“She sobs every time she reads and talks about how stupid she is and that she can’t do it.”
“He gets so frustrated when we’re doing school and after 10 minutes of reading he refuses to read, even if I threaten to ground him.”
“I want to yell or cry and can barely control my frustration that everything I do to help him read doesn’t seem to be working.”
The above are comments that I hear time and again from parents who come to me, exhausted and disheartened, for help. As a reading tutor, I’ve met a countless number of parents whose children are struggling, and heard so many stories. These parents look dejected and battle weary. They have fought hard. I have so much compassion for these parents who are at their wits end; I don’t want any homeschooling parent to be in that position. Here are my tips for how to teach your child at home.
As obvious as this may seem, it is important. I have never met a child who just picked up a book one day and started reading despite no previous knowledge. Reading is not like eating or talking, an instinctual process. Reading and writing are communication tools or technology that must be learned. Even very young fluent readers have to be modeled reading by their parents and learn the sounds of letters. Teaching the sound of letters and letter combinations is called phonics.
Phonics is the best way to teach reading. If you think back to a one room schoolhouse à la Little House in the Prairie, the teacher taught phonics. The English language has evolved over 1,400 years. Standardized spelling in English has only existed for about 600 years. For this reason, English spelling is not clear or concise at all.
There are innumerable studies from cognitive scientists demonstrating that phonics is the indisputable method to teach reading. Some children easily pick up on the subtle rules of English phonics but others need to be taught those rules.
There are many curriculums that use phonics to teach reading. Sing, Spell, Read & Write, Hooked on Phonics, and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons are my favorites, but there are a myriad of amazing programs to try. If a certain program isn’t working for your child, even if your other children did well with it, don’t be afraid to try others until you find the one that works the best.
Make Reading Fun
Read stories often to your children, pointing to the words as you read. As you read, ask them questions to test their understanding of the story. Many of my students struggle with comprehension in addition to reading; because they didn’t know how to read, they weren’t able to develop vital comprehension skills. Questions can be short and easy, such as “Why did he do that?” “What do you think he is feeling or thinking?” “What do you think is going to happen next?”
Reward reading. Reward your child with screen or play time if they read without complaining or for ten minutes; give prizes if they reach a reading goal, such as reading a paragraph. Sing, Spell, Read & Write and Hooked on Phonics have rewards built into the programs.
As hard as teaching is for you, reading is more grueling for your child. It is NOT because your child isn’t smart, or trying. Each child is different and has a different learning style. Your child might already feel inadequate because they compare themselves to other kids. Praise them for trying. Show them their talents in other areas of learning, such as art, music, or engineering. Most importantly, point out their successes instead of their failures. You should correct their mistakes, but not necessarily every mistake every lesson. However, you should applaud or affirm every word or sentence that they read correctly.
Hopelessness is most destructive to your teaching and your child’s learning. If you lose hope that your child will become a fluent reader, or even become a better reader, your child will be able to detect that sentiment and lose hope as well. Therefore, anything that alleviates frustration or stress and furthers your child’s reading is indispensable.
If you start to feel frustrated while teaching, take a break and go do something that rejuvenates you. An important lesson that I learned early in my career was if a child cries, the lesson for the day is over. No child can do the arduous task of learning a difficult skill if they are sobbing. Before they reach that breaking point, and are getting frustrated, take a five minute break from reading and let them do something fun.
Ask for Help
Teaching a struggling reader is a battle. You need comrades in arms. Ask other homeschool moms for advice or curriculum suggestions. Send your child over to a friend’s house for extra reading practice from a different teacher. Do research. Join online groups with other homeschoolers of struggling readers. Don’t be afraid to contact a specialist to assess, offer tips, or assist you in teaching your child to read if they need extra help.
If teaching your child to read seems impossible, it isn’t. The best part of my job is watching my students’ eyes light up when they finally ‘get it’, and after all of their hard work take pride in their accomplishments. This seemingly insurmountable goal is achievable. Take courage. Fight the good fight and finish the course.
Kate is a homeschool graduate and reading tutor from Fort Wayne, IN. Her personal passion for reading and learning fueled her desire to give that to children who need the help most by starting Dyslexia Tutor Fort Wayne. Besides reading and teaching, Kate loves hiking, philosophy, fashion, deep conversations with friends, food, British tv shows, and thrifting, though not necessarily in that order.