by Bevery Parrish

Help! I’m teaching my kids to read. Which curriculum do I choose?

Scouring the internet or visiting a conference hall full of enticing booths, filled with wonderful curriculum or books all promising sweet bliss in teaching your child to read, is overwhelming!

There are so many options. How do you know what to choose?

While some of our children will practically teach themselves to read, most will need explicit instruction, and it helps to know what should be included in an excellent curriculum. To ensure thorough instruction, it’s best not to assume that just because you can read, that you can teach your child to read with just workbooks or without using a good curriculum.

Which Method is best?

There is some disagreement over the one best methodology for teaching children to read. I suggest that you choose the most thorough one available to use for all your kids. Then move quickly through areas where they show mastery – as opposed to choosing a more relaxed, less structured approach, and finding out later that your child needed more substantive instruction. 

It is much easier to quickly move past areas where they consistently demonstrate a secure grasp of what they’re doing, than try to figure out later where their understanding began to lag. If you remember that you are teaching a child, not delivering a curriculum, you’ll be in a good place to watch for understanding instead of blindly following the directions given in the curriculum.

Orton-Gillingham based programs stand the test of time

There are many valuable practices in other methodologies, but the gold standard of teaching children to decode, and remediating children and adults who struggle, is an Orton-Gillingham based phonics program, which I’ll explain in a moment. This type of phonics program builds the foundation of decoding words. Then, students move to becoming fluent readers, with the goal being accurate comprehension. 

If we think of reading in terms of its different components – decoding, fluency, and comprehension, it’s easier to see that it is imperative to teach the foundations of decoding before we bring in secondary skills related to fluency and comprehension. All the skills are vital, but we need to equip our children with the foundation first. 

And we must not confuse the skills and tools used to gain comprehension with the skills necessary to decode. Effective readers have been given the specific tools to decode rapidly, accurately, and confidently. Once they are reading fluently, they can implement tools such as using context, illustrations, and educated guesses, to aid in comprehension. 

A sound Orton-Gillingham based phonics curriculum meets the following criteria:

  1. It utilizes direct instruction rather than a discovery learning approach. Some kids will learn by sitting next to us while we read aloud and point out words, similarities, and offer a few instructions about the sounds that letters make. However, most students need us to explicitly teach the letter sounds and rules used to decode words.
  1. It follows a systematic presentation that begins with the most encountered letters first, and then builds on that in an orderly manner. It is not random. It presents rules that cover the words in most early readers so a child can quickly find success. In reading, success begets success. 
  1. It contains a multi-sensory component that is used to engage as many senses as possible while learning, rather than deliver instruction and practice strictly in print form on a piece of paper. Once again, some kids will be fine with instruction delivered verbally and reinforced with flash cards, others will need a more interactive approach that engages their hands, their bodies, their own voices in repetition, etc. Everyone benefits from variety.
  1. It involves intensive practice, which is simply another word for drill. Students need lots of practice putting to use the rules they have learned. The goal is for them to have interacted with the tools of decoding to such a degree that they can respond automatically. That comes from repeated exposure to the correct use of the rules and hearing the correct pronunciation. 

There are wonderful resources available that assume no knowledge on the part of the parent. Unless your plan is to teach your children or others, without using a prepared curriculum, there is no reason for you to feel the need to attend extensive training specific to a particular curriculum.

My two favorites that are parent-friendly, simple, straightforward, and Orton-Gillingham based are All About Reading and Reading Horizons at Home (Discovery for young children and Elevate for older students or adults). There are other Orton Gillingham based programs available, but some are quite cumbersome for the parents. My choice is always to go with the simple, elegant, and effective. 

About Beverly Parrish

Beverly Parrish is a mom of seven who just completed three decades of homeschooling! Bev has mentored new homeschool moms, tutored struggling students, and spoken at conferences nationally. She brings a breadth of experience to share with younger moms just starting their journey, and encouragement for those veterans in the trenches who are growing weary. Bev is excited about bringing practical truths to deliver families from unnecessary burdens. She is a licensed Davis Dyslexia Correction® Facilitator, and in her spare time enjoys reading and spending time with her adult children and their families.

Hear more from Beverly when she joins CHEA at our 2022 Annual Homeschool Convention at the Anaheim Convention Center, May 19-21, 2022. Registration is now open.