Getting Boys to Read

I admit I may have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to getting boys to read. That's because I have two boys of my own and at different stages of their lives I worried they would not become the avid, lifelong readers I had set out so hard to help them become. At one point, early on, I was concerned my youngest son, Sean, had a reading disability.

Oh boy - I knew that if he encountered difficulty reading early on it would impact his love for reading. I was concerned but I held fast to the course that I know works for ALL children and we made it through that rough start. To save you the suspense and to set your mind at ease in case you have a boy or two in the home that doesn't like to read, both my boys are strong, independent readers who always have their nose in a book as adults. PHEW! Mission accomplished!

So what did I do and what can you do to help boys who may be getting off to a slow start or tell you they aren't as interested in  books as they are sports, video games, snacks, sleeping, and just about anything else they can think of? 

First, stay the course and keep calm! One thing about our children - whether boys or girls - is if they know something bugs us or pushes our buttons they will do it all the more, right? If they know saying things like, "I hate to read." upsets you they are going to use that as leverage. 

Pick your battles, don't get emotional, and don't let them see you sweat! We cannot control our children's likes, dislikes, feelings about something, or force them to do things. Well, we can but in my experience forcing doesn't equate with learning to love something. We will have to set guidelines and make the medicine go down with some sugar but be gentle and remember your ultimate goal: you want them to LOVE to read and be fluent, confident, independent readers. 


Practical Things You CAN Do


Be Consistent

Just like with chores and household rules, be consistent with your reading times and expectations. If you let them wiggle out of reading time or fanagle a video instead of book "just this one time" I promise they will sniff out your weakness! Set routines and guidelines around reading.

Example: 20 minutes of independent reading every morning before schooling time or before the TV gets turned on. This is where they can choose what they read - so a little give and take here helps them feel like they have choices - but be clear that this time is non-negotiable.

Be consistent with your set reading times during school or review time. Don't let them pick math over reading and then be "too tired" to read. Reward or incentivize for their attention and best effort during reading time so the experience ends on a positive note.

Example: "you can go out to play after reading time."

Keep reading practice time sacred. This is the time when your child practices familiar books and reads to others. This will reinforce that reading is not just for "school time" but it's a skill everyone works on daily.

And then, of course, don't skip the read aloud. This should be the best time of the day and allow you to choose books above your child's reading level so he can see that if he keeps practicing he can read books like Hatchet and The Hardy Boys on his own some day.  

"Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent."

~ Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer


Choice and Interest

Boys often have particular interests in reading materials and oftentimes moms and female teachers fail to recognize this. There may be bias toward what good reading material is and the books that may have interested you or your daughter may be a real drag to the boys.

It's okay to give in in this area. I've overheard parents argue with middle school boys about books and it only serves to make them less reluctant to read.

None of us like to read books that are boring, irrelevant, or fail to capture our interest. Let's give boys the flexibility and freedom to read what they want and not make them feel bad about their choices. I know, Captain Underpants is not on every parent's dream list, but trust me, he will grow out of it. And if he doesn't then maybe he's destined to be a comedian, comic book writer, or even a successful author like Dav Pilkey (who by the way has a tear jerker of a story and one you need to hear if you have a child who may see the world a bit differently than most do!)


Books Choices and Genres

Here are the choices about reading that boys tend to make. Knowing this information can help you research appropriate books that you will allow and that are tuned to his interests. Of course, these are generalities based on research and experience, you know your child best so stay attuned to his likes and dislikes.


Boys tend to prefer:

  • comic books and graphic novels*
  • joke books
  • stats books
  • research
  • non-fiction
  • strong boy protagonists who go on adventures
  • history or science based fiction**
  • series books
  • realistic fiction
  • fantasy and science fiction
  • magazines
  • online research


*parents please always preview graphic novels for content and make sure it's appropriate for your child

**hence why series books like The Magic Tree House and Star Wars are so popular


Limit Distractions

This is definitely a tough one. There is a lot that can eat up reading time: television, video games, sports, play time, play dates and sleepovers, parties and other activities 

Do your best. Life is a balancing act. Sports and outdoor activities are also healthy for a child's development. Think more about the tone you are trying to set in the home and the culture you want as a family. What are your core values that you want to be evident in how you live as a family?

I assume literacy is a core value. You will need to define what that looks like for your family. It may mean no electronics or no television, or limiting these for seasons.

What we do more of we do better. Better readers tend to read more which makes them better readers. Weaker readers tend to read less thus keeping them behind stronger readers. It's all about how you communicate what's important as a family. I allowed video games and television but always kept parameters around those things. 


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Whenever my boys showed an interest in certain books or authors, I jumped on that opening.

Sometimes it meant dropping everything and going to the library to find the latest books he was interested in, taking the time to order from a different branch, and yes, paying those library fines too!

I also took advantage of free book exchange sites like and gave my children the log in so they could order books or place them on their wish lists.

For the latest best sellers, it meant buying them new and pre-ordering to make sure the book was in my son's hands as soon as it was released. Honestly, I rarely said "no" to a book purchase. The good news is there are many ways to get books at reduced costs now days!

Be an example to them and read. Creating a print rich home environment goes a long way to deeply planting the seed that reading is a value your family holds dear.

Show interest in what he is reading. It may not be our cup of tea but take the time to read aloud with him the books that are lighting his fire at the moment - who knows - you just might find Diary of a Wimpy Kid is funnier than you thought it would be! 


Make it Competitive 

Chances are your boys are more competitive or goal driven than the girls (again, a generality but this might work for you). Create goals and races or competitions to get there.

My son didn't really take off until about third grade when his teacher set reading goals for all her students. It worked and he ended up reading about 65 books that school year! Learn more about setting goals with readers from author Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. 

Try book logs, reading logs, Lucky Listeners (for young ones), rewards, incentives, exchanges for screen time, etc. 


Have FUN

Most of all - just have fun. Let your child have fun. Enjoy the process and be in the moment. Grit your teeth if you have to during the Diaper Baby season but just keep them moving forward and keep the love of reading your main focus


Read more about what REALLY motivates all children to read. 


The following list is roughly structured from early readers to fluent readers in middle school. Please comment and share some of your son's favorites!  

Nate the Great

Henry and Mudge

Horrible Harry

Encyclopedia Brown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Fly Guy

Big Nate

Captain Underpants

Geronimo Stilton

Baseball Card Adventures

Matt Christopher books - all about sports

Magic Tree House

The Magic Schoolbus

The Boxcar Children

A-Z Mysteries

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Shadow Children

Dork Diaries


Choose Your Own Adventure

The Hardy Boys

Star Wars

A Series of Unfortunate Events

7 Wonders

Graphic Novels - parents preview content first

G.A. Henty - historical fiction

I Survived

Rangers Apprentice


Percy Jackson and the Olympians


Thanks for tuning in and letting me share what's near and dear to my heart.

I would love to share more with you in our Facebook Group. Click HERE To Join. ~ Mary 


It's Time to Get Unstuck

You know the famous and beloved fable from Aesop about the tortoise and the hare. It's one of the first stories we learn as children. The moral being it's OK to be you and progress at your own pace. It's a reminder we all need in this fast paced society.


Turtles make progress - just at their own pace! It's true, but they can also get stuck. If a turtle ends up on his back, his progress is stalled, he is likely to experience frustration, and may eventually give up. That's not the moral we are shooting for!


It's a wonderful thing when you create a home environment where your children can thrive and learn at their own pace. I'll always be a strong and vocal proponent for school choice because not every child learns the same way or at the same speed and traditional school systems are set up to keep pace with the middle of the pack. Children falling outside the mainstream or on the edges of the bell curve can and do get left behind.


Let me say that I applaud you for making the investment in your children's education at home. That being said, we don't want any child to get stuck. Forward progress in reading is always the goal and critical to the foundation of success and the love of reading.


If your child encounters reading books as hard, stressful, and something she is not good at, she can quickly give up and decide that reading is just not for her. We know that reading fluency and comprehension is critical to the ability to thrive in all walks of life and to move forward in their education, so we cannot allow our children to get stuck.


Sometimes it is us who are stuck. We've used the same materials we used with our other child, but this time it's just not clicking. Or maybe reading came more naturally to your first child and the second one seems more resistant. It's important to approach each child as an individual and have a toolkit of resources and strategies to use in order to be able to pivot when one strategy isn't working.


There are some basic things that ALL children need to thrive as readers and then there are some things we need to work on when the skills are not developing in specific areas. Let's take a look at what all children need and what we can do if our child seems to be stuck in one particular area. The video following this post dives into each of these points in greater detail. 


What ALL Children Need 


1. Individualized Instruction. How wonderful that you can offer this in your home. It's truly a gift that your child would not be receiving in a large classroom setting.


You can choose books and genres and other reading materials that appeal to your child thereby enhancing interest in learning to read.

You can slow down or pick up the pace if you child is bored, confused, overwhelmed, or tired.

You are not teaching a curriculum, you are teaching a child.

You can spend more time on games and practice in areas your child needs while skipping over or fast forwarding through skills she has already mastered.

You can review and repeat books or activities until mastery is obtained without the pressure to keep moving forward.

You can adjust to your child's strengths, indulging in writing books and creating art work around the lessons and books. You can introduce informational text that capitalizes on your child's interests and create connected lessons to Science and History and other areas of your curriculum.


Other Tips for Individualizing Instruction

  • Be prepared to shift gears in midstream
  • Recognize when children are not working in their “learning zone”
  • Adjust your expectations if necessary
  • Make notes and use the lesson to build on for next time
  • Listen to what your child is saying about the reading experience
  • Never force a child to read through something that is obviously too difficult
  • Don’t worry about the appearance of your lesson or compare with other children; focus on the child
2. The Power of Modeling. Consider this finding from The Big Fresh from Choice Literacy August 23, 2008 Mirrors and Models

Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought.  

The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world.  [think about why we are so drawn to social media] 

Most important for parents, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. 

And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally). 

Mirror neurons are also the reason modeling in your home is so essential.  When children see the strategies adults use to tackle difficult texts, no matter the genre, their brains don't differentiate between their experiences and ours. 

The adults' strategies become part of the mix that fires up whenever a student approaches a new text. 


Isn't' that exciting? Just by reading to your children, you are teaching them to read! It's simple but so profound and why we always advocate for reading aloud in the home. For more resources and support on reading aloud and it's power and potential to transform any child's attitude about reading:


The Read-Aloud Handbook - Jim Trelease

Reading Magic - Mem Fox

The Read Aloud Family - Sarah Mackenzie

Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books - Thogmartin and Gallagher 


3.  Time to Read and Read More. Parents often are shocked when I tell them how much practice time their children need in order to become strong, active readers. They are even more shocked when I tell them how much time their child should practice if they are behind grade level.


But consider the idea that what we do we get better at, and what we do more, we get better at faster. The fact is that reading is an accrued skill: those who read more, generally read better. And it's a bit of a cycle, as children who read more read better and children who read better tend to read more. This positive momentum propels them forward as confident, active, and engaged readers.


But this momentum can work the opposite way as well. Children who find reading hard, boring, or have negative experiences associated with it will read less, and less engagement with text makes them weaker, passive, unengaged readers.


Always keep reading enjoyable and avoid frustration or negative experiences. If reading material is too hard, drop the level down until your child is able to make progress. Reading at a frustration level always does more harm than good.


A developing reader needs 90 minutes a day of reading practice. This includes time with you and independent reading time or reading with others. Please break this up throughout the day and allow for ample opportunities to pick up books.


A child who is one or more grade levels behind in reading can need double that time. It can be hard to fit that in and convince the child who reads slowly or doesn't like to read to read that much, so you will need to offer incentives, lots of support, and start small and work toward that goal. 



  •  children need to read a lot
  •  children need to be read to
  •  children need books they can read
  •  children need access to lots of books
  •  children need choice in reading
  •  children need to read fluently
  •  children need to understand what they read
  •  children need to engage in reading

 The following video will talk in more detail about ways to help when your child is stuck. If you have specific questions about your child's reading progress or need simple strategies to help expand your repertoire, join our Facebook Group.


Watch It's Time to Get Unstuck Here! 


Really stuck? Just starting to work with your child or have concerns that s/he is not where they should be?


Book a consultation package!


I have nearly 30 years experience teaching children at all levels to read and have a particular passion to help parents understand where their child is stuck. Here's what you get when you book a consultation: 

One-Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50 minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check


Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50 minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks to adjust and monitor the plan 


The button below will take you to my calendar! 


My thrill is seeing families and children thriving in their pursuit of reading. Questions or comments? Email us at

~ Mary 



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How Eric Carle Books Teach Children to Read

Have you ever wondered what makes books like Eric Carle's so captivating for children and adults?


There is no doubt that books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? are beloved by millions of readers around the world. While you may think these books are entertaining and simply written to capture a child's attention, there is much more going on under the surface. This is why we recommend predictable pattern books like these as anchor texts for your reading program. Let's dive into what makes these books a powerful tool in your toolkit.


Predictable Pattern Books help children predict. This is a key comprehension skill. As readers make sense of text and master the process of reading for comprehension and meaning, one thing we all do is predict.


"I bet he's the thief." we say when reading our murder mysteries.


"I think she's going to find out she has a twin sister!" we suspect as we read a thick, family drama.


Children need to learn this skill as well. Predictable pattern books help them do this from an early age. The predictability of following the caterpillar through the days of the week helps children learn that stories follow a sequence and they can use clues to determine or predict what may happen next in the story. This not only engages the child as she reads, it helps her create meaning from the text. 


Predictable pattern text helps early readers feel like readers. In many cases they can guess and use the repeated patterns to "read" or memorize the text. We want young children to see themselves as readers right out of the gate. You are helping to build amazing confidence in your child as a reader when she can pick up a book like Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and read it aloud to herself. 


High interest story lines. Unlike contrived and boring phonics readers, using real books like this engages your child in every lesson. They do not see fun books as something they get to do after reading class is over. They understand that reading is always engaging and interesting and that there are real books they can access and read on their own


Pictures match the text to support fluency and comprehension. Your child does not need to have covered all the phonics sounds needed to read a multi-syllabic word like caterpillar to read through the very hungry caterpillar's adventures. The word is repeated and matched with the text on every page so they can recognize it and read it with fluency.


This is why pictures with high correlation to the text are important for beginning readers. It's okay to use the pictures - that is what they are there for. But why restrict your child from exposure to rich vocabulary words like hippo and polar bear and butterfly and have them only read dry phonics readers with cat, dog, and hat as the only nouns present? Learning new vocabulary is critical to your child's growth as a reader and we can enrich this process by using authentic children's literature throughout the day. 


Use of high frequency words that children will encounter and need to be able to read with fluency such as: days of the week, color words, number words, animals and senses (hear, see, taste, eat, etc.) 


Did You Know? 

  • The first 100 words from the Fry Instant Word List (1980) represent 50 percent of all the words children encounter in elementary school reading.
  • The complete list of 300 words contains approximately two-thirds of all words students encounter in their reading.


Why not use children's books that feature these words frequently in order to provide ample practice? I know some will challenge what I am saying and tell you that words should be restricted in print until children have all the phonics skills mastered. What we say to that is: Did you restrict your child's speaking until she had mastered all the sounds? Surely you did not! In fact you enjoyed listening to her talk and say things like "sgetti" for spaghetti and "posed to be" for supposed to be. Let's be as generous and fun loving with learning to read! 


Sight Words. Plenty of sight words to be found in repeated pattern, high interest, quality children's literature. Exposure to words like: what, do, you, see, hear, from, to, under, over, etc...You can see just from the title of Brown Bear, Brown Bear how many sight words you are working with! Use this opportunity to make flashcards and talk about these words. 


Now, let's talk phonics! 


What sounds can you pull out just from the title of Brown Bear to work with? You can use judgement here. The 'ear' sound may not be what your child is ready for but 'ow' is an easy and common vowel sound that you can practice with. Practice making more words with 'ow' showing your child that 'ow' can be at the end of words like 'cow' and 'how' or in the middle like 'shower' and 'clown'.


You could introduce the 'ear' sound in bear and explain that sometimes 'ear' says the sound like in 'ear' and sometimes it makes a long 'a' sound like 'bear' and 'pear'.


We always recommend you build on what your child already knows and use the natural occurrences of words in books to find teachable moments. Mastery will not come from worksheets and drill but from practice reading these words in context and seeing them over and over. We talk much more about teachable moments in Chapter 6


And last but not least these books are fun, entertaining, tell stories, and help children learn about the world around them. That is ultimately what we are always aiming for: teaching our children that reading is fun and creating a sense of wonder in them that will propel them through the learning to read process so they can become independent, lifelong readers! 


If this is your goal, predictable pattern books are your best friend. Find what you need at your local library and don't worry about repeating through them to pull out new skills and phonics elements. 


If you are the person who needs to know both the WHY and the HOW, then our book is the book that will support you as you teach your child to read. We not only give you an abundance of how to and resources you can use immediately, we also explain the why. The why is what's going to sustain you when you see other parents buying packaged reading programs and you are tempted to do so. Our readers time and again come back and tell us how this book is ALL THEY NEEDED!


Don't worry, we've got you covered! Everything you need to start making good decisions about your child's reading program is supported in detail in the book and we have a FREE Facebook group that gives you support and how-to as you go. Click HERE to join today! 




Strategies for a Reluctant Writer

It's a common lament: "My child hates to write." This post will help you with practical strategies for working with a reluctant writer. 


Parents often tell me that their child will only write a few sentences and they want to know what they can do to help their child become a better writer. 

First things first. 


Good writers are always avid readers. Ask any prolific author his or her secret to being a great writer and they will tell you that you have to read a lot to be a good writer. So, make sure your child is reading a lot and reading from a wide range of genres. This will help him understand what good writing looks and sounds like and will help him discover his voice as a writer. 


Help your child understand that reading is receiving a message and writing is conveying a message. Children need to see themselves as communicators in order to see themselves as writers. 


Since writing is more than answering some questions on a test, make every effort to help your child see writing as a personal and unique way of expressing himself.



If your child struggles to get his thoughts on paper, here are some suggestions to help set the stage:

  • offer a safe environment in which to write - no criticism or critiquing of ideas or thoughts.
  • give opportunities to write daily.
  • offer short, focused writing opportunities that do not require revising and editing.
  • get them involved in everyday writing activities: shopping lists, directions, recipes, letter writing, thank you notes, etc.
  • exposure to great literature and great authors
  • provide tools to write with that will entice him: journals, colorful pens, a student dictionary, etc.

Students must be able to write fluently as well as read fluently.


Just as you would encourage your child to read with fluency, you should encourage and nurture fluent writing. This means allowing him to write freely without stopping to spellcheck every word. Teach your child that spelling, grammar, and word choice can be worked on later. The most important thing is to get their ideas flowing and onto paper. 


The biggest challenge most young writers face is overcoming their fear of spelling a word wrong. Take the emphasis away from spelling during the brainstorming and drafting stage and watch your child blossom as a writer!


Simple Ways to Incorporate Writing Into Your Day:

  • Journaling - this is a private safe space for children to write about anything
  • Readers' Response - ask them to write 3-5 sentences about a story they just read. It can be anything from "I like this story because..." to "This story made me happy because..." It's a simple way to build in writing and help them process what they've read.
  • Give them story starters. "My favorite part of the day is....because." "If I were a...I would..." etc. 
  • Write alternate endings to stories.
  • Write a letter to a character in the story.
  • Write a letter to the author.
  • Write a persuasive paper about why they should be allowed to stay up late, eat junk food, or go somewhere with a friend. 

Writing Tips to Encourage Writing and Improve Writing Skills 

  • Always write about what you know.
  • Choose a topic of interest.
  • Create short and catchy titles.
  • Use details - words that paint a picture for the reader.
  • Brainstorm: start with one word and then write down all the words that come to mind when you think of that word. For example: Camping. Write down all you can think about for camping: Smores, fire, bears, getting lost, tents, fishing, ghost stories. This will stimulate ideas for a story.
  • Do some interactive writing: write a story together, you write a line, he writes a line. 
  • Make lists of ideas for future writing.
  • Copy favorite poems, song lyrics, quotes, and sayings. Keep in a journal. 


Final Thoughts

A little goes a long way. Short everyday practicing with writing will help your child develop skills that will sustain him when it's time to create a fully published piece of writing.

Teach editing skills naturally. Remind him about punctuation and ask him to fix spelling errors without making it into a lesson. 

Don't edit everything and have fun with writing! 


Lastly, your attitude or feelings about writing will impact how you teach your child. Let go of your frustrations or fears and that will free you up to enjoy exploring writing with your child! 




PS: If you need support and more resources, just message me in the Facebook group



What REALLY Motivates Children to Read

It isn't hard to figure out what motivates children to read. All we have to do is think about how we read!


Have you ever been part of a book club where you were given a quiz at the start of every meeting so the facilitator could check that you read the book and understood it? Ya, me neither! 


Do you like to choose the types of books you read and do you choose different types of books depending on your need or mood? Ya, me too! 


Have you ever read a book just for pleasure or to relax or for pure entertainment value only? Ya, me too! 


Would you like to read books that were boring or too difficult for you all the time because you thought reading was supposed to be something you had to work at ALL. THE. TIME? Ya, me neither!


What Really Motivates Children to Read


What motivates children to read are the same things that motivate adults to read:


-book selection

-recommendations from others

-to learn

-to be entertained or for enjoyment

-to connect to the author or characters

-to connect with the world around us

-to connect with other readers

-to learn about ourselves


How to Check for Comprehension Without Using Quizzes


It's important that we know if our children are comprehending what they read but comprehension can be checked many ways besides using a quiz or worksheet. 

  • ask your child to tell you about the story and ask guiding or probing questions as they do: "How did the characters in the story solve their problem?" "What was the author trying to teach us with this story?" Did the characters change throughout the story?"
  • draw a picture or write a short response about the story.
  • complete a book review along with your child's recommendation to others 
  • act out the story
  • rewrite the story with a different ending

Motivate Them with Choice


It's important to expose our children to quality literature but not all the books they read have to be classics. They can choose from other genres: joke books, graphic novels, picture books, stat books, biographies of sports figures, funny series books to name a few.

Try not to judge a book or worry that some books aren't "real books."

Think about your child, even your young child as an independent reader and begin treating her that way. Keep these Reader's Rights in mind when working with your child. 


"Wigfield and Guthrie (1997) documented that students who are intrinsically motivated spend 300% more time reading than students who have low intrinsic motivation for reading. Compared to 10 other motivations, intrinsic motivation for reading was most highly associated with whether or not students read widely and frequently on their own accord." - Reading Rockets 


Reading time should be pleasant and stress free. If you were reading knowing that when you completed a chapter someone was going to hand you a quiz or worksheet, you may not be able to immerse yourself in the book naturally; more likely, you would probably be reading to find answers to questions that you anticipate.


There is a time to teach our children how to read for a purpose or to find answers from the text but that would be explicitly taught and explained at the start of the lesson. For example, during a science lesson you would start by saying, "Today we are reading to find out how pollution impacts wild birds in our city. While you are reading I want you to look for clues that helps us figure this out..."


In short, have fun with your child! Make reading such a natural thing in your home that when you plan your intentional lessons like we model for you in Chapter 10: Putting it All Together, you and your child will as comfortable as if you were snuggled under the covers reading Winnie-The-Pooh.


Read, read more, read more often! ~ Mary 




Maybe you are doing "all the right things" and your child still seems unmotivated and lacks confidence. What then? Just keep reading and hoping for the best?


You may need to identify and pinpoint the specific areas he's lacking skills. Children who are still struggling to gain fluency by the beginning of the third grade level are typically missing some key skills and need direct intervention to get on track. It can seem daunting to know where to begin and waiting longer can result in delayed progress. I can help you determine the next steps that will help you help your child get over the hump.


Book a consultation today. Choose a one-time consultation or extended support to ensure you are hitting the right targets. 


 One Time Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources e-mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • 4 week follow up email to check


Package Consultation and Individualized Plan

  • 50-minute initial phone conference to discuss your concerns and child's background
  • Initial recommendations with follow up resources mailed to you
  • Analysis of child's reading from video
  • Emailed detailed analysis with an individualized plan, attached resources and links as applicable
  • Weekly follow up email
  • Monthly phone conference at 4 weeks and 8 weeks 


 Questions? Email me at 

Get Unstuck Today! 





The Rights of the Reader

Do you wonder if you should allow your child to reread favorite stories, or on the other hand, if you should allow them to choose their books? What about silly books like Captain Underpants - is that type of book really helping your child become a reader? And what if he's bored or hates the chapter book all the home-school curriculum suggest is good, classic literature? 


Basic Guidelines


When it comes to what's best for your readers we want to respect and abide by some basic guidelines we would give our adult selves. Some guidance and best judgement is recommended here but basically don't force your child to read something they find dreadfully boring unless it is necessary to fulfill a different purpose, and then provide ways to make it engaging: allow them to listen to the audio book or use it as a read-aloud or paired reading activity.


If your child chooses a book from the library and does not want to finish it, don't insist that he does. Life is too short to read books that aren't good and sometimes the best cover disguises the fact that a book just isn't our cup of tea. Now, don't let him get into the habit of never finishing a book because that is not good for habit development. Again - use your best judgement and think how you would handle the situation as an adult.


And those silly books and graphic novels? They are okay in moderation and they are preferable if your child is otherwise unmotivated to read or is overcoming a reading deficit. Interest will always propel a child to read more and try harder than a book he does not like.


I often hear parents ask if graphic novels are "real books". My answer: they are if they help your child become a better, happier reader! 


Allow your child to explore different genres. My son always made a beeline for the nonfiction section in the library and try as I might I could not get him interested in the pictures books no matter how lovely the illustrations.


It's All About Learning to Love Reading 

In short, we want children to love books, love to read, and become independent readers who feel empowered to make choices about their reading. Reading should be something they choose to engage in not something done to them or imposed on them.


Read, read more, read more often. ~ Mary 


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"It's Not a REAL Book"

"It's Not a REAL Book" 


I was working in an elementary school a few years back and popped into the book sale - because who can resist looking at and touching all those new books? I was looking at new chapter books that might interest my son when I heard a mom and her son arguing.


"No, you can't get that. It's not a real book." she told him.

"But, mom," he replied, "I promise I'll read it!".


I casually maneuvered my way around the racks to see what this "not a real book" was that the mom was opposed to buying. It was a graphic novel.


The graphic novel has gained popularity in recent years and is an upgrade from the comic book of years ago. I knew that some boys liked the fast pace of the graphic novel, the high quality illustrations, and the adventure stories usually associated with them. I silently started chanting: "Let him get it. Let him get it." All the while having the internal conversation with myself about whether, as a reading specialist, it was appropriate for me to but in!


I let the mom in me (nobody wants unsolicited advice in front of their child) get the better of me and I kept silent. I was crushed, however, when she drew the line in the sand and said: "If that's the only thing you want then we are leaving and you're not getting anything." And so they did. Ugh, I regretted not saying something.


Why I Say Yes to the Graphic Novel


While a graphic novel may not be every parent's idea of great literature, if it interests a child, and it's in line with the content you approve, then let him read it!


I once had a second grader I was tutoring who was behind in reading and truthfully did not want to read or practice reading. I desperately needed to find him reading material so he could practice. I talked with him until I found something he was interested in, we visited the school library together, and we found him an armful of Calvin and Hobbes books to take home. His parents were thrilled that he was reading at home and that practice moved him forward in his reading skills.


Many experts will recommend that you start with phonics readers only, move to I Can Read books, short chapter books, and then on to classic children's literature. I say, include all of the above AND anything your child is interested in reading or learning about! And don't forget joke books, and magazines, and encyclopedias, and websites, and poems too! 


Read, read more, read more often.  Mary 


Boys have particular reading tastes. If you have boy who is a reluctant reader, check out these tips and a list of series books that is tried and true and proven to please even the pickiest reader. 


Are you on our email list? You can sign up here and get exclusive content to you Inbox to help your child learn to read AND learn to love reading. 


First Things aka "Big Rocks"

First Things aka "Big Rocks" 



One of my favorite quotes is from C. S. Lewis.


"When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased."


To me, this speaks to all areas of life. It's like the illustration where the speaker tries to fit a bunch of big rocks, sand, and pebbles into a glass jar. Have you seen this? 


When he places the sand in first, followed by the pebbles and last the rocks, the big rocks do not fit. Try as he might, the rocks stick out or cannot all be placed into the jar. But, when he puts the big rocks in first, he can then pour the pebbles in, followed by the sand, and the pebbles and sand fall in and around the big rocks filling all the space in the jar. He can even add water to the jar because he's adding things in the correct order. 


This illustration shows us that it's important to first identify our "big rocks" in different areas of our lives. 


When it comes to teaching reading, a big rock should always be read-aloud time.


When read-aloud time is not negotiable and becomes a daily habit, there will always be time for other activities. The read-aloud is the cornerstone of literacy instruction and should always maintain its big rock placement. 


The "second things" like flashcard practice, letter and sound activities, and handwriting development, will all fit better when the big rocks are in place. 



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What are some other big rocks when it comes to literacy instruction and foundation in the home?


  • Time alone with books that are easy for them to read. We need to provide children the free time to get lost in a good book. This is unstructured time when children can pick books they enjoy that are easy-reads for them. They can choose favorites they read over and over or new books. This time allows them to develop as independent readers, gives them ownership and choice over what they read, and sets the foundation for becoming a lifelong reader for pleasure.



  • Time for writing – even if it is the very early foundations of writing for a preschooler – is also a big rock. Writing should be seen as the glove to the hand of reading and when young children are exposed to free writing time they will not develop the fear of writing we see in many school-age children and even in adults. Allow children to draw pictures about what you’ve read together, create their own stories either independently or with your help, and encourage them to read these stories to others, thereby creating an awareness of themselves as storytellers and writers.


  • Another big rock you will want to embed for literacy instruction is the daily guided reading time with your child. Guided reading time is when you model a new book or the next level of reading for your child and then read the selection together. You will want to check out chapter 10 in Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books where we model for you what a typical guided reading lesson would look like.

One thing I am confident about is when you read-aloud to your children daily, help them to gain confidence as writers, support them as independent readers, and give them supportive guided reading instruction, you are laying a strong foundation for capable, lifelong readers – using all the right rocks, of course!




Lucky Listeners Summer Reading Challenge

Lucky Listeners Challenge

Do you wonder if your child should read the same book multiple times? Is it okay to let them reread a book that is too easy? Yes and Yes. 


Reading an easy book or a book they are familiar with is one of the best ways to practice fluency and build your child's confidence


Fluent readers are able to comprehend what they read because their mind can pay attention to meaning instead of decoding. 


Confident readers read more, and we all know what happens when children read more! They become better readers. 


Here's a simple way to encourage your child to reread books they are familiar with. 


Create a Lucky Listeners chart. Each time they read a book to someone, the Lucky Listener fills out the chart with their name, the name of the book, and leaves an encouraging comment for your child. 


Grandpa and Grandma, babysitter, and aunt can all leave positive comments such as, "You are a great reader!" or "You did a great job reading out loud to me."


After your child reads a book to a handful of Lucky Listeners, she can trade it in for a new one and start all over. Continue the chart for as long as you like and consider a reward or special treat like ice cream or a few hours at the pool once it's complete.  


*** If you'd like a free copy of a Lucky Listeners chart, click on the image above, head on over to our Facebook group and once you're in, you can find the Lucky Listeners chart in the FILES section in the group. 


I can't wait to meet you there! 



Read, read more, read more often.  Mary 


What is Phonemic Awareness or Phonological Awareness and How Do I Teach It?

What is Phonemic Awareness or Phonological Awareness and How Do I Teach It?


Did you know that phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success? This is so important that we don't want you to skip or discount the activities that promote phonemic awareness. Keep reading for ideas on how to develop this awareness for your child. 


Phonemic awareness is a child’s basic understanding that speech is composed of series of sounds.  It is the ability to manipulate these sounds, known as phonemes, in words orally. It is the understanding that every word is comprised of basic sounds or phonemes. Playing with words and sounds orally is the best way to help children hear how these sounds fit together to make words. 


Phonemes are the smallest units of speech. Children manipulate, or play with, these sounds by rhyming, changing beginning sounds, talking with silly names and words, and playing games like Pig Latin or The Name Game. 


While they may seem silly or non-educational, these types of activities are extremely important for developing phonemic awareness. The emphasis in developing phonemic awareness is on listening and talking rather than reading and writing.


It is a great achievement for your child when he understands that words are composed of smaller units.  By developing phonemic awareness, your child will use sound-symbol correspondences to read and spell words. 


Phonemic awareness is often confused with phonics, but it is not the sounding out of words, reading of words, spelling patterns, or words.  Rather, it is the foundation for phonics and reading success.


*Adams (1990) provided an outline of five levels of phonemic awareness:

  1. Rhyme and alliteration - to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes
  2. Oddity Tasks - comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration
  3. Blending and splitting syllables
  4. Phonemic segmentation - being able to identify and count the individual sounds in a word
  5. Phoneme manipulation - manipulating sounds by taking away or adding a sound, thereby creating a new word  

 *From - to read more about phonemic awareness click here


Important: If children lack phonemic awareness, it is likely they will be weak readers. To ensure your child’s reading success, spend adequate time developing phonemic awareness.


Easy (and fun) Ways to Promote Phonemic Awareness


  • Read aloud often from books with rhyming words, alphabet books, Mother Goose, and Dr. Seuss. 
  • Play with words - tongue twisters, rhyme games, and making up nonsense words to rhyme
  • Games: 

Blending: putting separate sounds together to make a word.

Example:  Say the separate sounds of ‘cat’/c//a//t/ and have your child blend them together to say the word “cat”.  This should be fluent and quick.


Segmenting: breaking words apart into separate sounds; stretch the word out slowly (like talking underwater).

Example:  Say the word ‘fan’ and tell your child to separate the sounds /f/---/a/---/n/.


Echoes: It is important for children to be able to segment the sounds in a word as well as take sounds and blend them into a word.  This game will help him practice doing both.


a.)Say a segmented word aloud and have your child echo the blended word in response. For example: say /p/ /a/ /n/ and the child should respond pan.


b.)You say the blended word pan and have the child echo the segmented word /p/ /a/ /n/.


 *Practice doing this both ways and work into more difficult words as your child learns blends and long vowels. 


Books that we recommend include How Now Brown Cow by Alice Schertle and There's a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Suess. For many more ideas, check out this article from Reading Rockets. 



As always, I encourage you to read, read more, read more often.  ~Mary 


Free Facebook Group!

Everybody gets stuck once in a while and wouldn't it be nice to be able to post your question and get immediate help? I've learned one thing over the years: if you're stuck on something it will keep you from making forward progress. Don't get stuck - just ask. 


In case you haven't heard! We now have a Facebook group to help you implement the strategies and methods we outline in the book.


Other things happening in the Facebook group: Live videos answering your Top 10 Questions.


FREE resources! Need a quick and easy phonics package? We've got that! All you have to do is download. 


Need some help determining if your child is making adequate progress? You'd be surprised how much a short video of your child reading can tell me about his reading skills. I'm happy to take a look and give you a strategic plan to move your child forward. 


There is more happening inside the group but you have to join to take advantage of it all. 


See you on the inside! ~ Mary 

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"Is This a Full Phonics Program?"


















We recently received this email question from a parent:


I am looking at curriculum for next year for my sons who will be in Kindergarten and Grade 2. My Kindergarten child hasn't learned to read yet, and my other son is reading at a grade one level now. Would this book be appropriate as a full phonics program for the both of them? Or is it meant to supplement phonics/spelling? What would your recommendation be, to use this as a whole LA program, or would additional programs be needed as well? Thanks! 


Our reply:


Thanks for your interest in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Although we wrote the book from the perspective that a child can learn to read without the need of a sequential intensive phonics program, it can be used in conjunction with such a program.


In the book we express our concerns with intensive phonics approaches, specifically that children who are taught to focus primarily on memorizing rules and sounding out words can, sometimes, fall into a pattern where they are reading like a computer and not reading with fluency and comprehension.


If you feel the need to use a packaged phonics program, perhaps the incorporation of the principles we share in the book will help you, as the child's teacher, to avoid these pitfalls and to emphasize fluency and comprehension.

Another potential negative by-product of an intensive, packaged approach is the tendency for these approaches to be boring, and to give the child the impression that "reading" is only about memorizing rules and sounding out words. So, if a grandparent asks the child "Do you like to read?" the child may respond with an enthusiastic "NO!" because s/he associates reading with endless memorization drills and meaningless robotic exercises.


A child who learns to read using a balanced approach incorporating lots of enjoyable children's literature will, most likely, love the learning to read process.
Regarding the older child, it never hurts, and is always helpful, to incorporate great children's literature in the form of storybooks into the reading program. So, yes, I believe the older child will certainly benefit by the principles and resources we share in the book.

We wish you the best as you teach your children!


Will your child say "I LOVE to read!"?























Recently, I received an email from a mom who has just started reading Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Her child is currently in kindergarten at the local public school, and she explained what she is noticing:


"I have just started it and am finding it really insightful. I have been working with B. on reading, and I have noticed in school that what I think they are teaching is basically the phonics approach. I see their point, but am finding it taking away from the reading and understanding point for B. Right now she is okay learning and memorizing new words, but I can see the enthusiasm is waning for her. When we read at night she picks a book and we read it together. I find she likes it a lot better. Today I told B. when she got home from school that we had to go over her sight words and she said "I know, I know. We have to do them." She sounded like "Oh no, not again!" I think that is what you are talking about in the beginning of the book. I can see it and need to have her like this stuff again. She is learning to read and likes that."


I'll relate what this mom is saying to another school subject, science. It bothers me a lot when I hear students say "I HATE science!" No one hates science. We all are thrilled by the wonders we see around us each day, both in the created world of nature and in the man-made world. We love to take in the beauty, and we are amazed by the advances we see in technology. When students say they hate science, what they are really saying is they do not like the boring, uninspired, and shallow ways they've been taught the subject of science in school settings.


Do not let this happen with reading instruction!


There is no requirement that learning to read, by definition, has to be a process that is primarily one of sterile "drill and skill" rule memorization. Young children delight in learning when they can engage the process in ways that are rewarding, that take advantage of their built-in delight of language, and when being guided by someone who loves them and loves reading great books together. Instead of doing loads and loads of worksheets, read loads and loads of appropriately leveled books together (using the strategic methods we explain in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Your child will happily tell the world "I LOVE to read!"




Forming Letters Correctly

My kindergarten-age granddaughter is schooling at home, and I had the wonderful opportunity to help her all day with her schoolwork. As she was practicing writing her name on paper, I was reminded of a common problem that would be good for anyone helping a child learning to form letters correctly. 


Frequently a child will hold a single sheet of paper (with her non-writing hand) at the bottom of the sheet.  This can cause the child to make letter strokes from the bottom up instead of from the top down. If the child starts forming a down stroke from the top, and the paper is being held on the bottom, the paper will crumple or slide. Unless the child is instructed to hold the paper on the top instead of the bottom, she will naturally start making the strokes from the bottom up instead from the top down.


Break this unhelpful habit early on before the child becomes locked into forming all her letters incorrectly.



A Wonderful Testimonial

This unsolicited letter from a grateful mother has been on our testimonial page for some time, but it deserves to be highlighted.  As you read her words, notice the enthusiasm that exists in her home about the joy her children have found as they have learned to read:


"I wanted to thank you for your book. I have been using the 3rd edition for many years now in homeschooling my children. My now 11 year old son was my first to learn to read. Using your approach, he quickly took off and felt successful from the first day. By the age of 6 1/2 yo, he had read the first four Harry Potter books and is still a voracious reader who comprehends with ease reading now at a college level.


My second child is now 9 yo, and is much the same. His fluency increased a bit later but he quickly caught up to the older child. He is reading at a middle school or higher level and loves it. The original Pilgrim's Progress is a favorite with him even!


My third child, a girl, also took off with you method just over age 6. She recently turned 7 yo (ending first grade) and has read not only Harry Potter books, but all of E.B. White and many others.


My fourth child has been begging me to teach her to read. Since she recently turned 5 years old, we have now started by cementing all the pre-reading skills (knowing all letters and sounds, for example). She is so excited and I am again rereading your book to remind myself of all the methods. I know she will learn to read well as will my two younger sons (ages 3 and 19 months) when their time comes.


Thank you from the bottom of my heart for an easy to use, realistic, enjoyable and successful method of instructing our children in their most important learning skill."


Certainly this mom has provided an excellent example herself of the joy that is to be found in reading great books, and she is to be commended for creating this environment in her home. 


Thankfully, the methodology and philosophy promoted in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books complimented this positive atmosphere. 


If you are finding that your children dread your learning to read instruction, could it be you are using a boring approach that focuses on rules to memorize and skills to drill?  There is a better way! 


Check out Chapter 5 on the left menu, read some other testimonials, then order your copy Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books of today!


When Is a Rule Not a Rule?

Proponents of intensive phonics approaches to reading instruction promote the memorization of rules that guide the way words should be pronounced based on the arrangement of the letters within those words.  They discuss these rules as though they are virtually infallible, implying that children simply need to learn the rules, then apply them at the appropriate times while reading. 


This "exploding" of the "code" will lead to accurate reading and good comprehension.  The skills involved in decoding words are described in almost mathematical terms, as predictable in outcome as an equation like 2 + 2 = 4.


But there is a problem...often times the actual pronunciations of words do not follow the rules.  For example, the word appearing more often in print than any other - the - is not pronounced phonetically because the e at the end is typically pronounced with the short u sound, a pronunciation which the rules would not predict.


In a now classic research piece by Theodore Clymer, frequently referenced by reading instructors, the author looked into the usefulness of various phonics "rules" (now called generalizations because of their frequent inaccuracy) in early reading instruction. 


He discovered that many of these generalizations were inaccurate 50% or more of the time in primary grade level words where the rule should be applied. 


For example, the most popular generalization among phonics teachers is the one that states "when two vowels are side by side in a single syllable, the first vowel is long (says its name) and the second is silent."  Often this rule is taught as a rhyme which goes "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." 


Clymer showed that this "rule" only proved to be accurate in 45% of the applicable words in the reading instruction books used in primary grades! 


Another rule states "when there are two vowels in a single syllable word, one of which is the final e, the first vowel is long and the second is silent."  This generalization was true in only 63% of the applicable words.  Many other commonly-trusted phonics rules did not fare as well as these. 


When is a rule not a rule? 


Certainly, no one would argue that knowing letters and letter combinations, and using them to pronounce words, is not important.  But a strong approach to reading instruction needs to be balanced, promoting the use of other cues in addition to the letters on the page.  And this is exactly the methodology recommended in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books


We invite you to read Chapter 5 and to explore some of the testimonials linked in the menu on the left. 


A final metaphor might help to illustrate the point of this article: a hammer is an extremely important tool for a builder to use while constructing a house.  But it certainly is not the only one he uses! 


If your only method in teaching a child to read is to teach "rules," then to say "sound it out, sound it out" when the child encounters difficulty while reading, you are like the builder who is trying to build a house with a hammer alone. 


And to make the metaphor even more accurate, suppose the hammer he is using only hits the nail on the head 45% of the time.  As a rule, he's probably not going to be very successful!




What Curriculum Did You Use to Teach Your Child to Talk?

At a recent homeschooling conference, many parents stopped by our booth to ask questions and, sometimes, to challenge the idea that there is a viable approach to reading instruction that is not based in a highly sequenced and regimented phonics package.  


As I spoke with several apprehensive parents, I found myself asking, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, "So, what curriculum DID you use when you taught your child to talk?"  


Of course, they all smiled and gave the same answer.  No one uses a package curriculum to teach young children the basic elements of our spoken language! The vast majority of children learn to talk very fluently by the time they are 3 years old through a total immersion yet casual process that seems to come naturally to loving parents/grandparents/caretakers of preschool children.


Think about this for a few minutes.  A baby, in the womb, can probably hear her mother speaking and, even though there is absolutely no comprehension taking place, the fetus becomes familiar with her mother's voice.  She can, most likely, hear other voices and sounds as well.  After the trauma of birth, the child is comforted by those familiar voices.  Soon the baby begins to associate sounds and maybe even words with important taking nourishment from her mother, and being embraced by loving family members.  She learns that the sounds she makes can cause the desired reactions from the adults in her life.  It's a give and take world!


Without going through every stage in her development through infancy and toddler-hood (we do go into more detail in our book), I think you can see where I am going with this discussion: the child, through a very simple hypothesis testing approach, soon discovers how to get what she wants through speech, and how the language of others is guiding her to an understanding of the basic yet important concepts about life.  A young child is hard wired to learn language.  The natural language-learning process is very efficient and effective.


Now contrast this with a fictional mother who, from the child's earliest days of her newborn's life, thinks she needs to use a packaged speech learning program designed for infants.  The creators of this hypothetical curriculum caution the user that the program's scientifically-based sequence MUST follow the prescribed order of learning to a tee to maximize the benefits.  This packaged speech learning program comes with cutesy phoneme people and trinkets to be used as rewards when the child "says it just right" during each daily lesson.


Of course this is silly, but I use it to demonstrate an important idea: your child learned to talk through total immersion in a speech-rich environment.  


The best thing you can do as your child is learning about print is to immerse her in print.  


Respond to her questions about books, and enjoy lots of fun stories together.  Play with magnetic letters and printed words in increasingly purposeful ways (we show you how).  At a reasonable point in time, these fun, casual experiences can morph into more purposeful and directed reading lessons...without losing the joy that comes with sharing books and other print-based resources together.


In short, it may not be as "natural" as learning spoken language, but a learning to read process that has real books as the core of the approach is a very doable, enjoyable, and successful way to teach a child to read. 




Rocket Science vs. Common Sense

Mark and I had the privilege of meeting some dedicated homeschooling parents at last week's Midwest HomeSchool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.


We were energized by the conversations and feedback we received from those of you who want to give your children the best possible education.


We were touched and grateful for those of you who took the time to tell us that you have read Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books and how this "common sense" approach to teaching reading worked for your children. Some of you even expressed how you had tried "everything else" and then found our book and that is when reading instruction started to make sense!


But many of you talked with us and we sensed the apprehension in your eyes, the reluctance to venture out and make critical decisions about reading instruction without a scripted guide and planned lessons. To you we say: read the book and you will see that this is something you CAN do.


There are reading "experts" who say that teaching reading is rocket science. If that is true then very few people are qualified to teach youngsters how to read - including public school teachers!


But Marilyn Rockett of Homeschooling Today magazine calls our approach "commonsense" and that is something you all possess.

In Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books we give you the understanding of what all children need in order to have a foundation that will ensure reading success.


We then give you the basics of a comprehensive approach to literacy that helps you guide your child through all components of being a good reader based on his or her needs, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies/attitudes toward print.


We empower you to make daily and ongoing decisions about the books your child will read, the strategies your child needs, and the choices you will make in order to immerse your child in print and provide a literacy-rich environment in which your child can thrive as a reader.


Do not be intimidated by those who promote their reading program as the only way to teach reading. Do the research and you will see that there is not one single packaged reading program that shows significant gains in reading abilities when used exclusively or without the foundation of a literacy-rich environment.


Teaching reading is not rocket science but weeding through the facts vs. myths about reading and the advertisements for "magic" reading programs can be!


Here are two resources to help you find what really does work. and


We think once you do your research you will see that our approach is one that combines the love of reading with proven reading strategies and quality children's literature to give you the support you need to get your child on the path to literacy.


Reflection Vs. Resolution

As a new year starts, many parents will make resolutions. We all know that these well-intended resolutions oftentimes fall by the wayside despite our best efforts. This year, instead of resolutions, why not choose to reflect first? For how can we know where we want or need to go if we don't reflect on where we've been?


Certainly one of the most important areas worthy of reflection is our children's' education and progress toward reading.


  • Where was your child this time last year in his reading progress or readiness?
  • Where were your thoughts about reading and how has your philosophy of learning to read evolved over the course of 2010?
  • Has your personal library grown, have your bookshelves filled with books that draw your child into special worlds of wonder?
  • Did you find time to visit the local library weekly and teach your child to choose books?
  • Did you commit to daily read-alouds with your child despite the busyness of life?
  • Are there some things that ate up your time that could have better been spent reading to your child?


Perhaps you have just started to think about reading for your child, or your children are just babies and you want to "be prepared." No need for resolutions, but you can reflect on your attitudes toward reading and even your own personal experience as a reader.


  • Do you worry that your child will have trouble learning to read because you had some negative experiences as a child?
  • Are you willing to help foster the love of reading in your child but concerned that you are not "qualified" to do so?
  • Do you hesitate because you are not sure of the "right" way to teach your child to read?


We invite you to browse our blog or the sample chapter on this site to see if Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books is something that will help you and your child in the next year.


As for me, I am looking ahead to 365 more days that I can read all those books still waiting for me to find them!


Happy New Year and Happy Reading! -Mary


It's Not Your Mother's Read-Aloud

I learned to make homemade Italian spaghetti sauce from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from her mother...well, you get the point.


With each generation, traditions change and evolve slightly based on personal preferences, health concerns, or availability of ingredients.


My mother believed that the best sauce was made with pork, or at least a combination of pork and beef. She particularly liked to use the neck bone of the pig. While I believe she was right about it making great-tasting sauce, I have personal reservations about using pork in my sauce. I use beef instead, when I use meat.


My family thinks my sauce is superb and I am glad! I have also gone one step further with my sauce to make it a healthy meal: I finely chop up vegetables and add them to the sauce. Squash, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant add nutritional benefits my family isn't even aware they are getting! It also makes a nice thick sauce that really sticks to the pasta.


You probably have traditions similar to this that you have altered over the years to suit your family's needs. The read-aloud can also be once such tradition that you can jam-pack with healthy reading benefits that your children won't even be aware of - they will think they are just enjoying a wonderful tradition of story time!


In order to make the most of your read-aloud time, here are some things you can do:

  • Involve your child in the book selection: even babies can learn to choose books that they enjoy or are drawn to; this develops in your child the sense of being an independent reader and one who makes her own choices about reading.
  • Talk about the pictures and the cover and what the book might be about. This helps to teach your child about predicting - a strategy that good readers use often.
  • Talk about new vocabulary words that you encounter. Encourage your child to stop you when you read a word they don't know so you can explain it. You may even want to look up the word in a dictionary or use an online dictionary such as to teach them this valuable life skill. (I have the dictionary app loaded on my smartphone and keep it with me when I read so I can easily access new words that I encounter even when I am cuddled up under the covers!)
  • Talk about characters and setting and which characters or incidents in the story your child can identify with in order to help her become an active and engaged reader. Avid readers constantly find connections to what they are reading and people, events, or memories from their own lives. "Remember when we went to visit that dairy farm and saw the cows getting milked? How is this farm in the book like the farm we visited?" Creating dialogue around books is a wonderful way to help your child make connections.
  • Help your child begin to recognize common sight words as you read. Words such as: the, and, is, in, said, etc, comprise almost 75% of the print a young reader will encounter, so the sooner they learn to recognize these words the better!
  • If it is a book you have read often and your child has favorite parts memorized, go ahead and let her recite them! This develops a sense of being a real reader. Don't worry that she is not really sounding out words, that will come later!
  • Even books for young readers have themes that the author has woven throughout the story. Talk about these themes, whether they are "be nice to animals" or "everyone needs a friend" or something a bit meatier such as: "good versus evil." The sooner your child understands that every author writes for a purpose and that readers can discover great messages in books, the more natural it will be for her to discover the author's message when she reads on her own.


Certainly you don't want the read-aloud time to become a reading lesson - trust me - your child will see right through that! Just as if I were to put large chunks of vegetables in the sauce, my children would reject the sauce all together and I would have ruined a great tradition as well as deprived them of a healthy meal.


Don't overload the read-aloud with large portions of "teaching" - make it natural. With a little practice and discretion, you can make the read-aloud a staple in your child's life and the foundation for becoming a successful reader!


~ Mary 


Read, Baby, Read!

We've all seen those ads and infomercials on TV about teaching your baby to read. And, if you have a baby or a grandchild, of course you have asked yourself: "Should we be doing this? Is my child or grandchild missing out on an opportunity to get ahead in life?"


I have to admit, even as a reading teacher, these ads sound tempting, and the testimonials are convincing! But, common sense urges me to go back to what we know about reading. What does research tell us, what have the experts and researchers found to be true about learning to read?


It's no surprise to find out that there is no scientifically based research behind these "magic" reading programs. As we talk about in chapter 2 of Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books, there is no magic reading program, and certainly not one that teaches babies to read!


Of course components of the baby reading programs do work, and yes - some babies are recognizing words by sight, giving the appearance of "reading." But the facts and the research hold true: a baby's brain is just not developed appropriately to learn the key skills needed to decode and decipher patterns of written language. Furthermore, teaching only sight reading, as we have learned over the decades, sets children up for failure in reading success.


So, save your money on baby reading programs, but DO invest in good literature and time reading to the precious babies in your life! That is an activity that research does support.





Zumba and Learning to Read

Have you heard about the new phenomenon, Zumba? It's the latest workout/dance craze and you're probably wondering what it has to do with teaching your child to read! Well, it has to do with modeling.


I recently started attending Zumba workout classes to get in shape and have some fun. As with anything, if it's not fun, the likelihood of one sticking with it is greatly diminished. You can probably attest to this by the dust-collecting workout machines in your basement or the long-forgotten DVDs sitting on a shelf somewhere.


The fact that Zumba is fun is one of the things that makes it work, and we can relate this to learning to read. If your child experiences pleasant and positive experiences with books and reading, he is more likely to want to read and come to the learning-to-read experience with a positive attitude.


But, let's take the Zumba analogy a bit further. When I started Zumba, I realized it would be a challenge. I have never had dance lessons and don't consider myself to have "natural" rhythm. I started out in the back of the room so as not to embarrass myself, but soon realized I needed to move up closer to the instructor so I could see her feet and replicate what she was doing.


Since Zumba is so fast-paced, it is impossible for the instructor to cue us on her every move, so the best way to learn is to watch and do. This is why it is so important for you to read aloud to your child and to let him see you read often. Your child is watching and imitating.


In fact, this is not just good practice, but scientific fact. Here's what Brenda Power, Editor of Choice Literacy has to say about the power of modeling. (


"Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought. The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world. Most important for teachers, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally)."


Sure, the Zumba instructor could spend the majority of our class time breaking down all the moves step-by-step for us, or she could put big diagrams on the walls depicting all the moves in each routine, and then ask us all to "try" it; but that, in and of itself, will not teach me how to Zumba. It's watching and doing and practicing and practicing and practicing that will make the difference. 


And when I watch my Zumba instructor and I am following her fancy footwork or the elegant wave of her arms, I believe I can be like her, in fact, I think I look just like her until I look in the mirror and realize I still have a ways to go! But, she never tells me I can't fully participate in the class until I master the basics of the salsa or demonstrate proper posture. No, she encourages all of us at whatever stage we are and she continues to model the ideal while giving instruction as we dance


How critical all this is in the teaching of reading!


Children should not have to wait until they have mastered each individual skill of reading before they can participate in the joy of reading real books!


Use the reading time to model, encourage, give instruction at teachable moments, and allow your child many, many opportunities to practice reading.


When your beginning reader is reading, he does know he is a "beginner", he thinks he is doing exactly what your are doing. With encouragement and practice, practice, practice, he will become a successful, mature reader.


I know if my Zumba instructor told me everyday all the mistakes I made I would not return to her class and would be afraid to try. Be very careful about praise versus correction when reading.


Developing readers need to take chances, and if a child is fearful of making mistakes, he will not take chances and not take ownership of his own learning to read. A dependent reader is not a successful reader.  


So, make sure you are modeling and having fun with reading. Maybe there is even a way to burn calories while reading? That would be a dream come true!


Mary Gallagher





Growing Healthy Readers

How to Motivate the Reluctant Reader


 How many times have you heard “I don’t want to read” or “I hate reading!”? If you are working with a struggling or reluctant reader, or maybe a child who reads well but is unmotivated to do so, these words may be all too common in your home.


In addition, these words may be hard for you to hear and cause thoughts of anxiety about your child’s future. You may find yourself asking questions like:


“How will he succeed in life if he is not a strong reader?”

“I love to read, why doesn’t he?” or even,

“What am I doing wrong?”


First of all, don’t blame yourself. Secondly, don’t give up. And lastly, remember, growing a reader is like growing a garden. There are some steps you must take to ensure a successful garden. As well, there are things you must do to grow an avid reader.


Prepare the Soil: The sooner you start this process, the better. Start by reading aloud to your child on a daily basis. Read books he enjoys. Choose topics that interest him. Fill your house with reading material of all kinds: classic novels, comic books, coffee table books, picture books, magazines (for you and the kids), newspapers, books on tape or CD. Visit the library regularly. Expose him to all types of books: the classics, non-fiction, joke books, picture books. Be an example to him – let him see you are a reader and that you value reading. Be excited about reading – share with him or read aloud to him a funny or interesting tidbit from something you are reading.


Pick the right plants: Just as cacti will not grow well in a wet, northern climate, children will not grow to love reading if they find it tedious or boring. With the vast array of printed material available today, there is something for everyone. Match your child’s interests and reading styles to the type of reading material you choose for him.


Some suggestions include:


Short attention span: Try comic books or graphic novels. The classics like Robinson Crusoe, The Hobbit, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are now available as graphic novels.


Animal Lover: Non-fiction books and magazines like Ranger Rick abound, covering any animal that fascinates your nature lover.


Sports: Try biographies of famous players or Sports Illustrated for Kids. Dan Gutman’s baseball card adventure series can jump-start any sports fan! Other authors that write in this genre include: Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica.


Mysteries: From Nate the Great (for young readers), to Jigsaw Jones, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and The Hardy Boys, there’s plenty here to choose from. Give those I Spy books a try!


History Buff: You can find historical fiction as well as biographies of historical figures like Harriet Tubman and George Washington at any reading level.


Be creative. Ask your librarian or teacher for suggestions.


Nurture: Water and Feed Daily: Read together on a daily basis. Cuddle and make it such an enjoyable experience that your child will come back for more. Be positive, encouraging, and supportive when he ventures on his own to read. Surround him with books. Listen to books on cassette or CD in the car. Pack magazines for doctor’s visits. Reward him with the video of a book you’ve just finished reading together. In the last few years we have seen a plethora of movies based on books. To name a few of my favorites: Because of Winn-Dixie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, and Where the Wild Things Are.


Weed regularly: Just as plants can’t grow when choked by weeds or riddled with bugs, readers cannot grow when the weeds and pests of life tangle them up or distract them. Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the television and playing video games. These things are not invaluable, but too much of them can eat away at time for reading, as well as, shorten attention spans and weaken imaginations, both of which are necessary for enjoyable reading times. Suggest he listen to a book on tape while falling asleep instead of watching TV. Be disciplined yourself and turn off the TV and invite him to read with you.


Be patient: Plants will grow if given the necessary requirements, so will your reader. Don’t give up when you don’t see immediate results. Keep watering with good books, sprinkling the fertilizer of encouragement, and plucking out those weeds and you will see a harvest. Gardens do not spring up overnight, nor will you grow an avid reader instantly. But, with the right motivation, your reluctant young seedling will sprout up and branch out into a strong, healthy reader. And that’s the kind of fruit that will last a lifetime.


~ Mary Gallagher