Teaching Your Child to Read

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When each of our girls was four years old, I taught them to read.  Am I a crazy, over-achieving mom?  I don’t think so.  And it definitely didn’t start out that way.

We had just moved to northeast Minneapolis, and one of our first Sundays, my oldest daughter came home from church upset.  Not throwing-a-fit upset, just sort of sad and embarrassed.  I finally convinced her to talk to me, and she confided, “I’m the only kid in my class who can’t read!”

Whoa.  What?  She was only four at the time.  Was I supposed to teach her how to read?  Didn’t they do that in kindergarten, which was two years away?  I remembered knowing how to read in preschool, but I had no recollection of actually learning how to read, beyond my mom taping index cards to everything in the house to identify it.  How was I supposed to do this?  And why?

I started asking the other moms in her class, and they had all used the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann.  Ah, the benefits of living in the close quarters of married student housing.  It was like they had their own tribe.  Luckily, they were open to sharing their tips…

I checked the lesson manual out of the library and decided to give it a shot.  My friend warned me that it wasn’t a good fit for every kid, but that if a child was interested in books in general, that it generally worked–assuming the parent was willing to put in half an hour every day.  That was the real challenge.

After renewing the library book three times, I knew I wanted to buy the book.  It is completely amazing.  It is phonetics-based, meaning it’s all about the sounds.  So, children don’t need to know the alphabet to start.  In fact, my youngest was already done with the book (all 100 “easy” lessons) and reading on her own before I realized that I had never thought to teach her the alphabet.  Oops!  Luckily, she picked up her letters quickly…


Rebecca after her last lesson!

After using the book to teach all four of my kids to read, I can honestly recommend it to everyone to at least give it a try.  All of my girls learned with it, and it gave each of them a huge advantage in kindergarten.

By no means do I think kids need to be in competition at any point in school, especially not in kindergarten.  However, each of my girls has had different educational strengths and weaknesses.  By already knowing how to read, they were all able to focus on strengthening other skills in class, rather than working on a basic skill that I was able to teach them at home.

In fact, when I first met Melessa, they had just moved from a school where her oldest had struggled in kindergarten.  He was then lagging behind in reading and getting extra help at school.  I told her about Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and she used it with her younger son who was in preschool at the time, in the hopes that he wouldn’t face the same struggles.  And it worked!  He is a confident reader, and he was able to get so much more out of his kindergarten class because he wasn’t starting from square one.

Now, in an effort to keep it real around here, I have to say that making our way through the book wasn’t all sunshine and roses with any of my girls.  In fact, there were plenty of times where one or both of us wanted to shred the book and burn it for good measure.

This was particularly true with our second girl, who BEGGED to start reading lessons about a month before she turned four. The result?  She wasn’t ready to sit still and focus for 20-30 minutes at a time, and we had to split up lessons, then we started skipping a day here and there, then a few days, until it was almost her fifth birthday and we just powered through the rest of the lessons out of sheer desperation to end the suffering for both of us!  It took about 350 days to teach 100 lessons.  That is not a time in my life that I recall with fondness.

On the flip side, my other three girls waited until they were four years old (I have no idea why four works better than 3 3/4, but trust me, it makes a huge difference).  They were able to sit and focus on the sounds in front of them.  They could listen to the instructions I read to them (that’s another thing I love about this book–you don’t have to think!  Just show up and read your script).  The stories themselves were also well written.  My mom once commented that it would be great to use to teach older kids or adults to read as well, since the stories are not obviously geared toward young children.

E finished rdg lessons.JPG

Emily and I celebrating her finishing her reading lessons four years ago.  (Oh!  If you look at the wall on the left, you’ll see the spring version of our fall leaf art project!  Man, our house has changed a ton.)  Blurry photo courtesy 6-year-old Jessica.

Sure, by the end when they’re reading a one- or two-page story two times through, there are times you might doze off a bit.  But seeing your child actually read, and knowing that YOU were the one who taught them how, is priceless!

Have you taught your children to read?  What’s your favorite method?  Not a fan of teaching kids to read early?  Let us know in the comments below!  The best way to understand different approaches is to share them.





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  • Julie
    November 8, 2016 at 5:10 am

    I love that book! Our copy is thrashed, as you can imagine 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 8, 2016 at 5:24 am

      Oh, I totally know! Plus, I’m always sharing it with friends–it’s been well “loved.”

  • Louise
    November 8, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Do you think this would be helpful for an older child who still needs to master reading? Would it work with an eight year old?

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 8, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      Definitely! Any age would benefit from it, as the skills are simply taught without aiming at a certain demographic.

  • Elane
    November 8, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    We also used this book for our youngest. Love the book! I thank you Laura for sharing if with us.

  • Anonymous
    November 8, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    That’s how I taught my girls too! The experience of wanting to throw the book out was familiar but we put in little incentives along the way. Half way through they picked out a little toy…all through with the book and we did something fun as a family for a day. They each responded much differently…one was trying to tackle Harry Potter at 4 (she started at 3) one didn’t fully grasp it until after her 5th birthday and the other was in between. But they all have a great love of reading…couldn’t ask for better results than that! I highly recommend it to anyone!

  • Sarah Hogan
    November 8, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Great article and resource! Thanks for sharing! Your girls are so lucky to have a mom who takes the time to help them read. As a former sped K teacher, the kiddos who came in with a basic knowledge of reading, just seemed to feel so confident and good about themselves. It transferred over to all the other subjects as well. Not that parents should feel like they have to teach their kids to read in preK (each kid is different and the process is different for everyone). I also appreciate you saying that they need to be ready. If a kiddo is forced to read before they are ready, it can really make them hate reading. So, yay! Awesome article! (Sorry, so many thoughts on this topic!) 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 8, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      I love all of your thoughts! Thank you for sharing a teacher’s perspective!

  • Emma @ Muddy Boots and Diamonds
    November 8, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Awww. I’m glad your daughter opened up to you! I don’t know what I’d do if my 4yo came home and said everyone could read but him (well, I’d cry privately probably, who likes feeling left out?). It wouldn’t occur to even teach him how to read from a book at this age! I feel like at 3 and 4 kids really still need to focus on play and social skills and basics like colors, numbers, shapes, and recognizing letters. Reading is one of those things that my gut tells me it’s too soon for a 4yo but based on what I’ve read about kindergarten, I get the feeling that it is something they start learning even if they aren’t quite ready. That said, each child is different. My oldest has always loved books (he’s 4.5) and my youngest has only just started being interested in books (almost 3). I have a feeling my oldest will love learning to read (and be ready a little sooner) while my youngest might take longer to be ready.

    My 4yo’s preschool class is going over a letter of the alphabet and the sound it makes each week. He’s really into pointing to words and trying to sound them out now and trying to figure out what words start with what letter. We pushed him into practicing writing his ABCs over the summer to keep up with the Jonses who seemed to have kids who knew how to write their names. It was a struggle, just turning 4, and I feel it’s because he just wasn’t quite ready. At 4.5 he’s more into it. I’m in no rush to sit down and teach him to read from a book though (currently). If he asks I would, but for now I’m good with helping him with pre-reading skills. This sounds like a really good resource for when he is ready! It sounds like something he might actually sit down and do with me 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 8, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      When he’s ready, you’ll know. It’s a great resource at any age. And the book includes some letter (“sound”) writing practice, but the authors point out that writing is something that comes after reading, so don’t to stress out about correct strokes, etc. Good luck!

  • Allison T.
    November 8, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    I never used that book with my older kids, but I am excited to try it out with Jonah in a few years. Thank you so much for sharing this helpful info.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 8, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      It’s amazing! Hope you have a great experience!

  • Sue
    November 9, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Laura you did a phenomenal job teaching all of the girls to read ! Keep the book for your grandkids!

  • Jana Hogan
    November 9, 2016 at 1:29 am

    I’m going to look into this book! Due to a lot of chronic pain when Cullen was three or four, he spent more time on a tablet and with Sesame Street than I’d like to admit. However, I read to nearly every starting from before his first birthday. I really can’t take much credit–he just picked it up! I am not a big fan of screen time, but there are obviously a couple of perks. Cullen got the basics pretty quickly and we bought the Hooked on Phonics app. After that, it was just practice that got him the hang of it by the time he was four!

  • Laura
    November 9, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    This is wonderful! My son has started showing interest in wanting to read and this seems like it might work perfect for us. I’m going to go check it out of the library today! He will be 4 in January and I’m thinking we can start this then. Thank you for sharing! There is no better feeling than knowing you are the one who taught your child something, no matter how small.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 9, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Good luck! I am so excited for you! My best advice would be to make sure you read the intro carefully, so that you’re confident with the system (and list of sounds!) before you start. He’ll be confident if you’re confident. 🙂

  • Tiffany A Checketts
    November 9, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Thank you Laura! Adam and I were just talking last night about teaching Maddy to read. The suggestion came at a perfect time. 🙂

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 9, 2016 at 11:36 pm

      Oh, good luck! If you want to borrow my book, you’re welcome to it!

  • Bart
    November 11, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I started to use the book with my daughter and did see improvement. I was happy to be involved in my child’s leaning instead of feeling helpless and doing nothing.

  • Ember
    November 12, 2016 at 6:15 am

    My favorite book for teaching reading is “The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.” Love, love, love it! I’ve taught two children with this book and am starting it with my youngest daughter now.

    • Laura and Melessa
      November 12, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Ember!!! I miss you!!! I’m so glad there are so many great resources out there for parents.

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