Carma invited me to join in her blog series on how each of her children learned to read. That’s reaching pretty far back for me since Sprite is twelve years old, but I love the topic. I started blogging when Sprite was already an independent reader, so it is not something that I ever wrote about.
I have a degree in English; I even have a master’s degree in education. Yet I was nervous about teaching my child to read. I look back now and realize how ridiculous my concern was. But it was a very real fear at the time.
I had been exposed to some of the better late than early material, and I had learned a few lessons from potty training that made me realize a child is not going to read until she is ready. Period.
I’d love to share the potty training stories, but since Sprite is now a tween (and reads this blog), she would probably be horrified to see them online. I’ll just share the bottom line. Sprite was totally potty trained when she was ready for it to happen. And I mean totally. She never (Never — no exaggeration) had an accident or wet the bed after that single day when she chose to leave diapers behind. There was no middle ground of being partially potty trained, or a period of working on potty training that gradually shifted into mastery. One day she was using diapers; the next day she was potty trained.
In my mind, reading and potty training fit in the same category. They are essential life skills, but they cannot be rushed. A child must be developmentally ready both physically and emotionally. As a parent, my job is to provide the tools for learning these skills and to encourage growth. Shame and pressure are counterproductive.
When Sprite was five years old and beginning Kindergarten, we were in China. Homeschooling was the best option for us then, and I plunged in with a complete curriculum, purchased from Sonlight. It was fantastic to have everything in one box — books, manipulatives, and an instructor’s guide with boxes to check. Despite my degrees and years of teaching experience (middle school), I still doubted my ability to teach a child to read.
The Sonlight curriculum included a system to teach a child to read, but I was leery of using it. I was afraid of pushing her too much and ruining her love of books (which meant up to that time my reading aloud to her). I went ahead with the program, constantly cautioning myself against rushing and pressuring. I was firm in my resolve to let it happen when she was ready.
There were times when she was frustrated by the phonics program. At those times, I laid it aside for a few days. Then we would try it again. This off and on again approach continued for several months. Finally something sparked inside her, and Sprite was highly motivated to learn to read. From that point on there were few frustrating lessons. It was truly a smooth process. Sprite was five years old.
I credit her ease in learning to read to three main factors.
1. A literate family.
We had loads of books in our home. Her dad and I are readers. Sprite even had her own bookcase filled with age appropriate books from birth.
2. Reading aloud to Sprite since birth.
Sprite already loved books and the adventures they held because she had experienced plenty of them by listening to me and her dad read them.
3. A low-key, no pressure approach to learning phonics.
There was no rush, no shame, and no pressure in our reading lessons. I always approached phonics lessons as a fun activity, equal to crafts with glue and glitter or a romp on the playground. I may have used the term “school” but only because it was novel for a five year old to “play school.”
My learn to read story is not very glamorous. But it is Sprite’s story. So, of course, I love it.
Readers, what do you think? Is there a magic age when a child must learn to read? Did you push your children to learn to read? Was that a good decision?