Friday, May 26, 2006

Reading: the first homeschool hurdle

Potty training seems to be the first parenting hurdle, and teaching reading is the first homeschool hurdle.  That may be overly simplistic, but that is how it has felt to me.  And neither of those hurdles has been as easy to cross as I thought it would be.  I'll spare you the potty training details, though.

I was a very eager homeschool Mom when I began teaching my first daughter at age 4.  I had bought Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but she didn't think they were easy lessons.  We started and stopped several different times.  Each time, the first few lessons went well, and I let my hopes rise.  But then we'd hit the same brick wall after a week or two of trying and give up. 

We tried several times while she was four.  Several times while she was 5.  Then she was six and desperation was beginning to set in.  After all, I LOVE to read and I was always in the advanced reading classes in school.  How could my daughter NOT be reading yet?!?! 

Then I heard others who used the same curriculum as I did, raving about a new phonics curriculum, Reading Made Easy.   We found a special on it, and I convinced my husband to buy it.  I liked it better, and it worked!   A was reading by lesson 30!!  Of course, I did have to confess to myself that perhaps it wasn't the curriculum change so much as it was the timing.  Perhaps 6.5 was just her time to start reading.

Then my second daughter was 5 and wanting to learn to read.  So I started using Reading Made Easy with her.  And just like her older sister, we kept hitting a brick wall.  We had a start and stop method.  We'd start over, then hit a brick wall and quit for several months.  When she was 6, I finally realized that I could not teach her in the living room as I had done with her older sister.  R and I retired to my bedroom, snuggled up on the bed, and did our reading lessons in peace and quiet.  Concentrating on her reading lessons was much harder for her than it had been for A. 

R and I struggled along together, and finally when she was 6.5 it clicked.  Once again, we didn't go past lesson 30 in the book.  She started taking books off our bookshelf and reading them to herself, so I just let her read.  If she had a problem figuring out a word, I taught her whatever phonics rule had tripped her up in the context of the book she was reading.  And she was off!!  R still has to read in a quiet, but not silent, room.  A can read with the TV on and noise all around her, but R can not.

Now, I'm trying to teach C to read.  She'll be 7 in 8 days.  She's still not reading, but she wants to read.  She has the same concentration problems R had, plus she's much more kinesthetic than R was.  She is our Tigger!   I was very upset 2 weeks ago, thinking I could not teach her to read.  After all, she had already passed the magical age of 6.5 that had been her sisters' moment.  Next year, she'll be in 2nd grade, and all her Sunday School classmates will already be reading.  My pride didn't want her to be the only one not reading.

I discussed the situation with some online homeschool friends and was given much reassurance.  Several friends shared how one of their children did not read until age 8 or 9 or 10.  And I do recall that Diana Waring has shared that her younger son was 10 before he read.  The reassurance was so comforting.  But what I really desired (and gained) was ideas on how to teach her differently.

Several ladies shared that they have successfully used Explode the Code with their children similar in temperament to my C.  Others shared about using Dolch sight words to make flash cards.  I printed out a list of Dolch words to use to make flash cards for C.  In the meantime, I started using ABC flashcards to rehearse letter sounds with her.  I was surprised to discover how many letter sounds she already knew.  The problem wasn't the sounds, but figuring out how to connect them together in sounding out words. 

A friend of mine sent me her Bob books she wasn't using.  (Which reminds me I still need to pay her for those!)  I sat down with C one afternoon and helped her with the very first one.  She needed some coaxing and coaching.  She can tell me the 3 sounds in each word, but can't blend them together smoothly.  She was stuck saying Mm -- aah -- t.  Over and over.  Faster and Faster.  But never blending it into one word.  With some coaching from me, though, she did read her first little Bob book.

I realized that what C really needs is just practice blending.  She and I need to sit with little phonics primers like the Bob books and practice blending words together.  I fully believe that once she figures out how to do it, she'll be off and running like her sisters.  I do intend to help her memorize the Dolch sight words, also.  I think it will help her gain confidence to mix the sight words with phonics.  And she really enjoys the flash card approach.  She can focus on a single flash card much easier than a word I pointed to on a page full of other writing.  Besides, we can use flash cards to make kinesthetic games for her as Carol Barnier suggests.

I still would like to order the Explode the Code books, but haven't been able to do so yet.  C will learn to read.  This hurdle has been taller than her sister's hurdles were.  It is taking longer and is requiring different "keys" than her sisters needed.  But she will learn to read. 

God has used both potty training and teaching reading to humble me.  To bring me back to reality.  To teach me patience.  I had unrealistic and prideful expectations that my children would learn to do both easily and early ... and they didn't.  At least, not as easily and early as I thought they should or would. 

But there are so many wonderful resources available to homeschoolers.  There are so many different methods and styles of teaching reading, that I know we can each find the "key" to cross that first homeschool hurdle with each of our children, at the right time for that child.  If we're patient and persistent.