Who Will Teach My Child to Read?

This reminds me of The Little Red Hen.…who will help her? She did it herself.
So often people wonder how will a child learn to read if he/she has no teacher to teach them? I can only share how MY children learned to read. 

Three children.
Same parents who loved to read. Same home full of books.
Completely different experiences.

Michael Read Before Kindergarten

 Michael loved interaction, so he welcomed and loved when we read to him. Every night, he’d pull together a stack of books beside the bed. I’d ask him which ones he wanted to read…”ALL of them!” And he meant it! haha! 
Michael would follow along page by page, sometimes I pointed to the words as I read it (when he was maybe 3 or 4), but often we’d just read. Something about laying down in the quiet and reading, I’d begin to get really sleepy. By the fourth or fifth book, I’d try to get away with turning two pages at a time. But even if his eyes were at half-mast, he’d catch me. “No Mommy, you skipped a page!” Oh, yes.. of course. Thank you for noticing. 😉 

We didn’t use any formal instructions for reading, we simply enjoyed it all together. We played word games in the car – noticing letters on billboards or license plates. Not because we were trying to be “educational,” it was just something we did for fun. And so when Michael went off to Kindergarten, he already knew his letters, what they sounded like, and he could read small simple books.

K is for Katie and Kmart

For Katie, if we were writing a book,  the title would be K is for Katie and KMart. She wasn’t that chatty in the car (and we seemed to be in the car alot) We continued with reading street signs together. And store signs. And signs around displays in grocery stores. All signs, really. And, when the kids were little, they liked to look for signs that started with th same letter as their name… like “K” is for “Katie” and “KMart!” We modified it into games, thinking of rhyming words that “go with” the word on the sign. Then you have to look around to find it. Later, they’d quiz me too!

Katie *did* go to Kindergarten that first year we were stepping into homeschooling with Michael. I’m not sure she really got much out of it, with regards to reading. She knew her alphabet, and most of the letter sounds from our games. Participating in a classroom setting wasn’t her cup of tea, so I’m doubting they made much headway in “reading instruction.”

Katie left public school after Kindergarten and never looked back. While she loved listening to story tapes (yes, it was the 90’s) and to Ron or I reading to her, she wasn’t that interested in being “taught to read.” She carried books around with her, pretending to read. But anyone actually showing her how to read?… not that interested. I decided to pick up a few Bob Books and someone gave us some Sing-Spell-Read-and-Write books. I told her these were books that help people when they’re learning how to read. She found some of the stories dull but liked the ones that were more sing-songy. We were new on the unschooling journey, so I’m sure I pressed a little to get her to try. I say that because I don’t *remember* pressing, but I do remember the day she grabbed a stack of them and said, “I’m taking them to my room. I don’t want any help. I will let you know when I can read them.” Well. Okay, then. 

Three kids with completely different interests makes for a busy household, and I cannot tell you how long those books stayed up in Katie’s room. All I know is that one day, when Katie was about 7, she came downstairs, book in hand and said, “Yep. This one. I can read it.” And she proceeded to show me how she could read it.  The rest of it… a mystery.

Alyssa and Reading a Little Later

Alyssa, as the 3rd child, was easily frustrated that she couldn’t do a lot of things the others could do. She was the latest reader at our house. I guess she probably learned to read fluently by 10. She would frequently wander away when I read to them in the evenings. In retrospect, something about all that value on reading made her uncomfortable. She knew she couldn’t do it. And she knew that other kids her age, in Girl Scouts, or the homeschool group, could read – but, more importantly, she couldn’t. So, just like with Katie, I tried to sit down with her to do BOB books or Sing-Spell-Read-&-Write books. She had trouble remembering words because her head was so clouded with frustration with herself.

The most heartbreaking moment was when she said with tear-filled eyes, “It’s because I’m blonde – really blonde. And I’m really dumb – just like they all say in the jokes.” Heartbreaking for any mother to hear. Of course I reassured her that that was NOT so, and she’d be able to read whenever hre brain was ready to do it. Looking back, I probably used terrible phrasing.  (ahh… hindsight!) But we talked about how when you’re really frustrated with something, you can’t hear or think or… anything!

Knowing that she was having this inner struggle, we became incredibly watchful. We tried to shield her from blonde jokes – and we were VERY vocal about disagreeing openly whenever we heard them. We weren’t in a lot of situations where she’d be asked to read, but when we were, we usually removed her before she even knew what was happening. At home, she & I would quietly look at different words and start to decode this reading thing. We started with words that were common for her to say. Then we moved to words that she’d need to read for Girl Scouts or 4H or her animal magazines. No big lesson plans. No “routine”. Just real life. And a little prepping when we had advanced notice for situations in public settings. It turned out to be a much calmer less judgemental kind of life. Not that I had been judging her before, but she felt judged and inadequate. Once all that anxiety melted away, she was able to gracefully step over the obstacles.

As she moved into her teen years, reading was primarily online – and her typing skills were and still are incredible! She was sometimes a little hesitant to read in front of a group, but with time, that improved. While that might have been a little leftover from being so self-conscious about her reading, I think it’s just her personality.

So What To Make of This?

Reading really has to do with the wiring in your brain. When your brain is ready, you do it. And if your brain is not ready, no amount of cajoling or instruction will speed it up. And much of that “encouragement” that parents try can be really detrimental. We think we’re nudging them along. But often we’re pressuring more than we realize and possibly creating real obstacles they will have to deal with later. 

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