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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Helping the older child learn to read

This was originally posted last year, but I've updated and added links.

My eldest child went to public school for kindergarten and 1st grade. Which means that someone else really taught him to read. Conversely, my second child, now 8, has always been homeschooled (he was 4 when we started homeschooling his big brother). So, I've gotten to teach him to read. This has been both a blessing and a challenge. He is what you'd call a "late blooming reader".

For a long time I thought I'd failed him in some way, but then his younger sister (who has never been in an institutional school - not even preschool) is learning to read with no problems. So, I hope that indicates that I'm not a bad teacher! :)

A friend of mine is in a similar situation and her son is having a tough time with reading (our boys are just a few months apart). Just like my middle boy, he is a bit older than most starting readers and he probably isn't the "perfect" student. (By that I mean the type who wants to sit down and spend lots of time practicing their phonics sounds.) Their older age and temperment/learning styles combine to make for some frustration for both mom and child. We begin to feel like "something is wrong", which can lead to feelings of guilt for Mom and feelings of inadequacy for child.

Here are some of the ideas we tossed around together. If you have an active, school-allergic, late-bloomer student like ours, you might find some of these ideas really helpful.

A curriculum we've enjoyed
Let me start by telling you about Starfall, a free, internet-based reading program. The program is comprised of phonics-controlled online games and interactive "books". These are high-quality learning activities which kids really enjoy. There are various levels from kids just learning their letters to kids ready to write creatively. We choose a few activities each day to try.

One of my favorite aspects of Starfall are the online interactive read-along books. Your child reads the book and if he comes to a word he cannot read, he can click on it to hear it sounded out. Each phonogram-based book is coordinated with learning activities.

Starfall also provides printables that go along with each online book. In fact, you can download the whole set of printables for your own workbook. Again, these are high-quality materials covering phonics and some simple grammar and punctuation.

There are also some fun "play" activities based on seasonal themes, including calendars to print.

Fun and games
My son balks at anything remotely "schoolish". He melts down and seems to regress to preschool (he's 8) when presented with a workbook. While he is learning that being educated by me means he has to do some stuff that is "boring", I am learning to provide as many learning games as possible.

A very simple, but favorite game for us has been Sight Word Bingo. This is a little boxed board game by Carson-Dellosa Publishing. I started by calling out the word and showing him the card, then he would find it's match on his Bingo board. Now I call out the word, but don't show it to him unless he's stumped. He's gotten so fast, I often can't call out cards fast enough. One tip with games: play with your child (don't just call out the bingo cards)! Kids love getting a chance to beat Mom!

There are other games you could try, but I have had great success with this simple bingo game.

Here are some other ideas:

Readers for older kids
One real issue for us has been finding readers for older kids. Most readers today are written with very young kids in mind. These bored my son and me right out of our minds! But finding something more interesting (and more appropriate for his comprehension level) has been difficult. I recommend finding non-fiction books to use as readers. Science books are particularly interesting to kids and come in many reading levels. Biographies are another good idea.

Scholastic has a nice series of biographies at great prices (about $5.00 US). We've been reading The Story Of Thomas Alva Edison . He reads about a paragraph ot two each day. I help him when he gets stuck on a word, but for the most part, he reads on his own. There are some "big" words in the text, so I just jump in and tell him those. No sense getting him frustrated. He gets a mark on his reading chart and when the chart is complete a reward! (I'm giving him $10 to go buy more books.)

Another source for readers is DK Readers. These come in 4 levels, so you can easily choose the best level for your child. The readers in this series cover all sorts of fascinating subjects: history, science, LEGOs, sports, literature and more. They have DK's excellent pictures, too! We will start a Level 3 book called Spies! next.

Here are some suggestions:
I Want To Be a Jedi (Level 3)
Journey Through Space (Level 2)
Ready, Set, Podrace! (Level 1)

You'll need to guage your child's level and give them the help they need so as not to frustrate them. I'd suggest starting out with reading the text and having them read a few words in each line. Or alternate reading: you read a sentence (or paragraph), then she reads a sentence (or paragraph). Because my son can be a slacker, I've taken a different approach. We read as much or as little as he wants, but I will NOT read to him other than a bit of assistance when he gets stumped. (Just this book - we have lots of other read alouds) However, he only gets a mark on his chart if he reads atleast a 1/2 a page. His curiosity to see what happens next is my "hook"!

Another book that has been a hit at our house is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (there are 3, I believe). These are funny little books with pencil-like drawings on most every page, but they are laid out like chapter books. So, there is less print on most pages than an average chapter book, which gives developing eyes a break and discouraged kids a confidence boost (when they zip through the pages).

Read Along
When I was little I fairly taught myself how to read by using "read along" books and my record player. Now, you can find lots of great books on audio tape or CD. My son has particularly enjoyed the Magic Tree House Collection read along books. (The CDs come in 4 book sets.) These are great stories in simple prose. And your kids will learn at the same time! Most of their titles are history-based.

Out and About or Reading on the Fly
Another fun thing to do is encourage your child to read words they see while you are out and about. Billboards, advertisements on trucks, store signs, merchandise in the store, signs in the store or building, etc. You get the idea! Just make it fun. I bet you could even make this into a game. If you have an idea for a game like this, I'd love to hear about it! Post a comment or link to your blog.

I'm pleased to say that my son has really gained a lot of confidence in his reading in the past 3 or 4 months. I don't think it is solely due to the programs and ideas I shared above, but they have been a big part! He has a long way to go, but he's well on his way.

Give them a delight in GREAT stories
My husband is our read aloud guy. He has spent countless hours reading aloud to each of our kids before bedtime. This has especially helped our late-bloomer develop a love of great stories (hubby reads good, good books with them, not "twaddle"), which encourages him to want to learn to read even more. This has also given him a fantastic vocabulary - he tests at a 6th grade level in vocab (he's entering 3rd)...just don't ask him to spell those words!

Another thing my husband does during these read alouds is spend a little bit of time letting our late-bloomer practice his reading. They choose a simple book or a few simple sentences from the book they are reading aloud. This gives him almost daily practice in addition to the other instruction/practice he's had with me during "school".

Other ideas for the older kid learning to read? Love to hear them! Got a game you love, or a website - please share!

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DebD said...

I have never heard of Starfall and am going to check it out right now! It sounds wonderful

I also had such a hard time finding engaging books for my middle dd when she was really struggling. I'm glad you've found some good books for your son.

Ana said...

These are great tips - thanks for sharing!

And your husband is doing a great job reading to them - that's the best way to expand your kids' vocabularies (as you've seen). He'll learn to spell them later!

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Jason said...
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JT said...

Wow Starfall is a great learning resource... nice multimedia content. Bookmarked!

If you are encouraging your kids to read (like 2-10) we have an ever growing collection of stories and poems for kids (mostly poems) that are good candidates for read aloud-over at Wally Woggle.

Mr Jon said...

To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

Best rgs