The Secret to Teaching Kids to Read is . . .

by | Sep 18, 2015 | Homeschool | 19 comments

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.


  1. Becca R

    I needed this today. My little one loved math but reading is a whole other story. He hates to be asked to read anything. I think I my dump our curriculum and start over with 100 lessons. Thanks!

  2. carolyn

    Yes!! A big part of why I pulled my then 1st grader from school to homeschool was the fact that he was being sent to "reading intervention" pull out groups and his teachers were telling me he wasn't on grade level and would need more intensive tutoring. I strongly felt that he just wasn't developmentally ready to be reading as fluently as they needed him to in 2nd grade. And that feeling has borne out in reality. He CAN read, he can read pretty well in fact, but he is still not ready to tackle easy chapter books like Magic Treehouse. He is in 2/3 grade now, and I'm hoping by the end of the school year he will be reading longer books. In the meantime, we listen to audiobooks and minimize writing in our schoolwork.

  3. Lauren and Joe O'Brien

    I love Superwhy for teaching letter sounds. It's on Netflix and Amazon prime. My 3 1/2 year old son watches it a lot and he knows all his sounds. I've done a tiny bit of work with him –and he seems to just absorb things if he hears/sees it once– but he is already learning to read things like "stop" sign when we are out of the house and writing words with his finger in the air "dog" "mom". It set a really good foundation without too much "teaching" from me and I also read to my kids a lot.

  4. The Southern Peach-Girls

    Ah, Yes! My first decided she didn't need to read. All efforts were in vain on my part, though I made many, many attempts. Then one day she saw me writing a letter to a friend, and decided she wanted to write a letter. I told her that she couldn't since she didn't know her letters yet. Yup, by the end of the week she had them *all* down. All of them! Oy. My fourth girl started reading like her sisters, but she has yet to be able to read fluidly, and she is 11 now. She can read big words, but she is very slow at it. With my others there came a day that reading just 'clicked' and they were able to read fluidly, without pausing to sound out the words. I now have two boys learning to read and the younger one is picking up on it faster than his older brother. They learn at their own rates!

  5. Julie

    Kendra, can you recommend a read aloud chapter book for a nearly 5 year old?

    • Kendra

      Books my kids have enjoyed at that age have been . . . James and the Giant Peach, Stuart Little, Winnie the Pooh, Children of Noisy Village, A Day on Skates . . .

    • Jenny Cook

      Oh my goodness, Winnie the Pooh is hysterical! We have them all on audiobook with the most awesome voice actors (Stephen Fry as Winnie the Pooh, anyone?). We listen to a ton of audiobooks, too, which helps gives Mom's voice a break 😉 I know that it means there isn't the added aspect of seeing the word+voice connection, but since we already do lots of reading aloud during the day, audiobooks are icing on the cake. Highly recommend…and one of my favs is the audiobooks of Hank the Cowdog. They are not nearly as much fun to read silently or even aloud, but the audiobook versions are all read by the author and he does hilarious voices, songs, and soundtrack. LOVE THEM!

    • Kendra

      We do a lot of audiobooks in the car, which I love. I'll have to look for the Stephen Fry Winnie the Pooh. That sounds perfect!

  6. violinp

    Have you ever had a kid reading on his/her own before kindergarten? My parents started with me and my sister when we were three, and it took off like wildfire (as in, reading 5th grade – level books in 1st grade). I think, though, that it was probably due to genetics (Dad started reading well at 3/4), as well as the fact that we were twin girls – I doubt whether another, younger, sibling would have been exactly like us.

    • Kendra

      None of mine have read that early, but Rosie Hill of A Blog for my Mom has super early readers, I think. I imagine you're right about the genetics thing. Super early reading has a name, but I can't remember what it is. Hyperlexia maybe?

    • Tia

      I also read at age 3. My mom says she did not teach me, but that I just somehow figured it out on my own. I think it was really helpful for me all throughout school because I read so quickly, largely I think because of learning young. So I was kind of expecting that with my son. Alas, at 3+, he doesn't even know which letters make which sounds. And I know I read to him way more than my parents read to me. All kids really are different!

  7. Elizabeth

    I agree whole-heartedly with all of these! Thanks for this post Kendra! I would add that while we love the library, there are seasons in life when we haven't been as able to go often, so I began to make it a point to buy good books as little gifts here and there, and a nice big stack at Christmas, and that shows our kids that books are fun and special. We don't have huge budget for this, but a few times a year, or when we're doing certain units for school, I buy used books on Amazon for a few dollars or even a few cents plus shipping or I put things in my Amazon cart until they go on sale. I also do have a small budget in our home school budget for on-going expenses, in which I include a book, let's say,a about the beach before we head on a beach vacation. We have a lot of former library books, and I am such a dork, but it makes me happy when the books crinkle when we open then.
    Also, yeesss books on cd are a great idea! We love the A.A.Milne collection and My Father's Dragon and Little House on the Prairie best of all.
    We also have used Teach Your Child in 100 Easy Lessons. It is a great starting point. We use some of the Bob books along with it. About half way through, maybe 2/3, we switch to the Primary Arts of Language Reading program from Institute for Excellence in Writing. I am very impressed with the design of the program which uses file folder games and poetry and a phonetic farm to teach phonics and sight words. It has really moved my kids along in reading at a pace I didn't expect without taking a lot time or feeling like we were doing a lot of worksheets (which Teach Your Child.. doesn't have either and it has literally zero prep, so I am not knocking it at all!) that I saw in some of the other beginning to read programs we considered. My kids seem ready to read a lot earlier than they are ready to write, so I like that both the book an the program allow kids to just focus on learning to read.

  8. Karyn

    Not related, but happy earlier bday from a fellow 20th! Hope it's a good one!

  9. Alicia Copley

    Any thoughts on reading easy chapter books to a toddler? My son's Lulu's age, so I know he won't "get it." But, I'd love something else that would let him feel that he's getting my attention that isn't me playing legos for an hour. Have you found that your youngest ones have any interest in the read alouds as they play with something else?

    • Kendra

      It definitely depends on the kid. I read Stuart Little aloud to Jack when he was two, a chapter at a time before naps, and he was able to follow it. But I don't think most of my other kids could have. But it's worth a try!

    • Kendra

      They build on each other from left to right. So, unless your kids already know their phonograms, I'd start with Letter Factory, which teaches individual letters, then Word Factory, which teaches the second sound of vowels and simple words, then Code Word, which introduces blending and silent e, then Storybook, which teaches punctuation and chunking, to read aloud understandably.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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