The secret part is step number four, which involves understanding that not all kids start reading as early as you’ve been led to believe. But since there are five steps that I’ve followed to get my kids reading, I figure we should probably start with number one.

1. Read Aloud

Reading aloud is my favorite part of our day. Or maybe nap time. But reading aloud is a close second.

Picture books are easy enough to find the time for. Starting up a chapter book with a little kid can feel daunting. But it’s totally worth it.

A couple years ago, I decided to really make reading chapter books aloud to my kids a priority each school day. And it’s been great. All of my kids, from the toddler to the teenager, listen to the same book together. We have inside jokes, and shared experiences because of it. And, for the little ones, it sets the stage for learning to read.

I’m modeling for them that I think reading is important and enjoyable. I’m demonstrating for them how reading works, so when they get to the point of trying it for themselves, they’ll have an understanding of how words flow when you’re reading.

So far this school year, the newborn has made it difficult to consistently read a chapter a day. But I’m trying to make up for it with audio books.

2. Begin at the Beginning

Before they’re ready to start reading, I like them to know their letter sounds. I’ve found the easiest way to do that has been by letting them watch the Leap Frog DVDs.

My kids really like them. I don’t mind them. And they do a really great job of teaching the letter sounds, and the basic rules of reading, in song format. So, even years later, when one of my kids is having trouble with a word, I can sing, “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” at him. Good times.

I cannot recommend THESE PARTICULAR Leap Frog movies enough:

I’m not sure what’s happened to the Leap Frog brand. There are a whole bunch of new Leap Frog shows available on Netflix, but not these original ones. I watched a few minutes of a few of them and was really disappointed. They don’t have the useful songs, and the animation on a couple of them is downright creepy.

I’m sure there are other, more recent shows that also do a good job of introducing phonics. But these are the only ones I can personally vouch for.

Once my kids know the letter sounds and seem to be able to sit still for ten minutes and complete a task, we start actual lessons. That has happened for my kids between three and five. For lessons, we use this book:

It says twenty minutes per day, but we do closer to ten, because I don’t use the writing component of the program. I haven’t found that reading readiness always coincides with writing readiness in my kids, so I prefer to teach those skills separately. After Hundred Easy Lessons, we move on to phonics readers
, then easy readers from the library.

3. Be Consistent

My goal is to do reading and phonics consistently, usually four days per week. I also try to be consistent about the time of day that we do lessons. I find that there is less push-back from the less enthusiastic kiddos when they know when to expect lessons.

Then we just do them. There’s no complaining allowed. We just do it and get it done.

I’ve had some kids LOVE these lessons, and some not love them quite as much. But they’ve all been amused by the silly little stories and illustrations. And the techniques of Hundred Easy Lessons has been really effective for all of my kids so far.

4. Be Patient

Here’s the big secret: My Kid Will Read Well When He is Ready

My oldest daughter was able to ready easy chapter books by the end of Kindergarten. But the same has not been true of any of her brothers. My so-far-reading other kids have done Hundred Easy Lessons in Kindergarten, and moved on to easy readers after that. But three out of four couldn’t read easy chapter books until the summer between second and third grade.

My older two sons are very strong readers now. The third one is coming right along. Somehow that rising third grader age, seems to be the sweet spot for us. That’s when my boys start reading, regardless of what I do.

I was too hard on my oldest kids. I had this expectation that all kids learned to read in Kindergarten or first grade. But my experience with teaching five kids (so far) to read is that it just isn’t true.

I’ve had some kids learn to read pretty early, some a lot later, and the odd thing is that as long as I’m consistent in steps 1-3, they seem to put it together themselves. And even when I’m NOT as consistent as I probably should be, they still seem to put it together themselves.

5. Read Aloud

It WASN’T all about me, after all. As long as I give them the tools, and read aloud to them and have them read aloud to me, from easy readers or whatever level book with which they’re comfortable, they are able to make progress relatively painlessly.

Having them read to me lets me make sure they’re not just skipping words if they’re having trouble with them.

Sometimes we take turns reading pages of a picture book. Another trick is have them read aloud to younger siblings, which is enjoyable for the little kid, and great, stress-free practice for the big kid. But I often eavesdrop.

Then, once they do graduate to chapter books, I have plenty of good ones around the house, so they’ll keep it up.

But the main thing I’ve learned is not to fret about the timeline. Some kids read early, some kids read late, but almost all kids WILL learn to read. As long as they have a solid foundation, it seems to come — like a lot of things — in its own time.