Why Home-Based Reading?

Little did I know at the time Susan and I were approached by CLC to write a book about reading for parents who wanted to work with their children at home that I would be a home-schooling parent myself.  From a young age I knew I wanted to be a teacher.  While attending college I began to think more specifically about being a reading teacher after having taught in the classroom for a while.  The thought of home-schooling never crossed my mind.


I set out to do what I had planned and wanted to do.  I taught at various schools in different grade levels for several years before leaving the classroom to become a reading teacher.  While pregnant with my fourth child, the idea of home-schooling was planted.  I thought it was something I might want to try with this little one at some point and time.  A few years later a fifth child came along and the seed that was planted started growing. I was working part-time as a Reading Recovery teacher at the same school my older three kids were attending.  I loved teaching reading and my older kids enjoyed school, so I put the idea of homeschooling on the back burner for a while. 

When CLC approached Susan and me about writing this book, both our interests were peaked.  Susan had been tutoring some home-schooled children and my heart was turning more and more towards home-schooling.  By the time we were finished and the book was published, I was homeschooling my youngest 2 children.

I still am a Reading Recovery teacher, but since I only work a handful of hours per week, I have the schedule and time to home school my own children.  My husband works from home so he is willing and able to fill in when needed.  I have a new appreciation for home-school parents.  It is busy!  There are many things I miss about my kids not being in school, but there are also many blessings I am finding while teaching them at home.

I don’t know what God has in store for me and my family in the future.  I am trying to take it one busy day at a time.  I do know that I will continue to have a heart for classroom teachers, homeschooling parents and children who struggle with reading.  This book is an attempt to be a guide for all those who work with children who need extra support with reading and writing.  Susan and I hope that as you work with your children, and the parents of your children, you will experience the same blessings we have over the years helping children learn to read.

Sandra Vroon IMGSandra Vroon has taught second grade, third grade and fifth grade.  She is currently a Reading Recovery teacher at Legacy Christian School.  She also serves as an adjunct professor in the area of Literacy for Calvin College and GVSU.  She continues to love teaching both in schools and at home.  In her spare time she reads children’s novels, drives her kids to their different activities and teaches Zumba.


For additional posts on home-based reading, check out these previous posts: 

Comprehension: A Key Component to Successful Reading

How to Introduce New Books to Your Child

Questions You and Your Child Should be Asking

Questions You and Your Child Should Be Asking

This month, we’ve focused on increasing reading comprehension with your child. We’ve talking about why comprehension is necessary to be a successful reader, how to introduce books to your child, and today, we’ll conclude with more practical strategies you can try with your son or daughter. 

Asking questions during and after reading encourages active engagement and remembrance of important details and information. This can also help your son or daughter connect what he has learned to what he already knows. Your child is monitoring his own comprehension when he asks questions.

How It Works:

1)         Let your child know that asking questions while reading can help him focus on what he is reading, gives him a purpose for reading, and helps him check to see if he is understand what he is reading.

2)        Read a story to your child and model the questioning process (eventually, he should do this on his own). Stop during the reading and ask questions that come to your mind. You may have to model this several times – your child will not pick this up completely after just one modeling.

3)      Some questions to ask while reading could include:

  1. “What does this mean?”
  2. “Is this important?”
  3. “How do I think the story will end?”
  4. “What does this word mean?”
  5. “Do I need to read this again?”
  6. “How could that be?”

4)      Encourage him to ask himself these questions when he is reading on his own.

A Fun, Interactive Post-Reading Activity:

You’ll need: a beach ball and a permanent marker


1)      With a permanent marker, write the following questions on an inflated beach ball: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

Beach Ball Reading Activity

2)      After reading a text, toss the ball back and forth with your child. Look to see which questioning word is closest to your right thumb and answer that question with regard to the text that was just read.

3)      Toss the ball back to your child and have her answer the question closest to her right thumb.

Teaching Reading at Home

We hope the reading strategies over the past month have been helpful for you as you’ve worked with your son or daughter on reading comprehension. If you’re an educator and have a student that’s struggling with reading comprehension, we’d invite you to share these strategies with his or her parent’s to work on at home. For more reading strategies and tips, check out Best Practices for Teaching Reading at Home.

Sandra Vroon IMGSandra Vroon has served as a general education teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, adjunct reading and literacy professor and most recently, a home educator. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College.

Susan Harrell IMGSusan Harrel has spent the last 30 years in a variety of educational settings including a one-room mission school in Uganda, a K-12 school for LD students, multiple elementary grades, a Reading Recovery room, private tutoring of home school students and more. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College. 

The Gift of Presence: Reflections on “Including Isaac”

Including Isaac titlepageCLC Network recently teamed up with Kala Project to share the story of Isaac, a student at Byron Center Christian, and the way inclusive education has impacted his life and the life of the school. Watch the film at this link.

When you look at a person, what do you see? My first encounter with Isaac was through an article I read about a group of Calvin College engineering students who recently built a new mobility cart for Isaac. My reactions were as follows:

1. Wow, this boy has some pretty severe disabilities.

2. Wow, that mobility cart is amazing. How did they come up with that?

3. Wow, what a cool thing, that this boy is able to be mobile and active in his school.

This was the extent of my observations. I saw Isaac as a boy with special needs and didn’t give it a second thought.

James Kessel filming Isaac at school

Recently, I was given the opportunity to tell Isaac’s story through the Kala Project. If you aren’t familiar with Kala Project, we exist to share stories through film that would otherwise go untold. Before going into production of “Including Isaac”, the only thing planned was to interview family, friends, teachers, and of course Isaac himself. Our goal was to simply listen and let Isaac’s story and the impact of inclusive education come to life through many voices.

During the editing process, something about what these people were saying struck me. I was familiar with the idea of inclusive education, but when it comes down to it, inclusive education is a radical thing. In our society, we often are given value by how much we have to offer and how well we perform. But with inclusive education and in the case of Isaac, we are to live by a different set of values. We are to see people with Kingdom eyes. These are the eyes of inclusivity, eyes that see beneath the surface.

Isaac with friends

The story of Isaac challenged me to meet him at a place deeper than the “special needs” label. I was able to see Isaac for the precious person that he really is. Although he does have many gifts to offer, Isaac’s value (as well as our own) is not ultimately found there. Our value is found in our very being.

To me, that is the beauty of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (good or bad) or what we have to offer. What matters is the wild idea that God loves us for who we are and delights in our very existence. Isaac’s greatest gift is deeper than what he teaches others or contributes to his community: his greatest gift is simply the gift of his presence. For in the deepest part of a human being we see the image of God, where the presence of Christ dwells. In Isaac, in you, in me. When we look at a person, is that what we see?

Isaac and his friend

Learning from the story of Isaac, let us look beyond labels and see people with new eyes, recognizing the inherent worth of their presence. May the inclusivity of not only our schools but also our hearts match the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom. And may we never look past the simple yet profound reality of God’s presence among and within us, experienced in the presence of each other.

James Kessel James Kessel is a 2011 graduate of Calvin College with a degree in psychology (he also attended Byron Center Christian, where Isaac attends). He is currently the post-production manager at Bradley Productions, a video production team in Grand Rapids, and often collaborates with Kala Project.

Let’s Be a Voice with Persons with Disabilities

Tomorrow (November 12), the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its second hearing on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). We’re happy to share this post from Rev. Mark Stephenson on Veteran’s Day in honor of men and women wounded by conflict, while not forgetting its impact on civilians with disabilities. This post was originally published on The Network and Sojourner’s.

The first time Jesus preached in a synagogue, he said that he came to proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4:18). Those captives include people who have disabilities, sometimes literally. My friend Margaret who works Familyoverseas with people with disabilities told me that some of them have scars on their wrists from being chained to their beds for years as children. Pastors from a number of different countries have told me similar stories.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not right all the wrongs committed against people with various disabling conditions, but it puts a line in the sand that squares with the message of Jesus.

People with disabilities tend to be the most oppressed in any community. Even here in the U.S., they are more likely to be unemployed, poor, and victims of crime compared to the general population. People with disabilities from around the world wrote the CRPD, patterning it after the landmark U.S. legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The CRPD gives voice to the cry of people who are often unheard (Proverbs 31:8).

As a Christian, I believe firmly that the United States needs to ratify this important international treaty, but multiple misunderstandings brought about the defeat of the CRPD last time. In particular, three areas of concern have been expressed about the CRPD—parental rights, rights of the unborn, and U.S. sovereignty.

Parental Rights: Ratification of the CRPD would not change U.S. law but would confirm our commitment to disability rights and allow the U.S. to impact disability rights globally. No changes to U.S. laws covering parental rights would result from ratification. Parental discipline and homeschooling would still be under local jurisdiction. In fact, the treaty supports people with disabilities and their right to live in the community among family, and it protects parents and children from separation on the basis of disability.

Rights of the Unborn: The CRPD states that people with disabilities should have the same access to health care as people without disabilities. It emphasizes non-discrimination on the basis of disability, without denying the rights of the unborn.

U.S. Sovereignty: All human rights treaties passed by the U.S. Senate include RUDs (Reservations, Understandings and Declarations), legally binding conditions added to treaties to protect U.S. sovereignty.  The CRPD ratification package that the Senate has before them requires no changes to U.S. law. It includes the RUDs, defines disability as already defined in the ADA, and declares that the U.S. is already in compliance with the CRPD.

Besides proclaiming justice for people with disabilities, ratification will reengage the U.S. as a world leader in disability rights and will provide additional protections for U.S. citizens with disabilities when they travel abroad. In addition, if the U.S. ratifies it, U.S. citizens will have a seat at the table of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This body makes recommendations to countries regarding accessibility and implementation of the treaty.

Justice for people with disabilities is personal for me, not only as a Christian but also as the parent of a child who lives with severe disabilities and as the son of a woman who recently died after a 12-year journey with dementia. Americans, engage your senators, especially the 38 senators who voted against ratification last December, by making calls, visiting their offices, and sending emails. Only six more votes are needed this time around to move from defeat (61 voted in favor last December) to ratification (67 votes in favor needed).

Suggested action steps from the Association of University Centers on Disability:  

1.     Sign the online I Support the Disability Treaty Petition now!

2.     Call your U.S. Senators and tell them that you support the Disability Treaty.  If you have called them before, call them again!

3.      Email your Senators directly using the CRPD Action Center.  It literally only takes a minute! A sample letter is provided.

4.     Tweet both of your Senators to show your support.  Click here for list of your Senators Twitter IDs.  Remember to use #Disability Treaty for each tweet you send.

Find suggested talking points here.

ImageRev. Mark Stephenson is the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Learn more about him on his blog.

How to Introduce New Books to Your Child

Last week, we shared why reading comprehension is necessary for your son or daughter to be a successful reader. This week, parents, teachers, home educators and authors Sandra Vroon and Susan Harrell share one strategy for helping your child strengthen their comprehension skills: introducing new books with to child.

Why is this important? Because it will pique their interest, introduce new words and concepts and give them an idea of what the story is going to be about.  (Learn more about this from Drs. Fountas and Pinnell)

Reading Together

Credit: Phil Dowsing Creative, http://flic.kr/p/4G8o6f

Steps for Introducing a New Book:

  1. Give a summary of what the story is about. This gives your child the main idea to refer to when reading the story.
  2. Talk about the pictures together before reading. Look at the pictures and talk about what your child thinks is happening and will happen next. This will help him to predict the story and reinforces the meaning of the text.
  3. Talk about any interesting language your child may encounter during the reading of this book. This will help your child use structure and language patterns.
  4. Discuss any concepts that you think may be new or difficult for your child to understand based on his background knowledge
  5. Preview the book and find one or two high frequency words that you are working on. Go to the page the first word is located on. Say the word you want your child to locate and have him repeat it after you. Ask him what letter he would expect to see at the beginning of the word. Have him run his finger slowly under the word and read it. Repeat this with the second word. This helps your child use the visual information from letters to guide him through the text.
  6. Enjoy this opportunity to read with your child. Keep the experience fun and relaxing for both you and your child.

Check back next week for a fun reading activity!

This text was adapted from Sandra and Susan’s new book, Best Practices for Teaching Reading at Home.

Sandra Vroon IMGSandra Vroon has served as a general education teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, adjunct reading and literacy professor and most recently, a home educator. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College.

Susan Harrell IMGSusan Harrel has spent the last 30 years in a variety of educational settings including a one-room mission school in Uganda, a K-12 school for LD students, multiple elementary grades, a Reading Recovery room, private tutoring of home school students and more. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Calvin College.