Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
Learning to read. It’s a big deal, isn’t it?
I know it often feels HUGE to us as homeschooling parents. It’s kind of the first thing we don’t want to mess up, ya know? But in our eagerness to prove ourselves, we sometimes end up rushing these little people we love more than anything.
I thought it might be helpful if I shared the way my three children learned (& are learning) to read. It amazes me that with three kids, the process has been different every time.
That’s why a cookie cutter approach to education just won’t work. We need to treat our kids like individuals–because they are!
Here’s what the road to the written word has looked like in our home.
My daughter spent the first years of her life in an Indian orphanage, joining our family at the age of four with global delays and a visual impairment.
We had decided to try homeschooling, mainly because we wanted time to bond. Reading instruction was not a priority, but a culture of reading was. Picture books galore, magnetic letters on the fridge, talking about sounds. Just life.
So when at the age of five she looked up at me, book in hand and said, “Will you teach me how to read this?” my heart soared and I scooped her up in a big hug.
“Unschooling works!” I thought to myself.
We started with BOB books, not a curriculum. One word at a time, I would sound out, then have her follow. A few minutes here and there, nothing extraordinary.
After a while her interest faded, so I let it go. (Though I was petrified she might never learn to read, I was secretly thankful to have a break from “MMMMM-AAAAAA-T” sounding out process.)
Then sometime between age seven and eight, everything clicked. Nothing monumental or structured made it happen–just readiness. After a few weeks of a break, we’d sit down with the early readers and she’d zoom through them.
She was off. Today at age eleven, she spends hours each day writing (and of course reading!) her own stories. She has a Kindle so she can read books in large print. And as a child who loves to draw, she still enjoys picture books.
Jonathan walked a different road to reading. I’d heard that boys develop more slowly when it comes to these milestones, so I had prepared myself for a longer process.
We followed the same natural process we’d done with Trishna (minus the BOB books since he hadn’t shown interest in them). We also put captions on the television when they watched videos (a tip I’d read in The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.)
Then one morning at age six, on our morning stroll around the block, he paused in front of a sign in someone’s yard.
“Look, Mommy! It says SLOW. KIDS AT PLAY.”
Uh, excuse me?! What just happened here?
It wasn’t an overnight switch, but gradually that year (between age six and seven) Jonathan became a reader. Today, at age ten, he spends hours in his room (the one with the NO TRESPASSING sign on the door!) reading every day.
Elijah joined our family at the age of six months and grew up in the same culture of words and books. He listened to hours of stories and sat beside his brother and sister as they began to read (only 22 months separate all three kids.)
What a blessing that Elijah is my youngest–that I had already experienced how the process of reading can come together naturally. It gave me courage to wait.
Together Steve and I decided to give him until after the age of eight before pursuing any kind of structured plan.
“Focus on Core Phase,” I reminded myself again and again, when panic would rise.
A few months after age eight arrived, I sat down alone with Elijah during our morning school time.
I made him a cup of tea, snuggled him on my lap, and read one of his favorite books (about airplanes) aloud. Afterwards I talked about how cool it would be when he could read his airplane books by himself. Then I invited him to begin reading lessons with me.
He said yes.
Last fall (in 2013) we used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, a book with rave reviews that many have used successfully. We seemed to be on our way–he worked hard and learned a ton. But afterwards, his new knowledge didn’t transfer to “real life” reading.
As you can imagine, this was disheartening. I began to research dyslexia and other issues. But none of the descriptions completely fit him either, and again I was led back to readiness. It wasn’t there. Other delays in speech, fine motor, and emotional maturity helped me to see that he was maturing on a different track.
I would recommend it for ages 6 and up (definitely not ages 3&4 as mentioned on the site). The games in each lesson teach basic phonics and sight word skills.
Elijah liked it. I told him that the whole family would support his reading experience, and that after dinner he could either work his body (by helping clean up, his usual duty) or work his mind (by choosing Reading Eggs.)
If he chose to read, I explained, the rest of the family would do the extra cleaning to support and bless him.
Almost every evening, we ask “Do you want to clean up or do Reading Eggs?” 90% of the time he chooses reading. The program hasn’t been a silver bullet, but it has allowed him to continue making progress.
This child adores books, and that’s always been my main goal. (For example, he’s the one who shouted “Oh, goody!” when I explained I had downloaded Two Gentlemen of Verona by Shakespeare for him to listen to on audio. He proceeded to listen for an hour and a half straight.)
We’ve given Elijah a gift–the gift of time.
At age nine, he’s a delayed reader who doesn’t feel delayed. There’s been no stigma, no comparison. He knows and believes (& is regularly told) that he is smart, capable–that he has an incredible purpose in life.
And hallelujah, he has not lost his love of learning in the process. I am so thankful for the ability to homeschool, allowing us to tailor our kids’ journeys to reading in individual ways.
3 children, 3 journeys to reading.
Each pathway unique and beautiful. Like each one of my little people.
“I remember the first day that words on a page had meaning to me…Mr. Falker had reached into the most lonely darkness and pulled me into bright sunlight and sat me on a shooting star.”
~ author Patricia Polacco wrote Thank You, Mr Falker to honor the teacher who helped her finally learn to read (in the 5th grade)