Once children have begun to read, the natural inclination is to get a reading program with readers and workbooks. However, this is a place where focusing on your goals can save you time, money, and effort, and possibly produce better results with your children. Here are four things to think about before deciding what to do next:
1.) If one of your goals is to improve decoding proficiency—which means being able to figure out how to say or read words—just about any reading material that is not too difficult can be used as fodder for practice. Those early reading books by Dr. Seuss and others can be much more fun than readers while providing essentially the same type decoding practice.
2.) Other goals should have to do with children understanding what they are reading. You begin at lower levels of thinking, asking children to narrate back simple data or events from what they have read. As they progress, you move on to more challenging levels of thinking. Children begin to interpret what they read, draw parallels to their own experience, or make connections to other things they know. Later, they begin to compare and contrast, analyze, and otherwise focus more on the content than on the mechanics of reading. Reading programs can help with this, but simply applying Charlotte Mason’s narration techniques with real books can accomplish the same thing.
3.) Readers and workbooks were created to help teachers with classroom management rather than because they are the best way for children to develop reading skills. With groups of children, it is much easier to manage them if everyone is reading the same book and completing the same workbook pages. However, in our homeschools, our children are generally all at different levels with reading, so we are not trying to keep all our children on the same page at the same time. In fact, I wish you luck if you even try to do such a thing!
4.) A reading program might help you stay on track and focus on some of the necessary skills if you are working with a child individually. A program might be more useful for the parent than for the child! But the downside is that your child has to read someone else’s collected anthology of readings, many of which might have little appeal for your child. Your child also has to work through the exercises created to go with that particular anthology whether or not those exercises really target skills your child needs at the time.
All of this doesn’t mean that reading programs are necessarily bad. But I have found that selecting real books for my children to read and using supplemental resources to focus on particular skills has been far more fun and effective for all concerned. There are many supplemental resources for reading that are useful, so you have to choose those that best target skills your child needs to work on. Some are reviewed here, but you can easily find them at teacher supply stores, in catalogs, and online. Some will be broad in their skills coverage, while others focus narrowly on comprehension, work with analogies, or review other aspects of reading skills.
Since I highly recommend that children read real books as much as possible, following are some of the resources I particularly recommend to support that approach.