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The Core Chapter 4: The Core of a Classical Education: Reading

The Core Chapter 4: The Core of a Classical Education: Reading
by Jennifer Courtney

I hope this article finds you enjoying some good books and some pleasant fall weather. In Part 2 of our series on Leigh’s book The Core, we will look at teaching your children to read. Leigh discusses reading instruction in depth in Chapter Four. In future articles, we will address the other core areas of knowledge:  writing, math, geography, history, science, and fine arts.

Before we delve into teaching methodologies, let’s look at three important notes on reading from The Core (p. 90). Children need to spend time with books in three ways:

  1. Being read to from books above their reading level to increase speaking vocabulary.
  2. Reading easy books below level in order to master common words.
  3. Reading books at a comfortable level to gently increase the child’s reading skills.

Read Aloud Time: A Family Treat

An important aspect of preparing children to read independently is reading aloud to them. Children can comprehend stories well above their independent reading level. Reading aloud as a family not only builds vocabulary and attention span, but it creates a love of books and a shared family culture. One of our favorite aspects of homeschooling is our read aloud time as a family.

In my home, it works well to read aloud to the children in the mornings. We cuddle up comfortably in the den with PJs and blankets and read while our breakfast is cooking. My younger children often color, build with blocks, or work puzzles while we are reading. I allow the smallest ones to wander out after 30 minutes or so. We have delighted in prairie life with the Ingalls family, we have explored the imaginary worlds of Narnia, and we have traveled the world with the Swiss Family Robinson, Phileas Fogg, and many others. (For a short list of read alouds and book lists for children, please see the resource list at the end of the article). I know these will be my favorite memories of homeschooling.

Reading Alone: Phonics Instruction at Home

If you fall into a certain age group, you may be familiar with the whole language method of teaching reading or the “look-say” method. In the 1950s, this method was adopted wholesale by the public schools as the latest, greatest method for teaching reading. Unfortunately for the students who were taught using this method, a drop in literacy and reading fluency followed. I was fortunate to live in a home in which my mother recognized this method as the cause of her slow reading speed, so she instructed me in phonics before I entered kindergarten. I credit my mom’s insistence on following this model with my literacy success.

Throughout history, children have learned to read phonetically. The phonetic method employs the classical methodology. As we have learned, grammar age students (ages 4-12) learn well through memorization and recitation. Beyond learning to speak, the first memory work our children undertake is to memorize the alphabet and then the sounds that go along with each letter.

My oldest three children (ages 11, 9, and 6) have all learned to read while sitting on my lap. We made our own flash cards for the letters and the letter combinations (sometimes referred to as phonograms). The only supplies needed are a complete list of the phonograms, a black marker, and index cards. There are now many excellent phonics resources available to homeschoolers. One complete, classical resource is the Writing Road to Reading which we now carry in our bookstore.

Reading Aloud: First Books

Once children have mastered the sounds of individual letters and their combinations, they can begin to practice reading independently. In order to read for fluency and mastery, children need to practice on very simple books, books that are below their reading and their comprehension level. In my home, I like to use old-fashioned phonics readers that practice a particular combination over and over until it becomes easy (see resources section). When you are selecting reading material for young students, make sure the text is large and simple.  

As children grow, they still need to practice their reading skills with literature below their reading level. When my own children reach age 8 or so, they encounter books in three ways daily:

  1. Read aloud with mom. For this time, I select books that are above their independent reading level. Sometimes I read to them. At other times, we listen to audio books, especially on long car trips.
  2. Read independently below age level. Because I want my children to increase their reading speed and comprehension as well as learning to love books, we pursue books of their choice at bedtime, in the car, or at their siblings’ fine arts lessons or sports practices.
  3. Read independently at age level. I choose quality literature for my children every year for them to complete on their own at a pace of a chapter a day. I use these selections to challenge their reading skills, so they have more difficult ideas and vocabulary than our read alouds or “read for pleasure” books.

Review: The Grammar of Reading

In conclusion, the classical method of teaching reading is to teach phonetically. Alongside reading instruction, be sure to cultivate a love of great stories by sharing them as a family. If you have not previously incorporated reading aloud with your children, this is the perfect season as we move into cooler weather. So, grab your hot chocolate and a great book and settle in.

Happy reading!


Recommended Resources


The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins

The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding 


Readers – for phonics practice

American Language Series by Mile-Hi Publishers (includes Fun in the Sun, Scamp and Tramp, Soft & White, At the Farm, On the Trail, and Sounds of the Sea)


Read Alouds

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys

Hunt The Book Tree by Elizabeth McCallum and Jane Scott


Courtney Family Favorites (there are way too  many to name, but here are a few)

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Any of the literature selections from Challenge A and B


To read Jennifer's other articles about The Core, click on the links below:

CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life

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