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learning to read with living books

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The story of how I learned that living books and teaching my son to read using the methods of Charlotte Mason would help him to excel in reading.

Free printable list below of these favorite first living books!

My son was hitting a wall with learning to read.  And as a former kindergarten teacher I really thought I had it all figured out.  After all, I own (or have read through) just about every phonics series known to man.

He knows his sounds and can diligently sound out anything, but he was just stuck STUCK on the little twaddle phonics books that I had him reading.

They were mindless – mind-numbing – and he HATED to read.  Oh I loved that time with him, but it was splitting teeth with him and I did not want him to begin to hate reading.  We worked on just 10 minutes a day and the monotony of the phonics readers (nonsense stories, essentially) were just so tedious.  He was somewhat improving, but again, it was a brick wall.

As I was listening to the A Delectable Education podcast on reading instruction, I wanted to, truly wanted to, ignore their explanations for why living books are important from day one, even in teaching a child to read.  Because, after all, I have done SO much work on expressly teaching phonics.  But God used this message to grow me in my own teaching and learning!

We are forever students and our children deserve the best of us!!  It struck me that children must be excited to read the story (a living and valuable story, not a nonsense story) and be set up for success.  The Treadwell Primer exceeded our expectations.  He began reading fluently and his interest in reading has soared.   He was truly captivated by the pictures and the classic stories and in his confidence as he was reading these fun and familiar stories on his own!

I believe his success has come from all our previous work on phonemes and I certainly still believe that children need to learn phonics.  Absolutely.  I am teaching my daughter her sounds now.  We use our First Phonics Readers that I offer free here on the blog.  I evaluated 10 of the top phonics reader sets out there today to help mothers and educators alike.  I will teach my daughter, just as I did my son from the start, the letters m, s, a, t and the word “I” to start.

I am



I am Sam.

But as we progress with her sounds and I teach her that each sound/letter/phoneme can accompany another to make words, I will absolutely be introducing the primers in the Dick & Jane series (more details below) to start, followed by the First Steps Pathway Reader and our beloved Treadwell Primer.

The Process

Our daily reading is quite simple, really.  We read for 10 minutes only, but I want him to focus that whole time.  I also want him to hold the book and point underneath the words with his own pointer finger — this is a work in progress.  As we read, when we come to a word he doesn’t know, I will write it in his Learning Notebook.  (Shown below with our Treadwell Primer.)

This has been an excellent time to gently talk about “magic e” and how vowels get to say their sounds!  As well as learning syllables and other vowel digraphs.

Before each reading, we open the Notebook back up and I review a couple of the words I think he should be able to read out of the context of the story.  This lovely reader has about 10 familiar stories and he is just so happy and proud of himself!

Living books we recommend and love:

The Primer from Treadwell and Free:  I cannot recommend this more highly.  My son is now reading things outside the world of books (signs, food labels, etc) all because of this great book.  He has gained so much incredible confidence!

First Steps from Pathway Reader: I love this sweet reader.  It encourages listening to your parents, as it moves through peaceful and playful days with a family of four children.  The repetitive text is not stifling, but reads in a rhythmic way for the child.  Some of the stories begin with a paragraph of reading for the adult which is lovely to have more background about this sweet family.  Pathway Readers go up through elementary and we will certainly be using more of them.

Other living books we will enjoy, in this order, include:

The Usborne First Reading Library, while not having stood the test of time (the other readers still live from decades ago), is a set of 15 lovely leveled readers with enjoyable storylines and pictures.  They also have a unique dual reader aspect that is particular to this series.  I show each book in more detail in this video.  My son has excelled with these little books and loves the sweet stories.

We Learn About God from Rod & Staff (Grade 1 Reading Units 1-5): A homeschooling friend gave me these books after she was no longer using them.  I love them!  Each lesson introduces 1-2 new words as it shares God’s truths.  Absolutely lovely.

Dick and Jane Readers: There are so many of these lovely, classic, old-time readers out there.  It was difficult to know the correct order that these books should be read in.  After some research, I discovered that the yellow or blue Dick and Jane Treasuries are a Pre-Reader, so they could be read first.  They all have a small number of sight words repeated over and over.  A beautiful living book with lovely illustrations.  And the following is a Dick & Jane Readers Set that includes 12 primers:  Away We Go, Go, Go Go, Jump and Run, Something Funny, We Look, We Play, Who Can Help, We See, We Work, Fun with Dick and Jane, Go Away Spot, Guess Who

Dick & Jane Books that would be considered above Primer level and more likely a First Reader: We Play OutsideFun Wherever We AreFun with Our Family, We Play and Pretend

Days Go By and More Days Go By from Pathway Reader (These are also found at Simply Charlotte Mason.)

The Elson Readers: Primer and Book One.  The Primer in this lovely living edition is a bit more difficult than Treadwell’s Primer, so I would hold off on reading it until your child is comfortable with smaller font and many more sight words.

First Reader from Treadwell and Free.  Smaller text and many more stories in this one.  Very excited to read this with my son, but most likely will not be at this level for another 6 months to a year.  We will stick to the Treadwell Primer and the Pathway Readers until my son’s confidence grows leaps and bounds.

And some living, beautiful story books to start reading include: 

There are many more living books that you may already have in your home, or could certainly find in your library.  Here are some additional titles.

I also purchased a couple very old readers from some fellow Charlotte Mason homeschool moms on Facebook.  Love this resource and that I can buy books at a lower price than where you’d find elsewhere.  One of the awesome readers is called “At the Farm” and I can’t wait to read it very soon with my son!  I highly recommend joining some of these groups, if you are so inclined, or looking into library sales for first readers or just living books in general to increase your home library!

Oh I do hope my story and this book list will be an encouragement to you and your readers.  Above all, when picking up a book, ask yourself if your child is truly progressing in a lifelong love of reading.  Absolutely phonics have a place (each day we write 3-6 phonics words and sound out patterned word lists or sentences), but the bulk of our reading should spring confidence and a joy of reading!  Blessings to you and yours!

Download the free printable list here!

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  1. Did you also use the pathway readers workbooks and teaching guides? Trying to decide if I should get the package or just the readers. Thanks :)

    1. I did get the workbooks, but I didn’t love them. I only recommend the readers :)

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