Earlier this year I decided to try Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my then four-year-old. (We started three months before his 5th birthday.) If you look up the reviews on this book, which is also called the Distar method, they are mostly favorable, but I could see that it doesn’t work for everybody. That’s not surprising because nothing works for everybody.
Fortunately, my son loved the lessons when we began the book, and I liked the book because it was easy for me to use.
There is an eighteen-page parent guide at the beginning of the book, which is important to read, and in each lesson, there’s a script that parents are supposed to follow exactly. At first this looked daunting, but after reading the guide and doing a few lessons with my son, I saw that it was beneficial. During the early lessons, I kept to the script fairly well, though I changed some of the words because I knew my son would understand me better with my changes.
As we continued on with the book, I didn’t have to read the script so closely because it’s very repetitive, and by then my son knew what he needed to do. However, I glanced at each lesson beforehand to see if there were any changes.
What I like the most about 100 Lessons is that each lesson builds on the one before it, and it introduces new letter sounds gradually. It helped that my son already knew all the sounds of the letters before we started this book, but the way it’s taught, you could potentially teach a child who doesn’t know any phonics.
I have a feeling that if my son had not known the sounds of the letters, he would not have liked it. Since the beginning lessons were very easy for him, it built his confidence and showed him that reading lessons were not scary. As he sounded out words with these sounds, he was delighted that he could read!
A couple of points about how this book teaches reading:
- The book teaches the child to sound out words by blending the sounds together instead of pausing between sounds. For example, we usually teach kids to sound out the word “mat” by saying “mmm (pause) aaa (pause) t.” The Distar method says not to pause. Say “mmmaaat.” This simple technique helped my son hear the word, and he was able to decipher it quicker.
- The book also uses an altered orthography or symbols to help the child read. That is, if the sound is a long A, such as in the word “lake”, there is a line over the A, and if it’s a short A sound, such as in the word “cat,” there’s no line. Silent letters, such as the E in “lake” are printed smaller.
The altered orthography worried me at first because I wondered how my son would transition to regular books with regular print, but quickly this worry faded. My son was so excited that he could read! He said, “I can read in this book, but I can’t read in those.”
Three things I liked about the book:
- The silly pictures: My son would read the stories in the book, and I would keep the accompanying picture covered until he finished. He always looked forward to seeing the picture, so this gave him an incentive to finish the lesson. (Yet I can see where the pictures and stories might not interest older children.)
- The book gradually introduces many irregular words or “sight words,” and since there’s so much repetition in the book, my son has most of them memorized now. This is why I didn’t worry about the altered orthography.
- The book also requires the student to write two or three sounds at the end of each lesson. Fortunately, my son was already writing well and enjoyed this part too. It’s a good reinforcement of the sounds and practice of writing.
Making my child excited about reading is the first step in getting him to read. I’m grateful that 100 Lessons got us on the road to reading. Yet, as we got further into it, things changed.
Once we got to around Lesson 50, the lessons got harder. It wasn’t that my son wasn’t reading well. He could do the lessons, and he was learning, but while we did the lessons, he would squirm in his seat, start talking about other topics, and act silly. It was very hard for him to focus on the lesson.
I should interject here and say that the book claims these lessons will take only twenty minutes a day. The first few lessons took only twenty minutes, but as they get harder and there’s more reading involved, they take much longer. And when my child could not focus and kept squirming, I think we spent closer to 45 minutes completing a lesson.
Suddenly it became a lesson in patience for mama! Fortunately, this was about the time we were going on vacation to Chicago, so we took a break. After returning home, I looked up 100 Lessons on the Internet and began to read what other people’s experiences were.
I found one person who said a tutor recommended this book for her child, but emphasized that the lessons should remain light and fun. Another man described his little girl as squirmy and unable to focus too. He gave her incentives to finish each lesson, which worked.
Reading this renewed my patience with my son, and I regained my equanimity. Here are some tactics I employed:
- I made sure we had plenty of time to do the lessons. I didn’t rush my son through them.
- I gave my son “wiggle moments” when he got too fidgety, and he loved that. I’d count to three and then we’d both wiggle for a few minutes.
- I was also more likely to take a day off from a lesson if we were busy with errands whereas in the beginning, I kept a tight daily schedule.
With this new strategy, we inched our way up to Lesson 70 where we reached another plateau. At that point, the book became monotonous. Since my son was reading quite well anyway, I decided to take another break from the book. Now I feel we probably won’t go back to it. I’ve searched my shelves for all the early readers in my house, and my son seems excited to be able to read real books with more lively illustrations.
Above is a photo of part of Lesson 69. My son completed through Lesson 70.
At the end of 100 Lessons, it states that a child who successfully completes this program will be reading at a second grade level. Considering that my son is only five-years-old, I feel confident that I don’t have to push him to finish it right now. He is happy that he’s starting to read, and he’s reading early readers. I couldn’t be more pleased.
If you have a young child who is struggling with reading, I highly suggest giving 100 Lessons a try. I’m not sure it would interest older students because the stories and pictures are silly, but it never hurts to try. Also, I found the book used online for $11, so it doesn’t hurt the pocket book either.
Have you tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons? What was your experience with it?
Note: An earlier version of this column appeared in print in the October 5, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.