How do I know this? Two of mine have done that very thing. I didn’t intend to have my kids teach themselves how to read, but my second and third surprised us. We did work with our first child to help him learn how to read, but after the next two having taught themselves, I’m quite confident that it isn’t too difficult to get a child to go through the process of teaching themselves. When our second child taught himself, we thought it was a fluke, but when the third followed in his footsteps, we knew we were on to something.
Just because our children taught themselves to read, that doesn’t mean we weren’t a part of the process. It simply means that they led the charge and pursued it at their own pace. We didn’t use any phonics books or programs. They have been raised in an environment that is saturated in books and reading by other family members.
My husband and I are both prolific readers. We each have our favorite genres and authors, so the kids see a variety of books. There is bound to be something around that catches their attention. We also read aloud to them, and the younger ones have the advantage of an older brother who can read to them, too. Apart from that, I am a stay-at-home mom and can devote more time and nurture to my children than if they were in daycare or public school. These factors create a perfect storm for a child to learn how to read.
For a child to desire to learn to read, they should see people around them reading and enjoying it. Also, when they are read to, they learn to appreciate the fun and adventure that can be found in books. From the time they were small, we would read picture books together, or they would sit with the rest of the family in the living room as we would read our current chapter book aloud. (This is one of our favorite family traditions.) Surrounding them with interesting and quality picture books makes them want to understand the words on the page. As they recall parts of their favorite books, they will recite them from memory. Though this isn’t reading, they are learning nonetheless.
We have never worked with our kids on learning sight words. We’ve always taken a phonics approach. As we would sit at breakfast eating our cereal, the kids would ask about what sounds the letters on the cereal boxes made. Honestly, cereal boxes were probably our biggest reading help in the beginning. They would also frequently ask us about what a particular word was, perhaps in a book or on some packaging. We would answer them, though we wouldn’t take over whatever it was they were exploring. It was completely their own project.
Along with trying to figure out the sound of letters and how they made words, our kids would practice writing letters. They might just copy a random word that they found somewhere, or ask us to write down a message as they dictated it to us. Once they knew how to write their letters, they would ask us how to spell words so that they could write their own messages. I would often ask them how they thought it was spelled, to encourage them to think for themselves.
While all of this was going on, we were not putting pressure on our kids to read or write, but we would encourage them in all the little progress and experiments they were making. We wanted reading and writing to be their own reward–a way to learn new ideas and communicate their own ideas.
At some point, our children came to us and hesitatingly (or excitedly) told us that they now knew how to read. We would get excited too, and ask them to demonstrate their new ability for us. Sure enough, our second and third children both learned how to read this way! The second child was six when he learned; the third child was five when she learned. Our third child quickly progressed from learning how to read at the beginning of the year, to regularly reading chapter books by the end of the year. It is certainly not what we expected, but as we let her interests guide her, this is what she chose. We made a point to never question her wanting to read chapter books, even though she’s only six. It need not be an abnormal occurrence for homeschoolers. To date, she’s read My Father’s Dragon, and a couple of Little House books.
All three of our children are prolific readers–enjoying everything from chapter books to graphic novels, from comic strip treasuries to encyclopedias. Our goal was to promote a life-long love of reading in our children, and I think we’ve succeeded. As long as they’re reading, they’ll never stop learning.
Though this post doesn’t give you an easy 1-2-3 method for teaching your child to read, I hope that it gives you some direction and encouragement for promoting a love of reading in your child. If you don’t enjoy reading, you need to start with yourself. Find a genre that you enjoy and read, read, read. Let your child see that you enjoy reading, and they will want to follow in your footsteps.