Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Does Slow and Steady Always Win the Race?

  • Kim Wolf Contributing Writer
  • 2007 19 Sep
Does Slow and Steady Always Win the Race?

The Tortoise or the Hare? Does Slow and Steady Always Win the Race?

As a child I enjoyed reading Aesop's fables. What I always liked best about fables was that they used animals and they always taught a lesson. Jesus used parables when He taught, often using farm life or some other part of daily life that His hearers would recognize and relate to.

Probably my favorite Aesop's fable is "The Tortoise and the Hare." One day a Hare came across a Tortoise and began making fun of him because he was so slow. Tired of being teased once again, the Tortoise challenged the Hare to a race. His victory assured, the Hare took the old Tortoise up on his offer. After the fox had set the course, the race was on! The Hare was ahead in no time and decided that he had plenty of time to take a nap. Upon waking he looked toward the finish line only to see that the Tortoise was crossing it and he had lost the race! Lesson: "Slow and steady wins the race."

Slow and steady—does that always win the race in every circumstance? Well, let's put that in homeschool terms. What about reading?

When a homeschool family begins their journey from day one of their child's schooling, reading is one of those scary subjects on the list. Can you remember how you learned how to read? I couldn't. With such a huge variety of reading programs out there, some guaranteeing fast results and some out for the long-term, scope-shaping journey, how do parents pick and choose what will work for their children? I'll show you two tried and true favorites, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (the Hare) and Hooked On Phonics (the Tortoise). Both of these methods are fine phonics-based methods, and I have used both with great success.

Why phonics? Simply because it works! Several years ago, at a Christian Home Educators of Ohio convention, I listened to Samuel Bloomenfeld discuss the utter failure of the "look-say/whole-word" method that so many public schools have been using. This method attempts to teach reading by causing children to "memorize" what certain often-used words "look" like. Basically, once these key words are memorized by sight—not sounding out, but what they look like—the rest of their reading instruction ends up just being a guessing game. This looksay/whole-word method was originally created to teach deaf people how to read. The program was such a failure that it is no longer used with them—but it is still used in three out of four government schools! Sounds like one more reason to teach them at home.

Enter: The Hare
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (TYC) is a product of DISTAR, published by Science Research Associates (SRA). Remember those fun and teachable SRAs we used to do in third grade? (If not, don't worry—I'll get to them later.) These are the same folks! I always enjoyed doing those little SRAs and I was thrilled to find out that this was the same company.

In the Introduction, they take what Samuel Bloomenfeld told us at CHEO by quoting Robert Benjamin from his book Making Schools Work: "Many schools continue to employ instructional methods that have been proven ineffective. The staying power of the look-say or whole-word method of teaching beginning reading is perhaps the most flagrant example of this failure to instruct effectively." As we all know, if a child is a good reader, the whole world opens up to him. TYC has proven to be very effective with young readers, especially preschoolers.

As the title implies, the book consists of 100 lessons that last roughly one-half hour each day. My advice is to not skip any lessons, as they build upon each other. By the time your child finishes the book she will be reading at a whopping second-grade level! And your child will not be the only one who benefits. As the book says, "After you complete the program, you'll know more about teaching reading than most public school teachers, because you will have carefully observed and participated in the step-by-step development of your child's reading skills." As we all know, parents learn, or re-learn, right along with their children.

The Parents' Guide outlines the program's sequence, which consists of (1) beginning with simple exercises, (2) teaching reading skills, (3) modifying exercises slowly, in small ways, so that they are easy for the child, and (4) communicating very clearly with the child.

TYC uses a very special "funny" print to spell words to help the child decipher the sounds more easily. As we know, because our language is a peculiar mix of Greek, Latin, and French, many of our letters can represent several different sounds in different words. TYC helps a child understand these differences early on by using a "funny" print. I can't show it to you here, only inform you that it includes all the phonicsrelated symbols that we grew up with: long and short vowels, digraphs such as ch, sh, th, and so on. The pronunciation guide is very simple and easy to use, and it will probably look slightly familiar to most from your own memories of learning to read. The guide gives the letter symbol, how the letter is to be pronounced, a word example, whether the sound is voiced or "whispered," and which lesson this concept is introduced in. See the table above for an example.

Two of the keys to phonics are saying the words slowly and sounding out words. The first few lessons will begin with saying letter sounds slowly. Each sound, and each word (as you get further into the book), is written the way you should teach your child to say it. Each word is marked with a big dot to show where to point as your child begins to sound out the word. You then quickly move your finger to the letter to be sounded out next and then move on quickly to the next letter or sound. After you have shown your child the sounds that the letters make, she sounds it out with you two or three times. Then she sounds out the letters and sounds herself. To practice sounding out a word, the student repeats the sounds a little faster each time until the sounds run smoothly together to form the word. For example, the sounds "mmm" and "eee" run smoothly together into "me."

As mentioned earlier, TYC insists that no skipping is allowed. Even if a child can read at a faster rate than the program's sequence of instruction, it is important to remember that "The goal of decoding instruction is to make decoding an automatic practice, not something that requires a great deal of thinking or a great deal of effort." A person who reads well spends very little time mentally sounding out words. By learning in sequence, one learns wholly. If a reader's mind has been trained well, the sounding out process is automatic and produces a person who not only reads well and reads quickly but also absorbs and maintains more of what he has read.

Now before this all sounds too overwhelming, and as we get into what a lesson actually consists of, one thing you must know is that all lessons are scripted! You don't have to worry about not explaining a concept or new sound correctly because it's all laid out for you on every page. TYC even explains what to expect from your child. Making the program easy on the parent is one of the reasons TYC has been such a success.

The daily lessons, divided up by "tasks," may conclude in as quickly as 10 minutes, but I would recommend that you schedule 20 minutes, especially in the beginning, until you and your child are more familiar with what is expected. These lessons should take place every day for five days per week. Do not compromise! As mentioned earlier, these lessons build upon each other, and continuity, just like consistency in discipline, is the key to your success. You may even have days when you do two lessons in one day, as some lessons go quickly. However, use your own judgment so as not to load your child with too much information. If working on reading is enough for your child at this time, do not overwhelm him with Sound Writing.

On occasion, once you actually get started, there may be times when you wonder what the exercise has to do with anything your child is learning as some things seem to go off on a completely different tangent. Stick with it—have you ever noticed that if you have something weighing on your mind, or if your child has a big test coming up, getting your mind off that particular thing for a few moments and going to something else makes you better able to deal with it a little later? This, to me, must be the idea that the writers had in mind. By the time you get to task 4 of the lessons, you will review what was already taught in task 1; task 5 will review what was taught in task 2. You will be amazed at how successful that first lesson was and what your child retained!

I use a similar technique when I am teaching from a book (what Charlotte Mason referred to as whole book learning). While I am reading, my children will be doing something with their hands—drawing, coloring, painting, or latch-hooking a rug, for example. Keeping their hands occupied helps to make their minds free to accept what they are learning on an auditory level. Their retention level is far greater than if they are only half-listening because they are so bored their hands are looking for something to do. So, when TYC begins with one task and seems to switch to an entirely different point, only to come back to the original task, I believe that this same concept is what they are aiming at. Teach something meaningful, get away for just a short bit so that the information can sink in, and—bingo! Lesson learned!

Enter the Tortoise
Hooked on Phonics was the first reading program I used. Hooked on Phonics (HOP) now has several programs to offer, but why mess with perfection? Their original program, which we will discuss here, is now called Hooked on Phonics Classic. It is so much fun when that big HOP box arrives! Inside you will find 7 workbooks with lessons, stories, and activities; 9 audio cassettes; 3 sets of fun stickers; 9 sets of flash cards; and a parent guide. Yes, while TYC's strength is in simplicity, HOP has all the bells and whistles! Another find—remember those SRAs that we talked about earlier? They are here! But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The first thing to do is to listen to Tape 1, the instruction tape. This will give you a great run-down of what you can expect as you use HOP. Your next step will be to open up the yellow Book One and grab the yellow flash cards and the white tape 1. Each tape will lead your child through what he is to say and do. (Of course, brand new readers will need your help until they become familiar with what is expected.) The tapes take the child through the sounds and letters that are on the flash cards. After they are familiar, you will move to the book and Read Out Loud! The first section is "Say the Sound." Each letter is represented by an object beginning with that letter: a—apple, b—bell, c—cat, and so on. In no time at all, your child will be moving on to the letter a and actually putting words together. From one of the first lessons he will be putting a and t together and reading the words at, bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat. Each lesson ends in review, and by the time you get to the third review, your child will know 25 words! By the time the student finishes the very first book, she will have gone through the whole alphabet and will be reading whole sentences. My children were so excited when they could read sentences. Book 1 focuses on sight words that everyone reads time and time again, day after day.

Each book works in progression as the student's reading abilities grow. HOP teaches children to read in a deeper, more complex way. Book 2, along with the corresponding tape and flash cards, teaches ending sounds, more complex sight words, and beginning sounds. Book 3, along with its tape and flash cards, teaches more complex beginning and ending sounds and long vowel and other sounds. Set 4 gets a little more in-depth with the diphthong, schwa and other sounds, and more vowel and combination sounds. Set 5 covers combination sounds, silent letters, and prefixes. Set 6 gets deeper into suffixes and silent letters and gets into larger, 4- and 5-syllable words. Book 7 is a complete reading review book; this book is actually referred to at specific points during the whole lesson plan.

Now, we can't forget those SRAs. I'm glad to say that my daughters enjoyed these just as much as I had as a child. There are 100 SRAs, called Power Builders, that range from beginner's reading level to advanced and are divided into three levels. The beginner's level has a short little story of one- and two-syllable words, then has various activities such as comprehension questions, sounding out words, and "yes or no" (true or false) questions. The intermediate section is for those who have progressed approximately to Book 3 and has much longer stories (one and a half pages, smaller print, more complex words), comprehension questions, Learn About Words (definitions, etc.), and thinking questions. Upper level has far more complex stories, comprehension questions, vocabulary, and word studies. In all three sections the stories are everything from fiction and nonfiction to science and mini-biographies. They are all very interesting. A small word of warning: these are not necessarily from a Christian perspective and may mention evolution as fact, millions of years, and so on.

You Decide
So now it's up to you. Which is better, the tortoise or the hare? You decide. But I warn you—your child's excitement in learning how to read may even rekindle a long-lost love for reading in you that was misplaced long, long ago.

Teach Your Children to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is available from many sources. Some are Christian Book Distributors (CBD) at (or 1-800-247-4784) and Farm Country General Store at (or 1-800-551-FARM). For Hooked on Phonics, go to or call 1-800-ABC-DEFG.


Kim Wolf loves living in a small Ohio town with her husband and their two teen daughters. They have homeschooled since 1993 and are very active in the music ministry of their church. She is a Miami County homeschool coordinator, a freelance writer, speaker and Ohio coordinator for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2007. Used with permission. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe.