Children Learned to Read Before There Was Curriculum - Sarah Mae
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Children Learned to Read Before There Was Curriculum


So, I had an epiphany.

I was probably in the bathroom when this epiphany occurred because, let’s be honest, that’s where most good thoughts occur.

It was this:

Children learned to read before there was ever curriculum. 


I do not need curriculum to teach my child to read. I need to just CHILL OUT, pull my son up on my lap, and read with him, teaching him through simple books and sounding out letters.

{And she sang…}

FREEDOM {picture me dancing here friends, dancing}

For real though. Sigh of relief.

I felt I needed to share that little nugget of joy with you today. Perhaps it will help you (mainly homeschooling mamas) to be a bit less neurotic and a bit more… released.

Keep on!

Love, Sarah Mae


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  • Lee Ann Kaplan

    My 4.5 yr old son read me two books the other day. He only needed help with a few sight words! The longest word he read was ‘friends’. I wanted to cry he’s getting so big!

  • Sarah Lee

    love the lightbulb moments. especially this one.

  • Guest

    My 6th child is learning to read. No curriculum, ever. What you say is true, lady. And there is freedom…

  • Guest

    )Sorry–wrong profile) My 6th child is learning to read. No curriculum, ever. What you say is true, lady. And there is freedom…

  • Kelly Liverett Crawford

    (Sorry–profile thing) My 6th child is learning to read. No curriculum, ever. What you say is true, lady. And there is freedom…

    • Margaret Ham

      how did you do it though? did you have a guide as to what books to start with? how much reading did you do each day? I have 4 boys, 11, 5, 4, and 1…my 11 hates to read and has never gotten it well, he is getting there though…my 5 year old knows letter sounds, but with a crazy fall and medical diagnosis, he has not gotten much school and I feel awful about that…my 4 year old is in preschool and my 1 year old, he is into everything…I don’t read as much as I would like to with them, but I tend to be an all or nothing person, and like guidelines (which is why I like curriculum) but just reading sounds more fun, but again, back to guidelines and lists and rules…thanks…

  • Kelly Liverett Crawford

    Oh phooey, you’d think I’m new to blogging or something 😉 Maybe new to commenting? Will you fix my mess?

  • alison_1

    my son started reading at 3 1/2 and now at 4 can read pretty much everything. people keep asking me how I did it… I had nothing to do with it!! I mean, yes, as you said, we read books over here all the time. We would do the letter sounds on, and in general, he has always been interested in letters and words. But he really taught himself to read, I think through exposure. I’m thinking you are right that you don’t need curriculum… He does get confused about confusing words (like “through”) but I think thats normal for anyone learning to read. If he were older I might try to teach him some of those phonics rules…

    • Christy Yoder

      My child did the same thing… teaching himself to read proficiently at age 5 though. He just turned 6 and has progressed rapidly over the last year and can read just about anything now. We also used Starfall when he was younger but not as a curriculum, just as a fun game on the computer. Is reading like learning to crawl or walk? Every child will do it eventually given enough exposure to the written word. Some may be 3-1/2…some may be 10 or older.

  • Kela

    I’ve thought about this before! I have 2 “reading curriculum” and have shelved them both! We simple read. Its usually difficult for me to follow methods anyway! haha!

    • Margaret Ham

      how old are your kids…I just don’t know all the rules to not feel the need for a curriculum…I am too much of a rule follower too…the idea of no guidance makes me nervous that I will fail my kids…but also, the thought of just reading books together, sounds a lot more fun, but how much and which books do I start with…how do I know which ones are the right ones…

  • Karen

    Thank you for the reminder! I am homeschooling for the first time and am totally stressing at my daughter’s handwriting in K. They push kids so much in school now and I feel like I need to keep up just in case my daughter ever needs to attend school….sigh I have been using the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and am loving it.

  • Jeanine

    My 7 year old is moving slowly, but he is moving. I realized I have to back off and just let him taking those daily baby steps. He may not be fluent when his peers are, but he will be fluent when his little brain is ready. I’m so thankful that I didn’t have to put him in school. He would have been labeled from day 1 and ended up hating reading like his older brother, who I’m still trying to dig out of that hole.

    • Kela

      This is where I am with my 8 y/o son! This past Summer, just as we were entering into our new school year, he declared, “This year, I’m going to learn to read and read well!”
      He, on his own timetable, is ready! The progress has been beautiful! It’s clicking and sticking! 🙂

  • Beth Williams

    While I don’t have any children, I feel you can teach your children anything without a stupid curriculum. I don’t believe in curriculum that much. Children are being taught too much to soon and now they want to teach sex education in elementary school, which I feel is totally wrong. That should be taught by the parents.
    I’m for homeschooling and all the wonderful moms and dads who do this. I believe that you people do a great job and the children turn out just fine!

  • Martha

    Thank you for this! Children also learn math without curriculum. We use very little curriculum in our house. I’ve raised 7 children to adulthood, 5 more still homeschooling, and the best thing you can do is relax, enjoy your children, and let them enjoy learning without sitting for hours with worksheets and textbooks! Makes for a happier, more productive family!

    • Christy Yoder

      So glad to read this Martha!

  • Bob

    Yup! We taught our kids to read through reading the Bible with them.

  • Kit Jordan

    Oh I am so glad to see this topic. We are huge believers that children are made readers in the laps of moms and dads. We are moms and 3 former teachers who have been trying to reach homeschooling moms to show that learning to read should be fun and not a struggle but with some intentional child led srategies success and progress is achievable with fun and smiles. Check out our website and blog at and let us know what you think!!

  • KM Logan

    I was sitting with my 5 year old reading to her, and she’s already reading, but I started worrying yesterday that I should be using a more “formal” way of teaching. Glad this post came into my inbox today.

  • Christy Yoder

    I want to agree with you completely Sarah as I have a child who taught himself to read with just exposure to lots of books and to learn letter sounds. I do wonder about illiteracy though. How is it that we have adults who can’t read in this country (and all over the world)? Is it because they were not exposed to the written word at a young age? Learning disabilities (such as dyslexia)? Does that explain it all or is it necessary at some point to *teach* SOME children to read?

    • Sarah Mae

      I do think we need to teach, I just don’t think it has to be through a curriculum. 🙂

      • Christy Yoder

        Thanks for clarifying. I had a conversation on FB about your article and was happy to have a (public school) Kindergarten teacher-friend post this… “Effective teachers don’t use a curriculum either. Yes, we are provided a curriculum, but simply use it to supplement our book supply so kids have a lot of choices from which they can choose to read. I can only see a reading curriculum to be helpful for someone who might need a road map if they are very unsure about what to say or how to prompt a reader at a specific age/stage. All I need are age appropriate books and TIME reading to teach kids to read! Don’t let publishing companies convince you that you need to spend $$$ their products. Not saying ALL curriculums are a waste, but generally speaking you can get by without them.”

  • Adrienne Falkena

    My third child hated the phonics book I used for his older sisters, so we did exactly this – lots of books, explaining the sounds, and off he went. He’s now the best reader I have ever had at his age. My fourth learned the same way, and my others will all be learning this way as well. It was so much less stressful, and just fun.

  • Andrew Dean Sargent

    Our first three children learned to read mostly without curriculum at the ages of 3 (1st & 3rd) and 2 (2nd). We sat and read and pointed out letters and sounds. Our 4th was having a terrible time. We were part of a homeschool group with the K-12 program and even at 5 she was struggling. We knew she was as bright as the others but no matter what I did she just flubbed and fumbled. We asked for help. The K-12 rep came and sat with our youngest to discuss the problem. Turned out that she was bored by the lessons. We sat at night reading Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, Tuck Everlasting and the like as a family, and all the curriculum gave her was Dick and Jane stuff… and frankly, if Dick and Jane weren’t going to fight dragons or live forever or get sold out as a farm hand then what good were they. I hunted for easy readers that were real stories and she was reading The Hobbit on her own in no time.

  • Laura H.

    Awesome, thanks for the reminder to just relax and let them learn at their pace. I’m a mom who works full-time with a 3 year old in daycare. He has always been delayed (as evaluated by Early Intervention). Just when I want to relax and let him learn, I have a friend who makes me feel like I need to get stressed out again and work harder with my son. But I think I need to just let that go and focus more on teaching my son about character as Jesus has taught us. He’ll pick up the rest in time. He’s in a great daycare now with a full preschool curriculum. Advise to self: just breathe.

  • Betty

    I struggle with this. My 3 older children learned to read pretty well and early but my 4th child was 9 before she was really reading. It took me until then to realize that she has dyslexia–got her started on All About Reading and now she’s doing pretty good! I always hoped to have a child who would teach themselves to read, but God had other plans. I do have a toddler so there is still hope. The advice to relax and enjoy is awesome and fitting for every circumstance.

  • Sarah Beals

    Truth. My first learned to read at 3 while we were pointing to letters on a refrigerator chart. It gave me hope that I could homeschool, because God had given her the ability to —>learn, which didn’t depend on my teaching skills. 🙂

  • Yvonne Reynolds

    So true!! Just snuggle those little ones and read. So many wonderful children’s books out there!

  • Amy Tilson

    Absolutely!! The same with money, telling time, doing laundry and most practical skills. 🙂

  • Teish

    I had one kid that picked up reading in just a couple of months. I honestly have no idea how he learned it that quickly, so I know it didn’t have anything to do with me! My daughter took a few years for reading to click. She was my oldest, I was stressed and worried, and there were tears on both sides. I wish I’d learned to relax back then. Some kids learn early, and some won’t be proficient readers until they’re 9 or 10. But both of those are OK! 🙂 All kids are smart.

  • metzgersix

    True stuff!

  • Ginny Blankenship

    AMEN! As a homeschooler, curriculum choices can be overwhelming! My daughter is 5 and is learning to read just fine without a curriculum and we get to read what SHE is interested in – Little House on the Prairie, Bridge to Terabithia – books that would never be included in a K reading curriculum!

  • Suzanne DeLaney

    Thank you, I needed this today!

  • Catherine

    I really like the direction that you are going in your homeschool. It’s really encouraging. I’m working my way through Sally and Clay’s book right now and it’s been an amazing and timely resource. We seemed to have lost our joy in our homeschool because I was so bent on checking off all the boxes. My kids were stifled as a result. I’m taking a shaky yet exciting step toward letting God lead our homeschool now. It’s been fun to work through our big picture goals with God as our foundation. Thanks for sharing your lightbulb moments! There are a lot of lightbulbs going off around here too and it’s so… freeing!

  • Heather Harbin

    YES!! As a kindergarten teacher I really get frustrated with the trend to push these little kiddos too hard. They’ll get there – be patient and consistent, and pulling them into your lap frequently to hear you read is HUGE. And YOU get a front row seat to watch her learn it all!! 🙂

  • Krista

    I finally realized this last week! My 5 yr old picked up and book and asked to read and I said “no, honey, we haven’t gotten there yet in the curriculum”. LOL! I suddenly thought “Who said we needed the curriculum??”. What a relief!!

  • Gina Smith

    I bought curriculum to teach my, now 23 year old daughter, how to read. I looked at her one day and she was sitting at the table with her head in her hands, trying to do the lesson. That’s when it dawned on me that I needed to chill out. She was only five! I backed off and let her take her time. I needed something more for ME to have a guide to know what to do next, but it was for me. I didn’t use it as a standard for her, but as a guide for me to make sure I was teaching her all she need to learn…but at her pace.

    She is 23 and graduated from college in May.
    She reads very well! ( :

  • Sydney’s Book Club

    We agree! My daughter started reading at 3, simply because I paid attention to her love of books. Now we are encouraging other parents to do the same! “Learn & Love to Read With Me,” says Sydney of Sydney’s Book Club! check us out!

  • Sue Davies

    The POWER of reading, my opinion forget the curriculum let your kids just read anything, just
    to keep their interest, obviously age appropriate! My little one started reading (looking at
    pictures) in nursery I used to leave books in each room so he could just
    pick one up at any time. Seems to be paying off now as he really loves
    library/book store visits and gets to choose his own!

    Personally I could imagine a life without a book or two.. Sue .

  • Aprille {

    I love this. My 3 yo is starting to learn to sound out words. I haven’t used any curriculum (unless you count Leapfrog Letter Factory and Phonics Farm on Netflix). This is awesome!

  • prsmama

    I kindof don’t get this. Is this the pendulum swinging the other way? Curriculum must have been created to meet a need in the first place–I’m not sure why it’s become they’ve the bane of homeschoolers’ existence. It’s lovely to hear of homeschoolers whose children learned to read simply by reading to them, but I have a 12 year old that cannot read and our curriculum is our lifeline. I have a 10 year old with a learning disability in writing and I wouldn’t dream of trying to lay out the things she needs to learn myself. I have an 8 year old with even more severe learning disabilities in reading and writing and it doesn’t matter how much reading aloud I’ve done–and we do it every day, she will not just pick it all up by reading. I trust that there are many, many people out there who have studied the way the human brain learns, the logical progression of learning in the area of language arts, and I trust the curriculum that they create. And math? I feel competent enough to teach reading and writing (though I don’t) without a curriculum, but I am VERY poor at math. As my children work through their Math-U-See books, I find my own understanding growing by leaps and bounds, and I can clearly see the underlying plan and learning strategies–something I know I would never have come up with in a million years. I’m all for spending cozy afternoons reading books together, but I’m afraid I will continue to spend a fair bit of money on well developed curricula, chosen to enhance my children’s learning styles, that will guide me along our homeschooling path.

    • Margaret Ham

      I agree…I just can’t wrap my mind around my children being able to read or do math without a curriculum and I am a strong reader and great in math…how do I know what they are missing, and how do I know I am not failing…I don’t know if this is just because my personality likes guidelines and rules to follow or what…but I just can’t wrap my mind around how just reading a lot (and then how much and what books) will get my boys reading…though I do have to say with my 11 year old, who is a delayed reader…every reading teacher I have talked has pretty much said that just reading to them and with them a lot, will help with their reading, I still just can’t wrap my mind around it…I may try it with my 5 year old, but again, that scares me, because how do I know I am not missing something…as for math…I will stick to a curriculum, there is too much upper math that needs to be taught that would be missed without one…

      • Sarah Mae

        See my comment above 🙂

    • Sarah Mae

      I’m not against curriculum. 🙂 I’m writing to the moms who need to cut themselves some slack and do what works best for their family (it’s so easy to get neurotic as a homeschool mom!). For my family, I have discovered that I like to use bits of curriculum here and there, and definitely with math! For reading, curriculum was just more bothersome for us.

  • prsmama

    *become the bane*

  • emilysophia

    I love this epiphany! I am not a mother (hopefully I will be some day!) but I love alternative education, especially the ones that embrace this philosophy – like free schooling (unschooling) and the Montessori method. Children learn by exploring and watching and doing – not by studying and memorising and preparing for tests that won’t matter in the long run anyway.
    – EmmySofia.

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