People often ask me what curriculum I used to teach my children to read. I didn’t use one. We just played with letters and their sounds, and eventually, when they were ready, I showed them how to put those sounds together to figure out words.

That method worked well for my first three children, but for my youngest it just wasn’t clicking. There was one component that we were missing; when we added that component, everything fell into place.

The missing component for my youngest was sight words. And it is interesting to me that Charlotte Mason’s method for teaching reading included all of the components: letters, sounds, phonics, and sight words.

Here is a quick overview of how she recommended we use those components to teach children to read.

Letters and Their Sounds

When your child is little, give him letters that he can hold—whether wooden blocks with letters on them, or magnetic letters on the refrigerator, or whatever. Let him handle the letters as he learns their names.

When he is ready, he can practice forming those letter shapes in a tray of sand or rice. And soon he can try to find those letters he knows peeping out at him from a page of print.

As he gets familiar with the letters, teach your child the sounds those letters make. (Just as our children readily learn that this animal is a dog and it says “woof,” so they can learn that this letter is a D and it says “d.”)

Preparation for Reading

Once your child knows the sounds the letters make, you can start putting those letters together to make three-letter words. Keep all of this learning informal; make it a game.

Take the two letters at and put them together. Help your child sound them out, then add a B to the beginning and see if he can figure out what word that makes. Continue playing with the first letter to make various words in that word family (“bat,” “cat,” “fat,” “hat,” etc.). As time goes on, repeat that process with lots of different three-letter combinations, like en (“Ben,” “den,” “hen”) and od (“cod,” “God,” “nod”), until your child can read lots of short-vowel three-letter words.

When he gets tired of the short-vowel words because he knows them so well, switch to adding the silent e to the end to make some long-vowel words. (For example, “cap” becomes “cape.”) You can also introduce some common blends like ng (“song,” “sing”) and th (“this,” “with”).

Reading Lessons

By this point your child will have learned a lot about words, and you can add in the sight words component while still reinforcing the phonics. This is where actual reading lessons come in. Here’s how.

Use a classic poem for children—not twaddle. Let’s say, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” Take the first line of the poem for your first reading lesson. Show your child the word “twinkle” and tell him what it says. Have him make the word with his letters. Have him find it in a little pile of word slips. Have him find it on a page of print. Repeat with the other two words of that line: “little” and “star.” Mix the word order and have him review often until he knows those three words anywhere he sees them. Finally, have him read that line of the poem. That’s the end of the lesson for the day. Beginning reading lessons should be short, no longer than ten or fifteen minutes.

The next day, work with those same words but use them to reinforce phonics by doing some word-building. Take the word “star,” and switch out the st for other letters to create new words (“jar,” “car,” “bar,” “scar,” etc.). Do the same with “little” and “twinkle.”

The third day, learn another line of words to the poem. The fourth day, do word-building with those words. Then just continue alternating the lessons in that way: one day do sight words, the next day do word-building. Your child will learn hundreds of words in this delightful manner and easily make the transition from sounding out three-letter words to reading text in a book.

Reading Aloud

While your child is having his reading lessons, he should also be learning how to read aloud clearly and with expression. When he reads his little lines of poetry or prose, encourage him to read beautiful words in a beautiful way.

As he gains fluency in reading, be sure to give your child plenty of practice in reading aloud. In fact, children of all ages should have frequent opportunities to read aloud, especially poetry.

For more details and examples on Charlotte’s approach to teaching reading and more tips on reading aloud, see chapters 8 and 9 in our new book Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing: A Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook.

Next time we’ll discuss copywork and dictation, two powerful methods that cover many language arts skills.

Register This Week for Texas and Arkansas Seminars

It’s hard to believe it is October already! That means our seminars in Longview, Texas, and Sherwood, Arkansas, are just around the corner. Registration deadline is Monday, October 11, 2011. That’s the day when we pack the trailer for the trip, and we need to know how many books to bring along for everyone. We’re looking forward to a great time of refreshing at these two SCM events, and we would love to have you join us! Don’t miss out. Register today!

October 15 & 16, 2010: SCM 2-Day Conference in Longview, Texas

October 18: All-Day Charlotte Mason Seminar in Sherwood, Arkansas (Little Rock area)