Friday, September 6, 2013

Different children learn to read at different ages, and that's okay*

Of my seven children, one will probably never be able to read.  One was a fairly typical student in the beginning.  We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, beginning whe she was six.  Then she progressed through easy readers and chapter books until she was about ten years old when she suddenly started reading way beyond her grade level (and by that I mean, she started reading The Lord of the Rings).  Another one learned to read about the same way I did – she had a few lessons in phonics when she was five or six, figured out the rest for herself right away, and began reading classic children’s literature on her own around age eight.  When she was thirteen I handed her a stack of books from Ambleside Online’s Year 7 book list and she managed them fine. 

The other four have all been “late” readers.  

Home Grown Kids, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, was the first book I ever read on homeschooling.  I never believed that all children should develop physically or intellectually on the same schedule, but having read the Moores’ book, I was steadfast when a loving family member began to worry that my second child wasn’t reading yet shortly after his ninth birthday.

“Read, sing and play with your children from birth.  Read to them several times a day, and they will learn to read in their own time – as early as 3 or 4, but usually later, and some as late as 14. [p. 225]”

They’d said that children under eight or nine years old quite often reverse letters like b and d, and words like saw and was, so I wasn’t caught off-guard when my son also did that.  He had beautiful handwriting but he often wrote a beautiful mirror-image of what he intended.

I began his reading lessons when he was almost seven, using 100 Easy Lessons, supplemented with phonogram cards from Bonnie Dettmer’s Phonics for Reading and Spelling, which is based on Romalda Spalding’s method.  We’d have a brief lesson each day, always keeping it under fifteen minutes and cutting it shorter than that if he was struggling.  I wanted to end each lesson with success, not frustration.  When he quit making progress, we’d take a break for a week or a month to give his brain time to catch up. 

The most important thing to me was that he not learn to hate reading, or get the idea that he was stupid.

After a while I switched to McGuffey’s First Reader because the stories were more interesting and I could tell he didn’t like the silliness of 100 Easy Lessons.  That’s not meant to be a criticism of 100 Easy Lessons.  Lots of kids love it and do well in it.  I’m just pointing out that although it’s obviously a bad idea to hop haphazardly from one curriculum to another, there’s nothing wrong with making a judicious change when you think it will be better for your child. 

Then one day, when he was nine and a half, he picked up Brian Jacques’ Redwall and read the whole thing in a few days.  Just like that, it all clicked, and he never needed easy readers.

This spring my then-twelve year old son had a similar experience.  We’d spent years going through 100 Easy Lessons, memorizing phonogram cards, reading through all the BOB books, working slowly, slowly through McGuffey’s Primer and First Reader, taking breaks as needed.  He was also slowly reading through Josephine Pollard’s Life of George Washington, covering just one or two paragraphs a week. 

Then one day, because his older sister was taking too long getting to the next chapter of the Harry Potter book she was reading to him and the ten-year-old, he just read the rest of the book himself.  And it’s been hard to get him to do anything besides devour books since then.  Over the last few months he’s read the rest of Harry Potter, all of the Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson books, several Sugar Creek Gang and Landmark books, and The X-Craft Raid by Thomas Gallagher, which retells the story of the men involved in a particular battle during World War II.

My ten-year-old is still memorizing phongram cards with me and struggling through the BOB books.  She won’t let me forget her reading lesson though – she loves it and she’s eager to learn, it’s just slow, hard work for her.  She’s had a lot of trouble keeping the six spellings of /er/ straight.  Phonics for Reading and Spelling suggests this mnemonic:  “Her first church worships, and learns courage.”  She can remember that easily enough and she knows the first four, but she’s been having a hard time with the last two – ear, the /er/ of “learns” and our, the /er/ of “courage.” 

This week I hit on something that seems to be working.

We’re also using the cursive handwriting program from Logic of English, and looking at these two troublesome phonograms it occurred to me that c and o both belong to the curve family of letters, while l and e both belong to the loop family.

I wrote it out for her on the lined white board we use for lessons:

She wrote the two words out herself that day and the next day she remembered it – a huge victory!

I had another child who also needed to learn kinesthetically.  I’ll never forget how hard she worked on a – /ă/ /ā/ /ä/ – but never getting anywhere until I told her to march around the room, saying the sounds in rhythm.  That did the job for her.  After that, anytime she needed to learn something that wasn’t coming easily, she’d march and say it to the beat of her feet.

My point is that every child is different, and you shouldn’t worry if yours isn’t meeting typical grade- or age-level expectations.  Just work slowly and cheerfully at it, figuring out what your child needs in order to master the skill for himself.  Keep the lesson short – end it on a success, not a failure.  If either of you is getting frustrated, take a break for a while.  And by “a while” I mean anything from a few minutes to a few months, just depending on what the situation calls for.

* I just noticed and corrected a horrifically embarrassing typo in the title.  Of course, it can't be changed on Feedly or Facebook, so I'll just have to swallow my vanity.


  1. This is so encouraging. My grandson is a late reader; I tend to push harder with reading lessons when we're together. End with success. This is good. Thank you!


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