few word strips and we would use them to play various games and form short sentences. The foam letters were another Goodwill find, and we would also use those to form blends and words. Sometimes I would give Toby a selection of foam letters and ask him to form a certain blend or word. You get the idea! I’m talking simple creativity, nothing complicated. readersNothing excites a beginning reader more than being able to actually read out of a book. These little readers (again, from A Beka*) have engaging pictures and start at the most basic level. Towards the end of the year, Toby was able to read a few pages a day. (Each page only has 1-2 sentences.) The “Blend and Word Book” is another tool that allows the child to practice various consonant-vowel combinations and short or long vowel words.journalA journal! This was a hit with Toby and also Sammy, who was in 2nd grade last year. Basically I used this as “copy work.” I would ask them each day what they wanted to say, and then write it down for them so they could copy it. I found this to be an awesome way for them to practice putting capital letters in the right places, punctuation, spelling, spacing of words, and neatness. Not to mention keeping an enjoyable record of various things they did throughout the school year. Both boys loved going back and reading everything they wrote about each day.

For about the second half of the school year, I found it beneficial to do some “dictation” with Toby as well. This consisted of him hearing me say a simple word (like “hot”) and then he would have to visualize it in his head and write it down. We would usually do three words a day like this. This could also be done with letters and blends, before the child is able to form complete words.

There you have it! This approach seemed to give Toby a good foundation. I’m now looking forward to starting him in first grade in the very near future.

*You may be wondering if I am an “A Beka-all-the-way” homeschooler. Short answer: no. In the future I will try to share more of what I use in other areas. For teaching beginning reading, I have found A Beka materials (used in moderation) to be a great tool.

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