Teaching Tuesday: Teaching My Son to Read (by Ricki) Part I


For a few reasons, Kellee and I have decided to break away from Top Ten Tuesday. Don’t worry—we aren’t done with lists! We’ve really enjoyed TTT, and we will miss it, but we are excited for a new Tuesday adventure that is much more aligned with our vision for this blog. We will rotate between individual and shared posts, but you can always guarantee that you will find something teaching-related, about education, about our students, or about books in reference to any of those things on Tuesdays.

“Teaching My Son to Read” (by Ricki)

The Pressure

While I think about classroom teaching every day, I also think a lot about teaching my older son how to read. There’s a lot of pressure to teach our kids to read before they enter kindergarten. I’ve heard it from my mom friends, and I’ve also heard it from random strangers in the grocery store. Everyone seems to have an opinion on when kids should learn to read.

A Child’s Love of Books

What do I value? I value my son’s love of books. I value the fact that today, during dinner, he asked me if I could read to him while he ate. I value that every night, he begs us to let him read just one more book. I value the mornings that I wake up to the sound of pages turning, and I click on the monitor to see him reading quietly in bed while he waits for everyone to wake up.

The Pressure

With this in mind, I have held myself back. I don’t want my son to dislike reading. I’d rather he learn to read after all of his peers if it means that he won’t lose his love of books. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that I don’t know anything about parenting and am likely making the wrong choices most of the time. I am not sure if I should be doing more sooner or if I should wait for him to tell me that he wants to learn to read.

The Beginning Stages

As we’ve started to work on learning to read, I’ve tried to do several things purposefully. When he was young, we put Wheel of Fortune on the television in the background while he played. He learned all of his letters from this show. Thanks, Wheel of Fortune! When we were in the car or just playing, we sounded out letters. For example, “Look at the sky! What letter does ‘sky’ start with? What other words start with ‘s’?” This helped.

Phonics? Sight Words?

This felt natural, but the actual reading felt trickier. Kids like pictures, and they often prefer the adult to read to them because reading is hard. I also kept going back to my desire to maintain my son’s love of books. I don’t like teaching phonics very much, but then I wondered if I could truly teach my son to read using only sight words. I also began to wonder if we could find a happy medium between learning phonics and sight words.

My Son’s First Book

I came across the BOB Books. I was really, really hesitant to use them because they felt very phonics-y. Essentially, it’s a small square cardboard box that contains 16 or so very short books. Each book works on a different sound, and the picture matches the words exactly (allowing kids to use context clues). I overly prepped my son. To match my insecurities, I kept saying, “And if you don’t like the books, we won’t read them!” and “Let’s just see if we can practice reading. You are so smart!” Well, he loves them. Luckily, they are very short, so we can practice reading a little bit each day. He read an entire book with some support, and my heart was bursting with pride.

What’s Next?

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know if tomorrow my son will hate the BOB Books and we will have to put them away for good. Luckily, there are so many great books out there that help support reading (e.g. Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss). I teach secondary school reading courses, so this is a new, untraveled path for me. Some of the strategies are similar, but most are quite different. I welcome your advice! What have you learned about teaching kids to read? What can this unabashedly inexperienced mom learn about teaching reading to a four-year-old? Parenting is a humbling experience, but I’ve learned so much about the beginning stages of literacy!


7 thoughts on “Teaching Tuesday: Teaching My Son to Read (by Ricki) Part I”

  1. Have you read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic? I ended up feeling very persuaded by her view that the only thing we need to do with our children is read aloud and talk about books with them, and reading will naturally follow when they are ready–even if that is not in the time frame K-12 would prefer. She talks about doing just the kind of talking you did with “Look at the sky! What letter does sky start with?” etc. to support–and not really anything else. It’s a quick read and quite interesting.

    • I HAVEN’T! This is why I posted about this topic. I knew that folks like you would have great suggestions. We read about ten books aloud a day, so I feel like we are doing well in that category. Maybe I should be even less purposeful. I am getting this book. Thanks, Elisabeth!

  2. My son learned to read late — it was terrifying! But he always thought of himself as a reader and he always loved books. When he went to KG (at four) he was a pre-reader, poised at the edge of literacy. He repeated KG. He did first grade. He was still a pre-reader, poised at the edge of literacy.

    But he loved books. He loved picture books. He loved audio books, which gave him a chance to explore more sophisticate stories above his “reading level.” He LOVED read alouds at bedtime, where we’d end our picture book sessions with chapter books. He was even willing to read the incredibly dull phonics books his school sent home as homework. And eventually he found a book worth the huge effort to start decoding the words. Turned out he was terrible at phonics and almost seemed to read by the shape of paragraphs (barely even words!). His first book was a science fiction novel off my shelves, although then he went back to more age appropriate things.

    My second son was more traditional — he was a pre-reader, he noticed his brother reading, he demanded to learn the trick, so he went through a book (100 steps to Reading? some teach-your-kid-to read book I bought on a whim). He was reading by age four.

    What I took away from that was that the love of reading was the most important thing, and I’d support that in any way. I had background stuff in there (we washed hands to the ABC song, we noticed letters, he saw me reading voraciously, etc.) but mostly I refused to let anyone tell him he wasn’t a reader.

    Oh, did you know libraries often have audio versions of those easy readers (Hop on Pop)? I loved them for the car. Also rhyming books (Jamberry was wonderful).

    • Your words ring so true for me. I would be absolutely crushed if he started to dislike reading. Any small resistance, and I completely pull back all efforts. I have two sons, like you, so this helped me put everything into perspective. Thank you for sharing your story. I will absolutely look into the audio versions of those particular books. I do play audiobooks for them, but maybe some of the easy readers would help. I appreciate your thoughts!

  3. Very interesting post, Ricki. I was especially interested to hear there is pressure to teach kids to read before Kindergarten! Isn’t that Kindergarten is supposed to be for? When my kids were there, about 15-20 years ago, they were teaching the alphabet and beginning reading skills.

    I personally learned to read before school, with Go, Dog, Go! (still one of my favorites!) but my mom said that was all me – back then, there was definitely not much pressure.

    You know how much we love books in our house and how much we read to our sons when they were young, so we were quite surprised when reading didn’t come easily for our oldest son. He’s super smart (and now reads 1200-page books in the time it takes me to read a normal-sized one!), but by 1st grade, he was struggling and definitely feeling some pressure. He felt that the beginning reader books (like the BOB books and others) were too babyish for him by then, so I made him his own learn-to-read books, starting with a Pokemon book (a big hit!) and a book about our family. Those did the trick, and he hasn’t stopped reading since.

    I’m sorry to hear they’re putting even more pressure on kids to read even earlier now…but glad that your son seems ready, and you found some books that work for him!


    Book By Book

  4. Hi Ricki,
    My older son was reading by the end of Kindergarten and the younger one before.
    We played all those alphabet games with them while travelling in the car and read constantly. They both did the memorization thing before becoming full fledged readers. They were allowed to stay up as late as they wanted reading books from the time they were pretty young, especially if no one read to them.
    The key to them making the final step was an old John and Janet reader that my aunt gave me. It starts with a couple of words and each little story adds on to that.
    We gave it to Simon and told him to come see us if he needed help. He might have asked for the odd bit, and we probably helped him sound out the odd word, but the next thing we knew, he was a reader.
    With the younger one, Simon got tired of reading to him at night and gave him that old reader. One day they both came downstairs to see us. With his big brother beaming in the background, Kepler announced that he was a reader. We didn’t believe him, but he could open any page in that book and read it!
    I eventually discovered that there are many really good old readers that were published before John and Janet and Dick and Jane. One (I can’t remember the name or series and my copies are on a bookshelf in my other house) used fairy tales. When I worked with struggling readers, these were a godsend because they used a similar format to the Dick and Jane ones, but were actually not bad.


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