Did you know that the Puritans’ primary objective in teaching their children to read was so that they could read the Bible? Many learned to read using the Bible as their only text!

Compare that to the myriad of reading/phonics curricula available to today’s homeschooling parent. If you’ve been to a homeschool convention, you know what I’m talking about—our options are quite overwhelming! And yet, with all the fancy, well-packaged, and well-researched (not to mention well-priced) methods available to teach our children to read, some parents still find it a frustrating and seemingly hopeless endeavor.

If you are looking for a method that works, or if you happen to have a special needs learner, as I do, then I have some good news for you. I want to share what I did to help both of my boys (one with autism and the other a neurotypical learner) learn to read. The same method worked for both, and the best news is that it was virtually free! The only cost was for a black marker and some white index cards. My motto is “simplicity with consistency.”

My oldest son wasn’t diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum until he was nearly 4 years old. I had a special needs child and didn’t even know it! The amazing thing was that I had already taught him to read by the time we found out about his challenges. I mention this only to show that it wasn’t because we were super-smart or wise about teaching an autistic child, or because we had an extraordinary plan mapped out for our special learner—it just happened in a natural progression. I wish I could say that I taught my son to read using the Bible alone, but that wasn’t the case.

Before we had children, we heard Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, do a radio interview on a Christian show. He inspired me so much that I picked up his book. He cites a report entitled Becoming a Nation of Readers which stated, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” For this, and for many other reasons he gives, we determined to make reading aloud to our children paramount. We had no idea the importance this activity would have for our son, who, we would later learn, had autism.

I began reading to him several times every day when he was only an infant, propping him up in his baby seat next to me. By the time he was a couple years old, we were spending several hours a day with picture books. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how much this had benefited him. He heard language and associated it with visual cues. Two of the best things he learned, however, were the character lessons of self-control and attentiveness. We all know that if our children can’t or won’t be attentive, their learning, no matter what we are trying to teach them, will be hindered. Reading aloud was the foundation for teaching our son to read.

Because of the regular dose of picture books in our son’s life, learning the alphabet came completely naturally to him. Our son couldn’t talk to us back then, but that didn’t stop us from showing him the letters of the alphabet along with the pictures that went with them. One day, when he was only 2 years old, he sat on the floor, surrounded by library books, pointing to the letters of the alphabet and whispering them to himself. I’m sure he had no idea what they meant or what they were for, but the daily input of this information was captured in his head.

Later, a friend loaned me the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Engelmann, Haddox, and Bruner. (Check it out from your local library). Now, before you roll your eyes and say, “But I already tried that and it didn’t work!” let me tell you how we used it. We did not use it the way it was intended to be used. We did not do the handwriting part of the program, we did not labor over each lesson for 20 minutes a day of sitting, and we did not use the book itself for the stories until much later.