Is your kindergartener ready to read?
Are you preparing to teach reading to your kindergartener and wondering what to do? Grab a cup of coffee and settle in – I’m going to share with you what we do for reading in our kindergarten homeschool.
Before homeschooling, I taught reading in a school for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. So I know what a big deal it is when a child is struggling to read, or seems “behind”. I also know that our culture has been pushing young children to be fluent readers earlier and earlier, and it can feel like your child is “behind” even if they’re objectively doing fine.
Fear not. We’ll break down the most important aspects of reading to work on, as well as how to make it developmentally appropriate and FUN!
Welcome back to the Homeschool Kindergarten series!
In this post, I’ll discuss the skill of reading as it applies to our kindergarteners, and share the books and resources that we have been using, and plan to use, for homeschool kindergarten reading.
This post is part of a series on homeschool kindergarten. If you’re interested in my overall approach to kindergarten, check out this post summarizing the whole shebang. And now, onto my kid’s favorite thing to do…. READING!
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Homeschool Kindergarten: Reading
Before we jump into the nitty gritty, I want to highlight a few main themes.
Reading “instruction” in our home is, first and foremost, reading together. We read aloud together every day, at least twice a day. At the minimum, we read before rest time and before bedtime. Sometimes we read a good deal more than that.
If you take only one idea from this post, make it this one: READ ALOUD to your child! It’s the very best way to model fluent reading, give your child background knowledge, and cultivate a love of books. That love will help your child persevere through any hard aspects of the learning process. You should continue reading aloud long after your child learns to read on her own – in fact, even adults benefit from being read to. Look at the popularity of audiobooks and podcasts!
We use a wide variety of reading materials, selected based off of what interests my kid. I’ll detail some of our favorites below. I’m including amazon links for convenience, but don’t feel like you have to buy out the whole warehouse. We actually rarely buy books. Thank goodness for the local library!
Homeschool Kindergarten Reading: Skills
My new kindergartener started reading about 6 months ago. We didn’t do any formal skills instruction, though we did set him up for success. Below are the key skills that your brand new reader will be focusing on as they begin their journey.
Love of reading
We should always keep the goal in mind that we want our children to love reading. If they associate books with drudgery or boredom, they won’t be as willing to do the hard work of learning reading skills. If you find that your child is getting sour on reading, take a step back. It’s more important to maintain your child’s emotional connection to reading than to insist that she practice a particular skill at a particular moment.
What if your child doesn’t seem very interested in reading? It happens, despite our best efforts. Don’t panic! Try to figure out why your child seems uninterested or resistant.
- Are the books too removed from his interests or experiences? If so, try finding books that feature his favorite characters or pasttimes. You don’t have to resign yourself to reading ONLY Lego books for eternity. Just mix some into the pile.
- Does your child need more visuals? Some children need pictures every few pages, or every page, to help with comprehension. It’s ok to stick with picture books. If you really want to explore material with fewer pictures, you can try drawing the story as you read, or having your child act it out with toys.
- Is your child restless? Some children need to move around while they listen, or play with small objects. They don’t have to look at the book, or at you, in order to listen. If your child likes the book but seems restless, encourage her to fidget with something quiet, doodle, or shift sitting positions.
- Is the material too difficult? Too many big words, too-long sentences, or stories that are too complex? Save such books for when your child’s language skills are stronger. If you notice that your child’s language seems weak in other contexts as well, mention it to your pediatrician.
This is an often forgotten requirement for reading, but an important one. Does your child know where to begin when picking up a book? Can she find the front and back covers? Does she know which direction pages turn and whether the words are upside down or right side up? If it’s a book with chapters, is there a table of contents? How about page numbers? These things seem obvious to us, but children need to learn them.
If you speak more than one language at home, you may be interested in having your child learn to read in both languages. This is a great idea! The first step is to help your child notice similarities and differences when you are reading Language A vs. Language B. Do they both track in the same direction? Do they use the same alphabet? Are there any special markings on printed letters? Is there a different script version from the print version?
This is a big step in learning how to read – associating letter sounds with the printed symbols. Many classrooms for young children emphasize learning letter names, but it’s actually more important to be able to associate the sound the letter makes with its printed form. Some letters, particularly vowels, make more than one sound. Others work together in teams (more on that below).
There are many books and programs for parents that help you with the process of introducing your child to letter sounds. The best resource that I have found is the BOB Book series. These short books introduce sounds systematically and build up difficulty very gradually. A similar resource that you can find for free online is Progressive Phonics.
Beyond The Fat Cat Sat: Blends, digraphs, and teams
As your child learns individual letters and their sounds, you can start to introduce the idea that sometimes letters work together. For example, s and h make sounds like “ssssnake” and “hhhhhat” on their own. But when they’re next to each other, they blend together to say “Shhh.”
The technical name for combinations like sh is digraph – which you only need to know because phonics programs and materials will refer to it. The word digraph has one – the ph.
Sometimes each letter in a team keeps its sound, but the sounds blend together. Like the b and l in blend.
Finally, certain letters can work together as a vowel team. Many of us were taught shortcuts like “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”. That’s a good start, though it can get more complicated as your child encounters vowel teams in words. For example, some vowel teams can make more than one sound, like the ea in “bread” vs. the ea in “speak“.
The intermediate books in Progressive Phonics explore blends, digraphs, and vowel teams.
For kindergarten, it’s not necessary to get too technical. Your child does need to know that individual letters change their behavior based on the other letters around them. But terms like “digraph” and “blend” are more helpful to you, so that you can accurately gauge the difficulty of what you’re giving your child to try out.
Silent E is Magic
Silent e words are everywhere, and they’re tricky for many new readers. I don’t recommend jumping into silent e words until your child has had a lot of experience reading short vowel words. Reading silent e requires your child to either memorize the word as a sight word (more on that below) or process the entire word, including the silent e, and making a mental shift to suppress the short vowel and put in the long vowel instead.
Some reading programs refer to the silent e as “magic e”, since it causes the other vowel in the syllable to change sounds. Like a magic trick. This post has some nice suggestions and printables for getting into magic e words, if you think your child is ready.
During my years of teaching with structured phonics programs, I consistently found that silent/magic e was one of the hardest concepts for kids to wrap their brains around. I even had students who “saw” magic e when it wasn’t there! (Like saying “Time” instead of “Tim”.)
So I wouldn’t be eager to jump in the deep end on this one unless your child is ready. If your child is reading and comes to a silent e word, you can just provide it for her, saying, “Words like that follow a different rule. I’ll explain why some other time. Now let’s get back to the story!”
Sight words are simply any words that your child memorizes. Many times, sight words break the rules in some way (like “the” or “said”). Other times, they actually do follow the rules, but your child won’t be getting around to those rules for some time. If you’re curious about what words are commonly taught as sight words, this site has a nice list.
But don’t feel like you have to start printing flash cards or drilling your child on the words. These words occur regularly in print, and reading any books (other than phonics readers) guarantees that you will encounter them.
One of the Bob book sets we bought for my child included flash cards with sight words on them. I hid them! I didn’t want him getting the idea that he should be trying to memorize the words. Plus, flash cards for younger kids give me an icky feeling. By the time my child found them hiding at the bottom of the box, he had learned to sound out most of the words already.
The bottom line on learning to decode (sound out words)
There’s a wide range of what children learn to do during the kindergarten year. Don’t be worried if your child isn’t reading yet. Many schools push children to be reading by the end of kindergarten, but this is because state testing starts in 3rd grade. Therefore, all academics are getting pushed earlier and earlier.
If you’re worried about your child’s progress, discuss it with your pediatrician. It is possible to pick up potential reading issues early on. This article lists signs of dyslexia that can be picked up in preschool – things like “having trouble naming familiar objects” and “trouble learning nursery rhymes or song lyrics that rhyme”.
If your child is starting to sound out words, my recommendation is to gently encourage it by providing phonics readers that introduce one new skill at a time. If you see that your child is consistently stumbling, it might be because there was a jump in difficulty. The words may have features that your child hasn’t picked up on yet, like multiple syllables or silent E. There’s plenty of time to get into all of this more systematically later on.
For more on ALL the skills that readers should be working on throughout their schooling (and beyond): How To Teach Reading
What Materials to Use to Teach Reading Skills
Read alouds are books that are above the child’s independent level. There might be many words on the page, few or no illustrations, or small text. When a child is first learning to recognize and sound out words, it’s great to have easy readers for them to read – so it’s up to you to read the rich language and more complex vocabulary of a read aloud.
At any given time, we have 3-5 read alouds (that my son sometimes sneaks during “naptime” to try to read on his own) and 7-10 independent books, which I might read aloud to my son in addition to him reading them on his own. The goal of having all these books is to provide practice for him to grow his vocabulary, word attack, comprehension, and most of all, love of reading.
Magic Tree House: We started the Magic Tree House series about halfway through last year, so we’re now fully caught up and waiting for more to be published. (#31 is coming out in January!) Each book takes us to a different time period and destination, often around a historical event. It’s a little bit like Forrest Gump, except with two young kids instead of Tom Hanks. Or Doctor Who without the aliens.
Once my son got hooked, we were burning through these rapidly. The series has held his attention for 30 books so far, so it’s doing something right!
I’m guessing that my son will re-read the series on his own eventually. But since we started out reading them together, we’re going to continue.
The Magic Tree House website has a set of nice features that allow you to track the books you’ve read and earn “passports” and other rewards. We also use this map to keep track of the books (but be warned, the publisher has rebranded some of the later books, so it’s accurate only up to book 29).
Wayside School: These books are hilarious! Some of the humor was a stretch for my son at first, which was a good way to stretch his comprehension. He enjoyed the absurd situations and the silliness of the names.
Although each story more or less stands alone, there is a nice cumulative effect. By the end of the 3rd book, my son was recognizing references to dozens of other stories that the author had skillfully woven in. The second and third books also have running plot lines that are great warm ups for future chapter books.
Louis Sachar is an amazing children’s author. We plan to tackle some of his longer works, like Holes, in a few years. For now, we’re sad to have run out of Wayside School books to read!
Judy Moody & Stink Moody Series
My son’s current favorite series is Stink Moody. The stories are funny and a bit gross (playing to the crowd) but notable for several reasons. One is that Stink often learns interpersonal skills and other life lessons without the books ever getting preachy. Another is the supportive presence of both Mom and Dad – in contrast to many kids’ books in which the parents are either absent or totally unhelpful.
Another bonus is that Stink’s relationship with his older sister Judy is generally positive, even though they bicker at times. Judy actually has her own series, of which Stink is a spinoff. But we tackled the Stink series first because I thought it would appeal to my son more. As it turns out, he likes Judy and her friends as well as Stink and his. As for me, I’m waiting until Stink’s buddy Sophie of the Elves gets her own spinoff.
The other read alouds that we have planned have to do with our history curriculum, which I’ll delve into in a future post!
The next group of books were my son’s first “real books” that he read after graduating from the Bob series. In some cases, we read them aloud to him first, after which he picked them up and read them again. Later on, we discovered that he “mysteriously” knew what was about to happen as we were reading together – he had started reading ahead!
All of these are great for having limited text per page, lots of space between lines, full page illustrations, and simpler to sound out words. But they’re also real stories with real characters. That makes them a nice next step up from beginner phonics readers.
The Oliver and Amanda Pig series – There are many books in this series, some of which seem to still be in print, but all were available at our local library. We enjoyed the tales of a young brother and sister (especially as the sister got older) and their life at home with family and friends. The stories were short and sweet, and my son really identified with both Oliver and Amanda in different ways.
Frog and Toad – These books are hilarious, sometimes in subtle ways. Frog and Toad are a bit like Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, but tend to get along better and help each other out more.
Mouse Soup & Mouse Tales are beautifully written, memorable stories. By the author of the Frog and Toad series.
I could mention many more, but this is enough to get started!
Playing with language
This last recommendation for developing reading skills actually doesn’t involve reading. Singing, rhyming, making up stories, playing guessing games with spelling, and discussing what you’re reading are excellent ways to cultivate your child’s reading skills. Besides, they’re fun!