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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…
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.
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.