In countries like the US with high literacy rates, pretty much everyone knows how to read. But for many of us, the hows of this momentous bit of learning have faded a bit. In addition, new research has led to new understandings about ways to teach reading and so even if you do remember your reading education, materials and approaches may be different now. Also, because reading is a core subject, your state’s education department may have standards and curriculum information available that it is important for you to read. If you have not located your state department of education’s online website, you can find it through the United States Department of Education site: http://nces.ed.gov/CCD/ccseas.asp
The National Standards and Homeschool Reading
The National Standards for Reading for a part of the IRA/NCTE (International Reading Association/National Council of Teacher’s of English) Standards for the English Language Arts. The standards relating to reading are:
- Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
These standards might be summarized as follows:
- Students read a variety of materials, in a variety of media, for a variety of purposes.
- Students read across genres and time and thereby understand more about being human.
- Students read strategically, changing their approaches as needed.
- Students use reading to gather information and synthesize their research to share.
- Students’ research for information and knowledge draws on print and technological resources.
Notice that while these standards tell you what children should learn, it does not tell you how you should teach them these things. But looking at the standards, we can see that not every element of reading instruction is related to understanding how to say words that are printed on a page. Some portions of these standards require that students have access: to books, to computers, to libraries, etc. Some suggest that leisure reading, as well as reading for school and work, are important. The standards show reading as an ongoing activity, not something that is learned in the early grades and that’s that.
How to Teach Homeschool Reading
How you teach homeschool reading can (and should) at least partly depend on the child you’re teaching and how he or she learns. Even in the same family, different children learn in different ways. As you investigate teaching reading, you are likely to hear about the Phonics Approach and the Whole Language Approach, and you may encounter some vituperative comments from proponents of each about the other. My suggestion in this regard is to ignore the rhetoric and combine the two approaches in a sensible way:
The Phonics Approach helps a child learn the sound-symbol relationships that exist between spoken English (sound) and words written on the page (symbol). This is key to reading, but the phonics approach can focus so exclusively on individual letters and words that the point of reading – wonderful stories and fascinating information – gets lost. Enter the Whole Language Approach, which simply emphasizes other areas of reading, such as the conventions of print (you find the title of a book on the cover and the spine; you read from left to right; there is material to be read outside of books, such as labels, cereal boxes, signs, posters; it is polite to be quiet when someone else is reading; etc.).
Sight words are another important component of early reading. Sight words are words that occur most often in English, some of which phonics isn’t too helpful with because, for example, they may have unusual sounds for the particular spelling. Many of the words are function words like articles, prepositions, helping verbs, and conjunctions. You can find the Dolch Sight Word Lists here: nifl.gov
Supplies for Homeschool Reading
As you approach homeschool reading, you may choose to use a software reading program, phonics worksheets, a graded reader program, or other choices. You can find these at bookstores and on the Internet. Whichever method you choose, you can also make sure that your child experiences a rich world of reading by reading a wide array of materials to him or her, visiting the library, and visiting bookstores.