How we’re teaching our kids to read classically

The following is a guest post written by Beth Watson of Classical Conversations at Home

Amelia Bedelia. Pippi Longstocking. Anne of Green Gables.

These are just a few of my favorite book characters from growing up.

I love reading. I always have. My husband likes “reading” by listening to books. We’ve both found a place in teaching our children to read classically.

Our children are ages 7, 5, 4, and 2. I’d like to think we are teaching all of them to read right now and I believe the classical model supports this.

How so?

We spend lots of time enjoying words from a wide range of books in a variety of modes. Classical education first prescribes phonics teaching to develop pathways and a sturdy foundation for a child.

Symbols (letters) make sounds and those sounds put together make words. Start by teaching the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. The brain is wired to make these connections, which will later help when reading, writing or spelling more difficult words.

Next, read lots of quality material. Before you start thinking I mean Plato, Shakespeare, etc., let me give you a few things we look for when selecting books to read.

• Has the story stood the test of time? Although the times may have changed, is the story still appealing and enjoyable? Think an original Winnie the Pooh or Curious George storybook.

• Does it teach something good? Think Aesop’s Fables or Pilgrim’s Progress.

What books do I love? There are so many books that I remember with fondness from my childhood and would be sad if my littles missed out on them. For me, that’s Fuzzy Rabbit or The Secret Garden (& so many more! including the titles listed above.)

If you’re wondering where to start, check out the lists found at 1000 Good Books .

What does this look like in our daily life?

In the morning, my children often turn on the iPod while we’re eating breakfast to listen to The Boxcar Children or A Bear Called Paddington.


After breakfast, they each memorize a Bible verse from their Awana books and draw about what the verse means.

Mid-morning, I work on a phonics program with my 5 year old. Throughout the day, my 7 year old and I read toddler type books to my 4 and 2 year old.

A current favorite of my daughter is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. It gets read a lot. : ) Before nap, we snuggle on the couch to read Anne of Green Gables together.

While everyone is enjoying rest and quiet in the afternoon, my 7 year old reads something fun to himself. Right now, he’s reading The Jungle Book, followed by any number of animal books.

Anytime we jump in the car, they all beg my husband to put on the next chapter of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. He happily obliges, because he enjoys the story too.

And finally, at bedtime, my husband reads to them from the Bible, while allowing each of them to take a turn at reading the next three chapter titles.

My 7 year old is the only independent reader right now among our bunch. Two years ago we completed Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I was looking for a strong phonics emphasis and chose this one for its ease of use. Since then, we’ve simply been reading.

I, myself, have actually been doing a great deal of reading recently too. My reading has been on classical education. I was happy to discover my natural inclination to simply allow him to read fit the classical model.


As Leigh Bortins says in The Core, reading should occur in 3 ways:

  1. your child should read at his reading level
  2. your child should read below his reading level
  3. you should read to your child above his reading level

Why is this?

Reading at their level gently challenges them, reading below their level is enjoyable for them and allows for mastery of common words, and reading to them above their level exposes them to an immense vocabulary.

An audio book above their level can do the same thing. All of this exposure will give them a recognizable comfort around words, which has the intent of making reading far less intimidating.

Through all this reading, both by them and to them, we’re reveling in the beauty and diversity of the English language and teaching them that reading is fun, especially when a really good story is involved!

For my 7 year old, this has worked like a charm. For my 5 year old, I see it working a little more slowly, but working nonetheless.

So, for us, we’ll keep with this simple approach to reading. Because reading well is fundamental to becoming a lifelong learner of any and all subjects, which is, after all, one of our greatest goals in homeschooling our children.

How about you? How do you approach reading in your home?

About Beth Watson

Beth is wife of one, mom to five, child of a gracious God. Traveling, organizing, good books, and pumpkin spice lattes fill her daydreams. Homeschooling was a surprise she is happily embracing and writing about at her blog, Classical Conversations at Home.


  1. I have friends who read adult classics for family read alouds. The little ones would simply flip through picture books as the listened to the words. So many great books (and such lovely vocabulary!) surrounded those children!
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Fall Retreat: A Weekend in Pictures

  2. Stephanie says:

    Just what I needed to read this morning. Thank you!

  3. Our five-year-old is learning to read phonetically from the Abeka curriculum, but we also are reading through the Little House on the Prairie books through CDs that we check out from the library. We are already up to “The Long Winter” and I’m delighted to see my daughter learning to love the same series that I read over and over again as a child.

    • I think it’s long been considered a girls’ series of books, but even my boys loved the adventure of the Little House of the Prairie series. Right now, we’re finishing up Peter Pan, which gives them more adventure of a different kind. 🙂
      Beth’s latest post: What I Do Matters

  4. Hi Beth, I have started reading your blog. I always enjoyed Anne of Green Gables too.
    Our 7 year old who is a fluent reader usually reads at her reading level and sometimes above her level. Our son who just turned 6 reads at his reading level and sometimes below his reading to keep him motivated because he is a beginning reader and needs lots of encouragement. This is a great reminder to let all of them read at all three levels. Thanks 🙂
    Jenny’s latest post: Old Testament Books of the Bible Printables

    • Thanks, Jenny!
      Beth’s latest post: What I Do Matters

      • Hi Beth,

        I am struggling to get my 9 year old boy to read more often. It has alway been a challenge, although he can read grade 3 level books, he just needs so much pushing. Is there any guide as to how often grade 3 and 4 should read on a regular basis? Should their reading also be supplemented with comprehension questions?

        Thank you,

  5. I love the variety of ways your are reading with your children. I must admit, I feel a bit daunted by the idea of teaching my little girl to read, I think it’s the whole phonics things! My Husband and I enjoy reading though (and I also love ‘reading’ by listening) so hopefully by introducing, including and surrounding our daughter with reading in a variety of ways like you have with your children (and me brushing up on my phonics!), she’ll get there in the end!
    Jessica’s latest post: The Art of the Staycation

    • She will, Jessica! For both of my oldest, it was slow going at first and then it just clicked one day. Watching them learn to read & knowing you taught them – nothing like it!
      Beth’s latest post: What I Do Matters

  6. This is just what I needed to read right now…thanks so much for featuring it! 🙂

  7. Thank you for this post. It’s always nice to read about what is working for their children. I am also using the classical approach with my five year old. She has taken to it beautifully. She is reading so much more and the best thing about it, is it is easy to figure out. Putting two and two together works for her at his point. I’m just hoping that when it comes down to sight words it won’t get confusing. Because I know they can’t be phonetically decoded.

  8. Thanks for the information. Teaching your child to read is very important to their future.
    Kelly Brown’s latest post: Children Learning Reading – Review

  9. Thanks for all the great reading resourcesbyBeth. I nodded my head right along as I was reading! Reading aloud is a huge part of our day. After reading a part of teaching the Trivium, I made the goal (that they suggested) of reading aloud for 2 hours a day. We break it up, but we read at least 1 1/2 hours a day (history or science story in the morning, literature for fun before bed time). My son has an hour of reading time each afternoon as part of this ‘quiet time.’ Sometimes he will be usingan online reading program from http://educationalfun. It’s really a good online help in education and in teaching your child how to read while having fun.

    Dani Rren

  10. This is great! We do phonics, too. After learning the letters and sounds, we made use of the “Dick and Jane” readers. My 5.5-year-old is coming along nicely on the readers, but is not yet to the point of venturing out to other books on her own. I’ve always read to her. I always knew that some day she would read lots of books without my help, but thanks for the encouragement to continue reading to her even then! I have always chosen a variety of books to read to her, including several that I knew were meant for older kids, but I knew she would understand well enough, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Indian Captive. I’m excited to see what other favorite books I can share with her next!

  11. This is really helpful. A timely reminder that just reading to my 3 and 1 year olds isn’t really “just” reading!
    Laura’s latest post: 52 Weeks of Memories | 5: Bedtime

  12. Fantastic array of books here 🙂
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: St. Patrick’s Day Books for Families

  13. Allisson says:

    My guys 6 & 5 year old were not big fans of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Edmund too scary), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (too depressing) or Little House (dared language and slow pace).

    But they do love it when I make up stories and give them a “chapter” in the car or before bed. Their recall is amazing (surprising), and I challenge them if we are having a good day, or make it more lighthearted when we’re not. Plus they love to suggest plot points.

    My kiddos are very sensitive and I’ve found that introducing some classics too early has turned them off to wonderful experiences. Hopefully that will change.

    • I think you’re right, Allisson! We’ve waited until “later” by many standards to introduce certain classics to our kids and it’s only been a benefit! Little House was really written for an 8-10 age group, and my kids adored it then. Go at your own kids’ pace. If you haven’t checked out Sparkle Stories, I bet your guys would love Martin & Sylvia!

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