On waiting for reading readiness

reading

Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling. She didn’t read fluently until she was seven but ended up with a degree in English.

One of the first goals I had in homeschooling was to teach my child to read. As a first-time homeschooler (and  mom), I was excited, ambitious, and determined. Before my son turned one, I had amassed an impressive collection of classic and bestseller children’s books.

I read Horton Hatches the Egg in the middle of the night while breastfeeding. I sang Mother Goose rhymes throughout the day and read Green Eggs and Ham and The Little Engine That Could every single night. I made a flannel board and decorated it with a colorful felt alphabet and coconut tree ala Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

My refrigerator was covered with magnetic letters and, at one point, I even had flashcards taped on all the furniture. It was, I admit, over the top and looking back, borderline obsessive. But my son did learn to read at three and by the time he hit kindergarten, he was already way beyond grade level.

By my second child, I had calmed down considerably. I did continue to read to him and introduced the same phonics lessons, but I was definitely not as compulsive as before. And I waited until he was five to start. Still, after some intense practice, he “caught up” one magical summer and was reading at grade level by the time he started school again in the fall.

Then my third child, a girl, came along.

By now, I was busy with two other school kids, so many times, she was left alone to just be. I had also evolved in my homeschooling, so I was more relaxed and tinkering with a more natural approach to learning. Every now and then, I’d introduce her to reading through computer games, phonics, and BOB books.

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Photo by WellSpring Community School

Unfortunately, she was headstrong and a perfectionist, which made things just a bit more difficult. She loved when she “read” correctly, but the slightest mistake left her frustrated. As such, I decided to just not push it and let her learn at her own pace. This went well for the most part, though I admit there were times I started feeling anxious that she should start reading. Luckily, I had a great support system, and in those times of self doubt, my friends reassured me that she would read when the time was right.

Kindergarten came and went without much progress. Then first grade rolled around and I started feeling nervous again. Sure, she could read CAT, RAT, and the random sight word (like “Duggar” and “Rachael Ray”). Sometimes, she could even make out the words to an entire reader, but it wasn’t consistent. Shouldn’t she be reading fluently by now?

By this age, my first child was effortlessly going through the entire Pokemon chapter books series! We tried phonics again but it didn’t seem to click. I sat through online lessons for weeks on end, but she didn’t seem to understand decoding. Then, in desperation, I pulled out an old lesson book that I had purchased long ago, but didn’t bother trying with my other kids, because it looked too funky. Incredibly, she caught on to the lessons and loved them.

In the first session, she breezed through twenty-five lessons. By the end of the week, she was reading paragraphs fluently. By the end of the month, she could read short stories. In another, right before school ended, she had moved on to beginning readers outside of her lesson book. Her confidence soared as she joined the summer reading program at the local library and started reading and logging in her books everyday.

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Photo by Campbelltown City Council
All my children have learned to read at their own pace and in slightly different ways. Whether early or later, seeing how they each caught the reading bug has taught me a lot about how children learn.

First off, one size definitely does not fit all. What worked for one will not necessarily work for another. Conversely, what didn’t work for one may very well be the method that clicks for another.

Secondly, especially as homeschoolers, we have the luxury of letting our kids go at their own pace, which obviously, is sometimes easier said than done. While I am thrilled my first child was an early reader, I am glad I did not push my third when the process clearly frustrated her. The last thing I would have wanted was for her to end up hating to read altogether! As it turned out, she came to it at her own time, found the system that spoke to her, and is now well on her way to reading.

I have one more child to go and while she definitely shows signs of wanting to read (she points to words and “reads” them aloud), I am in no hurry to label my furniture or start formal lessons.

Luckily for her, she has the luxury of a mama who has been through the reading process three times already and has learned a little patience and confidence in the natural flow of things.

Whichever route we end up going with this one, I am convinced that, in the right moment, she too, will learn to read. In the meantime, she can enjoy stories and continue in her pretend reading.  After all, she’s only two.

Are you comfortable with your children learning to read at their own pace? Do you ever feel the pressure to have them learn to read according to a typical school schedule? 

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the timely reminder that children learn to read at their own paces, I definitely needed to read that. I’m curious to know the title of the lesson book that helped your daughter, thanks.

  2. What an insightful and encouraging post! Thank you! My oldest just turned 5, so yes I totally identify with what you shared about how we’re often led to believe kids should be reading at a certain age or grade level. Last year (when he was 4) I used a pre-reading program from All About Reading and it was very light and short, it worked well. But I didn’t start a formal reading program until very recently, I’m using a well-known book called Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons – I wonder if you were referring to this book when you said it looks funky. To me the lessons look funky but I love that it’s scripted, and to my surprise, the strange print did not confuse my son at all. He is catching on very quickly – BUT it’s hard to get him started, his response is always a “lets do it later”…..at first I wondered if he was not ready, and yet, every time by the end of the lesson he’s happy to have done it and feels proud of his progress! So i don’t know….we’ll see how it goes!

    • Hi Emily,
      That is exactly the funky book — Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I took one look at it years and years ago and thought that was way too complicated to teach a child. As it turned out, my six-year-old responded to it very well. I think it also has to do with the fact that she had already learned the letter sounds, so the first lessons were a breeze and gave her a boost of confidence to continue with the lessons.
      Amida’s latest post: Kimchi Tofu Stew

  3. I have found with my kids that they are also very different. One read way early and without any intervention (other than daily reading out loud to her). She just learned on her own and reads way above grade level- and reads and comprehends well. The other one is not reading yet and if I compared the two kids she would be “behind” the other. So I too need to remember that they are all different. I know she will read in her own time. Interesting to me to see though because they were both read to daily and both parented the same way. Two different results.

  4. Kristin Thomas says:

    I completely agree that children learn to read in their own time, in their own way. I have 4 children and all of them have learned to read differently at different ages. I, too, thought all my children should learn to read at a prescribed age, and when my oldest didn’t follow that pattern, I became very nervous. She did not read well until she was over 9. My second started reading words just before he was five and steadily increased his ability to read month after month. He was about 7 when he could read really well. My third was 51/2 before she showed any interest, but when she did… watch out world that girl can read. She just exploded and started to read well. My youngest is not reading yet but has SO much interest in it.

  5. Steph J says:

    Thanks for this post. My son is 4 1/2, and even though I feel like he has plenty of time (just writing 4 1/2 right now makes me think how young he still is!), I do get the comparison bug. I know so many other kids his age that are reading. He also has a perfectionist personality (like mine) that leaves him frustrated. When I try to just get him to name the first letter of a title of a book, often a letter that I know he knows, he might meltdown (“you’re reading to me, I don’t want to talk about letters”). I’m torn between not wanting to push him because I don’t want him to hate reading and wanting to get him to work on it, so that it will be easy for him and he won’t have to dread it anymore. Trying to be patient…

  6. Heather Hetrick says:

    I am too interested in the “funky” book..I am at the exact stage you were right now with my 5 year old:)

  7. Both my older children started reading around age 10. When trying to “teach” them at younger ages, we all wound up in tears. It’s ok to let them wait until they’re ready. If they had been in school, they would have been teased & placed in a special class (happens that I’m a special Ed teacher but now stay home), instead, they were home, read to alot, listened to audio books a lot, & learned in their own happy time:)

  8. I find myself anxious often. How long is long enough to wait? My daughter will be eight in October and, although she can decode most simple words, has very little fluency. She is ESL. I wonder how long i should wait …. Before taking some sort of action.

  9. I agree that all children are ready to read at different ages, but I didn’t see any mention of anyone who was worried if the child reaches age 7, 8, 9 or 10 without being able to read well. I just want to reassure those who have even older children that not reading by age 5 or 6 isn’t really a “late” age to not be reading. There are plenty of moms out there who have had children not ready to read until later years and those children have been just fine. Someone once told me: “A child learns to read at age three, another at age 10, yet by age thirteen you cannot tell the difference.” (accept that maybe some of them have learned a dislike of learning if they were pushed too hard too soon.) I have also heard that the AVERAGE age for girls to learn to read is 6 1/2 and the AVERAGE age for boys is 7 1/2. So, if your child is older, be patient, don’t give up, they will learn when they are ready. My first son was reading at age 5, my two middle sons were reading well by age 7 1/2, my daughter, who is the youngest, taught herself to read at age 4. So, you can see the vast difference. And, I didn’t use any intense curriculum or program and we did very little “teaching” each day. We do read A LOT aloud as a family, though.

    • I just looked through the comments again and saw some who have had experience with the “older” ages and learning to read. I somehow missed them. Good encouraging comments on this post!

    • Beth Burnett says:

      Thank you.

  10. Thanks for this article, very timely! My eldest girl is turning 8 and seemed to have a fear of reading, family and other mums have hinted she is behind and ‘slow’. I have always been very autonomous and have told them to back off even though I wobble myself at times. Recently talking to my D she burst into tears saying she never wanted to read because a friend had told her once you learn to read your parents never read you stories anymore! After plenty of reassurance and hugs she is now slowly beginning to read with me and I’m so happy I have been able to find the reason for her refusal to read rather than school labeling her as behind.

  11. When I was in graduate school for education we learned about all the different ways kids learn to read. One kid who is a wiz at sight words can be terrible at phonics & vice versa. It’s so wonderful that you are in a situation wher you can actually teach your children the way they need to learn.

  12. Pamela R says:

    Just out of curiosity, I’d love to know what the funky reader was. My first son learned to read at his own pace (about 6.5 or so) with no teaching, just being read to and then became a very devoted reader. My second will be 8 at the end of the summer and isn’t that into it. My three year old, however, is already starting to read little things here and there and constantly asks us what this says or what that says. It is amazing how different each child is. I am starting to wonder if my middle child and I haven’t hit on quite the thing that will allow him to “decode” as you say. Part of it seems to be readiness and part of it is meeting that readiness with something that works for that child. Learning to read is an amazing thing to observe. Thanks for the post.

  13. Great post! My oldest is one of those perfectionists, and despite learning the sounds of all of the letters before she was 2, she just could not get the grasp of decoding. Last year, at 7 years old and the end of her 1st grade, she still was not reading fluently, and I was starting to feel a little desperate, but I knew she had the vocabulary, the love of stories and the want to, so we just kept plugging along. Suddenly, it clicked, and she took off. A year later, she’s reading things like Narnia and Greek Myths, and there’s really no holding her back!
    Mandi @ Life Your Way’s latest post: Is Too Much Cinnamon Bad for You?

  14. My oldest, a boy, is almost 8 years old and has NO INTEREST in reading. I attempted to start teaching him this past school year, but he’d moan and groan and act as if it were torture. And we were approaching it through a lot of games and play that my 5yo (also a boy) was thrilled about. So I decided to back off. No use making it miserable for all of us. I do think he’s missing out on a lot, but we read a lot and listen to a lot of audiobooks. Meanwhile, I’m trying to comfort myself with “all in due time” and remember that it is better to go at his pace. I’ll try again this fall. Maybe I’ll try a different approach. He might just need something different.

    I will say, though, that I do quaver a bit. Mostly in the fact that everyone we know his age (and younger) is reading. It is a little embarrassing, mostly just because I don’t want to be judged. It it tough, because the expectations are so high. But I’m sticking by my guns and keeping it a more relaxed approach instead of turning into a tribulation for all of us.

  15. Lisa J. says:

    Wonderful post. I’m struggling with this right now. My son will be five next month and shows no real interest in reading on his own. Occasionally over the last year he has sounded out some words and identified a few words, as well as getting me to help him write some words, but he definitely doesn’t want to sit down and work on it in any way (he resists anything that looks like I might have some kind of learning goal in mind). I’ve showed him the 100 Easy Lessons book and the Explode the Code book, and he has had a little enthusiasm for working in those for about five minutes ONE time and then never again. And heaven forbid if I help him with it — he wants to do it his way, which sometimes means just marking up the page. Clearly, he’s not ready for formal instruction. That’s fine with me (he’s so young). The problem is that now he doesn’t even want me to read him books. He wants us to tell him stories with lots of action that we make up as we go along (my creativity is quite limited, however). This is fun and all, but it frightens me that he’s not spending time with books anymore and I’m not sure how to get him back to it. We’ve exhausted the Magic Treehouse series, which he loved, but now if I read him a book, I have to change the story to include knights, pirates, and Vikings. I’m not complaining, just wondering how to use this to get him to want to read more as well.

    • Lisa, your son must have a wonderful imagination. :) Have you tried reading original fairy tales? We have a series of books by Andrew Lang – the Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green Fairy Books. They have wonderfully weird and twisted stories that your son might be into. Some of them are not for the faint of heart, but my husband regularly reads them to our daughters, aged 3 and 4, and they love them! As a bonus your imagination and vocabulary will be stretched as well. :) Another idea is the complete set of Hans Christian Andersen tales.
      There is so much “twaddle” in the realm of children’s books, sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to find what clicks with your kids, and books that you enjoy reading too. Good luck!

  16. Hi Lisa J.
    This totally reminded me of a story I read recently called “Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t)” by Barbara Bottner. It’s about an overenthusiastic teacher who loves books and a very reluctant first grader who didn’t. She pretty much rejected every book suggestion until she found the one that was perfect for her. Check it out!

  17. Thanks so much for this. I have a 5 year old, due to turn 6 next month, and progress has been slow. However, I always remind myself of my potty training fiasco a few years ago, when things were so hard hard hard hard and then, suddenly, easy. Why did I push and frustrate everyone involved, when all I had to do was wait? I expect it will be similar with reading. As we get more into our routine, and simply let time pass, it will come.
    It is always nice to remember we are in a boat with a LOT of other homeschooling parents out there, and support is a click away. Thanks again.
    Leah’s latest post: Jump

  18. I wrote a booklet about how to teach early reading, because all 4 of my kids, each with different learning styles, were reading at age 3 and early 4. I have the S I M P L E S T teaching method for reading. Contact me for a booklet.

  19. I am teaching my daughter who just turned 6 to read. I have been feeling bad lately because it seems a lot of other kids are reading chapter books and they just finished Kindergarten. I have started phonics pathways. It is very helpful for blending and teaching basics of reading. I guess you just need to find the style of learning that your child needs. My daughter is a perfectionist so she just wants to read perfect at first and if she can’t it’s frustrating for her. If anyone has any book recommendations or other ways they’ve helped their child learn to be more fluent readers I would love to hear about it! Love this blog! Thanks!
    Lisa’s latest post: What I would tell myself about homeschooling …

  20. I have a daughter. Headstrong, soon to be 7 and a perfectionist. She can sound out some words, but honestly, fluency is not happening any time soon. I am grateful for blog posts like this, because her brother started reading sight words (on his own) at 18 months and level one and two readers by age 3. We do not compare them. But we do appreciate not being alone in this journey.
    Alysha’s latest post: Pretty Focaccia and Ugly Scones

  21. Something to consider (even though it introduces a fear) is actually that dyslexia is real. It affects a pretty big number of the population and is proven through fMRI. And children who are remediated early can go on to have little trouble (unless is it severe or profound). But children who are remediated later will often have lingering difficulties which might not have had to be there. Dyslexia cannot be cured, but tools can be given to ease the struggles and make reading and spelling possible. I hate to bring this up … but it IS real. I hate to bring in something to fear. There is no reason a child needs to be fluent by ages 4, 5, 6, or 7, or 8. Or whenever. There is no magical age of which I’m aware (if the environment supports that). But “wait and see” does actually concern me. This is because I have up to 3 dyslexics out of my 5 children. They really do learn differently and need the extra helps. Does that mean that any late reader is a dyslexic? No. I wouldn’t say that. But the very thing that helps a genuinely late bloomer (wait and see) is the very thing that makes success as a dyslexic difficult (wait and see). If you want to have a more gentle approach and not be concerned about late reading, do research dyslexia. Look for signs/symptoms. Learn what extras can be added to gently boost their phonological awareness and have the ability to notice difficulties. Such things would be counting words in a sentence, counting syllables, rhyming (difficult rhyming is a big one: but rhyming skills don’t develop in typical children til later, either), ability to split a word apart into its sounds, ability to put a word together with just sounds (this is oral), ability to replace or remove a sound in a word and determine what the new word is (again, this is oral). These can all be accomplished through silly games that aren’t school. I wish I had time to type these ideas out. Or space. :) I didn’t want to introduce fear. I didn’t. But dyslexia is a real thing.

  22. I am happy to read this, because I was so concerned about my daughter not reading at the same age as everyone else. She reads shorts books but that is about as far as it goes. She knows all her alphabets and so on.. so i guess I will continue to let her take her time with reading and do not rush it.

  23. Great reminder of one of the benefits of homeschooling–each child can have his or her rate of learning adjusted as needed! Our sons both struggled with reading until about the age of 8 and then catapulted into the world of Tolkien and Dickens. Most of the time I think it’s like potty training. When they reach the proper physical and mental points, it comes easily. If you push too hard at the wrong time, it’s a monumental struggle!
    Traci Matt’s latest post: How to start a great children’s book club Part 2

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