6 Reasons You Should Read Books That Have No Words by William Eckenwiler

There is a unique category of books commonly referred to as wordless books. They are all pictures, meaning there is no text. On the surface it would seem that a child learning to read would benefit very little from looking at pictures. After all, doesn’t the real work of reading require us to grapple with text? That is a very appropriate question, and technically it would be hard not answer yes. But there is great benefit to reading books without words, and I’d like to give you six quick reasons why you should make wordless books a part of your overall strategy for teaching your child to read.

First, the young, developing reader learns how books work. Imagine a mother asking her three-year old if he would like to read a book. He excitedly runs over and grabs a book off the shelf and climbs up into mom’s lap. He eagerly opens the book somewhere in the middle, not noticing that it is upside down. For whatever reason, mom turns the book around and flips the pages to the beginning. Now mom is talking to him, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. A story begins to emerge, with questions and comments and enthusiasm. Then a page is turned for some apparent reason. And so it goes, one page turned after another. Must be a connection between the story that is capturing their attention and the turning of pages. They move from the front of the book to the back. Things seem to proceed in a logical order. The book with its pictures and text and page turning seem to be guiding everything that mom is doing. These early understandings of how books work may seem like a no-brainer to us, but it is actually a part of the necessary groundwork that will eventually produce a successful reader.

Second, wordless books create an almost inescapable opportunity for dialogue. Just asking your student what they see in the current picture is a stepping-off point for all sorts of speculation about what just happened and what is going to happen next. This is the opportunity to celebrate the child’s ideas about the story, which encourages active thinking as opposed to the more passive listening which often takes place when reading the text of a story. Related to this is our next benefit.

Third, the child is encouraged to think critically and to speculate on a world of possibilities. The teacher can model their own thought process as they think out loud about what might be happening in the pictures. This modeling tells the student that it is perfectly appropriate to ponder and consider and risk being wrong. Research supports the idea that students will pick up on this behavior and demonstrate their own willingness to consider the many possibilities a picture presents.

Fourth, the student reading a wordless book is guaranteed a 100% success rate. Because every comment, every contribution or speculation from a child is encouraged and honored, there is no risk of getting something wrong. When struggling with text it is like walking through a mine field. But reading pictures is a journey a world of possibilities and creative thinking, that is never wrong. This is an exhilirating, encouraging and inspiring reading experience.

Fifth, wordless books train a reader to pay attention to detail. As the teacher slows things down and points out different details in the pictures, the student learns to do the same. Again, thinking out loud, you might speculate that the dog in the picture is about to attack. But wait, it looks like his tail is wagging. Do dogs attack when their tail is wagging? By leading your student with questions about what they see, you can gently teach them to look more closely for details that confirm of deny ideas about what might be happening.

Finally, wordless books can be used to great advantage by readers of all ages. While we have spoken mostly of younger, developing readers, wordless books are also available for the more mature student. (Give three examples of advanced picture books).

It is not wrong to say that reading consists of decoding the printed word. But reading is actually more than simple decoding. It is about the power of story and the effective communication of information. Sometimes you are faced with hundreds of pages of text, but you will still need to apply the skills of deduction and understanding. Nuancing a character’s behavior in a story, reading between the lines, inferring motive, and pondering the intangible, unwritten possibilities are not things a reader gets simply by learning to decode text well. Wordless books can be a vital tool for developing a truly accomplished reader, and should a part of your total reading program.

The Slate is Clean! by Kristen Eckenwiler

The Slate is Clean by Kristen Eckenwiler - www.thestrugglingreader.com

The Slate is Clean! by Kristen Eckenwiler

The new year has begun! For some, it came way too soon. Others have been so ready for schedules and organization that they welcomed it with open arms. As you step in and embrace this new school year, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to reading instruction.

“His mercies are new every day.” Keep this in mind since your mind is powerful enough to remind you of all of your failures. You know the ones . . . 


  • That day you promised yourself and God that you would not, under any circumstance, lose your temper—but you did.
  •  The day that you said through clenched teeth, “We just read that word! Right here!” And you stabbed the paper one sentence prior to your current line.
  • The day that you asked your child, “What is wrong with you?”
  •  The day your child cried because he couldn’t do it—and then you cried.

 Being a mom is not easy. It is one of the most bittersweet relationships known to man. Being a mom-teacher has its own unique challenges. Our children are so forgiving, but we should never underestimate the power we have to frighten them. We frighten them when they think we are disappointed or angry. Often, they can do what you are asking, but they are afraid to try for fear of getting it wrong. Even more profound is that they often cannot distinguish if they are upsetting their teacher—or their mom. No child wants to compromise his mom’s love!

Try to be honest with your reading instruction. It is not a competition or a race. If your fourth grader is still reading at the second grade level, then teach at second grade level and move at a pace that seems comfortable. They will get it, and they will make up ground. You do not have to have them on level by Christmas. If you try, you will create too much stress and the bar you have set will feel unattainable to you—and too hard for your child. Let your child dictate the pace and take a deep breath. You are not ruining your child. You are teaching to them directly, with expectations for this child alone.

Please hear my heart here and avoid resentment and anger between you and your child. Reading is very important. It is. There are some days when it appears you will never get there, and you just love them too much to see them fail. But there are things that trump reading instruction, and one is the relationship you have with your child. There are other important lessons that you will be called to teach your children, and if you allow reading challenges and instruction to weaken your relationship and their ability to hear and heed you, they won’t receive instruction on the other lessons you need to teach them. Guard the love and trust your child has for you. Know your limit. Pray for warning signs. When you feel yourself losing patience, have something in place that allows you to STOP. Stop immediately. Say, “Wow! Mommy needs to stretch. Five-minute break!” Then smile and walk away. Break your instruction into five ten-minute lessons throughout the day. Dragging it out to get fifty minutes in can be too much. Work in a way that is smart for that child, and remember they will all learn differently.

 Make this the year you win by making sure your children know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are on their side, in their corner, their biggest cheerleader and support. That makes you both winners.

Happy Clean Slate Day! Keep reading!

Sight Words? Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler

Sight Words? Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler - www.thestrugglingreader.com

Sight Words?  Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler

“Are we still teaching sight words?” asked the young mother of two. “I mean, Dr. Fussbottom, they were doing that kind of thing when my grandmother was a little girl. Haven’t we . . . . I don’t know . . . moved past that sort of old-school stuff?”

“A fair question,” he said. “It is always good to re-visit things we’ve done for a long time, and to ask if it is still valid to continue the practice. Let me share a few things about sight words, and then I’ll let you tell me the answer to your question.”

“All right,” she said. “But I’ve got kids waiting on me. You’ll have to make this quick.”

“Won’t take but a moment. I promise,” he said.

Gathering himself to his fullest stature and smoothing out his rumpled suit jacket, Dr. Fussbottom began.

“When a reader is attempting to decode a word, we sometimes say he is trying to ‘sound out’ the word. This is one of several decoding skills that become very useful to a reader growing in his or her reading abilities. As important as these skills are, it is also very important for readers to instantly recognize certain words without having to decode them in any way. These are words that appear over and over again so frequently that the reader needs to be able to simply recognize them on sight without having to labor in any way to decode them. For example, consider the word the. This is the most common of all words, and appears about 75 times every one thousand words. Other words like of, to, and, is, it, but, and was are just a few of these very common words that also appear with great frequency. Think about the following astonishing facts.”

He was gathering steam now, and he could tell he had this young mother absolutely mesmerized. Or maybe she was just being polite. He was never very good at making those distinctions, so he decided to go with mesmerized. Lest he lose the heightened drama of the moment, he quickly pressed forward.

“The 10 most common words make up 24 percent of all printed material. Just 10 words. The 25 most frequently appearing words make up about one-third of all printed material, and the top 100 words constitute about half of the words you will encounter in print. Can you imagine how much it would slow us down if every time we encountered these words we had to pause for a moment to decode? Every time you came upon the word the it would be like a speed bump. Multiply that by the regular appearance of a couple hundred similar words, and you can appreciate the value of knowing these words immediately on sight.”

Dr. Fussbottom paused, trying to read the young mother’s face. “I know you need to go,” he said. “Can I tell you just one more thing?”

“Sure,” she said. “Give me your one more thing.”

“Well,” he started. “To know a word as a sight word, there must be instant recognition. That means no decoding going on whatsoever. When we get to the actual testing of these sight words, students will be required to identify the word having seen it flashed for a second or less. The bottom line is that, even though sight word mastery is only one piece of the reading puzzle, you can do your young readers an enormous favor by making sure they have truly mastered a few hundred of the most common sight words.”

He paused and waited, looking at her expectantly.

“Okay,” she finally said. “I guess I am going to need to find some flash cards.”

“Actually, no,” he said. “I mean, flash cards are okay, but there are many other ways to teach sight words besides flash card drill.”

He saw the surprised and pleased look on her face. She said that she really did have to go, but asked if they could meet again. She wanted to hear more about alternate ways to teach sight words.  Dr. Fussbottom handed her his business card, and said, “Let me know when it’s a good time for you.” And with that he was off to catch his flight to Bratislava.

How do you help your struggling reader learn sight words?

Being Half Full on the Front Lines by Kristen Eckenwiler

Being Half Full on the Front Lines - www.thestrugglingreader.com

Being Half Full on the Front Lines by Kristen Eckenwiler

It is a privilege each year to be given the opportunity to stand before a countless number of parents who are searching for answers to the reading struggles they are dealing with in their homes. I have listened to parents who have remortgaged their homes, own all the curriculum available, or family members raising a sibling’s children because of death—and learning to read was not a priority. I shed tears with a Mom one year whose son had a terminal illness and he wanted to learn to read—and she was determined to teach him. Wow.

I love what I do and am thankful every moment for the enchanted ministry I get to participate in. However, I never want to give the impression that it is an easy task if you “just do it right.” I admire every parent who lays it on the front lines every day, sometimes with great strides, but most of the time with baby steps . . . and backward steps.

I will admit that I am by nature a true optimist. I hate the word “disability” because of its negative connotations. Many children struggle with learning to read. Some children are developmentally slower than others and eventually will learn to read just fine; other children truly labor under some kind of challenge. It has been my experience that most, if not all, children CAN and DO learn to read. This does NOT mean that they love to read and long to do nothing more. It does mean that, eventually, most children can learn to “decode” our language well enough to function in society.

No one knows your child better than you do. No one cares more about their success than you do. No one knows the internal and sometimes external battle you endure, the frustration of trying to teach someone you love who is just not “getting it.”

God knows.

I think that everyone needs affirmation and encouragement, so I make it a habit to speak words of life to parents who are in the battle. It is so important that they learn early on to be optimistic. Some days will be good; some will be not so good. Stay the course, believe, seek truth in all things. Most importantly, do all that you can to preserve the relationship you have with your child. Let them know often that you love them—no matter what.

How do you keep yourself and your child encouraged as you walk this struggling reader journey?

Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, by Kathy Kuhl

Book Review


Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, by Kathy Kuhl

Learn Differently, 2009.  388 pages.  ISBN:  978-0-9819389-0-5

Do you have a struggling learner?  If so, you can appreciate the difficult journey you and your learner travel as you search for solutions.  You also know that answers are elusive, and the road is frustrating, discouraging and just plain daunting.  As if that weren’t tough enough, it often feels as if you are traveling this road alone.  In Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, Kathy Kuhl comes alongside you as a seasoned sojourner and offers to walk a bit of the way with you.

Mrs. Kuhl speaks to us as a trained public school teacher that ended up homeschooling her own struggling son from grades four through twelve.  Though she is a homeschool advocate, and the book is about how you can more successfully homeschool your struggling learner, you will not find this book to be an argument against the “evils” of public schooling.  She is careful to say,

I have supported public schools for years.  I received a good education in public schools.  I taught junior high public school with dedicated professionals who gave and gave to help their students.  I volunteered as a tutor, classroom aide, and PTA newsletter editor.  I respect public school teachers and staff.” p. 7

This characterizes the gracious tone and healthy balance you will find throughout this book.  At the same time, Kuhl is transparent and plain-speaking when talking about the challenges that lie ahead.  And you will hear more than Kathy Kuhl’s voice as you read.  She interviewed 64 homeschooling families from around the country, who help to reinforce the truths being offered.  Twenty-nine different learning disabilities are represented by these 64 families, providing a rich collection of insight and experience to the conversation.

Because it is often exasperating to work for, and with, your struggling learner, it is easy to become angry or frustrated at the mis-informed professionals and the systems that are so non-responsive to your needs.  In spite of Kuhl’s even tone, these realities are not glossed over.  For example, at one point she declares that, in this world of special needs, “Fraud is rampant.”  (p. 121)   We hear Rita, a homeschooling mother in Pennsylvania, lament that, “Learning disabilities are big business.”  p. 121

Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner consists of 26 chapters divided into five sections.  A sampling of chapter titles will give you a sense of the range and practical nature of the material offered here:

Chapter 2 Misconceptions about homeschooling

Chapter 5 Attitudes and Assumptions

Chapter 6 Common Learning Problems

Chapter 9 Newer Therapies and Treatments

Chapter 13 Shopping for Curriculum

Chapter 14 Adapting and Creating Materials

Chapter 17 Math Problems

Chapter 18 Reading Difficulties

Chapter 24 Helping Your Child Keep Going

Chapter 26 Staying Sane: Balancing Health, Marriage, Family, and Homeschool

These chapters, along with the others, are practical and grounded in appropriate research, which is conveniently referenced throughout.  A very useful index allows for quick reference to topics of particular interest.  If you visit Kathy Kuhl’s website at http://www.learndifferently.com/ you will be able to view the entire table of contents and read the first chapter.

In Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, Kathy Kuhl has offered a wonderful gift to all who yearn to help their struggling learner.  Loaded with sage advice borne from her own journey, she has also tapped into the experiences of 64 other families who share some of what they have learned.  There are countless practical resources between the covers of this book.  Presented in a winsome, but realistic tone, this book will encourage and energize you in your efforts to help your own unique struggling learner.   I highly recommend this book.



This is our first posting on our brand new blog.  We hope to post helpful articles and ideas that will help others teach students to read.  We are a husband and wife team … reading specialists … homeschool parents of two boys.  You can find out more about us and our work by visiting our website at http://www.TheStrugglingReader.com





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