Make-it-Yourself Beginning Readers

Can there be anything more exciting than having those phonics lessons finally “click” with your little one and hearing him read his first words? I doubt it! Listening to my children learn to read is a thrill for me. I enjoy teaching them to read and I delight in hearing them read aloud.

Right away it seems that children want to “read a book” which, of course, is not quite yet possible. Just because they can blend a few phonics sounds doesn’t mean they are ready to read Huck Finn. Children just learning to read want to feel the accomplishment of reading a book, turning the pages and finishing with “The End”. I’ve used beginning phonics readers, such as Bob Books, Now I’m Reading or Decodable Little Books to fill that need. Here’s how to make your own!

In my homeschool, I wanted to customize reading for my children and so I started making my own little beginner readers. It is easy, it saves you money, and it can become a childhood memory especially if your little child illustrates his own books. Our homemade books have been used over and over again and loved by each child that I teach to read. Their older brothers and sisters remember those books with excitement and that makes it all the more motivational for little ones to be able to learn to read them. I use my children’s names in the book to personalize the story. Since every child can read his own name and most of the names of his family members, you have more words to work with than just those that can be easily decoded.

To make your own little readers, you will need cardstock weight paper to make a little book. I have used paper trimmings from the printer, old file folders cut-up, 4 x 6″ index cards, etc. Use whatever you can find: this is supposed to be a save-you-money project, so be creative. I  fold the paper in half, and then staple or machine sew 3 pages down the center fold to create a finished book of 6 pages. If I am using index cards, I staple 6 index cards along the left side so they open to a wide horizontal format. The first and last page can be fancier paper or a colored page decorated with stickers as it will be the cover.

Plan out 7 simple sentences, one for each page. The last inside page will say “The End”.  To fill my book, I choose words that will reinforce a phonic sound that my child is learning. For example, when I taught the phonic unit “ee”, I made a little book called “Weeds and Beets”. It was spring gardening time, so the subject was a natural. Since my daughter Emily (4 years old then) already knew the short vowels and consonants along with the words “a” and “the”, I focused on having her learn to decode that “ee” sound. Here is the little story page by page:

Outside front cover-Weeds and Beets
Inside front cover- blank
page 1- Weeds, weeds!
page 2- Emily has a beet seed.
page 3- A beet seed in the weeds.
page 4- Big weeds and a red beet
page 5- Emily gets a big weed.
page 6- A bee sees a beet.
page 7- Emily gets the beet!
page 8- The End
Inside back cover-blank
outside back cover-blank

With young ones, I draw simple illustrations and let them color them. Children that are a little older will be able to draw their own pictures to go with the story. Books that turn out to be a wonderful treasure can be unstapled, laminated, and re-stapled to make a sturdy book that will last many years. I have one of these that has lasted 22 years so far! The colors are still bright and the pages clean.

As your child masters phonics skills, it can still be fun to put together little books whenever a memorable event occurs in your family. When Nathan was 18-years-old, he was driving our little car home when a pickup truck hit him, totaling the car. After going to the emergency room to retrieve our son who was very fortunately not hurt, we visited the towing yard to see the damage to our car. Looking at that squashed-flat car made us amazed that Nathan had not been killed. This experience made a profound impression on my little ones, and Emily (then 7 years) wrote and illustrated a little book entitled Nathan’s Crash. She knew her phonics sounds well enough to be able to write it with very little help.


To create little books for a new beginning reader, use the consonants that he has learned along with one short vowel. For example, you could use the short vowel “a”, along with the consonants “c”, “s”, “b”, “m”, “n” to make these words: cat, sat, bat, at, Matt, cab, man, can, etc. From these you can make up a short story with just a few words per page. Don’t forget to include your child’s name as a character in the story too!

It will amaze you how well your child will learn, and will love reading these books too! Have fun!

May I recommend:

Learn Your Letter Sounds: Game


Louisa loves games, and makes up her own

Here is an interesting, easy game to help your young ones begin identifying the phonic sounds. All of my children have started their adventure of learning to read with this little game, beginning as early as they are eager to learn their letter sounds (usually 4 years old). They beg for this game over and over.

Gather pictures of each family member, Jesus,  friends and pets. These can be pasted onto a 3×5 card (or scrap of cardstock—often free from the printers). Now write the first letter of each picture’s name in big print on a card. Start with just 4-5 letters, and several pictures for each letter.  Your little one’s name and picture must definitely be included!

To play the game,  lay the letter cards in a line in front of your child. Then let him take turns (with you or another child) picking a picture card out of a box. My little ones think it is more exciting if I have them shut their eyes and reach up high into the box.

As they look at the picture they have chosen, have them say aloud the name and try to match it to the sound made by one of their letter cards. For example, our game has a card with the letter “J”. My child can match the picture of Jesus, and the picture of his dog Joey and his sister Julianna. The letter card “M” collects the picture of Mom and brother Mark.

Since family members names are common to the child and they usually can recognize the beginning letter of each name, this makes it a natural place to start in learning the letter sounds. If you are using Explode the Code primers to help your child learn to read, start with the first letters in that workbook, and continue introducing the letters in the same order for greater reinforcement. Be certain that when you child voices the letter, they  are naming the phonic sound, not the letter name! “J” says the breathed sound “j-j-j” not the alphabet name “jay” and “M” says “mmm” not “em”. As the child progresses you can add more letter sounds and pictures. This is a fun way to familiarize your child with the capital letters (and the fact that names begin with capital letters!)


A Delicious Read, Indeed

I want to tell you about my favorite book: Laddie, A True Blue Story. It’s not very often that you find such a warm, family-value-oriented book. It is a treasure! The best part of it was reading it out-loud to my children. I found it taught just as much as a sermon . . . with my family chuckling along the way and begging for more. And there is lots more—416 pages of it. 

From the eyes of Little Sister (the youngest child living in a big family on a farm in the newly settled Midwest in the 1900’s), we get a tantalizing taste of strong family values and faith in God. . . full of adventures and scrapes—love stories too—with a kind and devoted mother, a protective wise father, and a loving older brother, Laddie, as superb role models that I want to follow!

Leon, a young brother, provides lots of humor, just being a boy. Little Sister, through whose eyes the story unfolds, finds school squelching to her free spirit, and it is hard not to commiserate with her as she explains her reasons for loathing the classroom. The mother and father are remarkable Christians in spite of the many challenges of taming a new land. Such a sweet story of wholesome, decent, loving family life!

Get it at your library, borrow it from a friend, get if from my bookstore . . . but read it! It will definitely enrich your life.  Read it aloud to your children.  It is as good as taking a vacation!