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.
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.
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?