After settling into the classical model of education and using the Classical Conversations program to help us do so, I faced a new challenge. For the first time, I was bringing up a child who would possibly never darken the doors of public school. Fortunately, she was attending a fabulous pre-kinder program at our church for a year, but there was the strong possibility she would never attend a traditional school setting. And they didn’t “teach” her to read in pre-k.
How was I supposed to teach her to read?
My first inclination was to deviate from the plan and send her to the private kindergarten program at the local First United Methodist Church. Certainly, they could teach my child to read. She had to attend kindergarten somewhere, and not at home. Over time, the Lord worked on my heart, and I decided I would give it a shot. Based on a reference, I picked up Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This source did not work for us, and my first thought was failure. After all, if it worked for so many of my friends, then it had to work for us – right?
In the end, I discovered I was the one who was bored. The curriculum didn’t work for me.
I was provided with a new reference for a program called Spell to Write and Read – or SWR for short.
It is extremely detailed, so I chose to dive into about half of the detail with my older boys. Trying to remain stress-free about this adventure, I only pulled out the single-letter phonograms for my daughter. In anticipation of her reaching kindergarten age the following year, we reviewed the phonograms once or sometimes twice per week. While they don’t recommend you say the letter name – just the sound – we did use the names. My older two learned all the beginning sounds as well, and they were familiar with the names and sounds. My daughter, Eden, would repeat after me as I gave all of the possible sounds for each letter and the word that represented each sound.
I begrudgingly resisted the urge to “teach” my daughter to read throughout the year. In Classical Conversations, we say “Trust the Grammar!” Well, it was time to “Trust the Phonics!” After making no effort to read books the entire year, I pulled out old Hooked on Phonics books the following summer. Guess what? She could read the simple ones. The joy on her face melted my heart. We had done it. Praise the Lord! My baby could read, and I had been a part of the process!
The following year, I continued to work with Eden on her phonics once or twice a week. I added in multi-letter phonograms, but really only about ten for her to learn. What happened was not what I expected. Insisting on copying her big brothers, she would grab an 18″x24″ whiteboard and write out all of the phonograms. ALL of them. Granted, it added to our language arts time, but the results were astounding! She began reading harder books, though they were certainly still beginner reading levels. Showing off her reading skills thrilled her soul, and mine too!
We are now preparing for first grade. She can read basic readers, but they are harder than the Hooked on Phonics books. Recently, we began using the new readers from Classical Conversations, which are full of interesting material that I can trust to be morally sound. Eden raced through the first one, so we jumped to the third in the series. She writes basic ,3-5 letter spelling words from the SWR program and proudly boasts that she has her own words now. I think she made it through 3 lists the entire year, but we aren’t in a hurry.
What SWR has done for my daughter is teach her how to read without “teaching” her how to read. No reading lessons – only phonics. And we went at our own pace for these first two years. Now, she picks up a book and only needs to hear me say “ou as in out,” or “oa as in boat.” SWR also has 28 spelling rules. She couldn’t tell you a single one off the top of her head, but if I ask her what two letters say “k” after a singular vowel with a short sound, she’ll say “ck” – every time! If I ask her what Q always needs? She’ll say a U.
Children, especially young children, are sponges, but we need to let them be sponges. Too often, we ask them to immediately regurgitate, when they should still be soaking learning in – soaking life in.
In one more year, I’ll start the process again with our youngest son, Thomas. This time around, I’m excited!
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If you are in the throws of teaching your student to read, I would highly suggest a thorough phonics program. Will it work for everyone? No. But it might work for you!
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