Reading is easy, right? You read every day, for most of the day, whether you’re reading emails at work, text messages from family members, street signs on your commute or just this article. However, while reading may come naturally to you, teaching someone else the science of reading is a whole different ball game—especially when that someone else is under the age of six.
If you have a preschool or kindergarten-age child (or even younger), you’ve likely already started introducing them to reading concepts. You probably taught them their ABCs as toddlers and read to them frequently from birth. But teaching a child to string a few letters from a song into actual words and then how to recognize those words and what they mean on sight can be very challenging.
There are many different resources for parents trying to teach their kids to read, but some are better than others. Likewise, some books are better for beginning readers than others, and they might not be the children’s books you already have on your nursery shelf. For many parents, decodable readers are the way to go.
Here’s everything you need to know about decodable readers, how to use them, where to buy them and which to buy.
5 Decodable Readers
What are Decodable Readers?
If you’ve never heard of the concept before, decodable readers are essentially just children’s books that feature text that’s “decodable.” This means the so-called decodable words are easy to sound out based on your child’s established phonetic knowledge. If they can recognize letters and then make the sounds of each letter, then they should, logically, be able to read any decodable book, as these books are specially written to not include words that are going to be challenging to read for someone unfamiliar with, for example, the way a “c” changes its pronunciation between “carrot” and “city.”
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that every children’s book is a decodable reader. While all children’s books may look the same to you— with similar short stories, themes, short sentences, repetition and short words—they can be very different. For example, many children’s books rely more on repetition than phonics, so your child remembers individual words and their meanings versus how words fit together. While this is helpful, it will not help your child navigate new, unfamiliar words on their own.
Are Decodable Books Right for My Child?
Many children benefit from using decodable readers, but it’s important to realize that, for your child to use decodable books properly, they need those base-level phonics skills. For example, they should be able to sound out each letter’s primary sound and string together words accordingly.
If they can do this, they’ll likely greatly enjoy reading decodable passages. They’ll find that they can read the books independently, without mom or dad, which fosters that independence and instills a sense of pride and accomplishment. As they learn that they can read decodable books on their own, they may be further inspired to push their reading skills and read more often.
Is my child too old for decodable readers?
If you have an older, elementary-age struggling reader, it is possible to find longer, chapter book-style decodable readers more suitable for this age group than a traditional phonics program. These readers still accomplish the same goal, but in a way that’s more palatable for older kids and capable of keeping their interest.
The Benefits of Decodable Phonics Books
There are many reasons you might want to use decodable books in your home, beyond just teaching your child to sound out words in a story or helping them become more independent learners.
According to the nonprofit organization Teach My Kid to Read, research has shown other reading and writing-related benefits from decodable reading programs. For example:
- Decodable reading is the only proven way for children with dyslexia to learn to read.
- Decodable reading is often preferred for emergent readers in small groups with learning and accessibility differences.
- Decodable reading helps improve not just basic reading skills but overall comprehension skills as well.
How to Pick the Best Decodable Readers
Just like not all children’s books are the same, not all decodable readers are the same. Some focus a lot on phonics, which, while educational, doesn’t always make for an enjoyable reading experience for your child. You should ensure that the decodable readers you pick for them blend entertainment with education.
Overall, when shopping for decodable readers, look for books that are:
- Suitable for your child’s reading level
- Entertaining, with an engaging storyline
- Not too picture-heavy (which can be distracting, especially for new readers)
- In line with your child’s other reading interests
If your young reader loves their current books about trains, go for something similar that’s a decodable reader.
You can buy decodable readers in sets, which may be the easiest option for many parents, but you can also find decodable readers at any library or bookstore. Unfortunately, many aren’t even advertised as decodable readers, but if you flip through their pages, you’ll find they’re exactly that, thanks to the author’s careful word choices.
So, ready to get shopping? Here are five decodable readers that your child is sure to love.
Whole Phonics offers decodable reader sets divided into five leveled readers of phonics instruction. Each book focuses on different sounds and letters. In addition, each book is outfitted with a quick parental guide that shows you the various sounds your child needs to know to read each book, as well as the sight words your child should know for each book (sight words include basic, high-frequency words that your child won’t be able to sound out easily, but that they need to go for any story, such as “the” or “is”). The guide also includes reading comprehension questions. Each set contains 15 books.
Flyleaf Publishing likewise offers sets of decodable books, with sets available for pre-K learners and up to third grade. The pre-K set includes 41 books, and you can also buy teacher’s guides if desired. While these sets are a little more technical and not as parent-friendly, if you’re looking for the most variety in terms of reading content for your early reader, Flyleaf has you covered. These books are well-suited for children with a high starting level of phonemic awareness.
If you’re looking for some chapter books for an older reader who needs to work on their reading skills, or if you only want to buy a few one-off phonics readers without investing in an entire set, Simple Words has you covered. The brand publishes decodable chapter books that, while not necessarily all that professional-looking in terms of illustrations and cover art, are affordable and often come with a comprehension workbook too. Many of the chapter books are about 10,000 words long.
4. Bob Books
For a complete learn-to-read set that can be shipped with the rest of your Amazon order, look to a favorite brand of readers known as Bob Books. You can get the entire set with one purchase, so your child can use it from the start of their reading journey to the end. The books are also relatively compact, and they travel well. So, if you’re looking for a reader you can throw in your bag and take along on errands or car rides, Bob Books is the choice.
Want something a little more tech-savvy for your young reader? Guided Readers is a good pick.
Intended for children from kindergarten to third grade, the system provides tons of support and guidance for parents who feel a little in their heads with this reading thing. Just set up an online account for your child and give them access to the safe and easy-to-use Guided Readers reading instruction platform, where they can then read, listen to books being read, record themselves making letter sounds and reading, take quizzes and enjoy phonics-related activities, all on the app.
How to Help Your Child with Their Decodable Reader
So you’ve purchased one or more of the above decodable readers or book sets for your child, but you notice that they’re not able to make their way through any of the books on their own. That’s okay. Your child might need a little extra help at first, especially if they’re relatively new to reading independently. You can help ease your child into the reading process in a few ways.
Practice reading together.
Practicing reading some of the decodable books together is one great way to ease your child into this new, unfamiliar territory. Rather than just reading the books to your child as quickly as possible, read with them, sounding out the words and encouraging them to do most of the reading on their own. Help them as they go along (with lots of patience!).
Practice more challenging words.
There are some words your child might come across that will be tough for them. That’s okay. The English language isn’t always friendly to those learning to read based on phonics alone. If you notice there are words that your child trips over or gets stuck on often, practice recognizing them on sight together, without necessarily laboring over the sounds.
Check out the text ahead of time.
The easiest way for you to help your child while balancing everything else you have to do as a busy parent? Just know the text ahead of time. That way, if you’re cooking dinner or running between multiple kids, and the one who’s reading is shouting questions from the dining room table, you can likely answer them without dropping everything you’re doing to help them sound out a word.
Yes, it’s probably not as engaging as your nightly novel reading, but checking out your child’s decoder readers before they get their hands on them can make things far more manageable later.
Always do a check-in afterward.
It’s one thing for your child to be able to sound out words in a book successfully. It’s another thing for them to be able to comprehend what they read. So after they finish a decodable book, always check in and ask them what they liked or didn’t like about the story to ensure they understood what they read. Reading comprehension is an invaluable skill they’ll need later in their education.
Talk to your teacher.
If you’re still having trouble working on decodable text with your child at home, consider talking to your child’s teacher if they’ve entered preschool or kindergarten. They may be able to provide more tips or advice and tell you if they’ve noticed any other educational roadblocks that your child may be navigating.
If you homeschool or if your child hasn’t entered school yet, you may be able to ask your local children’s librarian for advice or tips on using decodable readers.
Decodable Reader Alternatives
There are, of course, other books that your child might read or use to learn to read.
As mentioned, repetitive texts are popular for children, as they’re predictable and easily teach children to memorize words, even if they’re not sounding them out or always thoroughly comprehending them. As a result, many children’s books intended for parents to read to their children feature repetitive text.
Authentic texts use natural language without any real concern for an educational component. While these become a part of any child’s reading habits eventually, they’re not always ideal for use in those critical learning periods.
Leveled books, meanwhile, often come in sets that are graded according to how easy or difficult they are for beginning readers to enjoy. You can find decodable books in leveled sets and other books written in various styles. The idea overall is that the books — regardless of writing style — increase in difficulty as you make your way through the series, in terms of word type, word length, sentence length and more.
Instill a Lifelong Love of Reading
Yes, teaching your child to read is difficult, but seeing them go from stumbling over sounding out words to whizzing through entire book series is incredibly rewarding. Help them get from decodable readers to building their favorite book collection faster, with one of the decodable text resources above.
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Five Decodable Readers