Home Education Magazine
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
Ask Carol - Carol Narigon
Will They Ever Read?
I have a daughter I homeschool who hates to read. I had her going to a tutor in first grade but have since quit. I just bought a new reading kit, 'Action Reading.' I pray it works. She knows how to read but it is a struggle. She tells me it is dumb and lame. Part of the problem is when we went from first grade to second, the print changed in the books and it is a little harder. I am using the Calvert program. Do you have any ideas you can tell me? This is my third year doing this homeschool." - Carmen
When you focus on teaching your daughter to read at a certain age, rather than encouraging her to love reading, your daughter faces a dilemma. If she can't do it yet, or can't do it well enough, she feels stupid and helpless under the pressure of trying. She says she hates reading so she won't have to struggle to do it. To her, it looks as if there's never an end. She learned to read in first grade, then in second grade, and the bar just keeps getting higher. She could be struggling to learn to read for years, even though you admit she already can read!
The first thing you need to do is decide what is your goal for your daughter. Do you want her to learn to read at a certain age so she'll be on grade level comparable with your local public schools? Or do you want her to love reading for the rest of her life? For many kids, the answer to that question means the difference between becoming a lover of books and becoming an indifferent reader who can understand a menu and skim the newspaper on Sunday, but who never picks up a book or magazine for pleasure.
Reading textbooks and programs are appealing, but as reading material, I agree with your daughter -- they're dumb and lame. Kids learn to read best from real books. I'll have more to say on that subject in my response to the next question.
Your daughter will learn to read if you do one simple thing every day: read to her. Read books she enjoys, even if they have the word "underpants" in the title. Share books you liked when you were her age. Read silly books and classics, picture books and those with chapters. Use different voices as you read. Have fun acting the stories out sometimes. Relate other areas of your life to the book you're reading when you're not reading it. Take a book or some other reading material with you whenever you might have to wait -- at the dentist's office or when you go to renew your driver's license. Make reading a fun and constant part of her life.
You don't have to be the only one to read with her. Subscribe to Boomerang audio magazine, and check out books on tape at the library so you can both listen to books in the car or while you're working on projects. Encourage your husband or her siblings to read with her. Read a special book with the whole family and then watch the movie. Make reading a family affair.
And don't just read books. Buy her a magazine subscription. Kids love magazines! A couple of our favorites are American Girl and Hopscotch for Girls, a topical magazine full of fiction and non-fiction stories that appeal to girls. There are lots of magazines for kids that cover almost any topic she might enjoy. Check your local library for a current list.
You may be thinking how in the world will your daughter learn to read if you're the one doing all the reading? I promise you this: If your daughter lives in a house where other people read frequently to her and to themselves, and reading materials such as books and magazines are available to her, she will learn to read and enjoy it. People who don't learn to read either didn't grow up in an environment where reading is important, or they have a disability that prevents them from reading. Your daughter suffers neither. She will not discover on her eighteenth birthday that she's unable to read her birthday cards.
I have a friend whose son wasn't reading at age 8, 9 or 10. Kind of scary, huh? In a household where the mother is a professional writer and books provide more entertainment than TV, this boy hadn't yet learned to read. Her patience and trust should have won her an award. She and her husband read a variety of literature to him every day. At about age 11, she reported that he had read his first book on his own. Whew! Finally. And the book he read? One of those 400+ page Tom Clancy novels. His accomplishment would be unheard of in a school setting, where he would already have been labeled with something shameful, but it isn't really that unusual in a homeschool. And, yes, he is a book lover who can read anything he chooses to read.
Obviously you won't be comfortable if your daughter doesn't read until she was 11. That's OK; all families have to decide their own comfort level. Just as obviously, you don't want her to hate reading either. If she's already beginning to read, it probably won't be long before she catches on if she isn't pushed into hating it before she gets there. At this point, it's up to you whether she learns to love reading or whether she just learns to read, yet avoids it as much as possible. What have you got to lose by giving her the gift of time? Those precious moments spent reading, laughing and crying together over a good book will pass soon enough.
And one more thing. Make sure she knows when she does learn to read on her own, you will still read together. For many kids, the time their parents spend reading to them is the most precious time of the day, the time when the bond with their parents feels strongest. Some of them are actually afraid to read because they think they'll have to give that up. She needs to know her achievement won't deny her the closeness you will gain by reading together. It's something you won't want to give up either.
I have a five-year-old daughter who is starting to read but so many books I find in our library are not at her level yet. Could you suggest a list of books that I might be able to find at my library that she might like to read? She can sound out very well and knows the short and long vowel sounds but can only read a few sentences at a time without getting overwhelmed. Thanks for any advice." - Christy
I have only one thing to say about early reader books (and most reading textbooks): They aren't very good books. The stories tend to be thin and the words are unnaturally easy and repetitive. They don't sound or read like real stories.
You can probably find many early readers at your library, as well as different series of books that stair step according to reading levels. You can start her at level one, then go on to level two when she knows all the word in level one, then three and four. But if you take a minute to read a couple of those books, you'll find they're really kind of insulting. In fact, picture books are generally written better than books designed to teach kids to read.
If she has favorite picture books that she has memorized, she probably "reads" those to herself. That's an encouraging pre-reading skill. By now, you're probably reading aloud those books that come between picture books and chapter books -- books that have colorful pictures, but a couple of paragraphs of text as well. At her age, she'll enjoy reading that level of books with you, and probably ask you to read them over and over.
My daughter taught herself to read shortly after she was at your daughter's stage of reading. She was my second Berenstein Bears lover, so I was getting pretty tired of the silly papa and the perfect mama. I finally told her I would only read each book once a day. Since we had most of the series of what seems like a million books, we could still read about the bears for several hours each day if we wanted. That wasn't enough for her. She took three or four of her favorites up to her room and sat on her bed sounding out the words for about a week. Voila. She could read. It was easy from there on.
When I say she taught herself to read, you must know she didn't learn to read in a vacuum, but in an environment like the one I described in the question above. Lots of reading together, many times a day, lots of talking about letters and how they sound, and words and how those letters make words, always in a natural, unhurried way. The process of learning to read was more important than the goal of getting there.
If your daughter ever feels overwhelmed, you needed to stop earlier. This is her learning and she will feel a greater sense of accomplishment if she knows she had some control over learning to read. If she feels she was taught or pressured into reading, it's no longer hers. She may still be proud when she gets it, but it won't have the same punch as "teaching herself to read."
(c) 2001 Carol Narigon
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
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