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Older Preschoolers: On the Brink of Reading


Q. I'm a bit of a do-it-yourselfer, and my daughter is entering kindergarten in the fall. I'm not leaving it to the school to teach her how to read. I want to do it! I wasn't an education major, however, so I don't really know how to teach. And I don't want formal, highly detailed curriculum that I have to follow. I'd rather "free-style" this process. But I don't have a lot of time! Is there anything available to the highly-motivated parent who wants to teach her own child to read?


Good for you! And yes, there are many well-designed programs for teaching reading at home. The basic idea is to deliver the skills of reading to your child in proper sequence, from the easy and familiar to the difficult and uncommon, so that the skills are cumulative and build on each other.


First things first, though: is your daughter on the brink of reading? Does she want to know how? Has she expressed this to you? Is she always after you to read to her? Does she love to hold books and be read to? If so, and if she's trying to read on her own, she's ready, and you should go for it. But if she's hanging back, that's perfectly normal for her age, and it is not wise to push it or force reading instruction on her. You can do far more damage than you would ever expect. Children's readiness for various phases of intellectual and academic progress are individual and should neither be rushed nor skipped. So let her set the pace, and relax until she signals you that she's ready.


When she's ready:


A good phonics systems focuses on the alphabetic code of our language. It doesn't get bogged down in all the "bells and whistles" that so often distract teachers and pupils in the classroom from the real purpose, which is learning to "crack the code" of the English language. Therefore, it can be delivered very inexpensively, yet it works extremely well. Phonics is the ultimate in cost-efficiency!


Here are five outstanding programs that you might consider. The cost is low, and in the case of the last one on this list, the lessons are downloadable and free of charge.


From the same source from which you obtain the book of lessons, you may want to purchase "decodable" books if available. They have words and sentences which contain the letter combinations you've just taught in each lesson. They make it easy for the child to practice decoding new phonograms (the letter symbols for the different sounds in English) right after they're learned. These decodables are inexpensive.


But you'll be OK without them, if you keep lots of quality children's books around, either from the public library or borrowed from friends, to read with your child and prime that decoding pump. Plan on spending around a half-hour a day on reading for the next several weeks, and see if you don't find tremendous fulfillment and success.


Here are five phonics systems that work really well and are easy to use:


Spalding Phonics. The manual is The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Bishop Spalding, who taught thousands of children to read. That includes many kids from very low-income areas of Harlem in New York City - presumably "tough to teach." And yet Mrs. Spalding said she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of children who couldn't "crack the code" of our English language system using her system of decoding. That certainly rebuts those who say that dyslexia and reading dysfunction is inevitable in many children. No, it's NOT, if they're taught right, and Mrs. Spalding proves it. This may be the best system of all, but you may find the manual a little hard to use. The concepts in it are excellent, though. You can make a set of phonogram cards yourself, using the templates in this book, or order a set of cards separately from the website. See:


Alpha-Phonics. This was developed by longtime education leader Samuel Blumenfeld and is very popular among homeschoolers. See:


First Reader and Turbo Reader. These two books are excellent for at-home use with a preschooler and a child in the early primary years, not to mention a great start for someone whose first language is not English. They come from conservative grassroots leader Phyllis Schlafly, an attorney, who taught her own children to read many years ago with this simple process. See:


Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book, by Siegfried Engelmann with Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner, is based on the method called "direct instruction," and comes out of Oregon. One of the best things here is that you are given the proper words to say when the child makes an error in pronunciation or decoding so that you don't add to the child's stress or make the reading mistake even worse. Unfortunately, that happens all too often in school-based remediation sessions. See:, learn more about direct instruction on, and see supplemental materials on


Step By Step Phonics. A longtime teacher in England put this traditional phonics instruction program together. There are occasional British spellings ("programme" for "program") but it shouldn't be a problem for Americans. She offers a set of DVD's and storybooks that can be used in conjunction with brief lessons that are downloadable, free, from her website. See:


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 108 2008

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