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We hope that when our children learn to read they will be on fire for reading and will devour books left and right. But, how do you get there? How do you move from early reading to consistent independent reading?
Our Experience with Reading
Before I answer the big question, I want to make the disclaimer that I am not a reading specialist nor do I have formal training or classroom experience in reading instruction (outside of graduate school courses in reading within content areas- science). What I have is the experience of a homeschooling mom who has taught 4 children to read.
- Children who have varying abilities and interests.
- Children who learn in different ways.
- Yet they all have one thing in common. They read often and they read very well.
- All of our veteran readers started reading independently at different ages.
- Each of them came to the skill in a similar way through different learning styles.
- One of them came by way of apraxia, a severe speech delay- a condition which often rears its ugly head when it is time to begin reading. Often the same pathway disruptions that affect speech are the ones necessary for reading as well.
I also want to say this post is not targeting children with other special learning issues that might influence their reading progression from the start. However, I think some of the tools I mention will be helpful to all emerging readers.
What Is an Emergent Reader?
An emergent reader is a child who has mastered phonics and has begun to read words on his own, but is not reading fluently yet. This is for parents who want to know what happens after the completion of a phonics program before a child is reading independently by choice and doing it well. Maybe you see your child in the following situations:
- We are finished our “x,y, z” reading program. What do I do now?
- My child is not really reading much independently. How do I get her to read more?
- You want more phonics instruction because your child just needs a bit more or somehow there must be a magical stepping stone of workbooks or short readers that will bridge the gap between just starting to read and reading on their own all the time.
What Do You Do When the Reading Program Is Complete?
I have concluded there is just one remedy for the “the space between”. My answer every time is just have your children read!
- Sometimes but not always, an emergent reader is reluctant to read independently so, I have my kids read to me.
- When children know the mechanics but are not reading fluently yet, I have them read to me out loud often. If she can’t read for long, it doesn’t matter. I like to switch off while we read. So, we sit down and the student reads a paragraph to me and I read the next paragraph to her. We keep going like this for a chapter at a time at least.
- As the student practices, his fluency will improve.
- If he can only begin with reading a sentence at a time, then just start with alternating sentences.
The idea is to have them read to you and practice. With time, their reading will improve. It just requires consistency, appropriate book choices, and time.
I have my kids read to me regularly and I grab any moment for the task. I love to be read to while I make dinner, for example or in the car! If I need to sit with my child and alternate at first, it is always time well spent. I will often do it at the expense of other lessons for a time.
The time you put into hearing your child read will pay back dividends far beyond any extended workbook or hands on activity when it comes to improving fluency. Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook, gives many compelling examples of how reading improves with practice and that as parents we should not be afraid to require it often.
My other secret weapon is to continue reading aloud to my kids even as they become better independent readers. I will see my kids start to read a new series of books if I read the first one. Sometimes I even start reading one aloud until they love it and then leave it around for them to pick up on their own. I have opened up many book worlds by reading it aloud first.
How to Choose a Book for Emergent Readers
What about book choices? I know a lot of people like phonics type books and books that are more like guided readers than interesting children’s literature for those just starting out. I prefer trade books for this purpose and not ones designed to be “readers” at any particular level. I tend to let my kids try reading any book which meets the following criteria.
- Contains young reader friendly text- which means the text on the page isn’t tiny, there aren’t a million words on a page, and it has plenty of margin
- Is emotionally appropriate for her age- this can be tough as readers get better fast and I have another post on that topic. Just because a child can read a book, doesn’t mean they should.
What not to choose?
- Anything marketed as the next step, unless you have it on hand or it can be borrowed- this stage is a short one so the investment is not long term on these products
- Books so far beyond their ability/emotional level that it will only serve to frustrate the new reader. Text that is easy on the eyes counts here too. It’s ok for text to be somewhat challenging. That’s how students grow and get better, but you don’t want it so difficult that it’s discouraging. Use discernment here!
Resources on Reading at Blog, She Wrote
There are a number of posts on reading here on the blog. Books are an important part of our homeschool culture.
Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home- This is one of my favorite posts and it’s all about growing life long readers.
Organizing Your Homeschool Library- How to keep a home library which is easy to reference and maintain.
How to Homeschool with a Kindle- Our Kindles are one of the best tools in our homeschool. These links will show you all the ways you can enhance your school, but one of the most basic is allowing your kids a portal to many, many books. Your kids can be reading new stories in seconds. This is great for busy homeschooling moms!
100 Books to Read by the Time You Turn 20- How about a book list? These books aren’t just for older kids and teens. Get a good start on some fantastic stories.
Summer Reading Challenge without the Carrot & the Stick- How do you motivate kids to read more? How do you do it without all the rewards? I’ve put together some tried and true methods of engaging kids with books. This post is a great reminder that kids don’t have to like reading. They just have to do it! Find out more.
Take the Time to Read
Perhaps you have a child whose reading switch has been clicked but, he is not yet a fluent reader. He is officially in that space between. The best thing for him is to keep reading and then read some more. What a joyful sound to hear the voice of a new reader!
There are so many products marketed to parents and homeschoolers to help early readers. You can find any number of helps on websites and blogs for printables and ideas. Many commercial products are available as well. Yet, in my experience the best thing for improving fluency in new readers is not packaged in any form and comes at a very low price. The only currency needed is time- time for listening and reading with your child and time for taking trips to the library for more real books.
Take pleasure in hearing that new reader’s voice and share in the joy as he becomes more and more confident and fluent. Before you know it, he will be reading all on his own and it will be mission accomplished!by