When Mary Follin’s children were little, the complicated, expensive reading programs on the market frustrated her.
“Many of the programs then and now have complex structures and gaps that create confusion for both parent and child,” Follin says.
Although her kids are now grown up, Follin finds that when it comes to reading programs, not much has changed. She used her own experience to create Teach Your Child to Read, an online phonics learning tool geared toward children ages 3-6. The program’s lessons are each three-five minutes max, and the audio pronounces sounds, striving to teach children to associate those sounds with letters and eventually combine sounds to recognize words on the page or screen.
We spoke to Follin about the program, and she offered tips for teaching young children to read.
What inspired you to create a reading program for young children?
When my kids were young, I put together my own tools for teaching them to read mostly because I couldn’t find a simple, affordable approach on the market. There are programs out there, some of them quite expensive, but most of them don’t teach phonics in a systematic way. Phonics isn’t hard, but a step-by-step program is critical.
Prior to this project, what was your background?
I started my career as a systems engineer and have provided marketing to professional services firms. I think parents like the idea that I’ve never been a teacher. Teaching a child to read doesn’t require credentials or any type of formal training; parents don’t need to be intimidated by the process.
Who should use the Teach Your Child to Read program?
My program is for parents, grandparents and day care providers who want to teach a child ages 3-6 to read. The lessons are conducted in five minutes or less to accommodate busy schedules and short attention spans. Parents can use Teach Your Child to Read to supplement a child’s instruction in school, and home-schooling families can use the program to teach at home. The program can also be helpful for older children who are struggling with reading.
Why did you decide that the program would work best in an online format? Is it important for young children to physically interact with real books and take a multisensory approach to learning reading?
When I first created the program years ago, I sent out flash cards, audio and story books in a complete kit. The more recent version is in an online format because my millennial kids told me that was the platform parents would be more attracted to. Reading apps are very popular now, but they tend to be limited in how far they can go in teaching a child to read. Teach Your Child to Read is one of the only fully interactive, comprehensive online reading programs that takes a simple, straightforward approach to developing a child into an independent reader.
How do you recommend parents incorporate play-based learning into reading instruction?
When my children were little, we called our lessons doing sounds. We did our sounds in restaurants on napkins, on the refrigerator whiteboard and while sitting in doctor’s offices. Doing sounds was definitely play-based, and they loved it.
How does your program keep children motivated about learning?
The program relies on the one reward children get most excited about—one-on-one time with a parent. Teach Your Child to Read is a gentle, nurturing activity that takes only a few minutes a day. Children often don’t get enough lap time with mom or dad, and using the program becomes a special time between parent and child. Teach Your Child to Read is not about planting a child in front of a screen to become absorbed in a game or learning activity. It’s about one-on-one learning with the most important person in a child’s life.
How do you hope to reach more families through the Teach Your Child to Read program?
I am excited that the internet is a global resource. People in developing countries can use the program to teach children in areas where access to educational material and teachers are limited. Teach Your Child to Read is currently under evaluation by two organizations that foster literacy and other skills in underserved parts of the world.