The Home School Court Report
No. 5

In This Issue


Joey’s World Previous Page Next Page
by Faith Berens
- disclaimer -
You Can be Your Child's Reading Specialist—Part 1

“Can I really teach my struggling child to read? I feel so frustrated. I did fine teaching the others, but this child is different.”

A concerned homeschooling mom

In HSLDA’s Special Needs/Struggling Learner Department, we often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed because their child seems to be “behind” in reading and the curriculum is not working! Many bright, hardworking children struggle with reading for various reasons. Although some reading experts tell parents that “teaching reading is rocket science,” implying that it should be left to “professionals,” it has been our experience that the vast majority of parents do an excellent job in providing appropriate and diligent reading instruction to their children.

Here for You

HSLDA’s special needs/struggling learner consultants offer a variety of resources for parents of struggling learners or children with special needs. HSLDA members may contact Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick for counsel and suggestions. Call 540-338-5600 or visit our contact webpage.

For helpful resources 24/7 or to sign up for our email newsletter, visit the SN/SL Department’s webpages.

Research conducted by Stephen Duvall (1997) compared homeschooled students with learning disabilities to students with learning disabilities taught by trained teachers. The comparison suggests that parents can provide powerful and successful learning environments for even those students who struggle most. In fact, many dyslexia specialists, such as Michael Minsky of the Greenwood Institute, encourage homeschooling students with dyslexia.

If you are a Christian, also remember that God in His Word commands parents to instruct their children diligently in His ways, which includes reading His Word. And those He calls, He always equips!

As you seek to serve as your child’s reading specialist at home, here are some steps for success:

>> Equip yourself. It is necessary to have some specialized knowledge about reading development and reading disabili-ties/dysfunctions.

>> Determine where your child is struggling in reading and detect the level or severity of his difficulty.

>> Choose carefully curriculum, materials, and remediation strategies based on your child’s specific needs.

In Part 1 of this series, we will equip you with background knowledge on reading development, discuss the five pillars of reading instruction, and provide some informal assessments and checklists to assist in determining your child’s stage of reading development, as well as detecting any areas of reading difficulty.

So let us discuss some foundations of reading.

What is Reading?

Reading is making meaning from printed symbols. It is a highly complex problem-solving activity. In fact, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading researcher in the field of dyslexia and professor and director of the Yale Center for Learning and Attention, states, “Reading is the most complex of human functions” (2003).

Decoding, or sounding out words, is the most basic step in reading since quick and automatic recognition of words is necessary for fluency and comprehension. But reading also involves drawing on knowledge, experience, and vocabulary, as well as employing a variety of strategies to construct meaning. For example, efficient readers reread material, make and confirm predictions, apply fix-up strategies, clarify meaning, use context clues and graphics, and break words into smaller recognizable units (suffixes, prefixes, root words) in order to make meaning of unfamiliar text. Engaged readers interact with the text, not only interpreting what the author has written, but also bringing their own ideas to the writing.

Reading Development

According to Jean Chall, world-renowned psychologist, reading expert, and professor emeritus at Harvard University, reading is a skill that is built upon through stages. All lifelong learners climb this ongoing, stairstep process of reading development, though each person progresses at his own rate. The ages/grades in the following stage guide are stated in general.

Five Stages of Reading Development

>> Pre-reading (birth-K; ages 0–5): This phase consists of an unsystematic accumulation of understandings about reading that are picked up in the preschool and kindergarten years. From birth up to kindergarten age, a language-rich, conversation-filled home that encourages paging through storybooks, playing with spoken words, and experimenting with nursery rhymes and the rhythm of language helps establish the prerequisite skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension.

>> Stage 1—Initial reading or decoding stage (grades 1–2; ages 6–7): At this stage, the student’s main task is learning arbitrary letters and associating them with corresponding parts of spoken words. Learners also acquire knowledge about reading, sight words, and phonics skills.

>> Stage 2—Confirmation, fluency, automaticity stage (grades 2–3; ages 7–8): Here, the consolidation of what was learned in Stage 1 allows students to become more automatic and “unglued” from print. This stage requires much reading, especially of books that the child can read easily. Rereading familiar books to increase fluency is recommended.

There is a gradual increase in functional and recreational reading; at this level, the common practice in reading instruction is to use a “basal” reading program and leveled readers. It is important at this level, too, to increase nonfiction and functional reading.

>> Stage 3—Reading for learning: A first step (grades 4–8; ages 9–13): Now, readers bring their prior knowledge to the reading and also acquire facts and information from reading.

>> Stage 4—Multiple viewpoints stage (high school; ages 14–18): At this point, reading instruction should also include study skills and offer strategies for reading success, such as deeper comprehension.

>> Stage 5—Construction and reconstruction stage (college/adulthood; ages 18 and up): At the stage of adult literacy, acquisition of skills needed and useful to the reader, as well as the ability to apply those skills, is stressed.

Armed with a solid foundational understanding of the stages of reading development, parents can best serve as their children’s literacy specialists. As you observe your child climb each level, you will be there to intervene should he get stuck in one stage, as well as assist him in moving on to the next phase. Also, by knowing these stages, parents can document children’s progress in their homeschool records, narratives, or summary reports. Simple checklists or charts can be created on which to graph each child’s stage of reading development.

Five Pillars of Reading Instruction

It is simply not enough for struggling readers to be assigned reading, or even be read aloud to and asked comprehension questions. Phonics instruction cannot stand alone as a reading program either. So what should daily reading instruction and a good reading program look like?

According to the National Reading Panel (1993), any solid reading program or curriculum should address five core areas, referred to as the five pillars:

>> Phonemic awareness (pre-phonics skills; phonological processing involves an awareness that words are made up of sounds and those sounds can be combined, broken apart, and manipulated)

>> Decoding/phonics

>> Vocabulary (to include sight words)

>> Fluency

>> Comprehension

Daily instruction for mildly or moderately struggling readers should include training in phonemic awareness skills, as well as fluency practice, such as timed repeated readings, choral reading (reading aloud simultaneously with others), and/or echo reading, if needed. Each day, readers need time for independent/easy reading (95–100% accuracy), in addition to oral, guided, instructional-level reading (90–94% accuracy) to work on phonics, sight words, and vocabulary development.

When looking for specialized homeschooling reading curriculum, as well as planning for your child’s reading instruction, be sure the five core areas are addressed. Keep in mind that it may be necessary to use an eclectic approach, compiling various resources in order to address the reading skills your child needs to develop the most.

To access lists of recommended reading curricula and materials, intensive phonics intervention programs, and sample reading lessons, please visit HSLDA’s SN/SL department’s articles webpage.

To read Dianne Craft’s e-newsletter on “Understanding Reading Difficulties” and Faith Berens’ article on reading comprehension, visit HSLDA’s SN/SL department’s newsletter archive.


While there can be various reasons for reading difficulties, you can rest assured that reading problems can be handled in the homeschool setting very successfully. In fact, one-on-one, tailored instruction at home can be the very best setting for a struggling reader!

Part 2 of this special series on reading, in the next Court Report, will be a prescriptive guide matching your child’s specific reading problem with targeted teaching methods and curricula. You will also learn how to accurately determine your child’s level of reading difficulties: Level 1 (mild), Level 2 (moderate), or Level 3 (severe-dyslexia often falls into this category).

We believe that you can teach your struggling reader, and we will come alongside, not only to encourage you, but also to equip you with the best methods, materials, and teaching strategies to match your child’s unique learning style.

More Resources

Online tools to help assess your child’s reading skills and development:

Online resources:

Sources for becoming your child's reading spe-cialist:

  • Building the Reading Brain: PreK–3 by Patricia Wolfe and Pamela Nevills
  • Learning to Read: The Great Debate by J.S. Chall
  • Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print by Marilyn Adams
  • Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz
  • Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers by Louisa Cook Moats
  • Every Child Can Read: Strategies and Guidelines for Helping Struggling Readers by Jane Baskwill and Paulette Whitman

Homeschooling resources on teaching reading:

  • Mommy, Teach Me to Read! by Barbara Curtis
  • The Three R’s by Dr. Ruth Beechick
  • A Home Start in Reading by Dr. Ruth Beechick
  • Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson
  • Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
  • Homeschooling Children with Special Needs (chapter 29, “Understanding and Strengthening Reading Skills”) by Sharon Hensley

About the author

Faith Berens is an MEd reading specialist and a special needs/struggling learner consultant for HSLDA.