By Beth, Guest Author
Forrest had just turned three when he first made the connection between a letter, the sound it makes, and a word which begins with it. It was early summer, and we were drawing with sidewalk chalk. He drew the letter “C” and excitedly said, "Look mama! C! C is for cat, right mama?"
I was so proud of my little boy, and so naive, that I figured he'd be reading fluently by the time he was three and a half. LOL! Not that there aren't children who read fluently at three; of course there are - I've known a few myself - but for me to blithely assume ... Well, it makes me chuckle, looking back. Interestingly, my sister made the same assumption about her daughter when she was three. Maybe it's a first time mother thing.
What was unfortunate about my blithe assumption was that I set myself up, and I got anxious when he didn't read at three. Or four. Or five. I had a lot to learn. So I read and reread John Holt, and devoured every issue of Growing Without Schooling. I relaxed, gradually. Forrest blossomed. He could, at six, read simple words and phrases. Sometimes. He would get tired after a few words -- because he wasn't ready. I learned not to expect, but to foster a love of discovery in a wide variety of areas. Given my passion for books, I had been reading great piles of them to him daily from the time he was about six months old, and I began reading him chapter books when he was four. When he was about five and a half, I finally truly understood that everything we did was building skills and interests and passion for learning. He would read when he was ready. We were both doing all that we needed to.
When Forrest turned seven he wanted to read Tintin books, by himself, but the language was too complex, and he would grow frustrated. So I pulled out Dr. Seuss's ABC book. I don't know why I chose that particular book. I just figured it would be a good one to begin with. Forrest picked it up daily and read it, doing only as much as he wanted to in one sitting, but he read it word by word, page by page, day by day until he made it through the whole book. It took a few weeks. When he finished he turned back to the beginning and read it aloud all the way through, all in one sitting. And, that was it. He could read. It had clicked. From then on he could and did read picture books and random words, and he began to make his way through the Tintin books. At seven and half, he began reading chapter books; I think The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was his first. And, by the time he turned eight, he was reading several chapter books a week.
Now, by the time River came along I was well-seasoned as both a mother and as a homeschooler. I can honestly say that I never really wondered when she would read, as I knew that she would. If I made any assumptions at all it was probably that her path to literacy would be similar to Forrest's. However, River is a very, very different sort of person than Forrest, and as such her path has been quite different indeed. At five she discovered workbooks at the bookstore and asked for some. Forrest had never used workbooks. For nearly two years River regularly and happily worked through math and language arts workbooks. She learned how to read in a rather mechanical way through using those books by writing and by reading the instructions. But she didn't immerse herself in learning to read. It wasn't like it was with Forrest. And, she wouldn't read anything outside of those workbooks. Well, once in a very blue moon she would read a line or two of a picture book or a random word she encountered somewhere. In those cases, she'd stare intently at the word, read it out, ask me if she was right, continue to stare, and then carry on with whatever it was she had been doing. Over time, as she demonstrated increasing skill in reading, she became more and more reluctant to actually do it. She stopped using her workbooks. She would refuse, point blank, to read (anything) if asked. Mind you, I did not ask her to, neither did Forrest. The main culprit there was her father. The more he pressured her, the more withdrawn she became. He finally let up just before she turned seven, refusing to believe that she truly could read.
I didn't really think of her as a reader myself during this time; or rather, I thought of her as a child who could read, but wouldn't.
But, she still loves books, and I’ve carried on reading aloud every day, of course, just as I always have. And once in a great while, River, now going on eight, will read a picture book aloud to Larkin -- but only if no one else is around. Larkin will mention it to us later. Or, River will take a Tintin book and hide under her covers, reading it. Or, she'll crawl under a table with a book. It is very important not to notice her when she does this.
And then ... last night ... I was reading the younger two a chapter book before bed when I started having trouble with my breathing (I have asthma). I got it under control, but couldn't continue reading. I asked River if she would. I don't know what possessed me. I wasn't trying to upset her or pressure her… the request just popped out. She gave me a look … a very River look, an irritated, panicked, horrified, insulted look. Then, without saying a word, she took the book and began to read. She stumbled a few times, but she read every word, for several pages. She read with inflection and style. She read Larkin to sleep. She read until she was yawning too much to read. And she said, as she climbed into bed, "I'll read more tomorrow." It was a joy to listen to her read.
We'll see where her path takes her from here.
Larkin's journey to literacy has been different, still. After my experiences with the first two, I had zero expectations or assumptions. As soon as Larkin turned four he asked for workbooks -- right when River was giving them up. Looking back, given her personality quirks, it's possible that that had something to do with it. I can't say for certain. In any case, Larkin plunged into math, in particular, with tremendous enthusiasm, but also really enjoyed the preschool and kindergarten level language arts workbooks, which aren't so much about reading as they are about colors and matching and sequencing. By four and half he was reading two and three letter words. And then, a few months ago, out of the blue, he asked for a word search like the one I had just given River, and he completed it himself, read every word -- words like knight, palace, princess, and jester, and found them. Then, when we had our nightly chapter read aloud, he read the chapter titles aloud. It crept up on me somehow; right under my nose he learned more than I realized. Now at just turned five he's in the phase similar to the one Forrest was in with Dr. Seuss's ABC book. He's actively studying reading, actively pushing himself to learn. I'm not going to go back out on that limb to trumpet, "He'll be reading chapter books in three months!" LOL! No thanks. But it does seem as if he could be fully launched soon. Or, he may take a break after immersing himself for a time and then return to it when he's older.
I love how different they've all been. Watching them grow is so much fun.
Beth homeschools with her 3 children and can be found at her blog, Woman of the Tiger Moon.