Reading has the potential to transport you. To bring you to worlds that can only be reached by imagination. To allow you to see and learn things you never would have known otherwise. Yet, things were not always like this! Many years ago, when you first started to learn to read, it was hard work!
It takes time, energy, and effort to arrive at a place where reading is not a struggle. Where it’s not just attempting to learn a new concept, but a pleasure to be enjoyed. So, how do you help your chid get to this place? How do you help them through learning a new concept while at the same time making reading fun and interesting?
Start with Your Mindset
The way to make reading fun and interesting first starts with your mindset. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap that there’s one specific way, one specific method that must be used to teach your child how to read. Can I let you in on a big secret? No two children are the same! On top of that, your teaching style is just a little bit different than everyone else’s because you are unique, too! So, it follows that the way you teach reading is going to be just a little bit different for each and every child you teach.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, when you’re teaching your child to read, there are a few core elements that do need to be in place. There does need to be an element of sitting down with a book and your child and working through sounds and letters. Your child needs to learn how to string the sound that each letter makes together with the sounds the other letters make to form a word. This is an essential piece of the process! Yet, when this becomes the only piece of the process, there’s a risk of reading becoming a chore: uninteresting, and more difficult than it needs to be.
So herein lies the challenge: How do you not only teach your child to read, but teach them to read in an interesting and fun way that holds their attention?
I believe the exact approach and balance of these different pieces will change from child to child. Yet, there are some elements everyone can incorporate that takes learning to read from feeling like a bland, boring chore to a fun, exciting, and engaging experience.
Using Flashcard Games to Teach Reading
Flashcards. You either love them or you hate them. You may have just started cringing when I brought up the idea of flashcards right then. But did you realize you can make flashcards fun? Yup. I did it. I said it. The hated flashcards can actually be fun! But how?
One of the ways I have found to make flashcards fun is to make games out of them. I started by finding a really large set of ABC flashcards. Ours are a printable version where each card is one 8.5”x11” sheet of paper. (I laminated them to make them last longer!) You can use whatever size flashcards work for you, but when playing these games, I prefer the larger ones. Somehow it makes the game feel bigger and it makes your child feel like they are inside the game instead of simply playing a game.
So, now that you have the flashcards, what do you do with them?
Game Idea 1
Take the flashcards and spread them out on the floor, making sure they are not in order. Have your child put them in order as they work their way through singing the ABC song. This helps them connect the name of the letter with the actual character of the letter.
Game Idea 2
Take the flashcards and spread them out on the floor, making sure they are not in order. Call out a sound one of the letters makes. For example, you would say “buh, buh, like butterfly” instead of ‘Find the B for butterfly.” Have your child bring you the flashcard with the letter that makes that sound. Make sure you are calling out the sound the letter makes, not the name of the letter for this game. Repeat this process until all the flashcards have been picked up. This game is really useful when you’re teaching reading from a phonetic standpoint and want to reinforce the sound of each letter. Remember to mix up the order of the letters as you call them out!
Using Letter Games to Teach Reading
There are many different games available that help to teach the sound associated with each letter. The big idea behind these games is rather simple: Match the letter character with the picture of an object that starts with that letter. For example, the letter ‘E’ will match with the picture of an elephant.
These games can take many different forms, so it becomes less a matter of finding a game and more a matter of finding the game that will resonate and be fun, engaging, and interesting for your child.
Some examples include:
- Taking a card that has one specific letter on it and matching it to a picture of something that begins with that letter. (For example, the letter ‘E’ gets put with an elephant, the letter ‘L’ gets put with the lion, and so on.) Make sure that you have a set for the uppercase letters and a set for the lowercase letters with this type of game.
- Take a package of inexpensive clothespins and write the letters of the alphabet on them (a set for uppercase and a set for lowercase). Then, give your child one of the sets and have them clip the clothespin onto the picture that starts with that letter. The pictures can be a set of flashcards with or without the letter on them, they could be a set of cards with just pictures on them, or the pictures could form the border of a shape.
- Find a puzzle that allows your child to match up the letter character with a picture of something that starts with that letter. This game has the benefit of a built-in double-check for your child -if the puzzle pieces don’t fit together, then they have the wrong letter/picture combination and need to try again!
The sky is the limit when you’re coming up with games like this to help teach your child their letters. Keep in mind that some of these games can get confusing, though. When in doubt stick with this rule of thumb: Keep it as simple as possible! The less rules there are, the easier it is to understand and the quicker you can get to the fun part!
Using Books to Teach Your Child to Read
Of course, no plan to teach your child to read would be complete without books! And there is no shortage of options when it comes to finding books! But what books do you choose? Instead of trying to tell you all about every book possible, I decided to simply highlight a few of my family’s favorites. If these books aren’t the right fit for you and your family, that’s totally okay! Remember, this is less about using the same materials as everyone else and all about finding what materials and resources will help you teach your child to read in a way that they will learn best.
The BOB Books
These books are our absolute favorites for learning to read phonetically. There are 5 main sets of books – each set coming in its own box. Within each box, there are 9-12 small books that range in the number of pages, starting with 8 or so pages in the very first books and gradually increasing in number as you work through the books in that box (and then in the remaining sets).
At the very beginning, the books start out using very few letters – in fact, only 4 letters are used in the very first book! With each book, a couple more letters are added until by the end of the first box, your child is reading all the letters of the alphabet.
I love the approach of these books. It’s simple, systematic, and it has a built-in reward system: There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment that comes when your child can claim “I read a whole book!” Granted, the book was very simple and used only 4 letters of the alphabet, but they did finish a book! That sense of accomplishment fuels their desire to keep going and keep reading.
What could be better than a plethora of simple books about many different topics to help continue fostering a love of reading in your child? Add to this the fact that these books are fairly easy to find at your local library and you have a well-stocked, free resource to draw from on topics that are sure to keep your child interested. Not to mention a constant supply of new material to make sure your child is actually reading to you and not just quoting a memorized book!
From my experience, the Easy Readers aren’t written from a purely phonetic teaching style like the BOB books are. However, these simple books are a great resource you can tap into. You can find books about almost any topic in these Easy Readers – from Star Wars and Fancy Nancy to Biscuit the puppy and life on a farm. There’s something for everyone in these books!
Dr Seuss Books
When you hear about Dr Seuss’ books, it’s easy to think about ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ but did you know Dr Seuss wrote his books in response to the fact that there were very few interesting books to teach children how to read?
You see, Dr Seuss saw a gap in the literature written for children and he filled that gap with unforgettable books that explore word families through rhyme and, yes, a healthy dose of silliness. In fact, one of Dr Seuss’ most famous books, ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ was written using less than 50 words! And he specifically chose words that children just learning to read would know.
Dr Seuss’s books have stood the test of time as generations of children have read and passed down the tradition of these books as they had children of their own. They’re an incredible, unforgettable resource to tap into as you seek to bring that fun element to life while teaching your child to read.
Explode the Code Workbooks
Another incredible resource you can utilize is the Explode the Code workbooks. These workbooks take your child on a step by step journey through the phonetics of the English language using pictures, circling the correct answer, writing, and word building. They include exercises that reinforce and expand on the basics of reading. This series of 8 core workbooks starts at the beginning, teaching your child how to start with the building blocks, the sounds of the letters, and put them together to form words. And these workbooks don’t simply teach how to build words, but how to break down a word into its building blocks, understand it, then put it back together. This unique approach serves to reinforce and expand on the lessons your child is learning as they read out loud.
Do you want to know a side benefit of these workbooks? Later on, when you start to get into spelling lists, your child will have a really good grasp of how words are spelled because they’ve gone through so much of the structure behind the words with Explode the Code.
On top of all that, the Explode the Code workbooks are fun and engaging. They use a great many pictures to begin teaching the words and concepts your child will master by the time they’re done with this series.
One of the biggest keys to keep reading fun and interesting is to watch where you’re setting your expectations. You want to make sure your expectations are grounded in reality! For example, when you child is first starting to learn how to read, it’s not reasonable to expect them to sit down with you for a 2 hour block of time to learn some fundamentals of reading.
Instead, try working with your child in small time increments consistently over a number of days. Studies show that when you devote a small amount of time consistently each day to learning a new skill (in this case reading), you are able to retain more and accomplish more in a shorter amount of time than if you sat down and tried to cram all that brand-new material in into a multi-hour time block.
You can think of these small chunks in terms of minutes: 5-10 minutes might be all that your child can handle at a time. Or maybe look at it in terms of pages read – 1 page or 2 pages per day might be your goal to start. You can slowly expand this over time as your child becomes more proficient at reading.
The Final Piece
This last piece is probably the most important: Don’t be too hard on yourself or on your child! Learning to read is a process. You didn’t learn to read overnight, so why would you expect your child to learn this skill overnight? You have to be patient both with yourself and with your child and embrace the process.
Believe me, there will be days when you’ll be astonished at the leaps and bounds your child seems to make in their reading skills. And there will be days when you wonder if all the ground you managed to cover has been completely lost, but this is all part of the process.
Approach learning to read as a process that takes time. And don’t forget to add in a good dose of grace and encouragement in this process – for both of you! Remember, the progress is in the process, not in perfection!
- Dr Seuss: Rising to the Rhyming Challenge
- Why Is Reading With Your Kids So Important?
- How To Teach Your Child to Read in a Simple, Easy Way, Part 1
- How To Teach Your Child to Read in a Simple, Easy Way, Part 2
- How To Teach Your Child to Read in a Simple, Easy Way, Part 3
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.