The Ten R’s: Raising a Kid Who Reads

May 24, 2008

Blabber, Homeschool

I’ve been very blessed with four wonderful children who read like university students (and one like a college professor). They have been very good and proficient readers from the very beginning of homeschool lessons. It helps that both the Husband and I are voracious readers. However, good reading skills are not “talents” that are ingrafted into one’s DNA like eye-color. Every person who is able to read can learn to read well. I just thought I’d jot a few things down that I have discovered through my own experiences that make for good reading.

I’ve sectioned off my two checklists into two categories: the first one is “quick fix” for moms who have older kids or established anti-readers in the house; the second list is an “early development” list that contains tips for getting off on the right foot. You may not agree with everything in these lists, but a) they’ve worked well for my four, and b) it’s good entertainment at the very least. Shall we begin?

The Quick Fix:

1. Throw out your television.

2. If you just cannot bear to throw out the TV, exercise extreme self-discipline and severely restrict its use. If a kid has to choose between Bugs Bunny cartoons or Pilgrim’s Progress, what do you think they are going to choose?

3. Fill your house with books. Good books! I’m sorry, but Sweet Valley High and Harry Potter are not good books. Those books are entertaining (we call those kinds of books “junk” books as in “junk” food). Yeah, everyone needs a break and likes to read just for entertainment. But don’t offer your kid junk books on a regular basis, or he will become what I call a “Reader’s Digest” reader– he’ll be barely literate, only enough to read road signs and more junk. Writing research papers and disseminating legal documents and arbitration will be very, very hard for the kid when he grows up. I do notice that libraries, like candy stores, fill their lower shelves with the tastiest and emptiest trash. Beware of the Candy Man! At the end of this post you can take a peek at some things my own kids have read and have loved.

4. Approve everything your child reads. Yes, it can be done.

5. Start a new tradition– have your child write out ten verses of the Bible and read them aloud a few times a week. Stand back and watch some amazing things happen– your kids will be better readers, spellers, orators, be better behaved, and get wise for eternal life! See more detail about this in the next list #3.

The Early Development:

1. Read to your kids, yeah, just like all the cute commercials tell you. But here’s the clincher– read to yourself. Kids learn by example. If you are a reader, they are readers. It just happens.

2. Stubbornly refuse to teach your kid the “Look Say” method. Here’s a funny little story: as a kid, I was a voracious reader. I mean, really. By Third Grade, I was reading high school level books. The elementary school didn’t know what to do with me, so I was allowed to join the Sixth Grade class for their reading sessions when my Third Grade class had theirs. And even then I was far beyond their Sixth Grade level. Why? I had learned phonics before Kindergarten; and my very first year in school had been at a different school which still adhered to the Classical method of education. (My family had moved when I was halfway through Kindergarten, but my English teacher uncle encouraged me to continue my reading in the Classical method). The new school I attended implemented the “Look Say” method, and their pupils were dunces. These poor kids were so stilted in their reading skills and comprehension because the school system has adopted the fad of the “Look Say” method. After forty years of this drivel, some school systems are returning to phonics now.

So, anyway, when I was in Third Grade, I was teaching Sixth Graders to read, and was giving them spelling tests. Really! And thus, because I’d worked with schoolteachers at a very early age, I came to have solid ideas (aka “opinions”) about certain reading methods, and all by the time I was eight years old.

I remember at that age being stunned one day when my younger brothers came home with the most idiotic book I’d ever seen: Dick and Jane. My brothers loved it (had lots of pictures). Earlier, I had attempted to teach my brothers the phonics method (my mother gave me a nickel per lesson), but the schools literally enforced the “Look Say” method. My brothers do not read nearly as well I do to this day.

“Look Say” is now being attributed to the problems associated with dyslexia. This method uses images and the shapes of words to teach reading. Therefore, the student must memorize thousands of images (“eat” looks like the shape of a boot, etc). It is barbaric.

Adversely, phonics teaches students that symbols have meaning, which is how the brain is hard-wired. I consider it debasing to all elements of learning to use the “Look Say” method, because it requires image cognizance and a cumbersome heap of memorizing. This kooky method trains the young brain to have image-based thinking, when reading is really comprehensive-based. “Look Say” greatly reduces reading cognizance and comprehension.

3. Read the Bible. The Bible was once the premier textbook in public schools. As a matter of fact, when President Thomas Jefferson was also serving as president of the Washington, DC, public school board, he said the only two necessary books for students were the Bible and Watts hymnal. The Bible is an amazing collection of literature, poetry, prose, history, and not to mention, the instruction manual for moral living and eternal salvation. Just being exposed to the Bible has made my kids excellent readers, spellers, and thinkers.

4. Have your child write out a portion of Bible verses and read them aloud to you every day. I know I had this under the Quick Fix list, but it is something very helpful when you are beginning. Your kid will benefit, believe me.

5. Finally, cultivate a true love for reading from the start. Buy books, discuss books with your spouse, share books, and have a family time of reading together. Videos, DVDs, computer games, X-Boxes and such distract from reading, and, if your child is suffering under the “Look Say” method at school, furthers the damage by making the child image-cognizant instead of word/symbol-cognizant. Ever since my kids were little, movies and computer use have been regulated and strictly enforced. It has benefitted them greatly.

Well, there’s my handy-dandy list of the 10 R’s– the 10 reading tips! They’ve worked for me! It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Excellent reading habits and skills take some time to cultivate, but the benefits are very much worth it. Every additional skill a child learns hinges on his ability to read and to comprehend what he is reading. This is so important that it bears repeating– the child cannot fully develop in other areas of his education without comprehending what he reads. This takes time and effort, but it is worth it!

Remember Helen Keller? Her teacher persevered for months, trying to get that girl to understand– to comprehend– the things in her world. Helen just couldn’t catch on at first, and she even grew more frustrated for a time. Yet once that trickle of water got flowing, and once Helen realized what that water was and what symbols represented that water, understanding flooded her like a rushing river. It unlocked her mind and enabled her to not only communicate with the world, but comprehend the world.

After the age of 10 or 11, I am against the use of fiction books for reading. Read more about my views on it in this post here. When the kids were young, we did read fiction from time to time– however, the language had to be slightly “advanced.” That is, I stuck with the more classical fiction books and I also tried to give books that were slightly advanced in its language level than where my child was currently at.

Here are some of the books we have discovered and love. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, and some are non-fiction but read like fiction (those are so much fun!) I am sure you can get these at your local library or at Amazon.com or ChristianBookDistributors. I have not organized the books by age, simply because all the kids have found them readable. The links take you to to Amazon.com, where they are available, although your local library probably has most of them.

Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?, by Jean Fritz
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
Martha Speaks (Sandpiper Paperbacks)by Susan Meddaugh
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Aaron and the Green Mountain Boys Patricia Lee Gauch
Emmett’s Pig by Mary Solz
And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (Paperstar) by Jean Fritz
The Swiss Family Robinson Johann Weiss
Little Bear’s outdoor adventure guide for the all-American boy by Richard Wheeler
Bread and Jam for Frances by Lillian Hoban
Daniel Boone: Frontier Legend (Historical American Biographies) by Pat McCarthy
Black Beauty Anna Sewell
The Bulletproof George Washington by David Barton
A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot
Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime by Janet and Geoff Benge
Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems by Janet and Geoff Benge
Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold by Janet and Geoff Benge
Little Pilgrims Progress by Helen L. Taylor
Best Little Stories from the American Revolution by C. Brian Kelly
The Childhood of Famous Americans series (literally hundreds of books from the 50’s and 60’s– my library has them all. They are outstanding! Here’s Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator of them).
The Little House Collection Box Set Laura Ingalls Wilder
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe
Heidi (Children’s Classics) by Johanna Spyri
The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories by Keren Henley
George Washington the Christian by William Johnson
Jesus Freaks: Martyrs: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus: The Ultimate Jesus Freaks by Voice of the Martyrs and DC Talk
Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs Voice of Martyrs
Into All the World: Four Stories of Pioneer Missionaries by Vance Christie
The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway
Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence by B.J. Lossing
The Penguins Are Coming! by R.L. Penney
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion
Harry and the Lady Next Door by Gene Zion
A Children’s Companion Guide to America’s History: History and Government by Catherine Millard
Smithsonian Presidents and First Ladies by James Barber and Amy Pastan
Meet George Washington by Joan Heilbroner

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6 Responses to “The Ten R’s: Raising a Kid Who Reads”

  1. Grandmother Wren Says:

    And make sure your children see you reading – and writing – every day.

    You have a very insightful and useful list here –
    Thank you.

  2. castocreations Says:

    I have been reading since before I can even remember. My mom tells a story of me at the age of 2 “reading” a book to a 5 year old boy. He apparently got very upset that this little 2 year old girl could read and he couldn’t. Actually I’d had it read to me so often that I had it memorized verbatim.

    I disagree that Harry Potter is a junk book though. It’s an excellent series and is no more junk to me than the Narnia chronicles…though admittedly a little more simplistic. If they’d been around I’d probably have read them in the 3rd grade. By the 5th I was reading the Hobbit and Narnia.

    I would stay awake into all hours of the night reading. While I don’t read as often as I’d like to now, I still love to read. Most of the time I do pick out those ‘easy’ books…James Patterson, Iris Johanson, Mary Higgins Clark. Mostly because I want mindless escape nowadays. But I still enjoy nonfiction. Especially historical books.

  3. Tammy Says:

    This was a excellent post.I am a BIG reader myself and my sons 4.5 and 1 boths love books as well. I am only a non fiction reader. I really do not see the point of reading a book if it is not even a real story.

  4. A. Says:

    I was such an avid reader as a child I would read anything at all. We lived in Africa and books were in limited supply so anything would do, rubbish or not. My view is that it is better to have a reading child than a non-reading child, and if it takes rubbish to get them started, so be it. In time they will become more discerning as long as they are encouraged to read other things.

    I have two sons, now grown up. I treated them both in exactly the same way as far as reading is concerned. Both my husband and I read them bedtime stories for years, well after they could read for themselves. But one has turned into an avid read, and the other much less so – the only one in the entire family!

    I’d agree with castocreations view on Harry Potter. I don’t like the books myself but they aren’t junk. Just look at all the “Latin” in the spells šŸ™‚

  5. Hadias Says:

    This is a very informative post especially for a parent of a child who is struggling with reading.

    Many of your tips are common practice in my home. The writing of passages from the Bible not only aid in reading, but memorization, spelling, and a greater knowledge of the Bible.

    But I bet you already knew that. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Kimberly Says:

    Could you explain what the “Look Say” and “Classical” forms of reading are?