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Should I go back to teach skills my struggling reader may have missed?

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Dear Carrie

Should I go back to teach skills my struggling reader may have missed?

I’ve homeschooled for three years and have a 9 year-old doing Bigger Hearts. This is our first year with Heart of Dakota, and I love it! My son has unfortunately always struggled with reading. He just seems to have missed something. Previously we used first grade MFW phonics and then Time for Learning. My son reads slowly. Sometimes he sounds out words and sometimes not. He runs his finger underneath the words but passes the next word before finishing the previous word. Fluency is not there, but he does comprehend well. He read as far as Prairie School in HOD’s Emerging Reader’s Set. I do all of Bigger Hearts. Sometimes I do R & S English orally and sometimes written. He loves writing in cursive and always does well on his spelling words. We do the writing on the Science lab, and he LOVES our read-alouds!

Last year, he scored at a reading level of 2.4 on the Peabody Test, and that was at the end of the 2nd grade. I also own Sing, Spell, Read, Write and thought I’d try that. Looking ahead to Preparing Hearts, I don’t think he’ll be able to read what he’s supposed to read. I’m just worried that I missed something starting with Bigger Hearts and that whatever I missed won’t get covered in Preparing. So, here is my question! Do I need to go back and teach whatever I may have missed not doing prior to Bigger Hearts? If I do need to go back, do I do that now? We are in Unit 20 of Bigger Hearts, and summer will be here soon. Carrie, I respect and appreciate your opinion and look forward to some help. Hubby and I are at a loss.


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should I Go Back to Teach Missed Skills ”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should I Go Back to Teach Missed Skills,”

Thanks so much for taking time to share about your son. From what you’ve shared, I’d say that it is possible that your son has never actually gotten to the 2nd grade phonics-instruction level. What I mean is that by doing MFW 1st grade and then switching to Time4Learning, it is pretty likely that your son got a solid introduction to typical first grade skills, but may not have gotten through all the phonics he needs to know in order to read well. In actuality, phonics instruction typically runs through K, 1st, and 2nd grades (increasing in difficulty and adding sound combinations as you go). Kiddos often don’t need to take all three years to go through all needed sounds, but they do need to go through all the needed sounds and know them before “graduating” from formal phonics instruction.

Your son may have missed typical ‘2nd’ grade level phonics instruction.

With this in mind, as your son changed phonics programs mid-stream, he probably missed the typical “2nd” grade level of phonics instruction. Since you own Sing, Spell, Read, Write, you could go from the beginning of that program (skipping much of the writing and doing the singing, spelling, and reading or whatever pieces help him learn and practice using the sounds). Just make sure to go through all needed sounds to the very end of the program. Or, if that feels too lengthy (which to me it would, since it is a full K-2nd grade program), you could instead choose any 2nd grade level phonics/reading program and take him through just that level for the rest of his phonics instruction.

There are many second grade level phonics programs to choose from to get the skills he missed.

There are many second grade level phonics programs to choose from to get the skills he missed. However, I’d lean away from those that will bog you down with a lot of writing (and spelling). Instead, just worry about getting the phonics down. He’ll need more than just drilling the sounds, as he’ll actually need to read controlled books or stories that practice those new sound combinations. This is why it would be good to have a second grade program for that. Bigger Hearts will cover your needed writing, copywork, spelling, and English skills. So, you’re truly looking for a reading only type program and only for the last chunk of sounds more typical to 2nd grade.

Reading Reflex is an excellent resource to go back and help with missed reading skills too.

Another thing that you could look into is a book called Reading Reflex. It is helpful in making sure kiddos have all the sound pictures/phonograms they need to read well. It takes a different approach than a purely phonetic approach, but we used it during my school teaching days for third/fourth grade to help kiddos who were struggling as readers, and it does work.

Third/fourth grade is a common time for children to first need glasses, so I’d make an appointment to rule this out.

I would definitely get your son’s eyes checked too. Third and fourth grade are the most common years for a child’s eyesight to take a turn and for him/her to need glasses, and this often gets missed. This could be another huge factor in your son’s reading. I’d make an appointment for him as soon as possible to rule this out.

Keep moving forward in Bigger Hearts, but work only on reading when you take your summer break.

Next, I wouldn’t stop your daily pace in Bigger Hearts. It sounds like your son is handling all of the other areas well except for the reading. I’d just keep going doing a day in a day. I know you’d mentioned you will be on your summer break soon. I would work on only reading for the summer. Then, in the fall, I’d pick Bigger back up where you left off. Don’t worry about Preparing Hearts right now. Kiddos can change so much over time, and even if you took no summer break from Bigger, you’d still have a minimum of 14 weeks left (which is 4 and 1/2 months, or half a calendar school year). With any kind of a break, you’re 6 months away from finishing Bigger now. That is a long time in the world of kids!

A Few Thoughts on the Emerging Reader’s Set

Finishing at a 2.4 Reading Level would put him at the beginning of the Emerging Reader’s Set. If he made it all the way to Prairie School, that’s quite good! That is where many kiddos begin to hit a bump in the road, as the text gets longer and harder and the pictures begin to go away. One thing that has helped my kiddos at the Emerging Reader’s Level is to practice reading their pages to themselves (reading it aloud) before they come and read to me. This gives them confidence, allows them practice time to sort out their words they’re not sure of, cuts down on missed words, and makes their reading time with me more enjoyable.

When you finish your formal tour through phonics, I’d pick the Emerging Reader’s Set up again. You may have to back up to get him reading more confidently in the Emerging Reader’s Set, so you’ll have to weigh how far you want to back up. Also, it would be good to add in any of the extra books suggested for each week. These are great for practicing missed skills more on a similar reading level.


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