Something happened this week in our homeschool that put a huge smile on my face. And it was a smile I wanted to share with all the young, struggling homeschooling moms out there who are trying to teach their children to read.
I know of no other subject that makes even the most relaxed mom tense up. And despite all the other posts, and research and programs out there trying to calm people the hell down, I still hear moms of all stripes stressed about their child’s ability to read. The truth is, unless you are locking them in a closet all day or they are severely delayed in their development:
YOUR CHILD WILL READ. YES, I’M YELLING AT YOU. YOUR CHILD WILL READ.
How can I be so sure? Why should I expect you to take the word of a woman with no degree in education and no children currently enrolled in Harvard?
Because I know you care and I know you are going to do whatever it takes, and thankfully, for most of you, whatever it takes will not need to be extraordinary. For some whose children have a serious diagnosis, you will have to work harder but the fact is, there are programs and teachers and therapists out there for even the most severely delayed child. Unless you stop caring, your child will read.
I’m giving you all a huge pat on the back and letting you know that whatever you’re doing is working. I know that some days it seems like reading instruction is the most impossible thing in the world. I have been there. Try to not focus on how horrible today, or yesterday or last week was. Let me share the big picture.
Addie was pretty much a self-taught reader at four and a half and has been devouring books ever since. I naively thought that Byron would follow in her footsteps. I used all the same materials, did all the same things and four and a half, then five, then five and half came and went, and we were still struggling with letter sounds and basic words. I switched programs, again and again. I accused him of not trying, of silliness or defiance. But nothing I did worked. And I considered myself a failure, and my son was not yet six.
Eventually I learned he just didn’t get it and I backed off. Some family members made comments but I always said he was doing fine for his age and at grade level. At this point I started researching reading standards, methods, chatting with older moms and I calmed down. I stopped worrying. One of my goals has always been to produce children who love reading. I didn’t want to jeopardize that with Byron. We kept up daily practice and regular read alouds. I never stuck with a program that created tears.
Fast forward to last Monday, when 10-year-old Byron finished Tom Sawyer. He asked to read ‘The Hobbit’ for literature. I happily agreed. If you ask him, he’ll tell you one of his favorite authors is Ronald Dahl. While he doesn’t read as much as Addie, he reads and enjoys it. He reads aloud for his younger brothers without reservation. He can work independently on his lessons, reading chapters for history, geography and science without my assistance.
The boy who, when presented with the same word in a sentence three times had to stop and sound it out all. three. times, is reading ‘The Hobbit’ by choice. Your child will get there too. Hang in there. It will click, your child will read and you’ll get to soak in that moment.
My advice (which you are free to take or dismiss):
Read aloud daily. If you dislike reading aloud, check to see if you library offers picture books with a CD. For free stories, try LibraVox or Storynory. See if a grandparent would like to record themselves reading a favorite book for your child to listen to.
Have the child read aloud to you daily. Let them pick a book and you pick a book. Be patient in pointing out letter sounds, sight words, etc. If you, or they, start getting frustrated: STOP.
If your child struggles with letter sounds, practice the alphabet, even if they’re older. Try ‘I Hear With My Little Ear: And 101 Other Phonics Games’ for kids who hate workbook pages.
Let them see you reading.
Keep a variety of books (of all genres and reading levels) within their reach.
If you’re using a program that ties writing into reading/phonics and the writing component is making your child upset: STOP. Consider using an unlined whiteboard so they can practice writing without worrying about staying in the lines. (Eventually, your child will write legibly within the lines, I promise, but that’s a post for another day.)
Don’t try to force a reading program on your child just because it worked with an older child or was expensive.
Always use your gut. If you truly feel your child’s reading delay is caused by a developmental delay or other diagnosis get him or her evaluated by a professional (as opposed to say, the internet.) Don’t forget to have your child’s eyes examined to rule out glasses.
Some other resources:
Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook. Such a great book with lots of book suggestions.
Ten Things Struggling Readers Need series at This Reading Mama (So many resources on this site. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a Google or Pinterest search. Becky has a great variety of stuff here to meet most of your needs.)
And the best resource is always a trusted homeschooling mom with older children.
Pray for patience and hang in there. I’m on my fourth round of reading Bob Books, and I sympathize.
I am a fully certified reading specialist and librarian. I work in public schools. I didn’t home school my son (now 33) but he was reading before kindergarten. I fully agree with everything you have said. Not that you needed a professional stamp of approval, but you have one.
And also remember that boys are not as advanced and mature as girls, especially at ages 5-7. Sebastian seemed like he also took forever to read. He fought me so much. The only reason he ended up reading aloud to me was becasue in 2nd grade he had to. He would yell that he hates reading. Then along came Magic Treehouse books in 2nd grade. Diary of a Wimpy kid in 3rd grade. This year it’s Percy Jackson books or any other Rick Riordan book. He enjoys reading now.
I needed this today, thanks! I have two kids I’m concerned about with reading, one which I am very concerned (a 12 year old foster daughter reading on a 1st grade level, ahh!!) and one I’m trying to talk myself out of being concerned about (my 3 year old who can’t remember one single letter sound). See, my firstborn taught himself to read at 2.5. Yes, really reading Bob Books independently at 2.5. He’s a freak! (albeit a cute freak 🙂 ) and while I always knew he was a freak (I’m a lit major but didn’t learn to read until age 7 with a specialist) I mistakenly thought I’d have a whole line of reading freaks after him. Apparently not, apparently I’m getting the delightfully normal 3 year old I thought I was getting the first time around and missed out on 🙂
So anyway, thank you. Even when my head knows what’s true sometimes it helps to have another mom speak that truth to my worried-mom heart!
I am a teacher, and I can’t tell you how many times I have told parents these exact things. You are spot on. It makes me so sad and angry to see the standards the government is setting for kindergarteners. They have no idea what they are doing to the poor kids who just need a little more time and maturity to figure out how to read. At some point reading just clicks, and there’s no stopping the child once it does. But only if the kids are allowed to get to that point of “clicking” without being crushed by defeat first.
This should be standard reading for first-time mothers of two year olds. That and “Your Child WILL Potty-Train”. I would write that one but I wouldn’t say it as kindly as you said this. 😉
Maia, I was just thinking how much this is like potty training! I don’t have any experience potty training, but I did teach tons of kids to read back in the day and there was no rhyme or reason or magic formula. They took off when they were ready. I assume/hope/pray it’s like this with the potty so I’m just going to sit back and wait till Sara is good and ready for that milestone!
I have a great story about this. Back when I was working on my teaching credential, I had to do a case study on an emerging reader. I chose my youngest brother. He was about 2nd grade at the time. I ran a battery of reading tests and he was performing below kindergarten level. I freaked out at my mom (she homeschooled us) to which she calmly responded, “Micaela, he will learn to read when he finds something he wants to read.”
Fast forward to the end of that same academic year. I gave him the same battery of tests. He scored off the charts – literally – he was reading above a 12th grade level. I asked my mom what “interventions” she had implemented. She laughed. “Micaela, he decided he wanted to read those dragon fantasy books his brothers were reading and he taught himself, with a little help from me.”
Now, he had no cognitive delays and nothing that indicated a need for interventions, which my mom (having already homeschooled for a dozen + years and 7 older children) instinctively knew. If he had, obviously the story would have played out differently. He’s in the seminary, reading all manner of philosophy and theology books and doing just fine. 🙂
What a great post. We have a similar situation as you with the oldest being an easy learner. Just the other day I saw my almost seven year old (the struggler) reading a book aloud to his four year old brother and my heart nearly burst. They will get it but it is SO hard to let go of the false standards in our heads.
My daughter started reading at age 7. My biggest homeschooing lesson in four years has been that sometimes the best thing you can do is back off. We struggled through reading programs in K and the first half of 1st. She was miserable, so I stopped completely. A few months later, something just changed. It was a like a light switch turning on. All of a sudden, she could read and quickly was reading several grades above. Books on CD have been a part of our routines since she was about 3, and I think they’ve been great, especially at reinforcing vocabulary (except Junie B Jones, I’d like to speak to her author about the importance of grammar!).
Thank you, I really needed to read this today…you have no idea. Seriously, I am the reason you needed to write this, so thanks!
In all of the comments and examples, I haven’t found anybody who mentioned a child over the age of 7.
My oldest read at 4, the second read at 5, but the third didn’t read independently until he was almost 10. By then I was “seasoned” enough by homeschooling to not freak out over it, but it was embarrassing to admit to other moms, homeschooling or otherwise. He didn’t need special help; he just needed motivation. He was too busy being an active kid to be bothered. He probably also has a mild form of dyslexia, but we never sought help. He’s 17 now and has learned to deal with it.
Kid #4 read around age 7 or 8, Kid #5 was 7, but Kid #6 just turned 10 and was sounding out words painfully until just before her last birthday. She was especially motivated because she has twin sisters three years younger that she, and one of them taught herself to read at age 3.5.
I think independent reading is especially attractive to homeschool moms and dads because it means we no longer have to be there to read EVERY SINGLE SET OF INSTRUCTIONS in their schoolwork and they can begin to work more independently.
However, my view of reading is like my view of potty training…it doesn’t matter how old or young they are when they master it, because once we all reach a certain age it all levels out. Kids who toilet train at 18 months are no more gifted than those who toilet train at, say, 4 years or later. By the time they are 20, kids who read at 2 or earlier will be on par with those who read at 10 or later, and nobody will ask them at what age they mastered these skills as part of their credentials.
Michele, homeschool mom of 10
Thanks for this. My oldest is 7, and reading is not coming easily for him. He’s plugging along, but he doesn’t particularly like it. It doesn’t help that my homeschooled nephew who is a year older read the entire New Testament last year. 🙁 I really, really wanted to have a fluent reader at this point because it would make ME feel better, and it would make independent learning easier for ME. (Yeah, I’ve got my priorities in order.) But that’s not to be, apparently. I have been thinking that maybe I just didn’t start early enough with him or something, so I’m now attempting to teach his 4-year-old brother to recognize his lower and uppercase letters. He isn’t terribly interested, and he doesn’t know them, and I’m not pushing it hard or long each time we work together, but I’m disappointed again. This has been the most frustrating thing about homeschooling for me so far.
Oh yeah, and I’m also the mom who loves to read, who has been reading many books to her children each day since they were tiny, and who didn’t even let them watch Netflix shows until a year ago. So everybody thought my children would pick up reading through osmosis. Nope.
As many of the commenters here have already said though, it *will* click. I know what you mean; I taught myself to read by age 3 and figured my kids would do the same. My oldest, age 7, still isn’t reading (a bit here and there, but nowhere near fluently) – but I keep trying to remember my brother who didn’t learn until 8.5 and now has a PhD and loves to read. Yours will pick it up too, but I know what you mean about it being hard to adjust to their timeline and trust that it will happen!
I think some homeschooling sites do a disservice to the parents. They make it sound like you sit down a few weeks in a row and you child is reading. Then you hear about the four-year-old, or the three-year-old, or younger, who is reading. My oldest, a girl, is 7 and struggles with reading. She’s half a year ahead in math, but she’s just like you described–she has to sound out every word, even if she’s just seen it. I can read her a story and she can tell he everything about it. She can memorize a poem in three takes, but reading is hard for her. The hardest part is explaining to family members that this is NOT the result of homeschooling. This is her. I was an early reader; she has other strengths.
Anyway, thanks for the realism and encouragement.
YES! It’s not homeschooling- it’s the child! I feel like when my kids excel at things it’s because they’re great kids but if they’re slow to pick up something or struggle, it’s because of homeschooling.
Perfectly stated! I’ve homeschooled for over 13 years (managing to graduate 3 kids so far… 7 to go!) and I get asked all the time how to get kids to read that are “behind.” They aren’t behind! They just aren’t ready yet. I’ve had my children learn to read at 3 and 4, as well as at 6, 7, 8. When they’re ready, they’re ready. Don’t sweat it. Thanks for posting!
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