Disclaimer: As of today, we've only finished up to Lesson 19. I am no expert on this book or on teaching kids how to read in general. But I'm happy to tell you what I do know about it and how I feel about it so far.
As a supplement to our daily preschool routine, for the past few months I've been using the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann to teach my 2 1/2 year-old daughter how to read. And guess what? It's working! I really couldn't be more pleased.
I've been asked about the book and the whole program in general several times since we started using it, so today I'm going to share how I came across this book and why I chose to use it, how the book works, and how it's working for us.
Here we go!
How I came to find & buy this book
As many of you already know, my daughter Olivia loves all things academic. We started doing the Starfall alphabet pages and doing other alphabet activities with her when she was really little (like, maybe 9 months?) and it's just taken off from there. She's always been pretty highly verbal, so starting alphabet practice early on just seemed natural. By the time she was somewhere between 18 months-2 years old she already knew the names of each letter and the sounds they make. But then... what to do next?
I'm pretty comfortable with all things preschool, but when it comes to teaching kindergarten curriculum and above, I always feel like I'm a little bit in over my head. Teaching Olivia how to read was one of those things that I just plain had no idea how to do. So I didn't.
After she knew the names and sounds of the letters in the alphabet, I called it quits for a while. I had tried writing out simple words and teaching her how to sound them out, but it wasn't working and I didn't really know what else to try. She was super little still anyway and I wasn't worried about her, so I didn't worry about teaching her how to read either.
I had heard about the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons from a friend a couple years ago when we lived in Utah, but I didn't think much about it at the time. Then, after we moved to Ohio, I kept hearing about the book from several of our friends. Their kids are a year or two older than Olivia, so when they told me about again it I just kept it in the back of my mind, "for later."
To be completely honest, the little I knew about the book and its program for how to teach reading totally intimidated and overwhelmed me. The lessons looked weird and boring and way too intense for a little kid. So a few months ago when a good friend and I got to talking about a little set of easy reader books she had started using with her son, I thought I'd try those first.
Well, it didn't go over well. I still had no idea how to bridge the gap between "this is the sound the letter makes" and "sound out this word." So we made it through a couple pages of the first book and Olivia loved it, but she wasn't really progressing or learning, so we returned the whole set back to the library.
It was after that experience that I realized two things.
- Olivia was ready to start learning how to read.
- I was definitely going to need some structured help for teaching her how to do it.
So I went back to my friends who had previously suggested Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and asked them all kinds of questions about it. One of my friends let me borrow her copy for an evening so I could read through some of the theory at the beginning and get a feel for what the lessons are like. This was super helpful for me.
If you are thinking about buying this book, I definitely recommend borrowing a copy from a friend or from the library first to see if you like it and if you think it will work well for you and your child.
After looking through the book, that evening I ordered a copy. It's $12 on Amazon for a new one. To me, that is totally a fair price for having someone (a book) teach me how to teach my child how to read. And I definitely appreciate that it's just one book that can be used over and over again for later children (as opposed to buying a little set of books or something that gets written in and can only be used once).
How the book works
At the beginning of the book (before the lessons start) there is a very thorough overview that explains the theory behind this method for teaching children how to read, what ages and capabilities the book is geared toward, and how the lessons work. I won't go more in depth about that because it's fairly short and concise and it's right there in the book for you to read, but I am going to touch on a few of the signature things mentioned there that I didn't know about before I got my hands on a copy to look through.
Included in the overview is this chart. These are the "funny letters" that the book uses for the beginning reading lessons. Each sound has its own special letter, so letters like E and A and T that make different sounds depending on what letters surround them aren't confusing. By the end of the book, the child is reading regular letters, but having these "funny letters" helps the child get some solid footing before having to deal with the same letters making different sounds.
The reading process
At the beginning of the book, the lessons use the format shown above for teaching kids how to read. It focuses on teaching them that we read from left to right, that we sound out each sound, and that we then keep going as we move on to the next word. This is also dissolved little by little throughout the book so that, by the end of the book, the child is reading normally, but it is definitely helpful in the beginning.
Here's an example of what some of the words look like in a lesson at the beginning of the book. The letters are the "funny" letters (ex: the E with the line over it), there are reading cues underneath the letters, and the letters that aren't meant to be said out loud are smaller (so the child knows to skip them). If you're thinking this all sounds a little hokey, be prepared to feel a little foolish. Because, at least for Olivia, it totally works.
Each lesson is a script
As a parent, the thing that makes this book so user-friendly is the fact that the book tells you exactly what to say and do for every single part of every single lesson. I don't have to know how to explain something because it tells me what to say, which is so nice. After trying to teach Olivia how to sound things out on my own (and having it be a complete failure), it was such a relief to just read off the script.
In the page you see above (and throughout the book), the small black text are instructions for the parent/teacher and the pink text is the script. It literally tells you exactly what to say.
If you're just getting started, definitely read through the entire lesson ahead of time before you do it with your child (especially if you have a child who's likely to get distracted if you have to stop and re-read something to figure out what you're supposed to be doing). I don't think you'd need to memorize the whole thing, but you will want to be familiar enough with that day's lesson that you know in general what to do and what comes next.
Now that we've been doing reading lessons for a few months, I never look at the lessons ahead of time. (Although I probably should.) So much of the lessons are so repetitive and predictable that I can usually make it through without having to stop and check what I'm doing very often. But every now and then when I open the book for our reading lesson that day and see that it's something totally new, I try to sit and read through it by myself before I start the lesson with Olivia.
Read through several lessons before you start
& Know your child's (and your own) limits
One of my friends who had been using this book with her son suggested that I sit down and read through the introduction and several of the lessons throughout the book before actually starting. This was excellent advice, and I wish I would have heeded it more carefully.
When I got the book I read through the introduction (definitely don't skip that because otherwise nothing will make sense). Then, following my friend's advice, I read through the entire first lesson. Maybe I glanced at the second lesson, but that was it. It was late that night and I was tired of reading through it all, so I never did read through more of the lessons. But let me tell you why you should.
The first few lessons are baby cakes. They are super short and super easy. Olivia breezed through them so quickly that I even remember thinking, "Maybe we'll do reading lessons twice a day!" But about a week later I just wanted to quit.
After the first few lessons, the lessons double or triple in length, include practicing a wider variety of skill sets, and get much harder. For a 4 or 5 year-old (the age the book is geared toward), this might not be as big of a deal. But for a 2 1/2 year old, this was just plain beyond her attention span. The lessons were way. too. long. for. her.
Because I didn't know ahead of time (*should have taken my friend's advice!*) that the lessons got so long all of a sudden and because I had already laid down the law that "we will finish one reading lesson every single day," I was determined to make her finish one whole lesson every day. It was pride at its worst and it made what started out as fun mommy-daughter reading time turn into a daily epic power struggle. "Yes you will read this!" "No I won't."
After a couple days of me trying to force her attention span to be longer, Olivia shut down. She wanted nothing to do with reading lessons, even though she had previously been asking for them every day. She would cry, kick, look at me with those pleading eyes, and when all that didn't work, she just stopped responding. She wouldn't talk to me during reading lessons. She refused to participate.
I felt bad, but I was also so frustrated. I hadn't recognized yet where I had made a wrong turn and, in my pride, I thought that if I just kept plowing through I could make her do it. But you can't make kids do anything. And I couldn't plow through when she wouldn't even budge.
I lamented to Bryan how frustrated I was and eventually we decided to wait and do reading lessons in the evenings when he was home and she could sit on his lap during the lessons. This helped a lot, but the lessons were still hard because they were too long for her.
Finally I came to my senses, got over myself, and had the wisdom to break up each lesson into several smaller lessons (i.e. one lesson sometimes spans several days before we move on to the next one) and stop our reading lesson each day whenever Olivia seemed done. When her eyes started wandering all over the place or she started getting overwhelmed or things that she could usually do quickly and easily started becoming really hard and slow, we stopped. "Great job! We'll do some more tomorrow." That was my new motto with reading lessons. And I am happy to say, it has made all the difference in the world.
When we first started reading lessons, I had decided that we would do one lesson every day (7 days a week) no matter what. I didn't want her to think that it was something she could get out of if she didn't want to do it, that it was an optional thing.
Now, I've learned that it's more important for Olivia and I both to have enough energy and focus and be in a good mood when we do reading lessons than it is to do them every single day. There are days when we're too busy or too tired or too cranky to sit down and focus on learning how to read. And you know what? On those days we just skip it. I don't rub it in her face and say, "You're too cranky, so we're not doing reading lessons." We just don't do it. And usually by the next day we're both in a better mood/have more energy/more focus and we're ready to jump back on the train again.
At first I was worried that everything she had learned before we skipped a day would go seeping out her ears and we'd have to do a lot of review to make up for the days we would take a break from reading lessons. But so far, the exact opposite has been true. When we skip a day and then come back to reading lessons, she seems to have had more time to absorb everything from the lessons before and often times she's more solid on the skills we had previously reviewed than if we had just plowed right though.
All of this is to say, just because there's a book there telling you how to do every single thing doesn't mean that it will be magical and easy all the time. It's still hard sometimes. But it will be just that much easier if you take the time to really get to know the book and the entire program first and if you pay attention to your child's limits (and your own) and go at the pace that works best for you and your child. Don't feel like a failure if something doesn't work at first. Just keep at it.
At the end of each lesson, there is a short writing lesson. I know one of my friends who started using this book with her daughter when her daughter was still pretty little just skipped the writing practice all together because her daughter was still too little to have fine motor skills that were refined enough to successfully write letters. Her daughter is a reading rock star and I'm pretty sure she can write just fine now. So if you feel like the writing time isn't for you, I wouldn't beat yourself up too much about skipping it.
On the other hand, another one of my friends confessed that she wished she had done the writing with her older daughter when they were doing reading lessons because now her writing isn't quite as nice as her mom would sometimes like it to be.
I decided to include it despite the fact that Olivia can't write by herself yet, because I thought it would still be valuable time to practice writing together (hand over hand) and because Olivia really likes it.
At the beginning of the book in the overview, there is a chart with specific directions about how to write the letters. These are kind of a hybrid between the "funny letters" and regular letters. When we do writing practice during our reading lessons, we write the letters this way.
When we write together other times during the day, we just write the regular way. Olivia seems to be un-phased by switching back and forth between the two. (And they're not that different.)
For writing practice during our reading lessons, we use this lined dry erase board that I got from the dollar section at Target a few years ago. I checked last week and they're carrying a very similar version in the dollar section again right now during the back-to-school season.
(And if you're reading this post long after it originally goes up, don't despair! Target usually puts some version of these back in the dollar section during the back-to-school season every year.)
When we first started doing reading lessons, Olivia basically couldn't write by herself at all. At that point, I was still following the instructions from the overview, which is to write the first part of the letter (such as the vertical line in a "t") in one color and the second part of the letter (the horizontal line in a "t") in a second color.
I honestly have never been able to understand the purpose in doing it this way and it can be a pain trying to switch back and forth between pens when writing a single letter.
Now that Olivia is starting to be able to write by herself some, I write the letters first with the blue pen and then she traces them in the black pen.
We also have a little cloth that we keep with the dry erase board and (I don't know why, but) wiping it clean after we do our writing practice is one of Olivia's favorite parts of our reading lessons.
Celebrate each finished lesson
100 lessons is a lot. And if you break it up into smaller chunks and it feels more like 1000 lessons, it gets even harder to feel like you've really accomplished something. I knew before we started that Olivia would appreciate being able to mark off each completed lesson with a sticker, so I made her a little reading chart. Each time we complete a lesson she gets to put a sticker on the number for that lesson. She loves putting the stickers on and counting them all up.
Especially since we started breaking the lessons up over several days (which means she doesn't always get to put a sticker on the chart), I think marking off each lesson is a big deal to her. And, let's be honest, it's a big deal to me too! Even though I can see marked progress in her skills after every reading lesson, sometimes it can feel like we will never get through them all. It's encouraging for me to be able to look at the chart and see that, even though it's slow, we are making progress.
Get the *free* printable 1-100 Chart HERE. (This is the original reason I created them, but they're good for a lot of other learning activities too! I even track my running with one of these charts now!)
How it's actually working for us
All in all, I couldn't be happier with our daily reading lessons from this book. The progression is so natural and logical that Olivia has been able to just move from one thing to the next without any problems.
While I do sometimes worry, "Oh no! If she doesn't get this down solid before we move onto the next thing she'll be lost!" that worry has not yet been validated. No, she doesn't master every skill by the end of every lesson, but the lessons are so repetitive and build on each other so well that, so far, she's been fine anyway. Even the times when I shake my head and think, "She'll never get this," she comes back in a day or two and I'm blown away by how things seem to have just clicked.
One of the things that took a while to "click" was the difference between sounding out individual letters in a word, one at a time, and slowly sounding out the whole word together. I felt like she would never get it and I would get so frustrated trying to repeat the activities with her "until firm" because it was never firm. But you know what? She's pretty good at it now. Eventually she had practiced it enough times over the course of enough lessons that it finally clicked.
I could say the same thing about other parts of the lessons. The "rhyming" activities used to confuse her every single time. Today she blew through that part of the lesson getting everything right on the first try without any mistakes. I'm learning to stress less about the things she doesn't have down perfectly yet and just focus on helping her learn whatever is being presented that day. Because, eventually, she always seems to get it.
Now we're just starting to read "stories" (sentences) and I've been blown away at how well she's doing. I sit there doing the lessons with her, listening to her legitimately read the words in the stories, and I can't help but feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with pride at her capabilities. Overwhelmed with gratitude that I have the book to help me be able to teach her since I know my own attempts weren't working. Overwhelmed by how big she is getting. Overwhelmed by the fact that we just do these little lessons every day, but they are totally working!
Find more fun and easy preschool ideas on the Preschool page. You can also find them by clicking on the Preschool button in the header. Enjoy!