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    Home Education, Other Thoughts

    Don’t Forget the Literacy! (A Low-Energy Mom’s Guide Post)

    June 27, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    I think we all know that in homeschooling, it’s easy to let the younger children fall through the cracks. I’ve observed this in other families, and I’ve seen it in my own. The fact is that by the time you’re starting, say, Student Number Three on lessons for the first time, your time is already largely spoken for. So you’re squishing said child into all the crevices and hoping that she fits. When you get to Student Number Four, the additional squishing starts to feel like a rather hopeless endeavor.

    I’ve been there and I get it.

    It's not secret that the youngest children in a homeschooling family can fall through the cracks. Don't give into the temptation to put off reading lessons.

    So I’m talking to a random person I don’t know at the park about a year or so ago, and she looks at me and tells me that she knows she really needs to start her six-year-old on reading, but it’s really hard to find the time because she already has so many students she’s teaching, so maybe he can just wait. I, naturally, sympathize with this line of reasoning. I always said that I would start teaching my children phonics at age six, but they always insisted before that age, much to my chagrin. I remember complaining once to a friend that they might have been ready, but I certainly wasn’t.

    I look at this woman and I say, “Well, and some children really aren’t ready to read at six, anyhow.”

    I expect her to agree, to say something about how he really wasn’t ready yet. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “Oh, he’s ready. He’s been ready for over a year. I’m just busy.”

    Now, I am not one to give hard words to random people I meet at the park, so I saved up all my thoughts and I’m bringing them here today. (Lucky you.)

    Here is the most important part of today’s post:

    Children who can read are like money in the bank when it comes to successful homeschooling.

    Let’s think about this issue. The delay that can happen with reading lessons is similar to what we are tempted to do with chores, isn’t it? I’ve got this little two-year-old, and he’s so cute, but he also slows me down — and I have sooooo much to do. I’m so tired, and if I stop and let him help with everything, it’s going to take even longer to get done. And Done is the goal. Right?


    Done is not the goal.

    We already talked about this when we talked more generally about independent children. The ultimate goal of childrearing is adulthood. We expect our children to eventually be like us — we can live our day to day lives without assistance from our parents.

    Those earliest days, when the toddler is trying to help, when she looks you in the eye and says, “Mommy, I do it” — those are the little seeds of independence. When we let them help — when we spend the time to train them how — we are watering those seeds.

    In regard to literacy, the same is true. I said this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s easier to read aloud to my child than it is to teach him how to read. Or, at least, it’s easier today.

    What we need is a bigger picture, a long-term vision.

    I remember the days when my three younger children were all mostly illiterate. When my girls were in first and third grade, lessons felt like an insurmountable task. I had to read everything aloud — there was nothing assigned that they were able to read for themselves. In addition to this, I needed to be reading aloud a bit to my preschooler. In addition to this addition, I didn’t want to skip all reading aloud with my oldest (who was in sixth grade at the time), because I have always felt that reading aloud was a bonding experience.

    I have a very strong voice, and yet I was hoarse at the end of most days. I spent hours and hours reading aloud. I love reading aloud, but this was a bit much, even for me.

    And that was the way it went. There was nothing I could do. I had started everyone on reading lessons when they were ready developmentally, and their reading levels just weren’t where they needed to be to read school books for themselves.

    We continued with phonics, and guess what? This past year was remarkable. The girls were in third and fifth grades, and both of them could read almost everything! I was able to read aloud to my youngest without going crazy because I didn’t have so many students who needed to be read to. It was beautiful. It was amazing. And I’m still doing phonics, which means it will get even better in the future. Already my youngest is eating up our easy reader collection. He’ll be able to read his school books in no time!

    Here’s the thing: I met Park Lady when I was in the midst of this hard time. I was so worn down by all the reading aloud and the trying-to-fit-it-all-in. And here she was telling me that she was creating this same situation for herself by not giving phonics lessons to her child who was ready for them.

    As you know, I created a phonics curriculum that takes only 10-15 minutes per day. (I laughingly told my husband I should call it my Low-Energy Mom’s Phonics Curriculum.) On some days, it feels difficult to find even those 10-15 minutes. But for every lesson we do, we are moving closer to the goal of the child being able to read independently. Reading independently is the key to independent learning.

    I was thinking the other day about what Charlotte Mason said about reading and children learning to read, such as this:

    The child who has been taught to read with care and deliberation until he has mastered the words of a limited vocabulary, usually does the rest for himself.

    Home Education, p. 226

    And also this:

    We must remember the natural inertness of a child’s mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.

    Home Education, p. 228

    Those early years, when the child is obviously ready to learn to read, and he is sometimes begging to learn to read, are the prime time to teach him how to read. He is the equivalent of the toddler begging to help with chores. This is your moment, Mom! Don’t miss it!

    If it is missed, he may do exactly what Charlotte Mason says: get lazy, and begin to shirk the labor of reading for himself.

    I’m not saying to force a child to read who isn’t ready. Not at all. But I am saying this: don’t let busyness, the magnitude of managing a large family, or even low energy problems, crowd out those reading lessons. The child who can read for himself can learn … for himself. He’s no longer dependent on someone else to read for him. This is a beautiful thing in life, and it’s also really handy for busy, overwhelmed, tired homeschool moms.

    We need to make the investments that count. Smart investors think about where they can pack the most punch. Making investments in the children’s overall independence is smart. But let’s keep in mind that we are homeschooling — because of this, certain investments will pay huge dividends. Literacy is a big one — possibly the biggest one.

    Don’t forget the literacy.

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  • Reply Kate July 2, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    I am really struggling with two opposing ideas, that reading to a child can cause them to be intellectually lazy, and that reading aloud to children helps them to develop literacy. How can I find a balance?

  • Reply Anna Collins July 2, 2016 at 3:18 am

    Thank you for these low energy mom posts. They are all so helpful. I appreciate you writing them.

  • Reply Tara June 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    How can I discern when my child is ready to read? He is 4, and I haven’t been pushing anything at all because I know it’s fine if he’s 6 or 7 when he learns to read. But at the same time, I don’t want to delay things that he is ready for. Lately he has been asking what things say — he sees a printed word on something and wants to know what it says, or if it’s 3 words, he runs his finger over each one and wants to know what each of the 3 words is (it’s not enough to just say that it says “Happy Birthday, Grandson” – he wants to know which word is Happy and which word is Birthday, etc). But he doesn’t actually know the alphabet yet, except for the letters our names begin with. Given the emphasis about not starting formal training until later, making sure the brain is ready for it, etc, I haven’t been clear about when to even introduce things like learning/recognizing the alphabet (whether learning the alphabet song, or visually recognizing the letters), writing/tracing the alphabet (he holds a pen and “writes” though he doesn’t know how to write letters – so is this a readiness to learn to write?), phonemic awareness, and so forth. Can you make any general suggestions about this, or point me in the direction of good information about it?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      I can’t say for sure whether my rule of thumb will be a perfect fit for your child, but I’ll share it anyhow: I wait until they ask for lessons, or until they turn 6, whichever comes first. Now, technically, this doesn’t mean I would absolutely do lessons with all six-year-olds, but just that I’d try them and see how it went. ALL of my children ended up asking before their 6th birthdays (with one it was only a month or two before), so that is when they started lessons. Since your son is already connecting that words actually say something, I bet you he asks before he is 6!

      Considering his interest, I think the thing I would add right now is learning the alphabet. Singing the alphabet song is always helpful, and reading alphabet books is good, too. But beyond that, we also had alphabet puzzles {I’d just mention the names while we were playing with them} and also we would draw letters in the dirt or sand and say their names.

      • Reply Tara June 29, 2016 at 10:26 am

        Thank you, Brandy. One thing I’ve wondered is if he’d actually know that reading lessons are a thing (and thus know to ask for them). He’s an only child, so it’s not like he’s seen other children in the house getting reading lessons. So I wondered if I’d have to just infer from his interest level that it is time to try something.

        Regarding the alphabet, is there a CM philosophy about how to go about introducing these early things? I have some exposure to the Montessori approach, where there is an emphasis on learning the sound the letter makes rather than the name of the letter. That seems to make sense. Does it matter one way or the other in a CM approach?

        One other thing I’ve thought about is that my child still has some difficulty pronouncing words clearly. I’ve seen a chart indicating which sounds most children can make at each age, and even accounting for that age/developmental aspect, it seems he is still having trouble with a few sounds. His vocabulary is quite large, he speaks in lengthy paragraphs… no difficulty with understanding, just with articulating certain sounds. I’ve wondered if we will need to seek help for this. Do you know if this kind of difficulty can pose any extra challenge for a child learning to read? I would think that as long as he understands how we pronounce the sound, it should be fine, even if his pronunciation of what he sees on the page isn’t quite clear. Any thoughts??

        • Reply Valerie July 2, 2016 at 9:22 am

          My 10 YO DD couldn’t pronounce R’s clearly until around age 8. It didn’t hinder her learning to read initially. However…mispronouncing certain sounds can be an early sign of dyslexia. I realized a few months ago that though she reads fluently for the most part, her great difficulty pronouncing long words is likely dyslexia, and my 7 yo who’s struggling to learn to read (and still can’t say his R’s properly) pretty clearly has dyslexia.

          So I don’t think the mispronunciations alone will hinder learning to read, but they can be possible signs of other problems. Just something to be aware of. There is a helpful list of dyslwxia symptoms at

  • Reply Mary Frances Pickett June 27, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration! I have one non-reader left and he did not get a reading lesson this morning. I just called to him to get his Bob Books and come into my office for a quick lesson. He sped through two books that have been giving him trouble and then we read through a new one. We should finish Set 1 this week so I ordered Set 2 while he was still sitting in my lap.

  • Reply Hayley June 27, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I agree with you (of course). Having my oldest (8, year 3) know how to read and be a stronger reader has been such a blessing to making our school day smooth-sailing. She’s even been able to step in and be me when I’ve had to attend to one of my non-schooling children. Even though she is only one year ahead of her younger sister (7, year 2) she can help teach her on the odd occasion (because they both want to keep the school day moving)! And, whilst she is a year ahead in school, she seems like she has a lighter load at times because she can read by herself and complete a reading in one sitting opposed to me needing to break up the reading for my year 2 student.

    Did I mention that my year 3 strong reader taught herself because I felt she was too young to learn to read? Well, I learned my own lesson there. Sweet firstborns, such a delight when they’re teaching us as the parents so many lessons of our own in parenting and teaching. I was more aware of when to help my now year 2 student begin the process of reading lessons.

    p.s. I love that you didn’t tell Park Lady what you really thought. That’s why you’re so amazingly sweet. I would have blurted it out anyway then kicked myself later.

  • Reply Ann-Marie June 27, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Very, very interesting thoughts, Brandy!
    I totally agree and see what you mean about poor child three { I have one and I know}.
    Child one never needed reading lessons. He taught himself how to read and then we did a little phonics book for a few years to strengthen it, but, it was simple as simple can be 🙂 Child number two was the total opposite. He always wants to self lead and still struggles with phonics, but, does not like to have any help whatsoever…a bit of a challenge at times. Then enter baby boy #3 who fit into the not-quite-ready-at-six stage, so I did not sweat it like I did with son #2! We worked on your wonderful BOB program for quite some time and then he took off and has not looked back! He is nine now and reads quite well, but, could use some work on phonics. We ditched the phonics once he was reading because I kept reading that it was not necessary once they are reading fairly well independently. I like that you mentioned that you still work on phonics with your girls. Are you still using the BOB books or something else? Last year I sold my BOB books, but, do have The Ordinary Parents Guide. I suppose we could use that. Any suggestions?
    I totally agree with what you say about reading being instrumental to learning! I read aloud a ton here and need to get my boys reading more on their own. I think I have fallen into that habit by necessity and trying to cover topics that we can together, but, I can see that retention is probably not as good as if they did it individually and used narration.
    Thanks for your thoughts, Brandy!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 27, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      I did a video once on what I do with older students — because I think that once they do that “taking off” that you mentioned, the daily lessons really are overkill for most students. Something like that would probably work well for you, especially since you’ve done Bob Books in the past.

      Charlotte Mason didn’t seem to approve of reading aloud a whole lot, and there I disagree with her, BUT I do see the benefit of making sure it isn’t crippling our students but offering them an unneeded crutch. But reading aloud for fun as a family activity? I can’t agree that that is just for bedtime! (Which is what she said in Vol. 1)

  • Reply Celeste June 27, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for this encouragement, Brandy! I am currently teaching my 7yo and 6yo how to read (7yo was slow to start and is pretty much reading now but not at the level to read her own school books), and just last week, my 4yo came up to me and started reading aloud from the book I was using with her older brother. Turns out she has been figuring it out on her own for a while and is now begging me to do reading lessons with her too. I feel like my life is being taken over by beginning readers! LOL But it’s like chore training — the time put in to make fluent readers pays dividends. I KNOW that, but I need the reminder sometimes. Now to figure out how to find the time in my schedule this coming school year… 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 27, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      I will pray for you as you try to figure out the schedule — that is the hardest part, I think. It doesn’t take much time, but putting it in the *right* place — where it doesn’t get dropped regularly — is sometimes harder than it seems! ♥

      • Reply Celeste June 27, 2016 at 2:22 pm

        Exactly. What has been working lately is right after dinner — I sit down and cycle through my learning-to-readers one by one, about ten minutes each. It is not my favorite way to spend the after-dinner hour, and I’ve been thinking about where else I could put it when we start up our new school year in a couple weeks. But I’ll probably keep it in that slot because it is actually getting done. (And on days I am out after dinner, which is a couple times a week, Daddy takes over, so that’s a win! :))

        • Reply Cameron June 27, 2016 at 7:26 pm

          This is a great post and I agree it is such a life saver when kids can read their own lessons! One thing we have done is to begin to teach our new readers the summer prior to the school year when I would plan to teach reading in earnest. This helps me to feel relaxed about the process without the demands of schooling all my older kids. In the summer we just seem to have more time to establish a daily habit of cuddling up on the couch to work on reading. Then when the next school year starts, the process is already underway. This has helped me transition new readers in.

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