Teaching Kids to Read the OLD School Way

by Ivory Soap on 04/30/2013

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I like old stuff. A few months back I read this DREADFULLY sad book about the first American born nun, Lydia Longley, but it gave a great example of how an old school horn book lesson went. I started using it on my younger son and WOW, it is helpful.

First, what is a horn book?  Back in the day, the kids that were learning their letter and syllable sounds were supposed to practice at home, but you didn’t want to send a seven-year-old home with an expensive paper book.  It would get lost or land in the creek, right?  So, they mounted the work on a wooden paddle and covered it with a thin peel of animal horn.  Old school laminating!

On the enclosed sheet would be the ABC’s in upper and lower case letters, some syllables, and the Lords prayer.  The person giving the lesson would run them through every sound and once they got good enough, the one giving the lesson would point out different letters or sounds  to be recited out of order (in the book it was an older sister with a knitting needle.) 

I find in teaching kids to read that none of the decodables agree on what order in which to teach all the phonograms.  So, I like having introduced all the phonograms already.  He won’t have them ALL memorized, but if we come across one he didn’t know in a random practice decodable, he has at least heard it before.  So here’s my “Horn Book” and how we run the lesson:

horn book1.  We say the ABC’s aloud, pointing to each of the lower case letters.

2.  We say the ABC’s again, pointing to the upper case letters.

3.  We say the sounds in the third group together.  (It helps if you’ve read Dr. Seuss’s ABC book to get the rhythm.)  Big A, little a, a-ay-ah.  Big B, little b, buh-buh-buh. Big C, little c, ck-sss….etc.  We also do some hand motions.

4.  Then, I point, out in random order, some he knows and maybe a new one or two.

5.  Then we flip the page and do the other phonograms, using hand signals.  They aren’t as sing-song, so I just add them to our routine after we run across them in the decodables a few times.

hornbook 2


Like singing the books of the Bible or the states in alphabetical order, this little routine is super-easy to get cooperation and has helped IMMENSELY.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tess April 30, 2013 at 8:28 am

I get most of it, and think I may try this with my boys (daughter is already in school). BUT, what are DECODABLES?????

Cinnamon Vogue April 30, 2013 at 9:14 am

As somebody who owns a number of preschools in addition to my Cinnamon business, I am using iPad apps to teach children as young as 12 months. We use about 90 apps which encompass everything from music, math, reading, pattern recognition, puzzles, sorting, art and so many others.

The word recognition, letter identification and reading apps are miles ahead of anything I had as a child. These apps are astoundingly good as each approaches the problem in many different ways and it makes it very interesting for children. We have apps from every style of teaching, especially Montessori. And most of the kids can read fairly well by the age of four and a half years.

No longer do they have to suffer the drudgery of rote learning. And they love it. My children at the school can do 4 digit carry over math at 4 and half years old. And they volunteer to do it. We also have competitions and pay them one cent coins for performance. By the time they realize they have been had, they will learn the value of a dollar and appreciate the education. ?

Ivory Soap April 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm

De-code-ables, are those first readers that a kid gets, but not sight-word readers. They are readers, like the Bob Books, that every word can be de-coded, using phonics.

Janet Hook May 1, 2013 at 4:36 am

Cinnamon, could you give specific apps that you have used; they sound like great fun.

Little Sis May 1, 2013 at 7:00 am

SO great to have found advice in the past. At a flea market this week I stumbled onto two primers – one from 1878 and one from 1925. I’m letting them air a bit (doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten much for a while) and then I’m going to go through gently and see what “primer” meant at that time. Thanks for sharing this. Mine are great with the ABC sounds, but the others we could use a leg up on.

Barb May 1, 2013 at 8:06 am

When my boys were growing up, there was no such thing as “home schooling”. I had them reading & doing simple addition & subtraction before they started first grade. When they started school, they started learning to cook. With four boys, every recipe had to be doubled or at least the recipe plus half. By the time they got to fractions, they had no problems. The measuring spoons & measuring cups taught them easily & they could relate better than just numbers. One boy, who never got out of 9th grade, has an English & reading of college level. If a child doesn’t learn to read & comprehend what he is reading at an early age, he will probably never do good in school. By the way, the son who never finished 9th grade went to a vocational school & took radio/TV/electronics. This was because he was bored in regular school. He is in his 50’s now.

Danielle Cara May 1, 2013 at 10:39 am

Oh wouldn’t it be nice if our present day school model actually “taught” again. As for electronics and the like, there are many studies that have shown that we are infantalizing our brains. The more exposure to that sort of engagement, the more progressive this brain wiring becomes, thus using less and less of our brains. I’ll stick to hands on engagement with the world in regards to teaching my children and what you’ve described seems to be a pretty dandy tool.
Thanks for sharing. BTW, I used to live in Cordova! Once upon a time, we were (distant) neighbors. Who’da thunk it….as we say in the mid-south.

nik May 7, 2013 at 8:34 am

I agree, Cinnamon – please share the apps you use.


Cinnamon Vogue May 7, 2013 at 11:48 am

Nik – I set up an app review site for preschools apps on one of my other web sites here http://www.versionxt.com/ipadindex.html. It been a long time since I updated it but should give you a good idea. I have rated the apps too. You can also visit one of my schools at http://www.angels-preschool.com to get an idea of what and how we teach.

Some people (including my sister) say all these electronics upset your brain waves and so forth, and I am mindful of that. The idea is to balance everything. With the iPads we can achieve our teaching targets much faster, which leaves us more time to play and develop social skills, do a bit of gardening, practice for our complex annual concert (music, dance), do amazing art projects and exhibitions, cook and learn about healthy eating habits, public speaking and so much more. And these are 2-5 years olds!!! Our focus is on creating multi talented kids who are happy, have a sense of humor, have very strong social skills, naturally love math and language, and confident and skilled enough to handle any situation. The iPad is one of many such tools, but only one.

Dharmaja August 22, 2013 at 9:40 am

I 2nd the research into how electronics damage the infant and child brain, adults could stand to have less exposure as well. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics advises to not allow children younger than 2 to watch t.v. The iPad is overstimulating. Our society has gone done the slippery slope of technology overuse. It is of utmost concern that the bulk of current generations have none of the skills needed to actually sustain our lives. What use is reading if one is cold and hungry. I stick with first things first with my young ones. Reading does not even enter the picture until they are 4 years old.

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