Parents Are Teachers: You Can Teach Your Child to Read, by Cheryl


Before we became official homeschoolers, I knew my son needed to learn to read. He was only four, but he wanted to read and was picking up some things on his own. I wanted him to have a good foundation. I wanted him to know phonics better than I did, but I was terrified I would mess him up for life by teaching him wrong!

All my life it had been made clear to me that you needed a degree to teach. I could not teach reading. I knew people who had done it, but I did not think I could. No way! I can teach kids to dance and sing, but read? I needed a professional.

One day a good friend brought me a book: Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She told me I could do it. I also checked out the first set of Bob Books from the library (at her suggestion), and we gave it a try. Within a month, my son had read through half the Easy Lessons book and two sets of Bob Books! I did it! This reading thing was easy.

A little over two years later, my daughter (at age four) wanted to learn to read. My son read at four, so I tried. We went back to 100 Easy Lessons, but it was a disaster–there were tears every day. She just wasn’t ready; the desire was there, but not the maturity. We stopped.

Six months later we tried again, and again there were tears. We had studied all the letters, and moved on with more advanced phonics and some sight words, so I thought she was ready for sure. Again, we stopped. After another six months we tried again, and again we had tears.

What was I doing wrong? She was almost six and yet was not anywhere near reading. (I learned that it is not abnormal for a child to learn to read as late as 8.)

I was ready to give up until I read Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching reading.The first book in her Original Homeschooling Series lays out the plan in a clear and easy-to-follow way. (Read the full plan here or start at page 199 if you have access to a print copy of her series.) I started to use that method, and we made progress. We continued with phonics workbooks to support her reading. Eventually the Charlotte Mason method became too cumbersome. I like open-and-go-type programs, and this method required me to find books and make cards of all the words on a page. It took more prep time than I had.

I went to my bookshelves and stood staring at everything I had. I decided to go back to the simple, tried and true method: McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. The pictorial primer lays out a lesson similar to the Charlotte Mason method, but I did not need to prep for it. Each lesson builds on the next in slow steps. I am pairing that with the Explode the Code series for phonics, and we have made significant progress in a couple of months.


The most important lesson I learned through this season in our homeschool life is that my kids are different and I must adjust our lessons accordingly. What works for one child may not work for another. Finding a method that works for teacher and student may take some trial and error, but it is important to find the right match for everyone.

Don’t let one “failure” stop you. There is a method that will work for each child; sometimes it is the curriculum that makes the difference, but sometimes the child needs more time.

Some Practical Help

One of our problems was reading-readiness. How do you know if your child is ready to read? A few things to look for:

1. Interest. Does the child want to read?
2. Ability to rhyme. This ability is linked to the ability to decode word families. My daughter only started rhyming in the last six months.
3. Oral blending. Break a word down into sounds orally (/k/-/a/-/t/) and have the child tell you the word. If she can’t do it listening to you, she will struggle doing it completely on her own.
4. Left to right tracking. Another issue we had to overcome. The human brain is not born tracking from left to right; it takes everything in at once. Practice this skill by having your child match a pattern or series you lay out in blocks or letters, starting on the left.

There are others, but with my daughter, these were the big four we faced. She had #1 down (interest), so we kept working on the other three skills until she was comfortable with them; then lessons became easier.

If the task at hand has you scared you may ruin your child for life (you won’t!), many programs exist to help you teach reading. These are all products we have used with some success in our house.

Teach You’re Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading

The Bob Books

Junior Phonics

The Writing Road to Reading

Explode the Code

McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers

All About Reading, Abeka, and Rod and Staff’s reading program have been recommended many times as well.

You can do it! You can teach your child!


Cherylcheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Longer Books to Read Aloud to Younger Children, by Jane-Emily


As a new mom, I couldn’t wait to start reading to my baby.  You know how it is; you’re just so excited about everything!  We read picture books together all the time, but by the time she was 3 or so I was just dying to read her longer books too, a chapter at a time.  Of course I was jumping the gun; she was not ready yet!  I had to wait a little while.  As my girls got bigger, though, I read to them quite a lot, and eventually made a list of my favorite read-alouds for ages 3-6 to share with my friends.

Most children will probably not be ready to listen to chapter stories until age 3.5 – 4.  It might be longer than that.  And, although most parents seem to immediately think of Winnie-the-Pooh, I found through personal experience that some other books with simpler storylines and larger illustrations should come first.  So, in order from simplest to more complex, here is my list of favorites:

  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett  This is a wonderful book to start with, featuring Elmer Elevator’s adventures with a baby dragon.  There are 3 books.  The first one has an odd habit of calling the protagonist “my father” instead of Elmer, but you can edit as you read if you wish.  My daughter promptly made Elmer Elevator her first imaginary friend, and we took him everywhere for a month or so.
  • 6a00cdf3ac0c23cb8f00cdf7f2f741094f-500piJenny and the Cat Club by Ester Averill Jenny is a shy black cat who longs to join the Cat Club.  She has several books of adventures and they are wonderful. (Don’t miss her friend, Pickles the Fire Cat.  He has his own easy reader.)
  • All About Sam by Lois Lowry  Funny stories about life from a baby-to-preschooler perspective.  There are four Sam books and the first two are the best, but they’re all fun.
  • The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley This sweet and very English book has stories of everyday life in a village.  Milly-Molly-Mandy has many gentle adventures that show how much a little girl can do.
  • Tales from Grimm  Most ‘real’ fairy tales are too intense and complex for little ones, but this selection from the author of Millions of Cats is an excellent first book of fairy tales.
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder The rest of these classics should wait a while, but this first title is perfect for a 4-5 year-old child.
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary My favorite ‘first Beverly Cleary’ book, in which Ralph the mouse meets a boy–and they bond over their mutual love of toy cars.  Ralph is just the right size to ride the motorcycle…follow Ralph through 3 books.
  • Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken Arabel is a sweet little girl; Mortimer is her horrible and beloved pet raven.   There are 3 books, and they are so funny.   Mortimer destroys everything in sight, but Arabel can’t live without him.
  • The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon One of my favorite books ever, this is a  collection of fairy tales by one of my favorite authors.  Some are too long for younger children, and some are perfect.  Try “The Lady’s Room” first.
  • Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson Moomintroll and his motley collection of friends have adventures in the forest.  There are several strange and wonderful books in this series.
  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor A warm and classic story about a Jewish family of 5 sisters in 1912 New York on the Lower East Side.  Very popular with girls, probably not so much for boys, but there ARE boys so give it a try.
  • Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers If you’ve never read these before, you’ll discover that Mary is impatient, cross, vain, and always denies everything, but is nevertheless beloved by her often-naughty charges.  Lots of fun.  (If you have a pre-1981 edition, just edit the chapter about the compass adventure as you read.)
  • Nurse Matilda: The Collected Tales by Christianna Brand Speaking of nanny stories, here’s a very funny one.  You might know this book as the inspiration for the film Nanny McPhee.
  • The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne  Of course.  Just not for the first read-aloud. 🙂

By the time your child is old enough to enjoy the last few books on this list, the possibilities will widen out considerably.  There are so many wonderful books out there to read to your child!  I could go on listing titles for a long time, but my aim here is to provide a list of excellent books to ease into reading aloud a chapter at a time.

All of these books will also come in handy later on as your child learns to read independently.  My Father’s Dragon, Jenny and the Cat Club, and the others may be enjoyed for years to come.  Be sure to have your child read aloud a bit to you every so often!

Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves tojane-emily quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

Subtle Vision Issues Can Cause Big Problems

By Jane-Emily

A preliminary note: Although the cause of my daughter’s vision issue is quite rare, the problems we had because of it are pretty common and the therapy we used is helpful for a wide range of issues.  I hope that some people looking for ways to help their kids will find this useful.

My younger daughter’s 3rd grade year was something of a nightmare.  I didn’t know what to do with her.  She couldn’t explain the problem, and it took me a long time to connect the dots; I didn’t realize that the different issues we were having were all caused by the same thing.

Problem #1: She could read perfectly well, but she didn’t like to read.  I know not everyone is going to love reading as much as I do, but I found her avoidance of reading to be a little odd.  In particular, she would not try new books; she had to be completely convinced that she was going to love the story.  I would tantalize her by reading aloud whatever book I thought she would like–that usually worked, but quite often she would read some of a book and then leave it unfinished.  She much preferred listening, and I gave her lots of audiobooks.

Problem #2: Math.  I was mystified.  This kid started off enjoying math, and she had clearly inherited some of her dad’s skill at it.  Even as a toddler, she loved puzzles and blocks, and she grew into a confirmed Lego addict.  During math lessons, she learned well and enjoyed it.  But in 3rd grade, she started having inexplicable meltdowns.  She “hated math.”  We were using Saxon, and she did fine with the lesson part. She loved anything having to do with manipulatives, she understood the concepts, and she knew her math facts cold–but she balked at the problem sets, and the sheets of math facts (the ones with 100 to a page) sent her into an instant tailspin.

She complained of headaches.  She tried to weasel out of the work.  She cried.   But why?  She was perfectly capable.  When I was in 3rd grade we did those math fact sheets daily and I thought they were fun.  I wasn’t asking her to do anything unusual or difficult.

I tried all kinds of things.  We did “trampoline math” for the fact sheets, where I would call out the problems and she would answer them while jumping on a mini-tramp.  I would bribe her with an M&M for every row she finished.  We did a lot orally.  Still she balked and developed sudden headaches, but I didn’t really believe in them.  Since when do healthy kids get headaches at the drop of a hat?  I thought her headaches were fictional, a way to get out of doing what she didn’t want to do.  (This is where I win the Bad Mom of the Year Award.)

She started complaining about headaches more, even when she was doing things she liked to do–even when she was playing.  I took this development more seriously and started wondering if she had a real problem that we weren’t understanding.  My first thought was to take her to the eye doctor.

I should explain why I jumped so easily to the eye doctor idea:  I am horribly near-sighted, and my entire family is prone to having interesting eye problems.  This child invented a new one for us to deal with; she has a particular condition called Duane’s Syndrome.  One of her eyes does not have its full range of motion because the nerves that control the muscles on one side simply never developed.  There is nothing to be done about this, but our regular eye doctor and our friend the ophthalmologist (who explained it to me when she was a baby) didn’t seem to think it was any big deal, and she had never shown any signs of trouble.  I’d been taking her to get her eyes checked since she was 1 year old, and she had just gotten a checkup and a fresh pair of glasses before 3rd grade.  She had even lost the wonky astigmatism she’d had in that eye, so I thought things were going well.

It had only been maybe 6 months since she had last seen the eye doctor, but this time we were looking for a specific problem and he did some different tests.  She did not have good binocularity!  Her eyes were not working together as well as they should, even on her good side.  (Of course they can’t work together at all on her weak side–she sees double there.)  The doctor recommended vision therapy; he was certified in VT and would give us exercises to do.

This all came as something of a shock to me.  I’d gotten so used to her wonky eye that I hadn’t considered all the ramifications of it for her.  I called up our friend the ophthalmologist and asked his opinion.  He (and the pediatric ophthalmologist he referred me to) thought that vision therapy would be a useless waste of time and money.  I’m afraid I broke into tears on the phone and distressed him terribly, poor guy.

We were on a tight budget and vision therapy wasn’t covered by our insurance.  The idea of spending hundreds of dollars on something that might not work was hugely daunting to me, but how could I not try?  Besides, no other option presented itself.  It was VT or nothing.

So we gave it a try.  The doctor gave us simple exercises to do, often with items we had at home, though he also lent us equipment.  Every day, we did a set of exercises, and I learned much more about how her eyes work.   Our goal was to get her eyes working together as much as possible, given her incurable condition.

I’m happy and relieved to report that the exercises worked beautifully.  Over a few months, her complaints about headaches diminished and then ceased.  She became willing to read!  It still isn’t her very favorite thing to do (that would be Legos), but she enjoys books and, to my joy, spent the summer working through the entire “Warriors” series.  It helps if I search out editions with clear type that isn’t too small.  Her distaste for new, unknown books had been because reading was such hard work for her that she had to be convinced that it would be worth it–but of course she couldn’t articulate that.  A child who has never known otherwise cannot explain what is going wrong.

We developed a whole new set of habits for math:  I bought paper that allowed for larger writing, I discovered apps that presented practice problems in a beautifully large font, and we still did quite a bit orally.  Much of 4th grade was spent just getting her over the hatred of math she had developed–not because she couldn’t do the work, but because she couldn’t focus on the small print and it made her eyes hurt.

I’m grateful that we homeschool; I’m convinced that the amount of time I could spend observing her trying to work is what helped us to figure out the problem.   I had a thorough knowledge of her–her personality, talents, and issues from the day she was born–and it still took me months to figure it out.  I’m also grateful that I chose Saxon Math; with its plain layout and lack of fancy embellishments all over the page, it is actually the best text for her, since there is so little to confuse or distract the eye.   We did give up those 100-fact sheets, though.  They have tiny print that is just plain hard to see.

Considering the results, I think the hundreds of dollars we had to spend for VT was well worth it.  I imagine what her life would be like if schoolwork and reading were always a difficult struggle that caused pain.  It would be completely natural to hate school, and math, and reading!  At the time, I worried constantly about the money, because I wasn’t sure that the therapy would work.  Now, I think it one of the best things I ever spent money on.

My daughter’s particular eye condition is a rare one, but the problem that it caused is not.  I am no expert, but as far as I can tell, problems with binocularity are fairly common.  It’s hard to spot, though, because it’s so subtle, and the resulting behavioral problems look like a childish reluctance to cooperate.  Many people faced with a recalcitrant child don’t think of possible hard-to-detect vision issues.  So I am sharing my story here in hopes that if you have a child who hates math or reading for no discernible reason, a visit to an eye doctor who knows something about vision therapy will be on your list of things to do.  Vision therapy seems to still be not very well-known, and it could solve so many children’s problems!

jane-emilyJane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.