Reading is the number one, most important thing you can do for your child's education. Reading starts your child on the path of following his interests as far as he wants to go. That's obvious, right? I am always surprised by the number of moms who stress out about all the things to cover in kindergarten and first grade. My suggestion has always been, "Teach them to read, and then just let them go. Reading is the door that opens the world to them."
I didn't start early reading lessons with Peter (my first), but I read to him a lot. We read a couple books every night before bed. Sometimes I'd run my finger along the line of words to show him that what I was saying matched the letters. He knew the names of the letters, and I'm sure we talked about letter sounds and recognizing words, but only in an off-hand kind of way. When he was five or so, I got out a one-page list of all the basic sounds in English and their corresponding letters. Each letter/sound combination had a representative word printed in tiny letters underneath. I stuck it on the refrigerator, and every morning over a bowl of cereal I'd bring up a couple letter sounds.
"Peter, did you know the letter c makes a 'k' sound like in cake or an 's' sound like in cereal?"
And we might look for words that started with that letter on the cereal box, or think of other words to test out that information. It would take about five minutes and he was off doing something else. Driving in the car I might point out a street sign and talk about the letters and what it said, or find other ways to bring up letter/sound relationships. We did that for a couple months.
Then one day at the library, he was looking at a string of letters on the wall above the bookshelves. He turned to me and said, "Yeah, reading really is magic." What?? I looked up and saw that the librarians had taken the Halloween theme and cut out letters and pictures to make a display that said, "Reading is Magic!" And that was the beginning of Peter's reading career. Teaching reading isn't so hard, I thought to myself. And if Peter had been my only child, I probably would still believe that.
I assumed Meg would follow the same path, but reading never clicked with her the way it did with Peter. When the one-page, no-frills phonics sheet didn't help, we went to workbooks and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Sing Spell Read and Write, and Explode the Code. I'm not an alarmist, but her inability to catch on to reading started to concern me. I knew she was intelligent and was just fine socially and physically, but the reading thing really had her stumped. Once in awhile my husband would try to teach her to read and they'd work through some curriculum, but it always ended with Meg in tears. She really wanted to read, but she just couldn't get it. I read somewhere that Woodrow Wilson didn't learn to read until he was 12, and he went on to be the president of Harvard and the president of the United States, so I resolved not to worry until she was 12. I was afraid the stress of trying to learn to read might make her hate reading all together, so I down-played the whole thing as much as possible.
Then one day, when she was between 10 and 11 years old, we were sitting in church where words to a song were projected on the screen. She leaned over to me, and with a big smile, whispered, "I can read that!" And that was it. She started reading like crazy, catching up with lightning speed. Spelling was difficult for a long time, but I reassured her that she'd only been reading a year or two, so it made sense that she'd be a little behind. But now, with all the practice she gets with texting and instant messaging, her spelling abilities are just fine! (A friend pointed out that this can actually hamper a child's spelling ability, so I asked my kids. It turns out they have a certain texting program that forces them to spell out most words. They are always double-checking their spelling with me, so I knew they were getting lots of practice.)
Melissa, the youngest, was more like Peter. As I was trying to teach Meg to read, little bitty Melissa would chime in with the answers. I tried to hide her reading ability so Meg wouldn't get too discouraged, but after awhile, that was silly. No one made a big deal out it, and we all focused on our strengths.
As I look back on those years, I am even more thankful we homeschooled. Meg would have been labeled learning disabled and probably held back a grade or two. That would have devastated her. Today she is a bright and confident young woman, a gifted artist, and a vocalist. She's been in several local theater productions, playing the lead in at least two. She thinks she might want to study Music Theater in college. And her favorite hobby? Reading.
Jena began homeschooling in 1994. Her three children are now teenagers; one is graduated and attends the University of Chicago on a full ride scholarship, the next one is 16 and pursues life without school in the arts, and the youngest is a freshman, trying out public school for the first time. In 2005 they bought a 7000 square foot church building and converted it into their home. You can read more about their adventures on her blog, yarns of the heart.