Once upon a time I was a teacher. A reading specialist, actually. I pulled children out from the classroom and held small group and one-on-one instruction with them. I watched second grade students reading at the kindergarten level (still working on letter sounds) advance to their proper grade level over the course of a semester. It was incredible to be a part of that transition for those children!
Sometimes, though, I think I learned more than they did during that time. I learned that the BIGGEST contributing factor to reading success is not instruction time, flash cards, or hands on techniques. It is simply time spent reading together. Working out those sounds, together. Encountering new words, together. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t have to be a teacher and student interaction. It can be parent with child, classmates, siblings, friends, and even stuffed animals.
I have a memory of reading in third grade… My teacher put us in small groups of two or three to read together. She must have seen the future teacher in my eyes, because she whispered to me when she partnered me with the child reading at the lowest level, “I think you can be a great helper for Tina. Can you help her read today?” I will never forget the pride I felt being able to help my friend.
Maybe that is why so many years later, when I was teaching my small groups I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give up on the “round robin” style of reading. I had each student read a page aloud. I was told this was “not good for their self esteem” and was asked to stop. But I refused. You see, I remembered how much my friend loved reading with me. I remembered the power of reading together. That’s why I made it a point to teach my students to help each other sound the words, feel empathy for one another, and offer encouragement to their classmates. Through this, my students not only learned to read, but they also learned some valuable life skills.
I try to apply this same teaching philosophy to my children in our homeschool. We read together multiple times a day, every day. Mommy and Daddy read to both girls, individually or together, big sister reads to little sister, and little sister even reads to big sister. Bella is just learning to read, so we use very simple texts for her.
I love the readers that came with our Logic of English Foundations program, because they fit perfectly with the curriculum. Bella feels confident and proud when she reads them. (You can check out my review for LOE Foundations A here.) But since I believe in saturating a new reader with words they can readily sound out with their newfound abilities, I wanted to give her more text to build her confidence, just as I had with my students so many years ago. For that reason, I bought Bob Books to give Bella something more to read. Little did I know, LOE Foundations B actually recommends certain Bob Books as additional reading material for various lessons. That was a pleasant discovery as we progressed though LOE Foundations B!
The great news about following their recommendations is that they have chosen their suggested books very diligently, so you can rest assure you won’t have additional mini lessons to give. For instance, when I introduced Bob Books before LOE recommended it, I had to help Bella become familiar with capital letters, before they had been introduced in LOE. If giving your own mini lessons feels intimidating, I’d recommend sticking with LOE’s timeline or the timeline of the program you’re using.
Instead of adding in whole books for your new reader, the next best thing would be to keep a running list of letter sounds that your child knows (keeping in mind which sounds they’ve actually learned to use- for instance, Bella knows all three sounds for the letter “a”, but is currently only familiar with the use of its short sound). If you can keep a list in bookmark form, you can use it as a reference whenever you are reading to your child. Any time you come across a word that they could potentially sound out themselves, stop and give them the opportunity to do so. This helps them build their confidence even more in the safety of your presence.
That said, there are plenty of other ways to keep your new reader excited about reading in between lessons. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Bob Books (as previously mentioned). Start with Set 1 or Collection 1 (which includes all of Set 1 and part of Set 2. Amazon has a few Collections available through second-party sellers, but I picked mine up at Costco at a very good price).
- LeapFrog LeapReader (green) or pink. This has been invaluable for our homeschool. Bella can sit and explore books with her LeapReader while I work with Bean. We keep quite a collection of LeapReader books, and even own both the “old” Tag Reader (from when Bean was young) and the “new” LeapReader. The LeapReader has a rechargeable battery, a larger built-in memory, and can be used to write on special LeapReader paper, which is just an added bonus for those kids who want to play games with it or practice writing or drawing. It is an all around great product for emerging readers. They can follow along with the words as the Reader tells the story, and they can use it to sound out the words letter by letter if they choose as well. It really helps to reinforce all the concepts they need to master for reading success, while giving you a (much needed) break!
- Meet the Letter Sounds. This DVD is pretty darn awesome, and if you use it before Logic of English or another phonics-based program, your kiddo will have a great understanding of letter sounds already when you start your lessons. If you use it AFTER using your phonics program, it will reinforce all that your little one has learned. Preschool Prep Company also has Meet the Blends and Meet the Digraphs, or a box set with all three. I actually pulled out Meet the Blends a few times while using LOE Foundations A to make sure I was presenting the sounds properly and to help Bella pronounce them correctly. These series have been a fantastic addition in our homeschool to support reading instruction. However, we avoid their Meet the Sight Word series because phonics-based instruction is proven to be more effective than sight words.
- Junior Learning Smart Tray. We currently have a Smart Tray and the Phonemic Awareness Accelerator. I’m going to be super honest and say I, personally, haven’t done much with this system, except verify that Bella has her answers right every time she has lifted it proudly above her head to show me that the pattern she made with the Smart Tray matches the answer card. It definitely helps to reinforce letter sounds because it is self-correcting. If she gets an answer wrong, she will be able to tell which ones are incorrect and she can go back to try ti fix her mistakes. I love the independent nature of the Smart Tray and I plan to eventually acquire the Reading Accelerator Sets sometime in the future.
- And my favorite: The library. Go to the library! Go to the library OFTEN! Don’t be afraid to go and just sit and read, read, read. You don’t have to check books out every time. Just go and let your child bring you book after book and read each and every page. Soak it all up! Don’t forget to bring along your letter sound (phonogram) bookmark and ask your kiddo to sound some words with you.
Really though, do you need all this stuff?
The bottom line is that to teach reading efficiently and effectively, we need to surround our emerging readers with words. Saturate their days with the satisfying nature of books. Encourage them to try for themselves. Lift them up with empowering words both spoken and written. You can do that without all the mumbo-jumbo I’ve listed here. You can do that simply by reading frequently with your child in addition to using your reading curriculum, just as I did with my struggling readers in the classroom so many years ago. Really, the products I’ve listed here pale in comparison to what you are capable of nurturing in your young reader simply by being there, book in hand. So head to the library, plop down on the couch, or snuggle up in bed with a few good books and your newest little reader and get started!