How long does it take to learn to read? Judging by the age at which many folks start teaching reading skills, they must think it takes 3-4 years. I would argue that it takes much, much less time than that. It takes about thirty hours. That’s right, only one hour a week for less than one school year, or about 10-15 minutes a day for just over 6 months. Sounds pretty painless, right?
In John Holt’s book, Learning All the Time, he mentions teachers proving this with poor, illiterate adults. Holt argues that reading is not hard to learn IF it is a stress-free environment and there is a loving, supportive adult around. The child’s developmental age must also be considered. Many children will take longer than how long it usually takes to learn to read if they feel stressed. It is vitally important to wait until the child indicates that he is ready for reading. Preschoolers do not need to learn to read. What we need to teach preschoolers does not involve academic skills at all, but sensory-based learning. Right now, though, let’s assume the child begs to learn to read. How long does it take him to learn to read?
Testing how long it takes to learn to read
This figure sounded so ridiculous to me that I set out to prove whether it was true or not. I calculated how long it would take to teach a child to read using one of two reading programs. Now, there are many, many other fine reading programs out there. I have used Learning Language Arts Through Literature from Common Sense Press for all four of my children. For my sons, I supplemented with other programs because of their reading disabilities, but the LLATL formed the core. I did not include it below because their program is not strictly reading. I only wanted to measure how long it takes to learn to read, not learn other language skills. Onward to the analysis!
First, I looked at Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann.
When I started homeschooling, many moms used this simple method to teach their children to read. And, their children did learn to read and read well. The book claims that, if you use take twenty minutes for each lesson, by the end of the book, your child will be reading at a solid second grade level. I looked at the book and the number of lessons. Using some simple math, 1/3 of an hour multiplied by 100 lessons= about 30 hours of instruction.
The next program I looked at was Delightful Reading by Lanaya Gore.
This is a Charlotte Mason based reading program. (They divided this program into three levels since I used it. It seems to me they added more manipulatives and resources that moms used to have to create themselves.) There are forty-six lessons and they recommend spending only ten to fifteen minutes a day doing a lesson, spreading it over multiple days if needed. If each lesson is spread over three days at ten minutes a day, it would take 28 hours to finish the program. Again, upon finishing the program, your child would be reading fluently at a solid second grade level. (I used this with my younger son and my assessment included the current levels 2 and 3 without all the games and cards).
Other reading programs
Most other reading programs for children age 5-6 years recommend 15-20 minutes of instruction each week day. With a 36-week school year, that comes out to about 45-50 hours of instruction. Tutors recommended 2 hours of intensive reading instruction each week after they assessed my sons for reading disabilities. (Which we did not do, by the way. But, their reading skills still improved!) In addition to the two programs described above, we have tried Ooka Island Reading Adventure, Rocket Phonics, and Reading Assistant.
All of these programs make promises of teaching (or improving) reading in short periods of time. Rocket Phonics promises that your child will read at a 5th grade level in 2 years or less. Their unique method does make it easier for a dyslexic child to learn to read. My older son made some big gains with this program. And, we used it for about one year.
Ooka Island boasts 80 hours of learning adventures that they promise bring a non-reading child to a 2nd grade reading level. (My son disliked this program because the pace frustrated him. He also already knew some sight words and it upset him that they taught him the “wrong” way to read “the.”) Generally, I don’t particularly like online reading programs because they are harder to personalize. I thought we’d try it just to see, but in the end, we cancelled the subscription after two months. It might be good for a small child who needs lots of repetition, but for a child aged 5-7 years, it progresses much too slowly, in my opinion.
Some important caveats
In answering the question of how long does it take to learn to read, we need to consider some important caveats. Note in my descriptions above that I used the programs with children older than age 5. While it’s true that some 4-year-olds are ready to read, most aren’t. Please do not take this information and apply it to your 4-year- old. It probably won’t work. Here are some things that are necessary if your child is going to successfully learn to read in 30 hours or less.
- A stress-free environment. I once saw a parent quizzing their 4-year-old daughter in a grocery store. She asked her father what some of the signs said and his reply was, “Read them! What does it say?” This is not the way to help your child learn to read. It must be relaxed, fun, and child-driven to some extent.
- Lots of print in the house. Notice I did not say picture books. If reading is important, then children need to see that it is important. Be sure to have lots of books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading material in your home and be sure they see you using it. Picture books are in there, too, but balance them with read-alouds.
- Wait until the right age. As I mentioned above, some little kids learn to read, but most won’t be ready until they are closer to age 6. Unless they are begging to learn, don’t push too soon. The longer you wait, the more ready they’ll be.
- Read to them often. This goes without saying. Help them fall in love with stories that they will want to read for themselves. Creating a desire is essential.
Teaching my children to read was one of the most rewarding experiences in my homeschooling journey. But, most of them didn’t read at five years old. The more I pushed, the less interested they became and the more my late readers avoided reading altogether. Don’t make that mistake. It really does take only 30 hours. Just be mindful that 30 hours may be spread out over an entire year (or more!). Children sometimes learn in little spurts. Respect that.