Learning to Read

'A' is learning to read, slowly but surely. I haven't been using any sort of curriculum with her. I rely mostly on my own memories of learning how to read and write and use those as guidelines. She reads one "easy reader" book a day, practices handwriting, writes short notes and stories, and I read chapter books to her. Does this formula work? She's becoming more fluent, that's for sure. But she still resists it, every step of the way. It's not so much a mental struggle for her as it is an emotional struggle.

Earlier this week I sat down at the library and cracked open one of David Elkind's books. I think he's a very knowlegable scientist and I take what he says seriously. The book I perused described children year by year. I read the six-year old chapter first. He points out that six-year olds go through a struggle as they navigate the world of rules - social rules, family rules, parental rules - and try to find the balance between following rules and doing what they want. Often they will resist their mothers and prefer to be with and listen to their fathers. At the same time, many of these six-year olds go to school and have to deal with academic and social issues, which compounds the situation. It's a time of change, exploration and struggle for these children.

I followed up that book by reading an article in the New York Times about the Finnish school system. Their system is one of the best in the world. Children don't start attending school until they are seven, and the amount of homework and testing they have is significantly less than it is here in the US. Does that make a difference?

I took all of this information and thought about my teaching style and expectations and 'A's resistance to learning to read. Is it really the right time for her to be learning this material? Should I change my approach? Is she pushing back against reading, or is she pushing back against me?

Still confused, I called my aunt Nancy, a retired elementary school teacher. She was a wonderful teacher, the one that the other teachers requested for their own children. I told her about 'A's unwillingness to read. She gave me a lot of feedback, in essence telling me to back off and let it happen as it will. She reminded me that her daughter homeschooled her two children for several years, and although they were very intelligent (and still are!), neither child had an interest in reading until they were at least 8 years old. Studies show that children will eventually learn how to read and she saw that it was true for her own grandchildren.

Some other helpful points she made to me:
  • It's most important to instill a love of reading, and that means encouraging 'A' to write using any words she can, including made up words/spellings that make sense to her (it's called inventive language). All children use their own spellings. Many times adults cannot decipher their written language, but as long as the child can read it back and understands it, it's considered an acceptable way of communicating. In 4th grade they will start to learn the correct way to spell and write if they don't already know by then.
  • As long as she likes to write and draw pictures of things that she knows about or thinks about, she'll be fine.
  • Handwriting? No one teaches it anymore. Except me I guess!
  • Spelling? Not as important as it used to be. All computers have spell check. Hmmm... I'm not so sure I can let go of spelling lessons.
  • Rolling on the floor while she reads a book? Yes, some of Nancy's students would roll on the floor in the classroom while they read.

In the spirit of keeping it fun, I decided to change the way I teach 'A', and I ordered a year-long subscription to "Explode the Code" - the online version. It's an interactive computer program that teaches reading. She LOVES it. It's fun and when she chooses an incorrect answer, it's the computer that corrects her, not me. I think that relieves some of the stress.

Stay tuned to find out how it's working out!


Lisa Says:

Just to be clear as a former school teacher and someone who has a child in school..handwriting and spelling are still taught and still considered important!!

My son could read word families at 4 but went no further with reading until about 8. Then it just took off and he reads like crazy!! I think it is great you are homeschooling.

Jillian Says:

Thanks Lisa. I'm happy to hear that the "old fashioned" subjects like handwriting and spelling aren't as old fashioned as I thought.
Reading does click, doesn't it? I'm learning to have faith that it will. Thank you for reminding me.

Alicia Says:

Kyra has moved on to *mostly* Explode the Code, too. She's been resistant to read as well, though, not to the point 'A' is. We've seemed to have a breakthrough at my house... her out of town friend came to visit and read up a storm to her. Seems that's just what she needed to motivate her to pick up books and sound out words instead of *only* studying the pictures. Funny how different things motivate kids in such different ways!

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About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!