The Reading Bogarts

Before I give some pointers about reading, let me share about my family’s journey and then tomorrow share about what to do with reluctant or late readers. Perhaps our story will also stimulate reflection for you.

My family had a variety of readers. The oldest (Noah) read right as he turned 8. He had shown little interest in phonics, though we tried to work through Alphaphonics. I did diagrams on white boards and used The Cat in the Hat. All that stuff. He couldn’t be bothered. Legos called. Then the summer he turned 8, the library had a reading rewards program (each short book you read gave you a star sticker which eventually led to prizes!). That did it. He got on board with phonics because he wanted those prizes. He went from not reading to reading in a couple of weeks. Motivation was what is was about for him.

Meanwhile, my next in line (Johannah) woke up on her fifth birthday saying, “Today is the day I will read. I’m so happy.” Nearly four years later, she was still not reading. We tried everything (she prayed nightly): phonics, various programs, running my finger under the words slowly, playing with letters and white boards and hundreds of ideas gleaned from other homeschooling families. I even sent her to a reading specialist when she hit 8 years old to make sure I wasn’t missing a learning disorder.

At that point, the specialist and I began a dialog to try to identify the problems that she was having. She could repeat sounds, she could learn to sound out a word in one book and then not recognize it at all in the next book. Completely baffled us! And then, that’s when I had a flash of insight. For Johannah, she could not visually correlate the alphabet as it was represented in different fonts. An “a” in handwriting was not an “a” in typing. And an “a” in typing might look different with a serif or sans serif font. For Johannah, there were endless alphabets, not just one. It suddenly hit me that she was overly visually discriminating, noticing every detail, unable to generalize that an “a” is an “a” is an “a.” Once we discovered this (more than halfway through her 9th year), she made rapid progress. I helped her to circle “a”s and “b”s and “c”s in all kinds of handwriting and typefaces to help her make that connection.

The next thing you knew, she was reading – right before her 9th birthday. It took finding the key to her frustration and honestly, I haven’t heard of anyone else having this trouble. She happens to be an excellent natural artist as well and I think her eye was literally drawn to the detail in ways most of us never bother noticing.

The next two children essentially taught themselves to read. I used a phonics program from a local school (made by Pleasant T Rowland, of all people – of American Girl doll fame). My then 6 year old Jacob would get out a workbook for a letter once a week and work through it. About halfway through the alphabet, he was reading. I always say I was too busy to teach him (pregnant, nursing and schooling older two). So he got on with it and figured it out.

Liam decoded without much instruction at age 7. He solved reading like you do a puzzle. Once he saw the connection between sounds and letters, he took off. If he had been my only child, I would have assumed all children could learn to read just by pointing out that a “t” makes the “ttt” sound.

Caitrin, the youngest, though reminded me how hard it can be to learn to read. Like Johannah, she was desperate to learn starting at age five. But this poor girl did not get it until she turned….. 10! That’s right, ten years old, five years long, of waiting to join her siblings in the joy of turning pages for herself. She did it all – programs, handwriting, pretending to read, memorizing books to read to herself. No program worked. In the end, I think she spent too much time imagining that reading would magically “happen to her” and all my phonics instruction felt like a distraction from being open to that magical moment.

One day I came home with my Greek homework from graduate school. Caitrin was fascinated by the alphabet (she’s been writing since she was barely 2, even though most of her writing was scribbling and random letters assembled together). I showed her the alphabet and she copied it religiously over and over again. Then she wanted to know how to write her name. I showed her which letters made the sounds that represented her name… Can you guess what happened?

Once she started using the Greek alphabet to write our family names and had to sound out these obscure looking letters into the sounds she says everyday, she GOT the connection between sounds and letter forms… and suddenly could apply that insight to English and our alphabet. Within a couple of weeks, she was reading. She was already ten years old. I am still amazed at how it happened.

The key with reading is accepting that Your. Child. Will. Read. It will happen. But it may take some ingenuity, support and insight to get there. Each child goes on a different path to reading. One curious note from our family. Even though they each read at different ages (learned how to read), they all started reading chapter books for enjoyment around age 10. Even Caitrin went straight from learning to read to reading long books nearly instantly, whereas Jacob who read at age 6, and Liam who read at age 7, didn’t get interested in reading to themselves until they also turned 10. In our case, learning to read didn’t automatically turn them into readers. It took time an maturity.

I share all this with you to let you know that sometimes the methods work beautifully. But not in every case. Even a late reader can become a devoted reader once the “magic” hits. Be patient and keep reading aloud until it does.

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