The Truth about Teaching our Children to Read {and 5 Simple Steps for Nurturing a Love of Books…}

A couple of days ago, I shared a special moment on The Unplugged Family Facebook page.

My nine-year-old daughter had just finished reading through The Boxcar Children for the first time and was starting into the second book in the series.  It was mid-morning and our home was peacefully quiet with children all engaged in their own activities.  Audrey unfolded her legs and rose from the couch with a satisfied sigh.

“Oh, Mama… I just couldn’t LIVE without reading,”  her voice was whimsical and sing-song.

I smiled and she continued,

Reading is just delicious.”

Oh, my heart.  Those four words will stay emblazoned in my soul forever.


I love her use of words – and I couldn’t agree more.  Reading IS delicious and don’t we DEVOUR books?  So why not delicious reading?

It took a solid 9 and a half years of nurturing a love of books for a statement like that to bubble up out of her little heart.  And it is music to my ears to hear my children tell me they LOVE to read.  It is a sweet reward after many years of investment and perseverance.  Isn’t it?

And, friends, I don’t believe a true pleasure in reading just ‘happens’.  I mean, maybe for the occasional child, but more often than not…

a genuine love of reading is like a well cared for garden.  

It takes a ton of work.  We must create the right environment for that garden to grow, we must till the soil of the heart and mind, we must plant the right seeds, nurture the seeds – then the plants, and continue to water that garden and weed that garden and nurture that garden for as long as it takes.

And sometimes that can mean there will be many years before we see the ‘fruits’ of our labor.

Yep.  It takes good old fashioned TIME to grow passionate readers.

After ‘teaching’ three children to read (so to speak), there is one MAJOR truth that I feel every Mom, homeschooler or not, should know.  I mean, there are many (which I plan to cover in this new series on reading!) but there is one BIGGIE.

It isn’t really about whether our child CAN read.  

It is much more about whether our child WANTS to read.  

Does that make sense?
In other words, the most important task you have in the journey of your child learning to read is this – teaching your kids to LOVE to read.
The less important task is the teaching of the actual act of reading words on a page.
WHEN your child learns the mechanics of reading on her own is completely irrelevant in the long-run.

Let’s chat about what I mean, ok?
Our culture is loaded with kids who CAN read.  They probably even learned when they were as young as 4 or 5 at school.  But do the LOVE to read?  Now that is often a much different story.
Come on. We’ve all seen that Mom.  Maybe we’ve even BEEN that Mom (gulp). The one sitting on the library couch with their Kindergarten aged child and a beginning reader book on her lap.  The child struggles madly to read the simple words on the page while the Mom grows more and more frustrated, making the entire experience quite stressful and miserable for all involved.  The parent is visibly annoyed, the child feel defeated, and the idea of reading (in this instance) sure doesn’t seem very enticing for the child, does it?

This is often what happens with the pressure of having a time-frame in which a child MUST learn to read.  Parents of children in school feel this pressure as teachers tell them their child is ‘behind’ or not reading on level. (I have so many friends who have gone through this!).  This creates an environment of stress where the struggling child learns that reading is hard, stressful, and unenjoyable.  They learn that reading invokes feelings of defeat, frustration, and disappointment.   This is not at ALL what we are going for, friends.
And before we go crazy pointing fingers at parents of kids in school – so many of us are guilty of the very same philosophy.  Somehow, we can’t seem to shake the idea that there is this time-frame for learning to read.  If a child doesn’t read by the time they are 5 or 6, well, something MUST be wrong.
This perspective is just as prevalent in the homeschooling community as it is in the school community.  We feel the heat for our kids to learn to read probably more than any other milestone. We feel it from our family, friends, other homeschoolers, even ourselves.  
But why?
Why are we so obsessed with WHEN a child learns to read?

Why aren’t we more concerned about whether a child WANTS to read?

Because these are two very different goals, in all honesty.
My goal has always been to raise kids who LOVED books and desired to read.  This meant that I was very relaxed about teaching the mechanics of reading.
My first son taught himself (YES, TAUGHT HIMSELF) how to read when he was about 5 or so, or maybe he was 6? (See, I don’t even remember!)
My daughter took about 2 years to really learn to read fluently. She was 8 1/2 when everything really clicked.  (All About Reading really helped her!)
My youngest son learned to read at about 7 after a really short time of very relaxed instruction with All About Reading Level 1.
See?  Even in one family, each child is so different.
But you know a common thread?
They all like to read.

Praise God, they LIKE to read.

No matter what stage in the journey our children are at, the primary goal needs to be nurturing a LOVE of reading.  

Forget about their age.  

I know, right?  But, seriously… forget about their age.
Mama, if your child is 4 or 5 and cannot read – that’s OKAY.  In fact, that is completely normal.
Mama, if your child is 6 or 7 and cannot read – that’s OKAY.  There are many, many children at that age who are not ready for the mechanics of reading yet.
Mama, if your child is 8 or 9 and cannot read – that’s OKAY too.  Because children learn at all different ages and stages.
I have heard story after story of children who struggled with reading, learned later (as late as 10 or 11 even), and because of their parent’s perseverance and patience, are now completely voracious readers.

Friends, we are not bound by a deadline.  
The world will not fall apart if Suzie doesn’t read when she is 6 years old.

We are not slaves to a system.  

Have we forgotten that we broke free from these restrictions?  Why do we cling to them and judge ourselves and our children by them?  
Who in the world ever asks a teenager or adult how OLD they were when they learned to read?  No one, that’s who.  And the reason why is because it is irrelevant.  When they learned doesn’t matter at all – the only thing that matters is if they can read.  And they can.  So there.
But… DO they continue to read? Now that might have something to do with how they learned.

When a child learns to read is so much less important than HOW.
And by how, I mean the kind of environment in which the child learns to read.  Is it one of nurture, patience, love, respect, and understanding?  An environment filled with a love of books, lots of read-aloud stories, and peaceful and joyous experiences with books?
Or one of stress, frustration, deadlines, and rush to learn a ‘skill’ by a deadline?

Five Simple Steps for Really Teaching our Children to (love to) Read:

1. Start with REST.

Alright, here I go again.  Have you read Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie yet?  Yes?  Then you know exactly what I mean when I say ‘Start with REST’.    No, you haven’t read it?!  What are you waiting for, Mama?  And… let me explain this idea of starting with rest the best I can in a couple sentences –

This philosophy of Teaching from Rest is all about teaching from the perspective of resting wholly and entirely on the Lord’s leading and Christ’s faithfulness.  We are not in control of how or when our children truly learn anything.  We are simply called to be faithful in the calling God has placed on our lives to raise up our children in the best way we can according to His will and word and by His leading and grace.

Teaching to read from a state of rest means letting go.  It means trusting the Lord and trusting the process.  It means bringing our best, being obedient and faithful, teaching with love, respect, joy, and peace – and then trusting the plan God has for our children and ourselves.  Teaching from Rest means we get to be at peace with the journey.  It is a truly lovely place to start any subject.

2.  Give them a reason to WANT to read.

So, now that you’ve entered into a state of peaceful teaching and trust in God’s timing and leading, you need to work hard at laying a good literary foundation.  Your child should learn at an early age what a read-aloud culture looks like.  This means, reading is established as a part of normal life – just as common as eating or sleeping.  We read because we breathe.  
Reading is also established as something wonderful – something of great worth.  Reading is something that makes us feel cozy, joyful, full of wonder.  There is this overwhelming sense of  togetherness when a family reads a great living book aloud together.
We must fill our shelves and our children’s lives with great books.  Every kind of book too – of course, the Scriptures, fables, folk tales, great picture books, classics, novels with stories of adventure, mystery, history, biography, and fantasy, things to make us laugh out loud and even shed a tear.  This is the literary glue that will stick a love of reading to your child’s young soul.
This is the kind of culture that gives them a REASON to want to read.  They must first fall in love with stories and with the act of looking in a great book to gain knowledge or experience the joy of story.  Only THEN can they develop the desire to want to read for themselves.  Not because they have to, but because they WANT to.

3. Do not push your child to learn to read.  Choose to ignore cultural pressures.

While you are (hopefully) doing as much nurturing a love of reading as possible – don’t rush your child.  Just because they are 5 or 6 or whatever age you think they SHOULD learn to read doesn’t mean they will learn to read at that age.  (Trust me, I know this!)  And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t even be beneficial for them to learn quite yet.  Maybe the soil of their heart just isn’t quite ready.

I believe one of THE BIGGEST mistakes we can do as home schoolers is pressure our children to read.  Pushing and prodding and getting frustrated with the reading process is a huge no-no.  Not only will it prove very unenjoyable for you and your child, it could potentially completely sabotage the lovely foundation you tried so hard to lay.  You know, the one where you established a love of books in your child’s heart?

Also – all that pressure might not prove fruitful anyway.  Children will always (always!) learn best when they are ready.  I have found this to be so true with our children.  I waited until I saw a readiness in my daughter and second son before introducing reading instruction to them.  And for my daughter, I did try to go through ‘lessons’ for phonics with her and it just wasn’t clicking.  The minute I saw her getting frustrated and discouraged, I let it go.  We went back to just enjoying great books together.  I didn’t want to push her and lose this beautiful love of literature she had.

Guess what?  About a year later, she was ready and picked up reading quite easily and very enjoyably.  (This is when we used All About Reading with great success!).

4.  When your child IS ready to learn, nurture a love of reading with an atmosphere of warmth, love, peace, patience, kindness, and lots of tea and brownies and more books.

I knew when our children were ready to learn to read because I could see their desire to learn the mechanics of reading greatly increase.  They were now understanding and responding well to short, simple lessons.  There was no stress in the process because they were fully on board and had a personal desire to learn.

Maybe you’ve heard it said before – WHAT we teach isn’t nearly as important as HOW we teach it.  I love this sentiment because it is so, so true with homeschooling.  It also completely mimics Charlotte Mason’s philosophy on the Atmosphere of the Home being of utmost importance in teaching our children.  Well, the atmosphere of how we teach reading has the same affect.

If we want to establish and preserve a love of reading in our child’s heart and mind, we NEED to teach them to read in a room filled with warmth, love, peace, patience, and kindness.  They need to know we are SO on their team and are willing to do whatever it takes and work for however long is needed to help them achieve the ability to read for themselves.

In our home, we snuggle up, have snacks and special treats, giggle and just enjoy that special time of learning to read together.  Which leads to the last point…

5.  Enjoy the journey.

We will only have these precious children with us for such a short time.  Really, in the course of a life-time – we have our babies for a blip, it seems.

I can’t believe my eldest will turn 12 this year.   I honestly BLINKED and he went from 2 to 12.  Let’s just commit to surrendering our fear, anxiety, stress, and feeling of overwhelm and ENJOY the journey with our children. Because, honestly, this journey will not last forever.

It is a miraculous thing, how a child learns.  It truly is a holy experience.  And we get to be part of it as homeschoolers!  Every step of the journey, we are privileged to share with our children, walking hand in hand.  And learning to read is one of the most wonderful and powerful things they will learn.

It is HUGELY rewarding to play a leading role in teaching a child to read.  I have always been overcome with emotion when each child starts really ‘getting’ it for themselves.  But that doesn’t mean rushing the ‘getting it’ part of the journey.  It will come in the right timing.  I promise.  Enjoy this blessed and special journey with your child- breathe in the reality that you will teach her to read but once.

It is a precious time and should be treated as such.

Above all, trust. Trust in the Lord’s divine leading and will for your child.  And trust in your child.

The rewards will come, and they are breathtaking.

This is a worth-while link to check out – videos from Sarah’s official  Teaching from Rest book club.


Other ‘Learning to Read’ Posts coming soon:

-Nurturing the developing/emerging Reader (ideas, tips, things that have worked for us)
-The Powerful Role Family Read-Alouds play in Nurturing Passionate Readers

-Wow! My child can read!  Now what?
-How to Make your Kids Hate Reading (mistakes I’ve made, mistakes I’ve seen)
-Do I really need a fancy Reading Curriculum? (Thoughts and experiences)
-Continuing to Nurture a Love of Reading AFTER they know ‘how’ to Read


  • Unknown

    I love this. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, because I already feel so much pressure from extended family to make sure that my kids are doing certain things by a certain time. When my son wasn't speaking much yet at age two, I was accused of not talking to him during the day (even though these people had no idea what goes on in our home!). My oldest is 3, and cousins his age are starting preschool already and I have so much fear that they're going to be reading within a year or two and mine won't and I'll be severely criticized for it. I don't want to live in fear, and I don't want to push my son if he's not ready. And he's definitely not ready. Every time I try to teach him anything, I get nothing but pushback. Over the past two months I have become fully prepared to embrace the Charlotte Mason style, including putting off formal education until age 6, except for the ever present fear of being criticized by my family and getting into arguments with them about it and maybe even severing relationships. Any advise for something short and sweet to say to naysayers to get them off your back?

    • Cassandra

      Hooray. Good for you. You are on a very wonderful path with lots of good company, trust me. Even if you might feel alone when you are with a very select group of 'nay-sayers', remember, their opinions are formed out of ignorance. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. I hope I can encourage you with this – nay sayers to stop with their opinions shortly into the homeschooling experience. Once your kids are 1-2 years in and you are strong and confident in your choices, they will fizzle out. To be honest, I would say that less is always more when it comes to 'defending' your choice to homeschool and your philosophical choices of education…

      The more you try to 'defend' your choice, the more people sometimes want to engage in an argument. Especially if they don't support homeschool. Truth is, they are your children and it is your choice. A simple, kind, confident statement about your confidence in your calling to educate at home is more than enough. It's honestly no one else's concern. (Easier said than done, right?)

      Trust me though, once your children are on the journey for a while, the results of their education will be evident and hopefully those who were anti-homeschool will turn it around. This has happened to our family and it is neat to see. Just trust in the journey – and stick to your guns. 😉

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