Teaching Beginning Reading: Subject by Subject, Part 13

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Subjects: Beginning-Reading

When my oldest child was a little one, the thought of teaching her how to read hovered in my mind as a huge challenge. I don’t remember waking up at night, wondering if I would be able to teach her to tie her shoes or to drive a car; but I do remember staring at the ceiling in the dark, wondering if I would be able to teach her to read.

It can seem a daunting task, because so much of education depends on reading. The better a child can read, the easier his schooling will be. But let me assure you that most children will pick up reading quite naturally if raised in a language-rich environment where books are treasured. Many people who grow up in such an environment cannot recall exactly how they learned to read, but learn they did.

So relax and take a look at Charlotte Mason’s gentle and natural approach to teaching your child to read.

Playing with Letters and Sounds

Though Charlotte did not start formal reading lessons until the child was at least six years old, she outlined many helpful informal activities you could do during the early years to lay the foundation. Read A-B-C books together. Get your child a set of letters that he can handle and play with, whether wooden blocks with letters or foam letters or magnetic letters.

As he becomes familiar with each letter, allow him to locate the ones he knows on signs or pages of books. Learning the sounds the letters make comes next, again, accomplished informally as the child is ready. Encourage his discoveries but don’t push. Let him progress at his own pace. Take your cues from his expressions of curiosity.

Word-Building Activities

Eventually you can start using those play letters to put sounds together to make short words that mean something to him, words like at, cat, bat, sat, fat, mat or dog, fog, log. As he becomes familiar with word-building, you can introduce blends into the mix and expand to words with long-vowel sounds. Basic phonics can be introduced at this point. But even these activities should be informal and done as the child expresses interest.

Reading Lessons

Once the beginning word-building foundation has been laid, formal reading lessons can begin. Lessons should stay short (no longer than 10 or 15 minutes) and should contain variety to keep them interesting. Following the Charlotte Mason principle of no twaddle, you would select a good children’s poem or fable and focus on one line or sentence to begin with.

  1. Introduce the word.—Write on the board a new word from your selected passage. Draw the child’s attention to it and tell him what the word is. Discuss it a bit to help the child form a personal relation to it.
  2. Learn the word.—Ask the child to look at the word carefully until he can see it in his mind even with his eyes closed. Erase the word and see if he can spell it using letter tiles. (No handwriting required.) If he hesitates, write it again so he can see and copy the correct spelling.
  3. Find the word.—Point out a pile of word tiles or word cards that contains each word in your selection. See if the child can find the word he just learned in the pile. Display a sheet of paper that has your selected passage on it, and see if he can find the word on that page.
  4. Review all words.—Write the word on one side of the board, starting a list of all the words he will learn today. As each word is learned, add it and review them all in varying orders.
  5. Read the words.—Once all the words in your selected line or sentence have been learned in this way, have your child put together the word tiles in the correct order and read the whole line or sentence. Then allow him to read it from the printed page. Play with the word tiles to form other sentences or phrases. As more lessons are added, you can use all the words learned to form a multitude of sentences.
  6. Record the words.—Last, add the words learned to a Word Book that you can use for other review activities.

To add variety, Charlotte would alternate sight-reading lessons (outlined above) with word-building lessons. Here’s how.

  1. Review an old word.—Write on the board one of the words learned last time. Ask the child to read it. Erase it and see if he can spell it with his letters. Again, if he hesitates, give him the correct model to copy.
  2. Build more words.—Using his letters, change the first letter of the word and see what new word it makes, just like he has been doing in his word-building activities. This step will reinforce basic phonics.
  3. Review the new words.—Each new word can go on the board to be reviewed in varying orders as the lesson progresses.
  4. Read more words.—Add these new words to the mix to create even more new sentences for your child to read and enjoy.
  5. Record the words.—Last, add the words learned to his Word Book.

Continue in this fashion as you work your way through the children’s poem or fable, always keeping the lessons short and the attitude delightful. The Delightful Reading Kit contains everything you need to teach reading the Charlotte Mason way. It covers the 100 most commonly used words, plus hundreds more.

With Charlotte’s simple yet effective methods, your child will soon be reading with confidence and ease.


  1. This is great, thank you! I’m looking forward to introducing reading to our son. Even before he could talk properly, he would point to different words and gibber what he thought it said, then take my hand to point to the words to ask me to read it to him.

    A couple of questions: do you introduce the name or the sound first? As in “BEE” or “buh”? And, upper or lowercase? Or both at once? If one at a time, when do you introduce the other case, and name/sound?


    • If you are reading ABC books together, the child will be seeing and hearing both upper- and lowercase and hearing both the name and the sound. It’s a nice whole approach. I usually introduced the name first in other activities, and later focused on the sounds. But it can be approached in the same way as learning the names of animals and the sounds they make. Some children learn what a dog looks like and that it is called a “dog” before they learn the various sounds that a dog makes; other children learn the sounds first and then the name “dog” afterward. Either approach works. Just keep it informal and fun.

Comments are closed.