June 20, 2008

Teaching a Child How to Read

Reading is the number one, most important thing you can do for your child's education. Reading starts your child on the path of following his interests as far as he wants to go. That's obvious, right? I am always surprised by the number of moms who stress out about all the things to cover in kindergarten and first grade. My suggestion has always been, "Teach them to read, and then let them go. Reading is the door that opens the world to them."

I didn't start early reading lessons with Peter (my first), but I read to him A LOT. We read a couple books every night before bed. Sometimes I'd run my finger along the line of words to show him that what I was saying matched the letters. He knew the names of the letters, and I'm sure we talked about letter sounds and recognizing words, but only in an off-hand kind of way. When he was five or so, I got out a one-page list of all the basic sounds in English and their corresponding letters. Each letter/sound combination had a representative word printed in tiny letters underneath. I stuck it on the refrigerator, and every morning over a bowl of cereal I'd bring up a couple letter sounds.

"Peter, did you know the letter c makes a 'k' sound like in cake or an 's' sound like in cereal?"

And we might look for words that started with that letter on the cereal box, or think of other words to test out that information. It would take about five minutes and then he was off doing something else. Driving in the car, I might point out a street sign and talk about the letters and what it said, or find other ways to bring up letter/sound relationships. We did that for a month or so.

Then one day at the library, he was looking at a string of letters on the wall above the bookshelves. He turned to me and said, "Yeah, reading really is magic." What?? I looked up and saw that the librarians had taken the Halloween theme and cut out letters and pictures to make a display that said, "Reading is Magic!" And that was the beginning of Peter's reading career. Teaching reading isn't so hard, I thought to myself. And if Peter had been my only child, I probably would still believe that.

I assumed Meg would follow the same path, but reading never clicked with her the way it did with Peter. When the one-page, no-frills phonics sheet didn't help, we went to workbooks and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Sing, Spell, Read and Write, and Explode the Code. I'm not an alarmist, but her inability to catch on to reading started to concern me. I knew she was intelligent and was just fine socially and physically, but the reading thing really had her stumped.

Once in awhile my husband would try to teach her to read and they'd work through some curriculum, but it always ended with Meg in tears. She really wanted to read, but she just couldn't get it. I read somewhere that Woodrow Wilson didn't learn to read until he was 12, and he went on to be the president of Harvard and the president of the United States, so I resolved not to worry until she was 12. I was afraid the stress of trying to learn to read might make her hate reading all together, so I down-played the whole thing as much as possible.

Then one day, when she was between 10 and 11 years old, we were sitting in church where words to a song were projected on the screen. She leaned over to me, and with a big smile, whispered, "I can read that!" And that was it. She started reading like crazy, catching up with lightning speed. Spelling was difficult for a long time, but I reassured her that she'd only been reading a year or two, so it made sense that she'd be a little behind. But now, with all the practice she gets with texting and instant messaging, her spelling abilities are just fine!

Melissa, the youngest, was like Peter. As I was trying to teach Meg to read, little bitty Melissa would chime in with the answers. I tried to hide her reading ability so Meg wouldn't get too discouraged, but after awhile, that was silly. No one made a big deal out it, and we all focused on our strengths.

As I look back on those years, I am even more thankful we homeschooled. Meg would have been labeled learning disabled and probably held back a grade or two. That would have devastated her. Today she is a bright and confident young woman, a gifted artist, and a vocalist. She's been in several local theater productions, playing the lead in at least two. She thinks she might want to study music theater in college. And her favorite hobby? Reading.
Probably the most helpful book for Meg was Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read.

Photo is Meg in her period costume of 1845, reading as she waits to leave to volunteer at the local historic site.


MarshaMarshaMarsha said...

What a great post! I'm sure it will be an encouragement to so many that learn to read a little later than others expect.

It really is amazing how each child is so unique and different from the others-- and yet we all have our strengths! You are very right about that!

Genevieve said...

Thanks for yet another fabulous post! I have read in book after book that once reading "clicks" with children they are at "grade level" and beyond very quickly. However, it is SO NICE to hear these real life stories.

Heather said...

Oh that is exactly how it was with us!!! My oldest struggled so much and my middle child was sitting there listening in and commenting on it all. Finally they both got it and now my little man is catching on as well.

sixbadboys said...

I had the same feelings and experiences with homeschooling my older children to read. My oldest son was in the grocery store checkout when he was 7 and said,"Look mom, Al Kaline batteries". Only funny to those of us who are in obsessive baseball households and know that Al Kaline is a hall of fame baseball player. To him they were not Alkaline batteries, he wondered why Al Kaline was making batteries.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jena,

Thanks for posting this! What an encouragement. (Just within the past week or so, a local, fellow homeschool mom was somewhat condescending when I mentioned that my 8 yo dd isn't really reading yet.)

Again, thanks!

Hurrayic said...

Wonderful words. Absolutely begin with reading. I still have to remind myself that my 2 younger ones need reading (and maybe math skills) more than anything else.

Knittingmama said...

Your post made my eyes well with tears. My oldest learned to read by reading. #2 did it with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. #3 had a stroke when he was born, and has just now started to read at age 8. #4 is doing a combo approach. Homeschooling has been a Godsend. I know my #3 would be labeled LD, but I won't accept the treatment he would receive at the government school. Reading is magic, and I'm blessed to see all of my children learning how to do it in their own ways.

Unknown said...

Great post. I have a 4 year old who could care less about abc's or writing or anything but being a kid. Her 7 year old sister was much more excited about learning stuff at that stage. I try not to worry (she very intelligent otherwise) but I'm a mom! It's what we do.
I found you through the Ravelry homeschool group.

Jena said...

I love hearing your stories. The reading issue is such an emotionally-charged one. If only every kid fit the cookie-cutter mold they are "supposed to," it would be a lot easier on our teachers and our education system! But human beings just aren't that way. I'm glad we have the option to teach our kids and focus on their uniquenesses.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found your site and this post. I have 4 kids who aren't all that interested in reading...ages 10, 9, 6, & 5. I do a lot of reading aloud and I am finally learning that this is okay. I take some solace int he fact that even though I could read & loved to write, I hated reading. I did not learn to enjoy reading until I was 26. So, there is hope!

justkris said...

My favorite part: As I look back on those years, I am even more thankful we homeschooled. Meg would have been labeled learning disabled and probably held back a grade or two. That would have devastated her.

My daughter and older son are close in age and school ability. Sometimes I feel bad for my girl when her younger brother is as good, and sometimes better, than she is in some area. Sometimes it's temporary, sometimes she shines and others he is ahead with no looking back. If some teacher compared the two, my girl might be labeled "behind" and my son as "gifted." But neither is true. My daughter is where she should be, as is my son. Sometimes they overlap (actually, often), sometimes Maeve is ahead, sometimes Addison. The best part? They are both so smart they teach their little brother. They want to show him everything they both know; I don't have to do too much on the "academic" side. They both jump in, wanting him to be as good as they are, even when it's above his head!

If I kept the kids in school here's how it would look: Maeve is average; Addison is ahead, maybe gifted, and Raines is behind due to my more hands-off, let him decide method. Thanks for letting me know I am okay. I read, the big kids read, we all read. It IS the most important thing! Everything will fall into place as they are ready.

Martha A. said...

That is really encouraging. I have three children who have all struggled in different ways with reading. My second son read right off, but struggled then with getting so tired with it, glasses have helped, but the practice is tedious. The third son sounds like your daughter! He wants to read so bad, and is finally reading some at age 8.....we have both worked so hard and I am glad to see the improvement and the hope that maybe he will be a reader at 10!

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