How I’m teaching my son to read

After taking Pip out of school in April 2016, we gave him some space to adjust to our new travelling life; we filled it up with fun excursions, educational kids tv, and iPad apps that were more about fun than learning.

He left public school feeling like a failure. He was dumb he said, he couldn’t do maths because he couldn’t read. He truly believed that he was stupid and would never learn anything. He hated learning, hated the word “learning.”

The teachers had divided the kids into reading groups. They aren’t numbered or labelled as best and worst readers the teachers told us, but when you designate the top group “Lions” and the bottom group “Monkeys” the kids know, they are a great deal smatter than most people give them credit for, even at five and six years old. The school had also failed to identify our sons learning difficulties, he has dysgraphia, and he’s colour blind. They didn’t seem to care. He didn’t fit their mould, he needed too much time and attention, and so he was left to flounder.

Rebuilding self-esteem

We spent six months rebuilding our sons self-esteem and figuring out where he was struggling and gaining a baseline for where to start working with him, and how. We spent a lot of time just reading to him. He loves, loves, loves stories. Loves being read to. He goes to sleep with audiobooks after story time with us. This is a kid who has a huge vocabulary and a love of words. He comes out with sentences like “the scary creatures from the catacombs of my mind are crawling their way up again mum,” not just: “I’m scared of monsters” that’s not florid enough for him – he reminds me of a very young Anne of Green Gables, but I digress.

Even though he was 7, we ended up starting him back at the beginning on pre-primer, and primer level Dolch sight words. These were the very early level reading words that he basically knew, but starting here helped to build up his confidence again.

We spent most of the time with him on the apps “Teach your monster to read,” Sky Fish, and later, Endless Wordplay and Endless Reader, all at the very easiest levels. We brought out a few early level readers for him, but they weren’t a big deal. My focus wasn’t to teach him to read by himself, it was about giving him back his self-confidence, and we’d trade off pages, or even sentences together, sometimes I’d just read while he followed along, sometimes he’d be my echo. We went to the library and borrowed huge piles of books and I’d spend the morning just reading whatever he wanted to listen to.

You should have seen the excitement when he realised he could read the words on a woman’s shopping bag one day. He was shocked. I think the words were something like “The Cats Hat.” Nothing complicated but they were real words in the real world.

Moving forward

It’s been a long slow process, and we are now a year on and just seeing “real progress”. Last night we found him in bed reading aloud from the Australian classic – All right Vegemite by June Factor. There were words he struggled with, but they were words we hadn’t learnt yet. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, he tried to use his toolkit; he sounded out the letters, he tried to find clues, diagraphs and blends, which is something we are only just starting to cover. I was ecstatic.
In the beginning, things were pretty haphazard. I printed and laminated flashcards of the Pre-Primer – 2nd-grade words. We used these for games, like scattering them around the floor and hunting for the word I read out, or hide & seek word hunt.
And some of the ones out of here Sight-Word-Games-No-Prep.

Together we worked on worksheets from (Cloze, first word shapes), but always together as a team. I never expected him to do them by himself.

We spent hours on the app-book, Weirdwood Manor.

And we played countless rounds of three games I found online (free) and printed.

1) Sight Words Book Land (based on Candyland)
2) Space Aces: A vowel combination/digraph phonics game
3) The Dolch Knights (1st and 2nd-grade-word lists)

Games are a HUGE help when it comes to getting my son even to try to read. If he isn’t having fun, he isn’t learning!

The last six months I’ve introduced a lot more structure to our language arts. I have a baseline for where he’s at and how he learns best and I wan work with that. Below are the resources we’ve been using for most recently which I feel are giving us results.

A reminder: this is a slow process, it has to be a stress-free process, and you have to work with the child you have, not the one you want. You can’t rush them along, and I believe that once they start seeing results for themselves, that’s when the magic happens. My son is one of those kids that does better if you leave him alone with something for a while. He’s not a daredevil who will try anything; he has to tiptoe around the edges for a while first.
I found these fantastic (free) printables at this site. They can be made into little books and each sheet has 3-4 new sight words on them, they are divided up into grades, and you can print them out, and cut them up into books.


Pip likes to move around and wriggle about, so we try to avoid sitting as much as possible (typing and piano being the exceptions). He stands at the table and has the freedom to move about as he needs to.

Day 01 – I see if he knows any of the words on the page, if yes, he says the word, if not, I help him. I don’t emphasise sounding out the sight words, they ones they need to just “see” and “know”, hence, “sight words”. He can get pretty frustrated with trying to sound out words that don’t fit with the rules. Once he’s read all the words, we go back to the first one, and I have him write the word three times. Writing is a huge struggle for him, and he hated doing it at first, now he’s so proud of how quickly he can do get through the words.

Note: Because of his dysgraphia, holding a pencil is tiring and painful. I recently invested in a packet of finger grips, I purchased two different types, and he preferred the old school triangle ones. These are also great because they act as an eraser, and for a kid who hates not getting things right, he can ease that anxiety by scrubbing out the error and trying again.

Once he’s written out all the words, I place the sheet into tomorrow’s plastic pocket (I have a binder divided into days of the week: 1-4 as Friday is either excursion day or catch up day for any of the weekdays we missed or work we didn’t get around too).

Next, he dances around the room and repeats after me:

“What is the word, the word is…” (say the word, then spell the word, repeat the word)

For frog: “What is the word, the word is frog, F. R. O. G. Frog.”

Day 02 – We re-read the words from yesterday, if he struggles with any of them, then he writes them out again, we spell them again, and we don’t move to the next sheet, everything shuffles down a day. If he does remember each word (not how to spell them, just how to read them), then we repeat the process with a new word list.

The second worksheet we do is “Reading Fluency” from All Students Can Shine

And that’s our morning work.


We’ve slowly started to introduce Blends and Digraph Worksheets; I tell him I’m teaching him secret codes or something that makes him feel intrigued. The ones we are just starting to use are from:

I spend far too much time (and money) on which is where I find most of our resources, get new ideas to mix things up and start thinking about the future.

On Tuesdays, we have “Poetry Tea Times” where we study Shakespeare using the book “How to teach your children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig. I read a few chapters ahead, and then we drink tea, eat fruit and learn about The Bard and the awesomeness of language.


Other things you may want to know:

I try not to print anything on white paper with black text. The contrast of black on white is a struggle for kids with dysgraphia; it’s also boring for everything. Also, because of my sons colour blindness, I try to make that paper all floro colours.

The other thing that we love to do to break up our activities, gain back focus, etc. is:


We regularly do meditations and yoga activities from Cosmic Kids Yoga. Recently we read Alice in Wonderland, watched the movies, made paper collage images based on a character from the movie and then followed along with this yoga lesson:

If you have any resources you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Follow us on Instagram




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s