How to Teach Reading At Home without Curriculum

Did you know you can teach reading at home without curriculum? You do not need to purchase a formal program to teach reading if you know the basic components & how to support them.

There are many parts to building the skills that early & beginning readers need to learn how to read. Bookmark this post & use it to learn how you can teach reading at home without curriculum.

Build Prerequisite Skills

First you need to know what skills to work on and practice, practice, practice! The skills needed before independent reading are developed over a long period of time. For most it takes years to build a strong enough foundation of the skills needed to learn to read independently.

What basic skills are needed to begin reading at home?

Great question!

Early Skills:

  • Vocabulary (helps build meaning/comprehension & helps us figure out “tricky” words- that are not decodeable)
  • Phonics (Letter names, sounds & patterns like word families, digraphs & blends)

Beginning & Emerging Readers

  • Phonemic Awareness (decoding, blending & segmenting sounds)
  • Comprehension (ability to understand what is happening in the story)

Where do I begin?

First pick a skill to work on and the duration you wish to work on it. Always practice one skill at a time and plan to practice it different ways & be consistent about the practice.

For example if you are learning letter sounds keep the same activities each week to help create consistency. For example on Monday learn the letter name, sound with a gesture, how to write it in the air & practice writing it in the dirt, sandbox or salt tray. On Tuesday review the sound & gesture & how to write in the air & go on a letter hunt, on Wednesday review the sound use play-dough to form the letter, etc.

If you are beginning with vocabulary try to make sure it’s vocabulary they can use immediate or the next day. Take “tricky” words from the story you know you’re going to read tomorrow & talk about it. Find some realia for the word (the thing itself, a related object or a photo or video to help give kids a visual understanding and practical purpose for what it is.

EX: Vocabulary Lesson:

Let’s pretend you are going to read Frog & Toad tomorrow. In the story Frog consoles Toad by offering him a “hankie” & handkerchief is one of the tricky words. Find a piece of cloth (that could be used as a handkerchief or pick one up) and explain what they are & how they are/were commonly used. You can learn about this before you read or have it ready for when you get to that part in the story.

Build Vocabulary

Believe it or not your reading program starts with building vocabulary! Think about it… it’s easier to communicate about and process what you’re learning when you have the words to do so. Vocabulary helps kids to create meaning and builds comprehension. It also helps kids process & communicate about their learning, feelings, thoughts and ask questions.

Vocabulary is the best skill to begin with (& continuously build) especially when reading or learning about something new.  Almost everyone can build vocabulary even if your child is not yet verbal (use sign language or baby sign language).

build vocabulary

What kind of books build Vocabulary?

You can take vocabulary from nearly any book. To build vocabulary in general I like to use a more in depth style of baby book that shows a category (like musical instruments) then a photo and a singe word of many different types of musical instruments. This style is more appropriate for older kids who would perceive baby books as babyish & still teach a higher level of vocabulary.

Learn the Alphabet

Phonics skills start here and are required for decoding.  Kids often confuse letters like d, p & b (this is common) up until 2nd grade even. Gently, reinforce the correct sounds (without making a big deal out of it) as you read or when they are older you can offer them the reading strategy of what makes sense a dat or a bat?

Phonics

Take time to learn “letter of the day”. Teach the letter name, sound it makes and associate it with a known word or animal & a motion to help kids remember.

  • Letter Names  
  • Letter Sounds 
  • Letter Patterns make different sounds (after they master the letter names & sounds try word families & then try digraphs like sh,th, ch, wh, etc.)

Phonemic Awarenes

Play games or sing songs that focus on phonemic awareness.

  • Decoding words (“sounding it out”)
  • Segmenting words (syllables, “clap it out”)
  • Blending 2 or more letters to make a new sound (ex: ch or tch)

Comprehension

Noticing, remembering and being able to tell what is going on in the story.  What the story was about (main ideas, characters, etc.).  For most kids this takes the most time to build, including me. I was a very articulate little girl who picked up fluency very easily. My fluency was so far above my grade level that teachers often overlooked the fact that I did not understand, in depth, what was going on in the story.

I understood the surface level stuff, beginning, middle & ending of the story but rarely did I get the moral or overarching lesson by myself.   This is why we began developing comprehension as soon as possible.  When my son was 2 I would ask him questions about the story (it didn’t matter what he said or thought I just needed to get him used to the idea of thinking about the story as he read).

Pulling it Altogether & Fluency

One day after “enough” practice (this varies for everyone) your aspiring reader will have things fall into place. They will begin to read words more easily and everything you worked on will all come together. Kids associate fluency with being a reader and again for ALL kids this takes time. When your non-fluent reader sees a fluent reader reading know and maybe talk about how much practice it took to get there. Once they begin to read more fluently they will see themselves as a reader!

Reading Fluency

What is reading fluency?

Fluency is the pace that you read. Fluent readers sound natural and have the ability to read a word accurately and quickly and for fluent readers accurately and quickly sounds natural & comfortable. Fluency is the end goal of reading aloud and for most kids begins to sound very natural and comfortable around 2nd Grade.

This is accomplished over a period of time with consistent practice & the required skills & support to do so. The basic skills needed to begin any reading program is children need to be able to identify letters & sounds. They need these prior knowledge in order to decode (sounding or figuring out) words.

Assessing Fluency

Formal assessments are not necessary, especially for young children, although if you have more than one school age child that you are teaching it is very helpful to keep track of who is working on which skills. In reading this is called a running record. When you asses fluency you are paying attention to the pace, ratio & the type of errors to words read correctly. Knowing the types of errors your child frequently makes helps you support their learning.

How to Monitor Progress in Reading

Each child has their own individual progress model. Most kids have an academic growth spurt twice a year, usually after winter break and sometime in the spring. Kindergarten through second grade children progress rapidly through many levels of reading fluency and comprehension. These are the golden years of learning to read and they should be treated with great respect & care. Progress moves rapidly for most kids during these grade levels but please monitor your child on their own individual progress model.

Siblings often differ (greatly) in how much of what they learn, when & how. It’s important to not compare (unless you’re are assessing internally for yourself on how to better support your children’s individual needs). By 3rd grade there is natural slowing to the independent reading level. As they switch from emerging and intermediate readers into fluent independent readers more depth is required to advance in comprehension.

On the other hand if you notice that progress slows (considerably), stops or hasn’t fully developed into independent reading by 3rd grade it may be time to get some professional help. You can ask me, your local school district or your county office of education for help.

Note: the county office of education often can only get involved to help with OT and other special needs that are not supported by your local school/ district. In order to receive services from your local school district your child will need to be at least 2 grade levels below in one academic area (reading or math). These are just generalizations for some districts/ counties I have worked for. You will need to contact your local district or county office of education for their specifics if you feel your child may need services.

DIY Running Record

I wouldn’t assess my son formally for reading (they have other programs that I would need to buy for this like DRA, ERDA, or DIBELS. These programs are too expensive and too much for me on many levels. I do not feel they have a place in our homeschool.)

I would, however, take a running record twice a year to track his homeschool reading progress, take a note of his reading level, the date (beginning of the year & end of the year level & verbatim how he read a passage including the types of mistakes he was making because that informs me about what we need to work on next). I would pay attention to these throughout our school year and keep this as a record of our learning.

From first grade (or age 6) on you may want to make your own running record. This practice is great for helping you notice patterns in miscues (types of mistakes) to help you support your child’s reading. I would do this maybe 2 times per year in my homeschool to track beginning & end of the year progress, unless my child seemed to be having trouble making progress in his reading then maybe I’d do quarterly records.

Just take a passage (any passage) that is slightly above your child’s reading level from a book that your child has not yet read before. Type up the passage & print out 2 copies (one enlarged print for your child to read and one regular font for you to take notes on exactly what they say).

Preparing your child to read for a running record

I tell my kids (students, I teach part time & my son is still too young for this) that we are going to read together but this time I am not going to help them. I just want to hear their best reading. Their only job is to do their best.

Then I tell them there are tricky words in this story. (I give them 3 strategies they can use- that we have already learned and have been practicing.)

  1. When they find a tricky word they can sound it out,
  2. They can think about what makes sense
  3. or skip it & move on

I also use a timer. I know for some kids this is detrimental and for classroom use I tell kids that the timer is for me, because it is. I have to read with 23 kids and make sure that everyone gets the same amount of time so each turn is fair. It also ensures I am comparing apples to apples.

If you’re reading at home and do not want to use a timer you can select a one minute long song (or very close to it, just use the same song each time you read for the record). Play it with the ear buds in & just eyeball the time or have one ear bud in & when the song is over then you can end the reading session. “Great work, we’re going to stop here.”

Homeschool Documentation

If your state requires this type of documentation or if you have more than one child that you are teaching to read this will be helpful to remember the progress of your child’s reading, for future children who may struggle with the same thing.

Common Reading Mistakes & How to Overcome Them

There are three basic categories that some children fall into at some point in the process of learning to read.

  • Reading specific words (decoding & sight words)
  • Reading Comprehension (understanding the story & story elements)
  • Both of the above

There are 2 milestone times where kids most commonly struggle with reading.

Kindergarten/ First Grade

  1. When kids are beginning to learn to read they HAVE to learn:
    • phonics (letter sounds & how to decode words)
    • AND sight words (words that must be memorized because they cannot be decoded).

Second Grade

  1. When their reading advances and stories begin to become more complex. (end of year 2nd grade reading levels) then kids need fine tuned reading comprehension strategies in order to be able to keep up with their advancing reading levels.

Supporting Gifted or Struggling Learners

Pre-packaged programs offer suggestions for how to support Gifted or struggling learners but those suggestions do not always work and you’ll find yourself creating your own curriculum anyway.

Gifted Kids:

Project Based, STEM/ STEAM or maker are very supportive ways to give gifted kids the autonomy they need AND support their academic level.

Struggling Readers:

If your child is experiencing problems with specific words, word patterns or sight words then work on phonics, decoding & sight words.

Start with one at a time, when you have mastered a new phonics skill (let’s say word families) then read books that have that word family in them.  Use this skill to decode other words.  Re-read these same word family books and notice if there are sight words in them. Depending on your child’s level pick one or more sight words to practice (writing in the sand, making with playdough, etc.) and then go back and read that book again. Keep practicing until they are fluent with that book then move on.

If your child struggles with reading comprehension then work on building vocabulary and comprehension skills one at a time. I put these in order of how I teach them

Reading Comprehension Skills:

  1. Visualize the authors words & ideas or make a “movie in your head”
  2. Make Connections to the story
  3. Ask Questions & give your child(ren) opportunities to process the story a loud (younger kids often “interrupt the story but they are making a connection or using the only processing mechanism they have learned at that point).
  4. Retell or Summarize- ex: what did you notice in the beginning( middle or end)?
  5. Determine the main idea (What is this story about? What is happening in this story?)
  6. Determine the big idea or lesson in the story (what do you think the author wants people to learn?)

Ask questions about & or model all of the above until children are able to do it for themselves.

Some common errors include substitution (using a known word in the child’s vocabulary instead of attempting to decode or look at the picture for help). Usually there is nothing wrong with this type of error (or any reading errors really) since they help you guide your child’s reading. Early substitution errors do not usually change the meaning of the story but as students get older substituting can alter their comprehension.

A Kindergarten example is that my son and I were reading one of our beginning readers.

The book reads “He has a box.” and my son says “He has a block.” He could have sounded out box (if he tried) but instead he used the picture and it looked like a block to him.

If he continues to make this same type of mistake we will work on decoding (NOTE: not all words are decode-able so that’s why I added in the strategy what makes sense. If he thought about the letters and the picture he would have noticed that”x” is not the same ending sound as “ck” in block). The next step, a far more advanced skill, would be using both the letter sounds AND the picture cues to see what makes sense. 

It is sensible to look for reoccurring errors and use that to help inform what lessons you work on next, you do not need to take formal notes or do a running record but (for me) it does help develop the child into a confident, independent reader in less time.

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Choosing the right homeschooling books

Another helpful tip is to be sure to choose a variety of books that interest your child. 

They don’t have to love everything but there should be a variety in book genres and function. There are a few different types of books you’ll need:

  • Read Alouds (high quality poetry, picture & chapter books you will read aloud, make a list)
  • Guided reading books (books they need a little help with initially but will read on their own pretty quickly)
  • Independent Reading books (they can read these all by themselves with very little help)
  • Wordless Books

Read Alouds

These are books you (& your child) will select for you to read aloud.  Start with picture books.

You can often find a lifeskill or problem you are trying to solve to help kids gain independence in that area. It’s also great reading practice.

Wordless Books:

The Red Book is a Caldecott Honor Award winning book by Barbara Lehman. There is an inscription in the beginning of the book you’ll want to read to your child but the rest of the book is wordless (except for the final about the author page).

A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book Journey is one of three books in a series by Aaron Becker. This book is a must have for any family and truly is a work of art.  Don’t waste time checking this one out at the library, buy it for your home collection!

In Chalk 3 kids find a bag of chalk on a rainy day. They begin to draw & then the magic happens!

Lizi Boyd’s Flashlight is a wonderful book that will awaken your imagination (and make you reach for your own flashlight)!

Flotsam by David Wiesner is a literary treasure! The illustrations are impeccable and a must have for your home library especially if you are a beach lover!

A Ball for Daisy is another award winner, 2012 Randolph Caldecott Award.  This is an incredible book about love and loss. Daisy has a favorite toy, and it is destroyed by a bigger dog! This book is not entirely wordless but it’s a great book and good transition from wordless to books with text.

My son always has a stash of books he can read (the pictures anyway) independently.

For early readers choose books with repetitive patterns like:

Brown bear brown bear,

Mrs wishy washy

Practice

Seriously, read every chance you get…

  • Read books, poetry, labels, signs with family (someone reads to them)
  • Read books (& other materials) to family (they read to someone)
  • They have a real life need (distinguish between identical water bottles at the park, labeled trash can so they can throw their trash in the proper receptacle, restrooms that are not gender neutral, etc.)

Check- in!

It’s important to check-in with your kids about what they think and how they feel about reading (or whatever you’re learning).

Never force or push reading (or writing, or anything for that matter- it’s not worth it) and ask questions every time you read!

Before reading:

  • Check-in… How are they seeing themselves as a reader? If you are still in the very early stages tell them … You a reader! Did you notice you just read the picture? Good readers use the picture to help them read. If they are reading indpenendently ask them after reading, how did that feel (especially if you do the 5 fingure rule to help them discover their own “just right” books.)
  • If self opinion is not so high, How do they think so-and-so got to be good at reading?

During Reading:

  • What did you notice (on this page or about this character)?

After Reading

  • Did they like the book you read? We do the thumbs up test… thumbs up for yes, down for no and sideways for maybe.
  • What did they like (or not like) about it?

Use the book to extend a theme and re-read to teach kids about the books theme, deeper meaning or lesson.

Metacognition is Important

Metacognition is thinking about your thinking (awareness of your thoughts and actions) and takes time to realize that we do these things whether we are conscious of them or not. Readers (kids who think of themselves as a reader) think about their reading and ultimately think about their thinking as they read. The keep track of the story and notice if they read a word that doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t match the picture.

One subconscious thought that is harmful to children is “I can’t read” or so-and-so is better at reading.  Kids cannot see how much effort & hard work already fluent readers have put into learning to be fluent.  Again, it takes time, patience, lots & lots of practice!

Children eventually make a connection that letters have a purpose in our daily life & that letters are everywhere.  Real World Observations for reading (some kids notice this on their own but you can always bring it up too):

  • Letters/ Words are everywhere, street signs, packages, clothes, etc.
  • Words put together make sentences (we can say or write them)
  • Sentences are how we communicate, learn, work. play, etc.
  • Books (in English) are read from left to right

Practice makes perfect…

We read everyday but do not have a set reading schedule (except for bedtime story which happens 3-5 times/ week).

Noticing how reading naturally comes into our day is an important part of our learning process. Reading is a life skill and there is not a day that goes by that I do not read.  I recognize and share this with by reading recipes, signs at the store or on the street, we read what we wrote, etc. we are valuing reading as an important part of our life.

Support early reading behaviors by

Using the public library (check out as many books as you can as often as you can look for read alouds, books you’ll read together and books your children will read by themselves, for those that can.)

Researching quality books & make book lists (ex: see my great beginning reader book list

Purchasing high quality independent reading books not offered by my library

If money was no object I would purchase a Fountas & Pinnell set. They have an entire years worth of beginning reading books that lend themselves to grade level reading and writing standards (sight words, decoable words, comprehension, fiction, non-fiction, etc.). It’s a complete package that’s ready to go! They are NOT cheap but they are very much worth the money if it won’t stretch your budget too far. They can be purchased in single sets (in color for about $500, 100 titles, or black and white Take Home Books for about $300, 70 titles-  read the details for more info.) or collections (6 books per title).  This is on my wish list for the future (when he’s a more advanced reader & it’s harder to find quality books).

A la Carte, if you’re not ready to spend that kind of money right away, purchase the books you need for the week or month from your pre-made book list.

Reading high quality read alouds (living books or mentor texts… I use my own book lists)

Reading strategies (skills kids learn based on thier stage of reading)

Letter hunt (this will eventually turn into a sight word hunt)

Digital Resources…

  • Lexia is a great skill building online resource. I do no use it at home because my son is far too young
  • Reading A-Z, or Raz Kids digital books (free samples & paid subscription)
  • ABCya (free & paid subscriptions) reading and math games pre-k to Grade 5

An important note about digital resources

We do not yet use digital resources but, when he is older we may use them. They are neither “bad nor “good”. My professional opinion is that this is the digital equivalent of worksheets. They are a 2 dimensional experience. They can be beneficial for the right child/ family. Some are highly interactive & very well made to help kids build skills. Consider how much screen time you want your child to have if using these types of resources and make adjustments to other screen time privileges so that kids are not getting too much screen time.

Most offer instant feedback & and in the early years of education this is not necessarily beneficial. For younger children this could be detrimental to the early hands-on experience that kids need exploring reading and numbers. Young children function well in the present moment with real, tangible objects and need this “analog” experience with holding books.

If you are a family that uses digital resources be sure to include tangible, hands-on experiences as well for your child’s reading and number sense.

Other Ways to teach Reading without Curriculum

  • Choose the right books
  • Practice makes perfect
  • Support early reading behaviors

The 2 Components to Notice When Your Child is Reading

  1. Comprehension
  2. Fluency

2. Reading Comprehension

What is reading comprehension?

Reading comprehension is ones ability to understand what they are reading. Beginning readers should be able to tell the main idea of the story, important characters and a few details in sequence. More advanced readers can do what beginning readers do AND talk about the moral of the story if there is one and how what they read applies to their own life (or make another personal connection to the text).

How do I Teach Reading?

Believe it or not there are 7 components to a good reading program.

You can use this as a guide if you create your own curriculum or to evaluate a reading program you are considering purchasing.

My son &  have spent a great deal of time learning to read. We have been reading together since he came out.

I am breaking down the components in the order and what age we started learning them.   We will never really stop learning any of these components, instead I will expand on them based on the cues he is giving me as a reader.  (Please add a comment if there is something specific you’d like to learn more about.) For book recommendations look at the best books for beginning readers.

  1. Vocabulary (age 1 & up)
  2. Phonics (Age 3 &  up letter/ sound correlation)
  3. Phonemic Awareness (Age 4 & up match, segment & blend letters. Verbal mastery comes first but both can be practiced simultaneously & written mastery becomes the traditional “spelling test”)
  4. Fluency (age 3 read the pictures, Summer 2019 decode letters, & what makes sense)
  5. Text Comprehension (Age 2 & up Questions & discussions about the story)
  6. Written Expression (Age 3 pre-writing & fine motor activities. This skill is dependent on all of the other factors on this list)
  7. Spelling and handwriting (Age 5. This skill is dependent on phonics, phonemic awareness, fine motor skills & stamina)

We have been working on these at home for years. We read nearly every night and would have one book talk as often as it felt natural.  Now all of our practice is beginning to take shape into basic reading fluency, spelling and handwriting.  We are very close to having an independent reader so our miracle moment when it all takes shape into reading skills is not far away, I’d say maybe 3 months from now he will be reading fluently.

This is a really exciting time for us and I am happy to share what we are learning. Let me know if you have questions or other needs I did not address. HAPPY READING!

This blog post talks about good reading practices including phonics, sight words, reading & comprehension strategies and the 9 components of every good reading program has.
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