Teaching reading at home

Posted on February 10, 2012 by


I’ve already covered how I teach my son math and history at home, so today I’d like to explain our reading method. I’ve gone over it briefly before, so I just want to elaborate, now that I have anecdotal proof that it actually works.

Step 1: Bob Books

I had him read through the Bob Books. I’d read it to him once, then we’d read through it together, then he’d work his way through it alone. If he got stuck on a word, we’d just sound it out together. That was it, and we just repeated the book once per day until he had it all down. Then we’d move onto the next. We’d reread the previous book before starting the next one, for added practice.

We worked through the Set K and Set 1 books, at a rate of one book per day, and then stopped. After that Bob Books quickly decline in their usefulness, so the rest didn’t seem like a good value to me. Their structure is good for starting off, but the nonsensical stories hurt your intelligence after a while.

Yes, we did the kindergarten books in first grade. There’s not much point in teaching most kindergarteners to read, other than bragging rights. You can teach them the exact same stuff in about two weeks in first grade, and spare everyone the trouble.

Step 2: McGuffey’s First Eclectic Reader

We then moved on to our McGuffey’s First Reader (1879-1920 version), which we greatly enjoy. There’s a Primer too, but it seemed too basic after the Bob Books and a lot of it repeats vocabulary they will learn in the First Reader. Like with Ray’s Arithmetic, the numbering of the McGuffey’s Readers doesn’t correlate to their grade-level. According to text-analysis:

Eclectic Primer: 1st grade
1st Eclectic Reader: 1st–2nd grades
2nd Eclectic Reader: 3rd–4th grades
3rd Eclectic Reader: 5th–6th grades
4th Eclectic Reader: 6th–8th grades
5th Eclectic Reader: 7th grade–college sophomore
6th Eclectic Reader: 9th grade–college senior

There are very old versions which aren’t phonetic, so skip those. The 1836 version is very popular, but it goes on and on about hell and damnation, which is tiresome. We’re not interested in Presbyterian sermons anyway, being Roman Catholics, and we were looking for something lighthearted and appealing to a young child.

We did the first few lessons like we had done with the Bob Books, to get used to the new format.

Step 3: Integrate writing

Now we’ve started to include copywork in our reading lesson. The reader lessons look like this:

with vocabulary words at the top, a picture, and the excerpt at the bottom. You’ll notice that the vocabulary words include phonetic symbols, so I’ve started pointing them out to him, which helps him guess how to pronounce the word. There are also very elegant and readable cursive exercises, but I’m using a separate workbook to teach him German italic cursive, so we just read through them. I figure it’s a good exercise in reading different fonts.

After we’ve gone through the reading, I have him write the vocabulary words in a journal, and then he illustrates it (just for fun). Here’s an early example where I wrote the words first, but in later ones he just copies straight out of the book:

We then go back and read through the older pages in his journal, to refresh our memory.

We’re hoping to finish the First Reader this school year and start on the Second Reader next school year. We’ll probably  copy the paragraphs, rather than vocabulary copywork, with that one. The individual paragraphs are numbered in the Second Reader, which makes breaking the excerpts down to second-grade size a bit easier.

After that we’ll start studied dictation with Simply Spelling, but for now I wish to concentrate on reading and writing only.

For those of you in bilingual households

We did the Bob Books, and then when we moved to the reader, we added a German reader too. So we’re doing two readers/journals simultaneously. This doesn’t seem to confuse him, as he can mentally switch between the two languages seamlessly now.  We did find it simpler to start off with one language first, but adding the second wasn’t a problem.

This will only work if your child can speak the second language fluently already, otherwise their vocabulary won’t be advanced enough to pick up on the phonics intuitively. I suspect that modern children’s small vocabularies are one major reason why they struggle so much to learn how to read. Because we read high-quality material aloud to the children everyday my son’s receptive vocabulary is unusually advanced, which seems to make a tangible difference in his reading skills. Many children are exposed to more but lower-quality material, so they learn to read earlier than my son did, but quickly hit a vocabulary wall that prevents them from advancing on.

And that’s it

It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s completely reusable, and it seems to work rather well. It’s also very fast, as it only takes us about 10 minutes each time, three days per week. He has started reading unfamiliar material without my prompting, so he seems to be picking up on the phonics well enough.

The material is slightly archaic, which we consider a good thing. He gets plenty of exposure to modern English, so this helps him to understand more classical styles. We’re reading a children’s version of Treasure Island right now, and he doesn’t seem to have any trouble following the old-fashioned language.

The total cost was  $43 dollars, including both sets of Bob Books and the First and Second Readers. Knowing what I know now, I’d probably just skip the K Set Bob Books. A first grader picks up faster on phonics so you don’t really need the hand-holding involved in the K books, the vocabulary is redundant, and the stories are really awful. The full set of McGuffey Readers is a good value, and with the Primer you could probably skip the Bob Books entirely, but we like the set-up we have. After the Second Reader I think we’re all going to be tired of readers.

Side note

My father was here last weekend, and my son read to him out of the First Reader.

My dad said, “These are good books. These are the kinds of books the white kids got to learn to read out of, but we didn’t have books at our school. They had some at the library and I used to read them at home.” So that is sort of a nice touch; that my father and my son are learning to read out of the same books.

It also encourages me to stick with these readers, as my father has the most advanced reading skills of anyone I’ve ever met. He was also instrumental in my own literacy education, so his reader+literature method is a safe bet for me. You just can’t argue with those kinds of results.

Posted in: Education