We hope that when our children learn to read they will be on fire for reading and will devour books left and right. But, how do you get there? How do you move from early reading to consistent independent reading? Before I answer this question, I want to make the disclaimer that I am not a reading specialist nor do I have formal training or classroom experience in reading instruction. What I do have is the experience of a homeschooling mom who has taught 3 and just about 4 (my youngest is currently an emerging reader) children to read. Children who have varying abilities and interests. Children who learn in different ways. Yet they all have one thing in common. They read often and they read very well.
The three who are veteran readers started reading independently at different ages. Each of them came to the skill in a similar way through different learning styles. One of them came by way of apraxia and a severe speech delay- a condition which often rears its ugly head when it is time to begin reading. Often the same pathway disruptions that affect speech are the ones necessary for reading as well. I also want to say this article is not targeting children with other special learning issues that might influence their reading progression from the start. However, I think some of the tools I mention will be helpful to all emerging readers. This article is for parents who want to know what happens after the completion of a phonics program before a child is reading independently by choice and doing it well.
I decided on this topic because I get asked this question a lot. I’m all done with “x,y, z program.” What do I do now? My child is not really reading much independently. How do I get her to read more? So often I see moms who want more phonics instruction because their child just needs a bit more or somehow there must be a magical stepping stone of workbooks or short readers that will bridge the gap between just starting to read and reading on their own all the time. I have concluded there is just one remedy for the “space between.”
My answer every time is simply have your children read! Sometimes but not always, an emergent reader is reluctant to read independently, so I have my kids read to me (click to see an example!). When children know the mechanics but are not reading fluently yet, I have them read to me out loud often. If she can’t read for long, it doesn’t matter. I like to switch off with my child while we read. We sit down and the student reads a paragraph to me, and then I read the next paragraph to her. We keep going like this for a chapter at a time at least. As the student practices, his fluency will improve. If he can only begin with reading a sentence at a time, then start with alternating sentences. The idea is to have them read to you and practice. With time, their reading will improve. It merely requires consistency, appropriate book choices, and time.
What about book choices? I know a lot of homeschoolers like phonics type books and books like guided readers versus interesting children’s literature for those readers starting out. I prefer trade books for this purpose and not ones designed to be “readers” at any particular level. I tend to let my kids try reading any book that has young reader friendly text (which means the text on the page isn’t tiny, there aren’t a million words on one page and it has plenty of margin) and is emotionally appropriate for her age. What not to choose? Anything marketed as the next step (unless you have it on hand or can be borrowed- this stage is a short one so the investment is not long term on these products), and books so far beyond their ability/emotional level that it will only serve to frustrate the new reader. Text that is easy on the eyes counts here too.
I have my kids read to me regularly and I grab any moment for the task. I love to be read to while I make dinner, for example, or in the car! If I need to sit with my child and alternate at first, it is always time well spent. I will often do it at the expense of other lessons for a time. The time you put into hearing your child read will pay back dividends far beyond any extended workbook or hands on activity when it comes to improving fluency. Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook, gives many compelling examples of how reading improves with practice and that as parents we should not be afraid to require it often.
My other secret weapon is to continue reading aloud to my kids even as they become better independent readers. The value of reading aloud I discussed previously, but it is worth mentioning again. I will see my kids start to read a new series of books if I have read aloud the first one. Sometimes I may even start reading one aloud until they love it and then leave it around for them to pick up on their own. I have opened up many book worlds by reading it aloud first.
My youngest child is reading every word his eyes rest on right now. I have a few basic “phonics readers” and of course we have our reading manual (we use Reading Made Easy by Valerie Bendt which I adore!), but he picked up The Tale of Peter Rabbit and read to me at length today. Despite only being a third of the way through our program, reading has clicked for him. I will continue to hit some key sounds with Reading Made Easy, but he is outpacing his lessons by a long shot at this point. Even though the reading switch has gone off, he is not yet a fluent reader. So, he is officially in that space between. The best thing for him is to keep reading and then read some more. What a joyful sound to hear the voice of a new reader!
There are so many products marketed to parents and homeschoolers to help early readers. You can find any number of helps on websites and blogs for printables and ideas. May commercial products are available as well. Yet, in my experience the best thing for improving fluency in new readers is not packaged in any form and comes at a very low price. The only currency needed is time- time for listening and reading with your child and time for taking trips to the library for more real books. Take pleasure in hearing that new reader’s voice and share in the joy as he becomes more and more confident and fluent. Before you know it, he will be reading all on his own and it will be mission accomplished!
Heather is a homeschooling mom of four kids ranging from middle school to preschool and wife to a handsome chemical engineer. Before raising a family, she taught middle school science (with a BS in biological sciences) and has a masters degree in curriculum and instruction secondary education. Now teaching at home means the chance to provide the extraordinary for her children. She’s been homeschooling five years and you can read about those adventures on her blog, Blog She Wrote.