I am now in my third year of homeschooling. My son is in second grade and my daughter is in kindergarten. I have been using “The Well-Trained Mind” by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise as my basic guide. With that in mind, I purchased the text that she suggests, “The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading” (OPGTR) by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington to teach phonics to my children.
I began kindergarten with my son right as he was turning five. We initially followed the scripted lessons in OPGTR to the letter. In the beginning of the book, where the short vowel and basic consonant sounds were introduced, he participated enthusiastically and my three-year-old joined in. However, once the book began to introduce sentences for him to read to practice the sounds he had learned, things began to go downhill from there. Long story short, I ended up spending more time fighting with him to convince him to do the lesson than we actually did on the lesson itself.
I still believed in the curriculum. The scripted way that the lessons are presented makes it easy to use and I like the thorough way that each sound is described. The problem seemed to be that my son was intimidated by the amount that he was being asked to read. I consulted some online homeschooling boards for suggestions from other parents and found that others had experienced similar issues with their children. Some of the ideas that I tried were:
- Writing the words or sentences that the child is supposed to read on a chalkboard or whiteboard, word by word or sentence by sentence instead of having him reading right out of the book.
- Splitting some of the longer lessons over two or three days.
- Eliminating or shortening some of the sentences.
- Taking a break from the book for a while and using easy readers for practice in the meantime.
After trying all of these suggestions, we were still trudging our way through the OPGTR at the beginning of second grade, by which time I believed that he should have been finished with it and reading independently. It was a battle every time the book came out and I tried to sit him down to a reading lesson. You may think that I should have given up on it by now. However, when I tested my daughter to see at what point in the book I should start with her, knowing that she had had some exposure to it, I was surprised to discover that she already knew all of her basic consonant and short vowel sounds, meaning that we were able to skip past the first third of the book. Obviously, it had been beneficial to her, just from listening in on her brother’s lessons.
With that in mind, I finally devised a way to motivate my son to practice reading without a fight but still finish up the curriculum.
- We follow the scripted lesson which explains each phonics rule and read the words which utilize the sound.
- I read the sentences to him/her, pointing at each word as I say it, and making them follow along with their eyes.
- We practice reading sentences in books that he is not intimidated by.
As I am embarking on this book anew with my kindergartener, I’ve also taken into account some mistakes that I made the first time around. Because getting my son to complete a lesson was such a battle, I ended up skipping some of the steps that the book suggests for lack of time. Now that I am now longer requiring him to read all of the sentences, he is cooperative and we actually have the time to do these things:
- The One New and Two Review rule. Basically, this means that you do a quick synopsis of what the child learned in the last two lessons before embarking on the new lesson.
- Sight Words. The OPGTR doesn’t encourage sight words as a rule, but introduces them periodically when a word is “disobedient,” meaning that it doesn’t follow the basic phonics rules, or if the word is a common one (like “the”) that cannot be sounded out. We make a flash card as the book directs us to and then review them several times a week. My children like to play a game that whoever reads the most sight words first gets a treat. (This post lists the sight words introduced in the book in order.)
I decided to share what has worked for us because I’ve seen so many parents lament that although they like this curriculum, their children hate it and they have the same battle of wills going on that I did. If my experience can help someone else to be successful with it, that will make all of the trouble I experienced at first worth it. On another note, knowing what I know now, I probably would not have started kindergarten with my son until he was six and not put as much pressure on him to read right away. Research suggests that girls tend to find learning to read easier than boys and many children aren’t ready for formal schooling at five years old. “The Well-Trained Mind” takes the approach that once a child learns to read, the whole world of learning is open to them. While I agree with the idea, if pressing the child to read when they are not ready makes them resistant to learning in general, then it does more damage than good.
All in all, I do recommend this book to other homeschooling families, keeping in mind that they may need to use some of the above-mentioned strategies if their child struggles with it.
Note: I wrote this towards the end of last school year. Over the summer, I kept having my children practice reading in some easy readers and my son has made significant progress and gained confidence in his ability to read! I also discovered that The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading is supposed to lead to a fourth grade reading level once the child has completed it. I feel that the edition of The Well-Trained Mind that I have was not clear on this. Knowing that, I feel better about the amount of time it has been taking us to work through the book.