Q: At what age should I begin to teach my child how to read with a phonics program? Do I need to start teaching my preschooler how to read? When should I teach my child to read? At what age or grade level can I start teaching my child with the Right Track Reading Lessons program?
Although there are individual differences, most children are ready for and benefit from direct systematic phonics instruction starting at the kindergarten level, around age 5. The research shows that direct systematic phonics instruction had significant and substantial effect in kindergarten and first grade and systematic phonics programs should be implemented at these age and grade levels.
You can begin the Right Track Reading Lessons program with most 5 years olds. The step-by-step format directly teaches all necessary skills in a systematic manner. Just begin the lessons and adapt the speed of progress to meet your individual child. Children will progress at different rates. Often younger children will progress slower because they need a little more time to learn the basics of letter formation. It is not a race. The lessons do not have to be completed in one session. However be sure to complete each lesson before moving on the next. The goal is to effectively teach your child to read, not to finish the program of study in a specific time period.
Right Track Reading Lessons starts with some pre-reading phonemic awareness and initial alphabetic awareness activities that can begin at the preschool level. The bulk of the program is the direct systematic instruction of the complete phonetic code and all necessary subskills for proficient reading. This direct systematic phonics instruction should begin at the kindergarten level (around 5 years old). The lessons start with the simple basic sounds and emphasize blending, tracking and phonemic awareness skills. The systematic presentation allows the child time to learn, master and practice skills. As the child’s skills develop additional sounds and complexities are added. Writing words/spelling is a part of the program. The later lessons include skills in reading multisyllable words that benefit many 2nd and 3rd graders. I usually do not teach the multisyllable section (Section 6 page270-307) to 5 & 6 year olds and instead wait to do these sections at 2nd grade and higher levels. A helpful section on spelling is included at the end.
The key for reading success is not instruction at a very early age but rather effective instruction so the child develops correct phonologic processing pathways. While you do not need to start your preschooler on a structured reading program, you should be working to develop phonemic awareness skills. See the article Phonemic Awareness Explained and the FAQ on Phonemic Awareness for additional information on how you can help your preschooler develop phonemic awareness.
In conclusion, it is not necessarily early reading instruction but rather effective targeted instruction that specifically develops correct phonologic processing pathways that lead children to reading success. See Why Parents & Teachers Should Use Direct Systematic Phonics and How Reading Works for additional information.
With the Right Track Reading Lessons program most children can be taught to read in a relatively short period of time. If the parent/instructor commits to 30 minute sessions 4 times/week, most children can complete the direct systematic phonics program within 3 to 6 months. Obviously the more time you spend with your child the faster they will progress through the program. Also, as can be expected, time requirements to complete the program vary with age of the child and individual differences. For example, it will take longer to teach a 5-year old who does not know any letters, is still mastering fine motor skills of writing, and has limited literacy background to complete the program than an 8-year old who has a strong literacy background, knows all his letters, is already writing and just needs to learn to read. Younger children may take 6 to 8 months to complete the program while older children may finish the complete program within 2 to 4 months. The direct instruction and systematic format increases not only the effectiveness but also the efficiency of instruction. It doesn’t take much time to make a big difference in your child’s reading ability.
Ideally, instruct younger children (5-6 years old) 20-30 minutes a day at least 4 times a week. Older children 2nd/3rd grade benefit from longer 30-45 minute sessions 4 times/week. Start with these time suggestions and then modify depending on your child. Consistency is important, especially in the beginning stages. If you proceed at a slower pace be sure and include daily practice of sounds and reading skills in some other way.
If you are teaching an older student in a remediation situation, it is best to teach longer sessions condensed into a shorter time period (For example 1 hour sessions 4 or 5 times a week). Not only do these older students have the maturity to benefit from longer sessions but their advanced skills and background knowledge allow then to rapidly progress through the program. An intensive program allows the student to quickly see results. A rapid improvement in reading ability that is most noticeable under an intensive program has incredible motivational and self-esteem benefits. Most remedial readers will rapidly progress through the program. In addition, with older students, you need to quickly get through the teaching ‘how to read’ instruction and advance to higher level skills. You need to rapidly advance their skills. While individuals vary, the author has found most older students she has tutored (4th-9th grade) needed approximately 20 to 30 hours of direct systematic phonics instruction. Ideally, it is best to condense this instruction into 1 hour sessions 4 or 5 times a week for 4 to 6 weeks.
These time estimates given are for completing the Right Track Reading Lessons program or Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons program and developing the foundation of proficient phonologic processing. Of course, this is not the end of reading instruction. You still need to work with your student to develop higher level advanced skills and the student must continue reading to build fluency. The direct systematic phonics program should be followed up with a daily time spent in guided reading to help the student advance to skilled reading.