Nothing plagues a new homeschooling mama more than anxiously waiting for the day her child will catch up to the neighbor kid who has been reading chapter books since they were four. I personally know the panic that arises when your child has indeed not to learned to read “in 100 easy lessons.” Let’s talk about phonics and reading comprehension.
How Language Arts Works
Langauge Arts is an umbrella term for all the different ways a child can practice the English language. It includes subjects like phonics, vocabulary, grammar, and speech.
Phonics is the first language arts subject you will teach. This is subject that is introduced when a child is learning to read. It teaches the child phonetic sounds from the alphabet and how to combine them together to create words. Once a child learns phonics and knows how to read, all other language arts is just a deeper dive into language mechanics and advancing into more complex texts (this happens pretty naturally if a child is immersed in a print-rich environment).
What you need to focus on right now is not getting to a certain point by an arbitrary time. What you have to do is help your child to gain mastery over foundational, skill-building subjects. You want them to have basic reading skills because then the door is wide open for everything else. Everything from here is simply a deeper dive into the same material, breaking it up into its more granular parts.
For example, once a child learns to read they might do a spelling curriculum that helps them exclusively practice spelling words. It’s just extra practice to sharpen their writing and reading comprehension. You don’t have to do all of these things at once, either. You can choose to focus on a different piece each school year and refine as you go.
We practice language arts holistically, by just by reading and writing in different ways. My kids have progressed in language arts without using any curriculum after phonics.
If you really feel like you need to teach the mechanics of spelling and grammar at some point, you can do that. However, I would encourage you to first build meaningful context into language arts by reading fascinating books and writing fun things in the elementary school years.
Later when this enjoyment and context is established, you can move to the mechanics of sentence diagraming and rules about commas. (Which by the way, most adults have forgotten most of this and still we’re a functioning society somehow!)
When Should a Child be Reading?
In terms of when you accomplish mastery over reading, you have a big block of time before you. Honestly, as a homeschooler you have as long as it takes!
It takes about thirty hours for a developmentally ready child to learn how to read. This typically occurs around the age of seven, but according to the research of Dr. Raymond Moore, the optimal age is eight and can even take some kids until ten.
We often panic about this because in school you have to know how to read by third grade. In this grade, you move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” This on-the-page teaching style of a conventional third grade classroom will prevent a non reading child from doing schoolwork. A child who doesn’t know how to read by the third grade will be lost and often categorized as having behavioral problems. (I would be having behavioral problems if I were completely lost in a classroom too!)
But you don’t have that barrier as a homeschooler! You can keep teaching your child all subjects in at any level while they are simultaneously learning to read.
You can even teach writing while they are in the process of learning to read by having them do oral narrations and dictate to you as you write. (Expression and organization of ideas are the building blocks of writing. Phonics, handwriting and grammar are the mechanics!)
Even dyslexic kids learn how to read all the time, it just takes more time, extra support, and unconventional approaches!
I recommend taking the time to read this article by Dr. Peter Gray.
I have a full post about teaching children to read called The Everything Reading Post here
Go here for the post about topical subjects (history, literature, science and geography)
Go here for the post about math.
Go here for the post about starting ages and grade levels
For further reading like this, you can get my free curated book list for homeschool mamas here, with over sixty titles to encourage you on your journey. If you’re just starting, go here to read my collection of “Getting Started” blog posts.