How I (Let Computers) Teach Reading

My goal with my preschoolers is to have them reading well by the time they enter kindergarten. I want my children to be able to work independently for small stretches. There are coloring pages kids can do, but I prefer for “busy work” to be valuable, so coloring has to have some purpose. Otherwise, I would rather have my children playing or running around. When I start school, I jump in and I need the student to be able to read math workbooks and other texts even if I am busy with a younger sibling or cleaning.

I also feel that if your child can read well above grade level when their peers in school are still learning their ABC’s, you feel pretty confident about homeschooling and can fend off the constant questions from well-meaning relatives and friends by showing them that you are competent and capable at teaching your own child.

Side note: I would still want to teach my child how to read if I wasn’t going to homeschool as that is a foundational skill that I wouldn’t want to leave to chance. By teaching my child to read, I would be making sure that my child is identified as a “gifted and talented” student and is tracked into advanced classes later. I wouldn’t want to send my kid to school without basic reading and math skills just for that reason.

Reading is a complex skill involving many sub-skills. Kids need to have phonemic awareness, blending, endurance, comprehension, and fluency. (This list is not comprehensive or scientific—it is just based on my own experience.) I have found that the easiest way to teach phonics and blending is to use technology.

Headsprout.com (which is currently owned by LearningAtoZ) is my absolute go-to for teaching reading. The first half of the program is focused on the phonics and blending skills required to actually read. With my first daughter, I spent hours with a hooked on phonics book showing her how to blend and read. We got through over half the book and it became clear that she was mostly using her understanding of rhyming words to get by. I struggled to maintain patience as I tried other Mom-intensive programs (Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons) and finally found Headsprout through an online search after realizing that technology should have eliminated the need to have Mom demo 1,000,000 times.

I fell in love right away, and 4 kids later, I am still using it as the backbone of my beginning reading program. The computer can demonstrate how to blend as many times as the kid needs, and it can also assess if the child really understands how to build words. The best thing is that if you limit screen time, your child will likely enjoy playing the computer game and enjoy learning to read as well. After 40 lessons, your child will be able to read basic kindergarten/first grade readers.

As Headsprout progresses, it builds comprehension and educated guessing into the program. There are stories to read with questions to answer. There are words like “drink” to sound out and make an educated guess about. Dr-IN-k sounds funny—maybe it is dr-EE-nk. The student gets lots of practice trying to guess the right word when they have sounded it out properly and it isn’t how we actually say it.

I don’t feel like the skill of endurance is there as much as I would like. It is definitely better now than it was when I first started using the program. There are books after almost every episode now, and that wasn’t the case when I began the program with my first daughter.  These pictures show just how much reading growth your child will experience in this program.

I have found that my kids need a lot more endurance practice, so I still supplement with Hooked on Phonics readers from their K-2nd grade reading program.  I start those after the first 40 lessons of Headsprout. Then I go through the kindergarten and first grade books. I start the second half of Headsprout when I am around halfway through the first grade readers, and I do it concurrently as I finish HOP first and second grade.  You could also use library early reader books, but I found it convenient to have leveled readers in my home.

I don’t know if the endurance factor would matter if you were starting later than I do. I typically start around a child’s 3rd birthday. I let them try the lessons and I repeat them if their score is less than 90-95%.

After my child graduates from Headsprout and HOP second grade, I place him/her into Ticket to Read. Ticket to Read has a phonics program that keeps them practicing, but the best part is when they get into the clubhouse. This level lets them focus on comprehension, endurance, and fluency. They have to be able to read a passage at a certain word per minute goal per grade. I usually do the program until my child has graduated from the 3rd grade level. After that, my child is fluent and has made the switch from learning to read to reading to learn. They usually pick up speed on their own after that, but if needed I could always do more Ticket to Read.

My oldest daughter tested (as a kindergartner) at a 12th grade level for decoding and 8th grade for comprehension after my compilation program and is now a voracious reader at 10-years-old. She enjoys reading Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and does well on comprehension exams given to adults. I haven’t really needed to supplement her at all. My son seemed to be fluent and could read very well out loud (testing about late 3th to early 4th grade as a kindergartner), but he didn’t seem to be taking everything in. I got Reading Eggspress for him this year and he is doing very well with that program. I tried the Reading Eggs for my younger one, and didn’t feel like it was as effective as the methods I have already mentioned. I do like Reading Eggpress, and it has helped him get to a 5th grade level in comprehension after 20 lessons. (He started at lesson 100, and is a 1st grader.)

Since Headsprout is now owned by Learning AtoZ, you buy it with a yearly license. That has made it difficult to do my program because I take the break in between the first and second halves of the lessons. To make buying the program cheaper, I recommend going through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op online. If you have extra time, or an older student, you can take advantage of the Headsprout Comprehension program. It is just more practice, and it isn’t necessary, but my son enjoyed it when I bought the program for my 3rd child. (They now give you all the lessons from early reading through comprehension, and they give you multiple seats, so you might as well do it, right?)

In my opinion, the most important thing is to make learning to read as fun as you can. For some people, that might mean snuggle time with Mom or Dad (or both) as you begin your journey to literacy. For people like my kids, that means fun computer programs. However you do it, make happy memories.

For more information:

I use the DORA reading test from Let’s Go Learn online to assess reading capability. I also have tested the kids with the Learning AtoZ benchmark readers.

I am frequently asked what program I would use if I couldn’t or wouldn’t use technology. I would try “All About Reading” as I love their spelling program. I have window shopped their Reading Program online, but I haven’t seen a copy. I have been very tempted to buy it. But their spelling program is so good that I would try their reading program before anything else.

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