View Full Version : Whole language reading?

Beth in Ohio
07-23-2009, 11:21 AM
Just curious if anyone is considering or has decided to forgo phonics in favor of a whole language approach to reading?

I never learned phonics even though it was taught in my public school in the early 1980s. I learned to read somewhere around 3 years old using the Dick & Jane books that my grandma had. By the time I entered school, I was already reading several grades above level, and got to go to an older class for reading/phonics time.

I really don't think that not understanding phonics has hindered me, except it could possibly relate to why I struggled with learning a foreign language in high school. Although, I would be more willing to bet that it was just the way foreign language is presented to high schoolers....all book work and very little speaking. Not a natural way to learn a language at all!

My daughter really wants to learn to read and I've promised to start teaching her this fall. When looking at all the phonics type reading programs, I got really stressed out. I don't understand the phonetic rules, and they seem very complicated to me. I'm not sure how I can possibly teach them when I don't get it myself. (I'm worried about the same thing with high school chemistry & calculus too, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.)

So I'm just wondering if there's anyone else out there who's considering not doing phonics? It doesn't seem to be a really popular route, but that's one of the beauties of homeschooling...doing what works for each family.

07-23-2009, 12:06 PM
Many whole language experts balk at being considered the flip side of phonics. We use phonics, but recognize the benefit of focusing on "meaning and strategy instruction" as well.

You can read a brief description on whole language here:

I read in a book once that whole language was developed for deaf students and that hearing students were never intended to use whole language methods, but I don't think that's true after all. Not when I look at information on the origins of whole language.

When I was teaching in ps, it was fascinating to hear the K and 1st teachers discussing whole language, phonics and invented spelling. It's funny how the pendulum swings back and forth in the area of learning to read, write and spell.

And yes - it's homeschooling great? It's flexible and family first.

I certainly may be wrong, but more and more I'm feeling like I didn't "teach" my kids to read. I read to them all the time, I ran my finger along the words as I read, we talked about letters, sounds, word origins and played letter/word games, they dictated stories to me, asked me how to make an H or spell house, on and on and on. We used Alphaphonics, 100 Easy Lessons, Reading Made Easy, Bob books, phonics workbooks, etc.

Never did one method emerge to "teach" my children to read. It was more exposure and discussion than "teaching". I couldn't force the "light" to go on in their head at a certain age. It just went on when it went on as we explored language daily. The range so far in their learning to read at a basic level fluently has been 4.5 - almost 7. My youngest is 4.5 and in the middle of the process, he can "read" maybe 10 words (family names, yes, no, stop, play), but no way could he read a Bob book yet.

I have always said that I wouldn't worry about my kids' reading unless they were double digits and still having troubles. That was just to take the pressure and worry off myself. So far, they have all read before their double digits and for that I'm grateful. I know there are kids that don't have fairly smooth sailing and have other issues going on so I always respect a mother's gut or intuition in general after they've talked to their friends and done reading on the subject.

Sorry for rambling... you can tell I've been thinking about this lately.

07-23-2009, 12:49 PM
I'm a hard core believer in phonics instruction but I have a kid who taught himself to read by memorizing words. :eyes: :lol: He has a photographic memory and all you have to do is tell him what word it is one time and he's got it. He was reading on at least a late first/ early second grade level at the age of 4yo but he had simply memorized 100's and 100's of words. He could not sound them out if he tried. Great for reading, not so great for spelling which to me are too subjects that are very closely connected. It all finally caught up with him when he was about 8.5yo and by that time his mind was mature enough to pick up the phonics he needed quickly and easily.

Would I intentionally teach a child by whole language? No. But does that mean you shouldn't? Definitely not. There is more than one way to teach reading and as long as that method is working for your child, I wouldn't worry too much about how others are doing it. ;)

Just as a side note, there are many phonetic reading programs out there that take you one baby step at a time. You don't need to have a through understanding of phonics yourself to teach it. ;) Some even do a little of both, whole language and phonics.

Alice R
07-23-2009, 01:22 PM
Teaching your first child to read is overwhelming. :eek: It looks really complicated and I really have no idea how I learned to read. :lol:

Pick an approach and try that out. Don't try to understand it too much. :lol: Just trust that the author has taught thousands of kids to read...just follow the leader. If that program totally doesn't work, then try a different approach.

Children are just wired to learn how to read. Don't overthink it or you will go absolutely nuts. :crazy:


Kendall in GA
07-24-2009, 07:35 AM
When looking at all the phonics type reading programs, I got really stressed out. I don't understand the phonetic rules, and they seem very complicated to me. I'm not sure how I can possibly teach them when I don't get it myself.

I wouldn't let this be the sole reason not to teach phonics.

You'd be fine given that you are able to read. All of the phonics programs I've ever seen have very clear directions and are scripted, i.e. you just have to read what is printed...Fear not! :happyno:

07-24-2009, 12:36 PM
I always debated this too. All my kids can read now so I can quit debating!!! I used a combination of phonics and sight words. The sight words gave them a nice jump start to reading. The phonics sort of helped...I guess...although I taught it over and over and they remember very little of it to this day. My last child taught herself to read, so she had very phonics. She spells better than the older 2 that had phonics over and over.

I don't know what's "right," but I think there is no 1 right way to teach a child to read. Use what gets them reading.

Just my 2 cents.

07-24-2009, 04:02 PM
There is definitely not "one right way" to do this. I personally detest phonics books, manuals, workbooks, and readers. I hate them so much that I wouldn't use them at all -- I'd resort to almost anything else before I'd give in. :D I use Bob books -- that's my "formal" way of teaching sounding out words. I never learned the rules of phonics and they bore me to tears.

I don't really know much about the phonics vs. whole language debate. I guess I didn't use any "formal" approach at all. I just teach in the way that makes sense to me and works for the child.

I've had one child who taught himself to read (wouldn't let me help at all) right as he turned 5. The next child accepted some help, and read fluently by 5.5, mostly on her own. My third child has given me a run for my money. :) He doesn't like reading at all, so it's been a much longer road, with much more teacher involvement. I started with Bob books, moved on to McGuffey readers and easy readers from the library (but not the phonics readers, which are so false and boring to me). We started this almost two years ago, and he's reading now, but he's still not the type to just pick up a book and read. I have to require him to read a certain number of minutes a day. But he's reading, at least. :clap:

All this to just say, no, you don't have to use a phonics program or phonics readers. Many people do with great success. But if your stomach just churns at the thought of it, it's okay. You're in good (but very small) company. :D

shonda in ca
07-24-2009, 04:55 PM
All this to just say, no, you don't have to use a phonics program or phonics readers. You're in good (but very small) company. :D


I don't use a formal program, either. I teach my kids letter sounds and rimes (word families). We start with Bob books, and do shared reading. My kids start reading fluesntly (Magic Tree House books) at age 8. A little later than some, but I'm good with it. They all start reading The Lord of the Rings about a year after that. :lol:

I do use Phonics Pathway for spelling rules, but not reading.

07-24-2009, 05:03 PM
If you know how to spell, I disagree that you never learned any phonics. ;)

I use a combination of phonics and sight words to help my kids learn to read. FWIW, I didn't really teach my older daughter to read. She essentially taught herself when she was 4. My 3-year-old has started reading Bob books, so I need to start working with her more now too.

Jenny in GA
07-26-2009, 04:00 PM
When I got my M. Ed, we spent a lot of time talking about Whole Language vs. Phonics.

What I found interesting was that, in all those classes and discussions, I still didn't feel like I truly knew what "whole language" really actually was. For example, if someone had brought me a five year old child and said, "Please teach him to read using this Whole Language method you guys all keep talking about," I wouldn't have known what, exactly, to go about doing -- other than reading "good books" out loud to said child.

Here's a post I wrote (http://beanmommyandthethreebeans.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-johnny-cant-read.html)about a book I found I found really fascinating -- Why Johnny Can't Read.

Years later, this book finally answered the question that I had never really got answered in graduate school -- What exactly is the whole language approach, and what does it actually look like in practice?

One thing I have learned personally is that phonics is not as "dry and boring" as I used to think. Yes, "the fat cat sat on the mat" is not quality literature, but to a child just learning to crack the code, it can be very exciting.