Often in homeschooling groups a frequent conversation is about reading. When does your child read? How much does he read? What age did she start reading? What grade level reading is she doing? What if they don’t want to read? What if he reads too much? What subject matter and breadth of subjects are read? Strangely enough, I have discovered that many of my friends are addressing the same issues with their public schooled kids.
So what is all the fuss about?
As my youngest, now ten, has just started to get into chapter books without pictures (jumping right from Henry and Mudge – the level where she has been since she was six – to Harry Potter in less than a month), I am trying to remember what teachers used to do way-back-when, when performance was not the goal, but school was simply about empowering the student with skills. As a kid I remember that there were always slow or poor readers in school, even as late as high school. But most kids had overcome their struggles by the end of sixth grade. Hmmm, that would be around eleven or twelve years old.
I also remember that reading skills were reinforced through weekly trips to the school library, reading assignments, book reports, reading homework, and most importantly, reading in class. The students had an opportunity to read aloud and our teachers read to us. And this happened in all subject areas except math. So reading was reinforced in all subject matters by a variety of teachers, i.e., students were exposed to many styles of teaching as well as required reading on many subjects.
By seventh grade, there were very few (I would almost say none – but I am sure there must have been one or two) kids who still could not read. And the formula for success seemed to me as: patience, practice, and time. You will note however, as I tell my tale below, that I did not remember this formula for my own kids.
When I started homeschooling my oldest as she entered 7th grade, we had already past the benchmark of reading skills. Actually, my oldest began reading at four, pretty much through osmosis (all I ever did was to read to her – there was never any ‘teaching’ going on). She was like I was as a kid – reading was easy for me; it was easy for her – it just happened. Life was good. She remained ‘ahead of the class’ in reading throughout her school years. She read voraciously, a wide variety of materials, and had a good balance of other life and reading. So I was spoiled with my first daughter. I say spoiled, but actually I was clueless. Totally clueless to the fact that many kids don’t “get” reading until much later. And! This applies to very bright kids also.
Well – the universe has a way of making sure we learn our life lessons, and I guess the universe decided that I had it too easy with my oldest – so along came daughter # 2. She presented an interesting challenge, as not only did she not want to read, she did not want me to read to her. Why? At age two she announced that I was no longer allowed to read to her – because she did not like the way stories ended. She would take her books, look at the pictures, and in her mind, create her own stories (which she never shared with me).
The struggle that ensued was not a pretty one. There were many days of tears, threats, frustration and agony. And that was just me.
Finally – she had a “break-through” at age ten: jumping from Dr. Seuss books to high school level books over the course of one year. This was the year she also began to allow me to read to her, and it was the beginning of her diversifying her reading subject material. Now, ten years later we argue over the fact that she spends too much time reading and not enough time doing other activities. (Yes, sigh – again).
And now, I have my youngest. She seemed to be one who was going to read early. She had all the signs of reading: interest in books and loving when I read stories out loud. But one day, when she was about five, she told me that she figured out that she would someday be expected to read on her own. And for whatever mysterious reason, she explained to me quite emphatically that she was simply not interested in reading by herself. My only reprieve was that she "would allow me" to read to her all I wanted!
Oh, there were other issues – such as learning to read and write in two languages at the same time and other such challenges. But the real problem was that she simply did not want to read.
Once again, there were many days of tears, threats, frustration and agony (mine). But this time around, it was even worse, because she is such an outgoing, engaging person – everyone who met her assumed that a kid as bright as she appeared, must be able to read. Oh, she could read some things – but definitely no where near ‘grade level”. And so it became a family “secret” that she could not read. She hid this information from her friends, and refused to discuss it with her relatives. She knew she was not ‘performing’ according to some standard. And I even fell into the trap of being very careful who I would tell that she did not read. We both felt shame, and I was fearful of what would happen if something was not done. I had lost faith in the process.
After all the anxiety and frustration, suddenly, reading has become a non-event for us. She has picked up the skill seemingly overnight. I don’t know what happened, or if she will become an avid reader or not. But her ability is there. We have not discussed that she is now reading. We both have glossed over this achievement; mostly because I feel foolish. Foolish for being such an idiot.
And so what did I learn? I learned that I should have paid attention to how kids were taught years ago. Before standardized tests took up the focus of education. Before teachers were evaluated by how well their students performed. Before group-centered learning became more important than child-centered learning. Before parents stood around parroting off their kid’s achievements or lack thereof.
Patience. Practice. Time.
Some kids do not read at four. They don’t read at six. They don’t read at eight. They may not even read at ten. Yet, short of a physiological impairment – most kids will learn basic reading skills by twelve.
Why twelve? It is not only due to patience, practice and time. For many kids, it is a physiological development issue. They simply process information via a different process and it all does not come together for them until they are older. For some kids, it is because they are busy doing other things (sitting and reading is torture). For other kids it is because developing their own skills means breaking away from their parents.
Like walking or talking. Each person develops uniquely. As parents and teachers – we must remember to have patience, take and allow time, and be willing practice partners along the way.
I will admit, that it is with great relief that I can say: daughter number 3 is now reading well. Whew. Deep breath. Time to celebrate. But at the same time, I am somewhat ashamed that I made it such a big deal for both of us; wavering back and forth as to pressuring her and leaving her alone. Saying that I believed in her ability to do it when she was ready, and then listening to that society voice telling me that I must force her to move on with this.
I never caved on other development matters, why reading? No, actually, why LEARNING? Why do we put so much emphasis on meeting goals and objectives in learning. It is like we are some kind of educational manufacturing organization: input raw materials . . . . output a finished product.
AHA! But we are never finished products! Well – not if we remain engaged in life. We should always be learning, developing, evolving. So I hope that the universe has decided that I have learned this lesson. If not, I know that I will get it again – under some other guise. Life is about patience, practice and time. Accept it.
Linda is a multi-tasking (translation: crazy) mom of three, homeschooling since 1992, world traveler, dreamer, writer (baker, chef and bottlewasher).