In this Wondering Wednesday video, Donna Reish, author of seventy curriculum books totaling over forty thousand pages, answers a mom’s questions about helping her son who is struggling with reading. Donna talks about readiness, creating a learning environment, combining language arts/grammar studies with reading studies, the importance of immersion in the reading process, using learning styles in teaching reading, and much more. Donna’s reading blog posts can be found here. Donna’s Wondering Wednesday podcasts and videos can be found here. Donna’s downloadable Letters and Sounds phonics programs can be found here.
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”A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” ~Lemony Snicket
Talking does not always have to be “free style” or just conversation. One amazing way I have “talked” to my kids through the years was through a daily story time.
For twenty-five years, “more often than not,” I had a one to three hour story time with my kids who were story time age—and it was an amazing way to tie heart strings and “talk.”
Thirty-one years ago with a one-year-old toddler in tow, my husband and I
began homeschooling my younger sister who was in eighth grade at the time.
It was definitely homeschooling out of necessity due to some problems that
she was having at school with bullying and meanness because of her
moderately mentally handicapped condition. I did not know much about
homeschooling. I did read Dr. Raymond Moore’s books, and I knew that they
coincided perfectly with the teaching in my elementary education degree and
my master’s work in reading education (in terms of how children learn).
However, to say that I knew what I was getting myself into would be a great
So basically I did whatever Dr. Raymond Moore suggested, whatever we learned
about in any books we read, whatever we learned at the Gregg Harris
homeschooling workshop, and, eventually, what we were taught at homeschool
conventions and parenting seminars. Our curriculum writer at the time, Dr.
Raymond Moore (“Growing Kids God’s Way”) recommended reading aloud quite
frequently even during Lisa’s eighth-grade year. Likewise, Mr. Harris said
the same thing in The Christian Homeschooling Workshops. So we came home and
did just they said to do!
My first two children, Joshua now thirty-two and Kayla following three years
after, were auditory sponges. They made reading aloud such a joy, that we
quite literally spent three to five hours every single day five or six days
a week reading aloud. We broke up our reading throughout the day and
evening, and we even called it by various names, like subject reading in
the morning. This is what we called what people now call unit studies.
Joshua liked to call it subject reading because it made him feel like he was
really doing school at a young age! In the afternoon, we had storytime.
Various times of the day we had Bible and character time. And of course
bedtime stories and more. Some days we would have a “read all day” day in
which we would make sack lunches and not leave the sofa for five or six
solid hours. Other days we had such silly times as
“matching-green-sweat-suits-read-aloud” time! (Don’t laugh at me….that
really makes me smile!)
I had read Jim Trelease’s *”Read Aloud Handbook,” plus had learned about read
aloud benefits from the aforementioned seminars and books, but I couldn’t
begin to anticipate the huge impact those early years of reading aloud would
have on those children and on our future children. We grew to love reading
aloud so much that quite literally, I have read aloud at least a couple of
hours every day for my first twenty-five years of parenting!
What about those benefits? Well, all of my children were eager to learn to
read. They had such warm feelings of being read to that they could not wait
to learn to read themselves. They have all become strong readers. They all
love learning as a result of that early reading. For my dyslexic children
and my late readers, reading aloud became invaluable. It built up their
background of experience and their listening comprehension dramatically.
Then when each one did learn to read, he or she brought that background of
experience and auditory comprehension with them into their reading
experiences, and they had amazing comprehension immediately upon learning to
“read” (decode words).
Educational benefits aside, reading aloud has given me the warmest, fondest
memories than a mother could ever ask for. There’s a place in my heart, a
little corner of my heart, called the read aloud corner. It is warm. It is
filled with good memories. Of snuggling with mama on the couch. Of rocking
with mommy with books in her big chair. Of squeezing four, five, or six of
us in mommy and daddy’s bed with a stack of books two feet tall. Isn’t it
amazing to think of the benefits that homeschooling makes available to us?
*affiliate link 🙂
I began homeschooling over thirty years agol when Ray and I taught my younger sister (who was in eighth grade at the time) in our home. During my first several years of homeschooling, I used early readers when my children were first learning to read, but I did not care for “readers” for older children. I always felt that abridged or excerpted stories were inferior—and that children should read whole books.
This worked wonderfully for my first two (the ones who learned to read at age eight and nine). They didn’t like abridgements and excerpts very much anyway—and could easily read a couple of chapter books a week from ages ten and up. (I should note that they are both real literature buffs as adults, and our son teaches literary analysis of many novels to homeschooled students every semester. All of that reading really paid off!)
Then along came our third child, who begged for everything that I did not think was “best” for learning—workbooks (the more, the merrier, in her opinion); readers with excerpts and short stories; tons of what I had thought were useless pages of worksheets and coloring pages; and more. She was a different type of learner than Joshua and Kayla had been—and desired different learning tools.
So I began my hunt for “older” readers—readers for children beyond the phonetically-controlled ones that I had utilized to teach reading. I found many that I liked—and actually used some of them to read aloud to the kids since we found the stories and excerpts interesting and fun. They even caused my kids to go on and read entire books for themselves that they might have otherwise not known about or read (after reading an excerpted portion in their readers).
So…the moral of this story? Every child is different. Each child has his own learning style, likes, dislikes, etc. And we need to cater to those as much as possible in their learning. In order to choose reading materials for your children, a basic knowledge of readability levels will be a great help. I will detail readability levels and determinations in this month’s newsletter (March) and next month’s.
When a child is in school, he is likely in a “reading group,” that is a group of children from his class in which all of the students read at about the same reading level. The child’s teacher chooses readers/stories for each group of children based on that group’s (the children in that group’s) reading level.
To practice with your child at home, you will want to do the same thing—but in a one on one, rather than small group, situation. How do you know what level is appropriate for your child?
I will enumerate some tips for choosing books at your child’s reading level, primarily for word-calling purposes. First, though, a small peek at readability levels will help you in determining your child’s reading level.
Readability is based on many factors. Many readability scales use one of a few simple formulae in which the number of words in a passage or story is divided by the number of words—and a readability level is derived based on the number of words each sentence contains (on an average). Other formulae use the number of syllables, considering that a sentence that contains twenty “one-syllable” words is certainly easier to word call than a sentence that contains twenty “three-syllable” words.
In both of those cases, the readability level is based on word calling, which is an accurate portrayal of early readers since children do not focus much on comprehension at that level of reading. (And if a class does focus on comprehension, it is usually just literal comprehension—what happened, who the characters were, etc.)
As students progress in their reading, we want them to not only be able to sound out words in a passage or story, but we want them to derive meaning from those words. Formulae for readability of a text based on comprehension is much more difficult to assess (though definitely counting number of words with longer syllables demonstrates a higher comprehension level than just merely counting the number of words).
So many things come into play when considering readability of, say, a chapter book of 150 pages. A book might be short but extremely difficult to comprehend due to the vocabulary used (which some formulae do not consider). Likewise, a book can be very long but have extremely immature vocabulary and not be difficult to comprehend at all.
In our language arts and composition books, we give students passages to write from at least half of the time for factual writing in the early grades, lessening as students learn to find appropriate sources themselves, etc. In choosing these passages to write from, comprehension is extremely important. In order to write from source material, a much higher level of comprehension must be realized than merely that of sounding out the words. In choosing passages for students to read, take notes from, and write from, we consider readability in terms of word calling first, then we consider sentence structure. Sentence structure includes the length of the sentence, the type of sentence (i.e. what we learned as compound, compound-complex, etc.), the type of and length of sentence openers a sentence contains (prepositional phrase openers, adverb openers, etc.), and finally, the vocabulary of the passage.
How does this apply to your reading with your student? Consider the list of ascending skills below concerning readability and readers:
1. In the early grades, you will be concerned with readability in terms of decoding, phonics, sight words, etc. That is, can your student read the words?
2. If your child already reads well in terms of decoding (sounding out words), and can “pick up anything and ‘read’ it,” you will want to focus on content—comprehending what he reads, discussing it, etc.
3. As students progress in reading, homeschooling moms and teachers in school often forsake the practice of reading aloud with children, noting that the child can word call anything, so there is no need to check for word calling skills/application of phonics. However, we advocate reading aloud with your child for some years, at least a couple of times a week. No, you will not be checking for word calling anymore (though my older boys will still say something like, “How do you pronounce this word—m-y-r-i-a-d?” when they are reading something to themselves), but reading involves word calling AND comprehension. A child who can “read anything” but not comprehend it is like a child reading “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.” To say that a child in fourth grade can read at a ninth grade level because he can decode all of the words in a passage that is rated at a ninth grade readability level is like saying he can read the “Wocket” tale by Dr. Seuss. He might be able to word call it, but is he “reading” if he cannot comprehend what he reads?
4. Oral reading together with Mom or Dad at upper elementary grades is for comprehension—you will not necessarily be checking on the application of his decoding skills, but you will be checking on his comprehension, vocabulary recognition, etc. You will hopefully be guiding him through his reading, discussing it, answering questions about vocabulary words (i.e. words he can easily sound out but does not know the meaning of), etc.
5. If your child is beyond the beginning phonics instruction, you may not need books that are “graded” in terms of readability. Perhaps he already enjoys reading a certain picture book series or early junior fiction series. These can then become his “readers” to read with you.
6. Consider the differences in “readability” in the materials he reads with you vs the materials he reads to himself: