My kindergartner loves to read. 
That is, she loves hearing books read aloud to her, and then “re-reading” them herself through the pictures.  She loves telling stories and does her best to write and illustrate them too.

She was obsessed with books from the time she was 9 months old.  I can remember her sitting in her crib for long periods of time before and after her daily nap, using her chubby little fingers to carefully turn the pages of her beloved board-books.

Her love of books and reading only grew as she did, and no doubt having two parents who are also avid readers, and a mom who is a total nerd teacher has also helped foster this affection. 

Because of all this, I really had few doubts that she would do well once we began “formal” reading education.  In fact, I mostly doubted myself (and still do).

We began our Kindergarten curriculum on August 1st. 

Since I had read great reviews and heard mostly wonderful things about the curriculum, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons from several veteral homeschoolers, and I knew I wanted to use a phonics-based approach to reading, I decided to give it a try.

We were off with a bang, and it was going so well that I even made a little goal to have my girl reading by Christmas.  (Isn’t it comical how we as parents goal-set for THEM, as if we can make them learn at the pace WE want them to?)   🙂
But I was not deterred, because, actually–it was going quite well–for a while.

Ok, so the book itself is rather dry, but still, my girl was excited that each day, she was able to read a short “story” and she even seemed to be enjoying the simple black and white pictures as well. 

The entire book it dictated for you, and honestly, I pretty much follow “the plan” laid out in it.

Of course, during this time, we kept up our weekly trips to the Library, and daily reading aloud of REAL books, to fuel her great love of reading.

But soon the novelty wore off, and I began to notice about 30 lessons into our Teach Your Child to Read book that she was becoming resistant during our formal reading instruction.

She WAS reading, and doing quite well, but she just didn’t love it.

It was really hard for this teacher-mom to hear the occasional sighing or complaining when I told her it was time for reading. 

But you LOVE reading, hunny!” 

Not really,” she’d respond sadly.

Inside, I kind of started freaking out a bit. 
Was I somehow inadvertently teaching my daughter to hate reading while trying to teach her how to read??

You see, a phonics based approach is no lazy way to go about your reading instruction.
It’s pooh-poohed by the critics as boring and old fashioned.
And it’s labor-intensive to the student until the “rules” are learned. 
Instead of the holistic approach which relies heavily on “see and say,” or sight-word memorization and picture and context clues to support reading (with phonics barely even mentioned), in a more purely phonics-based-approach, students have to work REALLY hard to sound those words out according to their phonetic rules. 
It is believed that once they master the smallest parts of reading–letters and their sounds–they will build and grow to master the whole of the reading process.

But sometimes, to be honest, working through a reading lesson this way can be hard work and little fun.

Soon, I was seeing a clear disconnect with Eden, between our formal and informal reading times.

Formal reading: she was able to read words in print, but took little enjoyment in the process of reading itself.
Informal reading (me reading aloud to her): took great enjoyment in reading (or rather, hearing it read), but completely uninterested in even trying to read the words in print, even when they were simple words she was able to sound out.

Reading became synonymous with hard work.

Well, we kept on keeping on, with a smile (barely) and a prayer, but I began to think about making some changes.

* * *

Finding a Balance

So–where are we now?
Well, today was our 50th day of school.  Wow! Time is a-flyin’!

Yes, I AM still using a phonics-based approach, and we have continued with the Teach Your Child to Read curriculum (just finished Lesson 63 today).
But I began to make some changes, and because of that I’ve SEEN some changes in my daughter. 

I began thinking back to my own kindergarten year–what I do remember–and what I do NOT remember.  I certainly don’t remember being forced along by my teacher to read at a first grade level by Christmas of that first year.  I do remember falling in love with letters and the stories that belonged to each of them.

I remember being able to enjoy the magic of learning.  Of discovering and experiencing new things…much of it, at my own pace.  (I attended an A.C.E. PACE school from K-3, and I have wonderful memories of those early years).

So I guess you could say I took a step back and relaxed a bit.

Additionally, I let Eden join in the preschool activities I was doing with Joshua, who is 3 1/2. 

Recently, I had (rather informally) started working on letters and sounds with Joshua.  And while he also loves to hear books read aloud, he has far less interest in reading and practicing letter sounds than Eden did at 3 1/2.  (naturally, I’ve already started stressing about how I’ll EVER teach him to read! lol). 

BUT–Joshua is enthralled with the old Land of the Letter People videos and songs.  I mean ENTHRALLED.  I once assisted in a Kindergarten room where they used the (modern) Letter People program, and I truly thought it was the most delightful curriculum (though it progresses a wee bit slow by my books). 
But during that time, I saw first-hand how the kids loved each letter person–they seriously thought (or almost believed) they were real, and just so enjoyed every song and activity surrounding each letter.  I actually had a blast as a teacher’s aide that year! 

Unfortunately, I do not have the gazillion dollars to buy my own letter people curriculum right now, so I am sort of doing it myself using the old songs and videos available on youtube. =]

Joshua is LOVING IT.

And to add to the fun, I’ve started sewing my own simple letter people for Joshua.  This has kept him interested and enthusiastic.  He carries them around everywhere and sleeps with them too. 

Mr. M with his munching mouth

Supersonic Mr. S with his super socks

But it’s been EDEN’S reaction to this which has so surprised me! 

She has simply adored every activity I’ve done with Joshua around these letters and their sounds and stories.  She might like them more than he does, actually.

Not to mention, when we’re working with basic letter names and sounds, she’s the pro, and she really does get what I’m trying to teach Joshy.  So she becomes a little teacher herself, and she has full confidence in her “reading” abilities.  To her, his work is nothing but fun and easy!   

She begs me to do each activity with him, and I’ve just been letting her join in.  Even though it is terribly basic for her by now, it doesn’t matter; she is enjoying the magic of reading again, and I’m sure it is reinforcing all those things she has already learned.

Another change–some days, I’ve skipped the boring black and white pages of Teach Your Child to Read book and have had Eden read aloud a simple library book.  You know, letting her enjoy reading a REAL story with fun and interesting illustrations, but written at her level (Cannot say enough good about all the Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems.  Pretty sure we’ve read every single one 5 times now, all the kids love them, and best part–Eden can read them!).

Also, I’ve FINALLY introduced some sight word flash cards into the curriculum, which she may or may not get m&m’s for as a reward for yelling them out at lightening quick speed.  =]

And on top of all this, I’m playing more reading games with her.  BlendIt, Sight Word Quizmo, and Sound Train are her favorites right now.

I’m not abandoning the phonics program–not a chance.

I truly believe it it.

My daughter IS reading, and her word-attack (decoding) skills are building by the day.  It’s strengthened her spelling and writing skills too.  She writes notes and books and titles that can easily be read and understood by anyone because she spells phonetically (and often even includes the little diacritical marks above her vowels to clarify sounds).

And before I introduced the concept of “sight words” to her, I gotta say it was very rewarding to see how my girl-who’s learning to read phonetically-began to discover (on her own), that when she came to a now-familiar word on the page, she “just knew that word!” already and didn’t have to sound it out–in other words, it’s become a sight word for her.  It’s also been neat to see her discovering how to use context clues on her own using the illustrations or the other words in the sentence–“I knew it was gonna say that because of the picture, mom!”

These may seem like no-brianers for those who are familiar with holistic basal-reading texts, in which students are taught to rely more heavily upon context clues and sight words to decode, but for us, these things are secondary to knowing how to sound the word out using the good, old-fashioned rules of phonics.

To see her starting to use these supplementary reading support skills and “shortcuts” without me calling attention to them has been very rewarding.

So yes, I am sticking with the phonics-based program…but I am lightening up a bit, and trying to keep things balanced between fun and work.
 A month ago, we were both having our doubts…but after today’s reading lesson, hearing my kindergartner declare, “reading really is fun, mom!” was like music to this homeschool mama’s ears.

And… I think we may just be over the beginning-reading hump. 

I sure know I’m learning so much, and I’m trying to stay flexible to my kids’ needs. 
But oh, what an adventure homeschooling is–lots of hard word for everyone involved, but the rewards you get-firsthand- and the joys of the journey, make it so completely worthwhile!

I’m thankful for this opportunity.

4 thoughts on “Keeping the FUN in Phonics-Based Reading Education

  1. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Hi Carly! Thanks for commenting, and you’re so sweet, lol, but oh my, I wouldn’t have a clue how to make patterns to sell. I sew, but not well 🙂 I only made a handful of letter dolls before I ran out of time and energy, to be totally honest. But it’s amazing b/c my kids STILL love the ones I made so very much that I think I am actually going to purchase a small Letter People kit for my boys (ages 3 and almost 5) to introduce all the letters and sounds. Having done this curriculum, I truly believe it’s almost magical for kids. The songs + puppets are just such an amazing teaching tool. It’s def. a chunk of $$ for the complete puppet set plus CDs from Abrams Learning Trends but I think it would be worth it…and it would have GREAT resale value on ebay, etc.
    If you DO make your own, I’d recommend you NOT use felt, but fleece, which I learned a couple dolls into my creating. Also, you could save yourself a lot of time by using fabric fusion glue instead of sewing. It works great.
    Good luck! =] blessings, Joanna

  2. Carly

    I just stumbled on your blog searching for SOMEONE out there who has used the Letter People in homeschooling. I LOVE the ones you made! You should totally sell patterns or dolls. I would buy them! 🙂 Just wanted to say hello – I am thinking of using the letter people for my son next year, and might steal your idea and try to make some, too. Did you use felt?

  3. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    I so love your suggestions. And I’m ON IT already! I listened to many of the letter factory clips today on youtube, and I think I will buy them for the kiddos…Also, picked up a few more Dr. Seuss books at Trader Jacks JUST this wknd…aaaand, I am somewhat familiar w/ the “Explore the Code” books, and I am almost certain I have the first 5 or 6 workbooks in my storage unit from my teaching days!! (someone had given them to me to use as remedial resources for my special needs’ students…)
    Thank you as always; I really appreciate any and every suggestion. Miss you too, my friend!

  4. Sue

    Hello, my friend! I’m catching up (since I REALLY miss you on facebook! LOL) and love your letter people! Yes…homeschooling IS hard work….but so very worth it! I wanted to share what I used with Ronnie & Anna to help them learn to read. I highly recommend the “Explode the Code” workbooks…they did 2-3 pages a day and they liked it! One of the things that I know helped them tremendously (and they had so much fun with it!) is the Leapfrom dvd’s (talking letter factory, talking word factory and others)…the songs were contagious, they seemed to really do well with them and still watch them once in a while…and the board game is still a favorite of Anna’s. Yes, I agree with you…simple books that they can read themselves (we started with BOB books, then Dr. Seuss ‘Hop on Pop’ and ‘Go Dog Go’) make it fun for them. Just thought I would share some of our favorite resources! Miss you,Joanna! Love, Sue

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