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?
Melissa Telling says
My mom also subscribed to the “better late than early” philosophy, much to my younger brothers’ detriment. (I learned to read while attending a private school before my parents started homeschooling.) Neither one of them were ever very good at reading, and neither one of them enjoy it. Young children have a natural desire to learn and an amazing ability to soak up information. I personally think you ought to teach them as much as you can before the age of five, because it will be so much easier for them then it will be later. I have started teaching all of my children to read when they were about three or four. However the key is, as you pointed out, to keep it fun and to take your cues from the child. Some learn rather quickly, others more slowly. Our job is to lead, not push. 🙂
Melissa Telling says
Also, though my brothers are an example of a time that the “better late than early” philosophy did not work, that isn’t to say that no one should ever follow that philosophy. There are always multiple factors at work in every situation, and that was just one of them. You have done a great job with Sprite! Keep sharing. 🙂
I was hesitant about teaching phonics early on. I read that it is too abstract for young children. I did introduce letter sounds and she learned to blend them on her own. Because we read to her a great deal, her pretend reading led to actual reading! It all happened so quickly. Now, she’s a voracious reader. There was no pressure. I think that made a difference in her love of reading. People believe that when a child learns to read early, they were pressured or taught through a systematic way. Our experience proves otherwise. It’s all about readiness! Great post, by the way!
A magic age would sure make it easier! But for my kids so far, there isn’t one. The first learned better once I stopped “teaching”, the second learned around the “normal” timeframe with a steady phonics curriculum, and my third is currently trying but not really getting it yet. I was very nervous (perhaps fearful, as you mentioned) about teaching reading, but it comes so naturally.
Shannon AKA WordGirl says
I may have to blog about this because it is so fun for me to remember each of my daughters learning to read. Just as they are all completely different, they all learned in different ways and at different times. The eldest (now 12) learned to read like flipping a light switch – one day she could do it. That was the summer before kindergarten and she has barely paused for breath since. Daughter #2 (now 10) learned to read in kindergarten, but didn’t like reading until the summer between 1st and 2nd grade. That summer, we made two trips to the library each week because we went through books so quickly. Daughter #3 (now 7) struggled a bit during kindergarten reading. She just wasn’t interested, but mid-way through 1st grade she hit her stride and now reads as voraciously as the rest of us.
I totally agree that reading is not to be forced. It will come in due time (if there are no learning impairments to stop it from coming). I also think learning to read is not a steady, gradual slope – it’s big stair steps. They take a big leap, hang out on the plateau for a while and then take another big leap. At least that’s how it worked for each of my girls.
I’ve successfully taught 5 children to read thus far and am currently teaching children 6 and 7 to read. The have all learnt at different ages and at a different pace. I would totally agree that there is a moment when it clicks and no pushing make that happen. However I do firmly believe that immersion in literature plays a big part in when, and yes I’ve read various books/theories about when, I’ve come to the conclusion to be child led but with some I have to ‘encourage’ harder than with others, but although I can give the tools I still can’t make it click, only they can.
anyhow I talked more about it in more depth here
It’s funny that you should compare learning to read with potty training. I have done the same, but more to the effect of hating teaching reading as much as potty training. 🙂 Both of my kids have been slow learners. I have not pushed them, but I get very frustrated at the slow progress. I know kids learn at different speeds, but it’s hard to remember that when you hear so many stories about homeschoolers just teaching themselves to read at 5 and they are now at 3rd grade level. Ugh!! My children LOVE stories and listen to books on tape constantly, however they have never had that desire to read on their own. My daughter is almost 11 and she finally, in the last year, has started to love reading. Mostly fun fiction and it’s still fairly below grade level, but at least she is finally desiring to read. My son is almost 8. We are almost at the end of An Ordinary Parent’s guide to Teaching Reading. It has been a long process….
Sorry for the long rant, but it makes for a lot of teaching time. And I am so ready for them both to be reading individually.
I learned to read at age three and I can entirely vouch for the availability of books being a HUGE factor in a kid’s desire to read. I had shelves full of books when I was little, and though it took me a long time to want to graduate from picture books, I really enjoyed reading. 🙂
When I think back on my own experiences with “teaching” my four children to read, I’m still in awe, because I really don’t think I “taught” them at all. I began reading to my children when they were babies, and phonics was mostly learned by playing games. Somewhere along the way, it all just “came together.” I’m not sure how much credit for that I can take, but I am thankful that now they all love to read.
My oldest child learned to read at the age of 5 on the most horrible, disjointed phonics program out there– and at an advanced level when we were finished. For child #2: I pushed my advanced 4 y/o in the area of phonics ….and I paid for it. We sailed along just fine and then we arrived at the dreaded LONG VOWELS. AHHH! Deadlocked and frustrated, we put away phonics are 4 months (4 months mostly because I gave birth to her baby sister and needed some time to recover). Four months later, my now 5 y/o needed some confidence in her reading abilities. This is where I learned that traditional curriculum is just not suited to my wiggle-worm daughter. What saved my sanity? File Folder Games and lots of other hands-on games and activities. No joke. It was like magic. Confidence restored and no more “I can’t do this”. Needless to say, I am now a believer in waiting until they are ready.
So many of us relate to the real fear of teaching a child to read and it is valid because it is a very unique process with each child. And, yes, when they are ready, it is so much simpler.
My eldest learnt to read easily enough, but didn’t discover the love to read until almost 9 years old.
My middle child just glided effortlessly into her reading, but my youngest has taken a looooong, loooong time to emerge as a confident reader. She absolutely loves to read, it is (still) just not simple or easy for her.
I’m glad I have had the experience of older siblings to guide me to gently keep at it. In the end, the reading mechanics are basic, but to instil a love to read, that is so much less predictable. As with almost all my homeschooling, it has been a matter for prayer and wisdom.
Charlotte Mason in the City says
I never thought about learning to read and potty training as similar, but now that you mention it, both my kids learn to read in similar ways as they learn to use the potty. Hmmm….wish I had that insight earlier, lol! My daughter took her sweet time (longer than this first-time mom wanted, but I learned patience), while my son learned before *I* was ready and without any teaching from me…other than modeling, I suppose (I read a lot and also used the toilet, lol!).
I pushed my son with patient persistence, but I think he needed it. He is very phlegmatic. His issues were stubbornness and disobedience, not ability. He was reading at age six, and I’m glad we pushed him because the discipline strengthened his character. Now he(age 14) loves to read. We followed the Rod & Staff/CLE curriculum which eases children toward reading. They don’t offer kindergarten, so the initial half of first grade is learning letters and phonics, and then finally reading in the spring.
My daughter is another story. I started her with a reading program at age five, and again this fall after she turned six, but she is still not ready. I agree, it’s no use pushing them if they are not ready neurologically. Everyone proceeds at their own pace. We still work toward literacy by reading books to her, Reader Rabbit cd-roms, learning games, hands-on activities, and enriched play. They can still learn quite a bit even if they are not reading. Actually, she is a breeze compared to her brother…boys are a whole different ball of wax! Mine needed a firm hand. It paid off though because he is an independent learner now.
I’m not a teacher, and I’ve never taught before, and my degree is not in English. Maybe ignorance is bliss(as far as teaching goes) because I never felt like I couldn’t teach my son(or daughter now) to read. For me, the key to success was getting a solid curriculum that spoke to him, or rather, matched his style of learning and personality. He needed structure, simplicity, and an efficient mastery method with minimal whimsy. Once we got a good fit, I figured we’d work right through it to meet our goal.
I have read to my kids since they were both born and I am also a big reader. My son will be 8 in April and still struggles with reading. He doesn’t care for it one bit, but loves being read to. I’ve tried a couple phonics programs, but they were so boring it was a big struggle to keep him motivated.
I wish I had homeschooled when my girls learned to read. My brother and I were both late readers, but both love to read and have chosen careers that revolve around books (I am a librarian and my brother a high school English teacher). My older daughter struggled with reading in school, was humiliated, shamed and hated both school and reading. I tried to convince her teachers that we are late readers in our family, but when we catch on–it’s like wildfire! But they didn’t want to hear it because in our area of the US it is all about the standardized tests and my daughter had to perform at a certain level for the test. I wanted to homeschool then, but it took me two more years to get up the courage.
It took several months of de-schooling and allowing my daughter to choose books she was interested in reading, but she is now a VORACIOUS reader who will stay up all night reading if I let her!
My younger daughter was one of those kids who just knew her letters, figured out the words…I worked with her but everything seems to come easier for her. Maybe because she has an older sister and she sees/hears her working.