Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Valuable Resources for Teaching Your Child Reading and Math

Yes this is a photography blog. If you found our site and are looking for photo-related stuff, don't worry you're in the right place. Just see any of the 500+ articles that we have already posted. In particular you may want to start with the index. I haven't updated it in a year but it will still help you navigate through many of our articles.
This post, however, is for our readers who have young kids. I have a 2-yr old daughter and a 5-yr old son. I found some very helpful resources for teaching reading and math, and I wanted to share them with you.


I believe it's essential to foster reading skills and a love of reading in my kids, so I have been reading to them regularly. With my son now in kindergarten, I started trying to teach him sight words using Meet the Sight Words by Kathy Oxley. He had been learning to read the books, so I was pleased with his progress. But I noticed that he was misreading some words. For example he sometimes misread "that" as "the" and vice-versa. He was also intimidated by new words.
Meanwhile I learned another method of teaching kids how to read called DISTAR (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading) or "Direct Instruction." I bought a book that was based on that method called, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I learned that the sight words method could foster bad reading habits such as being overly reliant on pictures and guessing words instead of learning to read. That certainly explained some of the mistakes that I saw my son was making. I stopped with the sight words books and switched to DISTAR.
The 100 Easy Lessons book builds up reading skills in 20-minute lessons. Each lesson has several short components, such as recognizing the sounds of letters, reading them phonetically, writing them, and in later lessons, testing reading comprehension with short stories followed by questions. By the 100th lesson (or even before that) the child will be reading stories with several paragraphs, which I suppose is good enough to enable him to read pretty much any kind of reading material appropriate for his age group.
I have been using DISTAR with my son for the past several weeks with good results. At the beginning it felt kind of strange because it is very rigid (they use a script), but after several lessons I learned when it was not necessary to use the script. Regardless of my initial impressions, the results have been good. My son has definitely been learning to read phonetically (I tested this the other day by presenting him with nonsensical made-up words to see if he could read them). He has also been understanding what he is reading. I was so pleased with the DISTAR reading program that I wanted to look into using the DISTAR approach for math as well.
Math is one of my favorite subjects, and I have tried to teach my son math conceptually. He knows how to count but I want to be sure he understands what the numbers mean and is not just rattling them off. I found it somewhat frustrating to think of different ways to teach him concepts like places, carrying over, etc. using coins, counting beads, and an abacus. It felt so inefficient because I am sure someone has done this before. The resources I did find already assumed an understanding of the fundamental concepts (e.g. Kumon math books).
After I got good results with the DISTAR reading program I tried to look for DISTAR Arithmetic resources. I saw one on Amazon but it was priced at $158 (!!). I found out the publisher was McGraw Hill and I checked it out there. The workbook for kids was $50+. OK that's within reason. The manual for the teachers is $700. Just for level 1. WTF. Level 2 is of course another $700.
After some more searching, I eventually found out that there are actually FREE software for DISTAR arithmetic AND reading. It's on a site called www.funnix.com . I was suspicious at first, but found out it's by Siegfried "Zig" Engelmann, the inventor of the DISTAR method and co-author of the 100 Easy Lessons book. (FYI the free offer is just a temporary promotion. The math program is available free until December 15. The reading program will be available for free from December 16 to December 31. If the promo has ended by the time you read this, you can also buy the software at around $32 and $38 respectively.)
I was also curious about whether DISTAR Arithmetic would teach math conceptually. I got my answer in the video on this page by Zig Engelmann. In it, you'll see kindergarten and first-grade kids who have been taught using DISTAR demonstrating a very solid understanding of math concepts. Check it out. Call me a nerd, but I found it very touching and inspiring.
That video was made in 1966. It is heartwarming to know that Zig Engelmann still continues his work and his advocacy for underprivileged children.
Most free programs or books are usually just teasers. This is the real deal. It includes 100 lessons. The software is 800MB. There are PDF files that are included. The workbook is 208 pages. This is not some bullshit promo teaser. There are no ads. It's not time-limited. It's not disabled in any way. It's complete. There's no upsell. As far as I can tell it's identical to the software that they sell for $32.
- Lessons are 35 mins each., and are intended to be done once per day, 5 days / wk.
- Covers addition, subtraction, algebra addition (e.g. 1 + x = 5), algebra subtraction (e.g. 10 - x = 6), and basic fractions.
- A prerequisite to starting the class is to pass a "placement exam" with a minimum of 10 pts. Essentially if your child can count reliably up to 10 and can identify the numbers 1 to 10 then they will pass. If the child doesn't yet meet this score, the authors recommend a beginning language program instead.
I have yet to start the program but I've reviewed the materials and am very optimistic. There are several similarities with 100 Easy Lessons, such as the fact that the lessons are organized so that kids learn mini-skills in bite-sized pieces that ensure success, which are reinforced and later combined into bigger skills that are again repeated for reinforcement and combined into still more complex skills.
Will update after some lessons.
Will update after downloading and trying out.


  1. Great post! Our daughter is nearly 4 and we've been umming and ah-ing about teaching reading and maths, though I read to her every day and she knows the alphabet and numbers, this will be a great resource. Many thanks!

    1. Oh how I envy you! Thats the perfect age to start with distar! And we have gone through many books and videos that offer to teach reading but this is the most systematic and effective among them all. Best regards to you and your family!


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