Teach Your Child to Read Without a Curriculum (Includes a Resource List)

I’ve been a reader my entire life. I honestly can’t remember a time that I didn’t read. In my earliest memories, I’m always sitting around with a book in hand. I was the one walking off the curb because I was trying to read and walk at the same time. In the days before the Kindle and a never ending book supply, I would begin to get panicky if I was close to finishing a book and didn’t have another handy to begin. I confess that I might have even sent my ever-patient husband out at ten o clock at night to borrow a book from my mom because I didn’t have anything else to read.

Teach your child to read without a curriculum

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With this love of books and reading as an integral part of my makeup, I was determined that my kids would read early and read well.

And, of course, I knew the best way to make it happen. I mean, after all, I had a master’s degree in reading education. My kids would be reading by the time they were two. How could they not?

As a classroom teacher, I had used a very structured reading curriculum with a strong emphasis on phonics. I was pretty convinced that this was THE way to teach reading. After all, this seemed to work pretty well with most kids. Of course there were some who never really seemed to “get it,” and by second grade, they were already considered behind in reading. But surely that was a deficiency in them, right? Not in me or our curriculum.

And so, as Kathryne- the oldest- started out of toddlerhood and into preschool, the push to learn to read became ever important to me. We practiced letters and their sounds all the time. We worked on blends and putting them together to make words. Kathryne started to read well before she was five, so I was happy that my system had worked.

But I had started to see a flaw in the plan. Maybe I was wrong, but it didn’t really seem as if all the structured phonics and lesson plans seemed to work. Instead, it seemed as if reading just started to click with her one day.

Charles- the second victim student- reached preschool age, and my reading efforts began again. This time, with the same phonics curriculum, Charles took longer to begin actually reading. He still learned to read. But I was worried. If he were in the school I had been teaching in, he might have been (gasp) behind. What was wrong?

Between child two and three, I loosened up in many areas of parenting and homeschooling. Those of you with multiple children will probably understand. Life is too busy and chaotic to worry about those things you used to worry about with baby one and two.

With Ashlyne- number three- and later Rachel- number four. I began to see that learning to read didn’t really have much at all to do with a curriculum. By the time Ashlyne hit preschool age, I had abandoned any idea of actually doing any kind of formal “school” with her. She was a little wild thing, and if I could keep her from destroying the house while I simultaneously nursed an infant, taught two elementary school kids, and managed to keep any order in the house, I was doing a good job. Let’s just forget formal letters and sounds practice, shall we?

But, guess what? She learned to read anyway. And, at about the same age that Charles had. Hmmm. I had made an awesome discovery.

So, how did Ashlyne- and later Rachel- learn to read without a formal curriculum? Probably in the same way that Kathryne and Charles had. Because, in hind site, I don’t think they learned because of some awesome phonics program. I discovered that teaching a child to read doesn’t really require any kind of formal curriculum; that, in fact, it’s really much easier and much more natural than that.

Many of these things are things that parents do naturally with little ones. And, if you make a point of them, you’ll probably be able to teach your child to read without any formal curriculum at all.

Make books important.

Much of learning to read is about a child’s desire. When they decide that they want to read, they’re going to try to read much more than if the decision is yours and you’re trying to make them sit and work at a formal program.

Make books fun and special for kids. Have a regular time for going to the library. Make checking out books fun. Give books for gifts. When kids view books as something special, they’re going to desire to be able to read them independently.

Read to kids. All. The. Time.

If I had to pick one thing that is probably the most important in teaching kids to read, it’s reading aloud to them. Read anytime. Read all the time. Read longer books, not just picture books.

There are many reasons why reading to kids helps them to become readers. It increases their vocabulary and their comprehension so that they can understand and make connections when they begin to read independently. Reading aloud and showing kids the words in a picture book helps them begin to recognize the words and learn to use context- the pictures on the page- to figure out the words.

Read to them when they are babies and don’t know what a book is. Read to them when they are wriggly toddlers and you only get a few words out at a time. Read to them when they are preschoolers and begin to have an interest in what the words on a page actually mean. And don’t stop reading to them just because they are beginning to read to themselves. Continuing to read out loud gives to them gives them the opportunity to hear great stories that are above their reading level, and that will increase their ability to read and comprehend more.

Teach your child to read without a curriculum

Play with the letters and sounds.

You don’t need a formal curriculum to teach kids the names of letters and their sounds. Instead use play to do this.

  • Find plastic letters to use as stencils for drawing or for play dough. Help them make the letters in their name and talk about the sounds of the letters.
  • Use alphabet puzzles to talk about the names and their sounds.
  • Write letters with shaving cream. Spell the kids’ names. Write short words and talk about the sounds of letters.
  • Play with rhymes. “The fat cat ate the rat and sat on a mat.” When you say silly sentences like this, kids get the idea of letter patterns. Then they can see the words written out and know what letters make those patterns.
  • Read alphabet books. Some of these are really simple and silly, but there are also some alphabet books that introduce longer words and concepts. (There are some listed in the resources at the bottom of the post.)

Take turns reading.

As kids are beginning to get an idea of words and are reading some words, read books and take turns. Books with shorter sentences and not too many words on a page are good for this. You can read one sentence or page, and the child can read the next. They’ll enjoy it because you’re doing it together, and you are right there to help with pronunciation as needed. The Elephant and Piggie books listed below are really good for taking turns reading.

Be patient.

As I learned with my own kids, reading is a very developmental process. It cannot be forced when a child isn’t developmentally ready. Kids aren’t behind just because they aren’t reading by the age “everyone else” is. Don’t push, push, push because it will frustrate them and frustrate you.
I learned this lesson with Rachel- my fourth. By the time the child was starting 2nd grade, she still didn’t know the sounds of all the letters. As an “expert in the reading field,” I was beginning to think we had a real problem, and I was considering testing and interventions. However, she’s that fourth child, remember, and I had learned not to get too worked up over anything. So I waited. Gradually, as she was developmentally ready, she began to read on her own that year. And, by the time she finished 2nd grade, she was reading chapter books and reading well. 
I know there are times when a problem really is present. You, as the parent, know your child best. Wait and be patient and don’t compare your child to anyone else’s. And if you still think there is a legitimate problem, look for help. There are some resources for struggling readers below.
Reading is a vital skill. If you help your children to become good readers who can comprehend well, you will give them the key to unlock any knowledge. If you can read and understand, you can learn anything you wish. But reading doesn’t have to be taught with a formal curriculum. There are simple things you can do to help your kids begin reading.
Resources for teaching reading without a curriculum

Reading resources

Teaching resources

  • Starfall is a free site that has phonics and reading computer-based instruction and games. It’s fun for kids to play, and they won’t realize they’re practicing phonics learning.
  • Letter tiles can be used in all sorts of ways to spell out names and words, make rhyming words, practice letter sounds, etc.
  • The alphabet stamps from Melissa and Doug have upper and lowercase letters, and you can use them, as the tiles above, to spell words, make rhymes, and more.
  • With PlayDo and these stencils, you can make letters and words to practice sounds and letter patterns.
  • Easy alphabet puzzles can be a good way to start teaching letters and sounds.
  • ABC flashcards can be used in many ways, teaching letter recognition and sounds. I like these because the pictures will be familiar to Eric Carle lovers.

Living book lists

ABC books

  • Eric Carle’s ABC is a lift-the-flap book with great Eric Carle illustrations.
  • Alphabet City is an ABC book even older kids will appreciate. It contains pictures of normal city sites that form the letters of the alphabet.
  • The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni is the story of how the letters, blown from the alphabet tree, create words and sentences.
  • A, My Name Is Alice presents a host of animals and their alphabet names.
  • Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom was always one of our favorite alphabet books with a catchy rhyme the kids could remember and say.

Easy reading and read together books

  • The Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are awesome. We still read them, even though my youngest is 11. They have short simple words, and Gerald, the elephant, and Piggie do all the talking, so it’s fun to take turns reading their parts.
  • The Bob books are a fun, phonetic way to get kids reading actual stories quickly. Kids can get frustrated when you’re spending all your time on sounding out things, but they can’e actually read a real book. These are a developmental way to get kids practicing letters, sounds, letter patterns, and other phonics skills while, at the same time, reading actual books with a storyline.
  • The Free and Treadwell readers use real, living books with good vocabulary and sentence structure to help kids practice reading in a developmental way. We loved these!

Resources for struggling readers

  • All About Learning Press- I’ve not used this reading and spelling curriculum, but I’ve had friends who loved it, and I was able to hear the developer speak on one of the Read Aloud Revival podcasts. Based on that, I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has a child struggling with reading past the time where you think they should developmentally be ready.
  • Logic of English Foundations– If you really feel as if your child- or you- needs a more formal approach to teaching reading, I love the Logic of English program. We reviewed the program for older kids a few years ago, but the Foundations program is for young beginning readers and includes teaching of reading, spelling, and handwriting.
  • HSLDA- If you feel as if your child may have some learning problems that need testing and intervention, HSLDA has some excellent resources on their site.
MrsAOK, A Work In Progress

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