Monday, April 4, 2016

Teach Reading with Confidence: Homeschool for Cheap or Free

The teaching of reading is, perhaps, the scariest of undertakings for a Homeschool Mom. Our culture has led us to believe that the teaching of reading is something magical and mysterious best left to the professionals. And, even the professionals meet with about a 20% failure rate in modern America.

When I began teaching my daughter to read, I encountered a book that was a huge blessing to me. I truly believe that my finding this book just when I did was an act of Divine Intervention.

It was a book that my Mother (who was a professional teacher by trade) had mentioned to me many years before, and when I saw the title on the library shelf, I decided to check it out. I was SO glad I did!

The author explained in detail how and which reading teaching methods worked, and which didn't and WHY. For a tiny bit of investment of my time - perhaps 2 or 3 hours of reading - I had the answers I needed to proceed with confidence and without doubts. Within 4 months, my daughter was able to read ANY word she encountered (not just the words on certain lists). By the end of that academic year, she had read more than 1000 pages with multiple sentences per page.

I liked that this method of teaching my own daughter at home allowed her to learn to read well when she didn't meet public school requirements of age and "readiness" such as being able to pack her own backpack at the end of the day, cut with scissors, or follow three instructions without being reminded.Those skills and age requirements are important to a teacher's ability to manage a large group of children, but don't have anything to do with a child's ability to learn to read.

The book was a classic originally written in 1955 - a classic which modern educators often refuse to follow, despite the fact that the "modern, scientific" methods are substantially less effective than the methods in this book. In fact, the "Common Core" forbids using this proven method, and mandates methods that don't work as well (as do many other government mandated education programs ) .

The author of this book analyzed English and demonstrated that English is a phonetic language. Although some "experts" allege that English "breaks the rules" more than half the time, the author of this book could demonstrate - by computer analysis - that English words are about 97% phonetic. And, he could demonstrate that although some students are born with dyslexia, the huge majority of cases of dyslexia are acquired - through anxiety producing, ineffective modern teaching methods.

What is really sad is that many people who want to profit off of a sight reading program will falsely claim that English is not phonetic without offering any analysis of or evidence for their claim.

Instead of failed methods, such as "whole language," and sight reading, he advocated Intensive Phonics First - with NO sight reading instruction (the only words I taught by sight if I recall correctly were one, once, eye and of).  Many programs pretend to teach phonics when in reality, they teach mostly sight reading with a little phonics thrown in. That is often the case in public schools where children are given stacks of sight word flash cards while their parents are told, "Don't worry! We're teaching phonics!" This method is VERY different from that.

What was really great about the method taught in this book was that it was SO straightforward and simple to use. We didn't have to endure the misery of drilling sight words - at all! In fact, drilling sight words was forbidden because this is one of the main causes (and perhaps the only cause) of acquired dyslexia.

 I didn't have to invent games or crafts or busy work instead of teaching reading.  And, it was all done in well under a year. No dragging out a reading program for 5 years, as many do.

It wasn't always fun for my daughter at first, there were days when she objected and argued, but it produced a great love of reading, and now that she is proficient, she reads for enjoyment so much that I have to stop her! 

I taught my own daughter using this method from day one. But, I also taught another child by this method AFTER he had been held out of first grade for one year, and THEN failed out of Public School First Grade. When he returned to school, he was put up to the next grade because these methods had worked. Although I strongly favor the early teaching of reading for a variety of reasons, no matter what age you begin at (altho it works best when used FIRST!), this method works great!

These are also the methods that were used in the A.C.E. School that I mentioned in another post - the school that had ALL of its kindergartners reading long passages from the King James Bible before the end of the year!

And, it's a method that ANYONE can use - assuming that they know how to read themselves. 

And, it's cheap or free!

What's not to love?

This is the book:
Why Johnny Can't Read

Here are great resources to use with this method:

Reading Preparation

Much is made of "reading readiness." I don't place much stock in such ideas - in that I don't think a child needs to be interested in reading in order to learn it well and enjoy reading after mastery. But, she does need to know her letters, the sounds they make, and how to identify them. I prefer to think of these as reading prerequisites rather than reading readiness.

In order to accomplish the prerequisites to reading, we employed four main methods.

1. I sang the alphabet song with her.

2. I read her many alphabet books for babies and toddlers, and I read each page like this, "B says buh - Ball!" "C says kuh - Clown!" and "C says suh - Circus!" this way she easily learned the names and sounds of the letters well before she was potty trained.

3. I read Bible Story books and many other books to her while she sat in my lap. (we also greatly limit videos and have no TV in the home- so she was INTERESTED in books. TV KILLS academic interest)

4. After she learned the above, I would ask her questions like "FAN - What sound does it start with? What letter makes that sound?" and "TOP - What sound does it end with? What letter makes that sound?" "CUT - What sound is in the middle? What letter makes that sound?" When she had mastered this skill, I knew she was ready to start formal reading instruction.

These were the resources I used to formally teach my daughter reading:

Meet the Phonics videos - I got these from the library - they were great. Needless to say, we did not use their "Meet the Sight Words" video. They can also be found on Amazon

Reading with Phonics by Hay Wingo - This link is to the actual textbook we used for our primary text (although I used an older version, pictured below). It is priceless. Some teacher's editions of this book also contain the student text, so you might be able to save money by buying a teacher's edition. Prices vary greatly since this book is out of print. I found mine for about $22. Your library might also have it. We finished this book before we started reading stories and books, with the exception of a few Bob Books and Starfall Books that reinforced the Phonics topic we were learning. It STUNS me that there are "packages" out there that cost thousands of dollars and take as much as five years to cover the same material that this inexpensive book covers in about 120 pages and about as many days.

Starfall - this is a great activity site with lots of fun games, puzzles and reading books online. They also have a great set of beginner paper booklets which we really enjoyed. Although the paper books have a free online version, I felt that buying the paper set was worth the money because it helped by daughter learn to love picking up a book to read. Starfall has a free section and a paid section -we only tried the free components. We used them for hours and hours!

Don Potter Phonics Resource Page 
This is a priceless (but free! : ) site of phonics instruction information. Includes a link to the free excellent teaching text, Blend Phonics and many other wonderful resources for the teaching of reading.

Bob Books - are a classic. Very approachable, decodable beginning phonics readers. Available at many libraries.

McGuffey Readers
We had these original readers from my Mother's house, and used the first few to teach basic reading. I found that they weren't as effective Reading with Phonics by Hay Wingo for teaching basic phonics, but after phonics were well-established, McGuffey Readers really helped with Mastery.  They're also easy to find as free online text - like at Project Gutenberg (although with online versions you may not get the same original as is available thru Mott media.)

Bible Story Books - My Mother always said that if you use the Bible for learning, God will Bless your learning. We used Bible Story books for our primary reading text, and now we use the Bible for our primary reading text. There is no need to buy a "reader" when you have Bibles! (Although we do use a huge variety of other reading books, too!)

As you can see, this favorite Bible Story Book was and is well-loved!

After my daughter had learned and substantially mastered phonics, I used a couple of "sight word" texts with her for fun and practice. My late Mother had left her own copy of "Dick and Jane" and we also used a Bible Sight reader. I had two caveats when using these books, 1) no guessing and 2) sound out every word until it is automatic - no memorizing or drill! I also used these in conjunction with other books that had to be intensively sounded out (like "The Beginner's Bible for Toddlers") so that we were still getting rigorous, daily phonics practice.

A Bible Story Sight Reader - there's nothing wrong with these simplified books AFTER phonics have been mastered.

My Mother's Copy of "Dick and Jane" from the Early 30's

Teach Your Monster to Read - I discovered this one in 2018 - long after I wrote this post. But it is a nice fun reading game for little ones (preschool to early reader). It DOES teach sight words, but is phonics-intense. Your little one might enjoy using it to supplement the work you're doing.

Much is made of the few words that "don't follow the rules" in English. Usually this is because those who are attempting to teaching read don't know the rules themselves! Most English words follow rules, but some of those rules are more obscure. In some instances, I'd teach a small "word cluster" that followed an archaic rule "would, could, should" or I'd simply say, "Sound out this word. It's spelled M-o-t-h-e-r but when you sound it out, it sounds like "Mowther." But think of the sentence it's in, how do we really pronounce the word that goes there?  Of course, we say it "Muther!" This way, my daughter never had to break away from her good habit of sounding out to use a bad habit of guessing. And we never had the misery of sight word drill.

After I finished teaching my daughter to read, I also encountered this great site, which might be a wonderful resource for you in this endeavor: Don Potter Phonics

If you want to teach your child to read, check out  Why Johnny Can't Read and then use these great resources. You'll be so glad you did!

Keep an eye out for more Homeschooling Cheap or Free posts in the coming weeks! : )

This post was featured on

Check out my other Homeschooling Posts:
Design Your Own Mini Unit Study 
Home School for Cheap or Free: Why Greek is Better than Latin!
Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Reading
Home School for Cheap or Free: Greek Conversation
2 1/2 Minute Homeschool Lesson Planning
10 Homeschool Lessons from ACE Curriculum 
The Perfect Homeschool Organizer 
Teaching Music: Homeschool for Cheap or Free 

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  1. Love this. I have two grandsons ages and 1. They already bring me books to read to them.

  2. Loved your article!! Yes, phonics is definitely THE way to go. Thank you. :o)

  3. This is wonderful! I tutor children now who are not learning to read in school. I use a phonics method but had forgotten about "Why Johnny Can't Read" and will get that again. I am a retired teacher from the 1970s and 80s but then was a children's librarian. Success in reading is such a key to everything else. I am going to bookmark your page as there are some excellent resources here.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words - so glad you like this post : )

  4. Great article! We worked on phonics first too when my kiddos were learning to read.

    1. So glad you liked this material - thanks so much for dropping by to visit!

  5. I love old books and old methods! I began teaching my children using only phonics at age 3 and by age 4 they were confident readers and at age 5 they both were reading chapter books by the dozens =) Phonics is so important!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, these methods definitely work - even with very little kids : )

  6. This is a very informative and well-researched article. Thanks so much for linking up this post at Booknificent Thursday on this week!

    1. I love your blog hop - thanks so much for your comments, which are always so kind & encouraging : )

  7. What a great and informative post! Seems like this is truly the way to go. Thank you for linking up at GraceFull Tuesday!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words - and thank you for hosting! : )

  8. Thanks for recommending my website. I also have a website with lots of reliable information on phonics. I recently finished retyping the 1960 Hay-Wingo Reading with Phonics and published it on my website. I am working on the Teachers' Manual as a separate document. I have taught Flesch's 72 Exercises with students from kindergarten up.

    1. I am SO honored that you dropped by to visit! I absolutely love your sites : ) And I'm very excited about the Hay-Wingo publication. I've been recommending it, and your site to friends offline for years. Thanks so much!


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