Monday, November 4, 2013

Homeschool Chronicles {Learning to Read}

Homeschool  ChroniclesLately Liam and I have had some really rough days at homeschool.  Mostly its about reading.

No, it's all about reading.

What began as an exciting, rewarding, fun has morphed into something apparently tortuous.  During read-aloud time he writhes on the sofa like a fish on a hook, gasping for mercy, begging for release.

How did we get from there to here?

Liam, a 6.5 year-old first grader, loves books and just began learning to read this August.  Even at the worst of times if asked he'll affirm, "I want to learn to read".  Blending is easy for him.  He knows his individual letter sounds and short vowels. We're working on "sound teams" like "ch", "th", "ing", etc.  I'm thrilled with his progress and give him plenty of well-deserved praise.  So what's going wrong here?

learning to read

Short answer - the System with a capital "S".  Somewhere along the way he got lost.  Where once he made spontaneous verbal connections between school tasks and his growing ability to read, now he doesn't seem to see any benefit to our work together.  It's not even "our" work, it's my work, my system and he's on the verge of checking out.  On Thursday it occurred to me, "I can't make him read aloud" and I wonder if he saw that bit of reality flash across my face as he sat half-upside-down in protest on the sofa.  When the student checks out, learning is over folks, OVER.  This is not my work, it's his.  I think I need to give it back.

Liam, first grade

It reminds me, actually, that fall of Aria's first grade year, she too began dreading reading aloud.  I decided to give her a break for a few months.  When we returned to it in February, she had made such amazing progress!  Which just goes to show there are so many ways to become literate.  Gosh so many ways!  And, just for the record, I do integrate a lot of different practices like copying from a favorite book, team reading, fun workbooks, flip cards, etc.  Reading aloud is not the only way we practice, but it is the epicenter of his resistance.  And it may have started when we tried to read a book (Fox in Socks) that was beyond his level.  Sigh.  But I won't beat myself up about that because it could have just as easily (more easily in fact!) have happened if he was enrolled in a traditional school.

from Fox in Socks

This month I plan to shake things up in our homeschool by giving my kids a great deal more freedom in how they spend their "school" time at home.  True learning is fueled by genuine interest.  And it endures, providing great satisfaction and leading to more and more growth.  Personal desire to learn is the most precious commodity in the scheme of education.  I've long been influenced by these and other philosophies of child-led learning, but felt unable to imagine how they could work in our home.  I'm going to take a shot at marrying those ideas with the expectations of society, our parenting style and the needs of my children.  More on that later, if I'm brave.

At the very least, letting Liam hold the reigns for learning to read will ease tension between us.  Best case scenario he's re-energized and reconnected with his desire to take hold of this very special milestone.  Worst case scenario, he doesn't make any progress for awhile.  I can live with that.

In this house, in our family culture, learning-to-read is inevitable.  Loving-to-read may not be.  That's why this is a risk worth taking.

33 comments:

  1. Your post just reaffirmed for me what a tough job teaching is, no matter who is doing the teaching. Good luck and I hope he does learn to love reading. It's important in our family too.

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  2. I applaud you for trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. It can be scary to take a risk as you say, but usually more than not it works out. We've been homeschooling for about 3 years and we change it up each year. What works for one kid may not work for another. You hit it right when you said "true learning is fueled by genuine interest."

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  3. I think you are so brave for tackling this important task in the way you do. Something that really helped me with my son is something a librarian said to me. She said that boys often are more drawn to non-fiction . . . even if they're not reading a story, they're still reading. That was such a paradigm shift for me (don't know why, it seems so obvious now) and so we shifted to books with facts in them. There are so many stunning non-fiction books for early readers (books about cars and sharks and spiders and ancient Egypt) . . . I'm sure there's something there Liam would love.

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    1. Thanks! Someone else had mentioned non-fiction lately and I had forgot to make some library requests. Just did!

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  4. my son, jude, transitioned from a learning-through-play kindergarten to a traditional 1st grade. he was not reading. i talked to the teacher about it and shared our views about not pushing reading too much... yet not wanting to be too radical. :) anyway, she was totally supportive. for our 20 min of reading every night, i did not force jude to read at.all. his kindergarten teachers would remind us that kids will have their whole lives to read alone; enjoy the time when you can read to them. his 1st grade teacher was okay with that. on the (required) standardized tests in the spring of 1st grade, he scored around average or maybe even 25th percentile (ish) in reading. that summer, he taught himself to read by reading calvin and hobbes comics aloud. by the spring of 2nd grade, he scored in the 99th percentile in reading and was reading at a fifth grade level. this is one of those classic success stories, i know, but it gave me a lot of faith and trust in this process. we minimize screen time and model reading, as well as read aloud daily. i've read that those are the best ways to encourage reading.
    now indigo is in 1st grade and she wasn't (initially) interested in doing her OM reader. okay, we didn't do it. 4 months later, she's begging me to read it. and reading so well.
    i get that this won't be everyone's experience, but i think in 1st grade, you can still give a kid a lot of room to learn reading on their own time frame. just like you're doing.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Rachel. My dad loved Calvin and Hobbes, and I did too. We haven't introduced comics yet to Liam, but that's such a great reading idea! I just requested some from the library.

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    2. My son also learned to read with Calvin and Hobbes when he was 6-7 years old. He read the first square, with help if he wanted it, and I read the rest. He started writing after I showed him that the comics the characters in Captain Underpants created were not perfect, but we could still understand them. You are on the right track! Keep interesting books and activities around the house and before you know it, your son will be applying to college, too!

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  5. I'm way way past this stage in life but... speaking as a mother of two children who absolutely LOVE to read. I was given some advice by a teacher/friend who said let them read whatever they want to read. If it is a book they "want" to read as opposed to something they "have" to read you will see a huge difference. I confess, I let my youngest read Harry Potter when she probably was to young, but that sweet baby read every page of every book and has since gone back and read them twice more. Keep up the good work!!!

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  6. I had one who carefully went through a full phonics system and the other read the first 2 books and decided she could do it better her way - she was right. I didn't give up easily, but she was in a preschool that had a wise teacher that said to let her pick books and ask me if she needed help. I thought we had lost everything until one day she told me I wouldn't like a store because they had snakes. I was taken aback and looked around and found that she had read a sign that had said snacks and thought it was snacks. I pointed out that that word was really snacks, but that i could understand why she thought it was snakes and we both laughed. She started asking for help more often and was extremely competent when leading not following.

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  7. My little man is almost exactly the same age as Liam (and they have the same shirt on!) Collin will devour anything that has to do with sports so there are lots of books and journal writings around here that revolve around football :-) I love to see other homeschooling moms who don't push too hard when the little guys are struggling. It is a great reminder to me that I'm not the only one who backs off and doesn't follow what the public school world thinks is the right timing for reading and learning in general. Keep up the great work and continue sharing!!!

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    1. The same shirt even! Haha, that's funny. Yes, we are very relaxed in the sense that I don't believe kids "should" or "need to" acquire specific skills at specific times, academically,while at the same time being a very academic family (I love academics!). It's an interesting give and take all the time. I just realized that I'm not "giving" much in this case.

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  8. Rachel, I feel your pain! I home schooled my boys for a total of 13 years. My youngest did not catch onto reading like my oldest. So I just read aloud to him from good books, as much as he would let me, and moved away from text book beginning readers to ones from the bookstore. He's 18 now and is still not a big reader, but he really comprehends what he reads and he's a whiz at math and science. One book he liked to 'read' when he was young was C D B by William Steig. There are no words in the book and it's pretty silly, but it gave him a sense that he was reading in a fun way. My best advice is to relax and lower your expectations for a boy reader. Most homeschool moms I've known say that reading develops later for boys. Hang in there!

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  9. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher and always said she LOVED to teach first grade because at some point during that year most kids would have a lightbulb go off in their heads and -- boom -- they got it and started reading. She always told me how amazing it was to witness that moment. When my daughter was about 5.5, she could do all the sounds of letters and even the blends, but she just didn't get it. But one day we were on a plane and I actually got to see the lightbulb come on in her eyes. It was truly amazing.

    During the time when she just wasn't getting it I had done a lot of reading about how to make it less of a struggle -- granted we were having other (public) schooling issues as well. Well I came across a site that talked about how at some point after they learn to read some kids start to hate reading out loud because it takes so much longer than reading in their heads. I found this to be the case with my daughter very very shortly after that awesome moment on the airplane.

    Anyway, hope some of this helps or is at least interesting to you. :)

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  10. I hate to say its a boy thing but it is. As a former second grade teacher and current elementary librarian I see it over and over again. You are right about interest. I would tell my parents let him read anything! Comics, magazines, cereal boxes, signs anything with words that interest him. Eventually they get caught up and find their way. But it is a process that can take time. Here is a great recent article in the school library journal on this very topic. http://www.slj.com/2013/11/librarians/the-science-of-interest-the-latest-cognitive-research-can-help-us-engage-students-and-foster-real-learning/

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  11. My son is a little older (9). He was really resistant to reading. But we got him an e-reader for his birthday and the change has been dramatic. He just finished a 300 page book. Mainly because he didn't realize how long it was.

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  12. Yes! I agree...as a reading specialist...let him read anything! :) A boy I taught loved magazines. Loved. But, his parents were always pushing him to read books because that's what they enjoyed more. Man...I gave that kid some magazines at school and he could read circles around the others. Despite it the "reading program" we had required in our district...I ditched it for that kid...and I made sure that he was reading. Period. His parents couldn't believe the turn around he made. :) All of that to say...reading is reading. So maybe some other avenues (like the comics mentioned previously as well) can help him on his journey. HUGS!!!

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  13. My eldest was (sometimes still is) this way. She just preferred me to read to her. Like you, my goal is that my kids love to read and I knew that pushing her would not work with that goal in mind. She loved books, she just did not want to read aloud to me.
    Some things that helped us
    - for a while I stopped asking her to read for me
    - then letting her choose the book no matter how low the reading level
    - letting her choose non fiction as well as fiction (she loves all things science and nature)
    - we are now using Book Bucks, she reads ten books aloud to me and earns a new book. I have to approve of these book, she can't read 'Moo, Ba, La La La' ten times. Once she earns her 'book bucks' she can pick a new book at our local Goodwill Bookstore or she can pick a nook book on my nook. I also do this with my 6yr old. I find it really motivates them especially when they get half way to there goal they start asking if they can read to me.
    (I read about this idea in an ebook, I'll find the link and send it to you. It had some good ideas for motivating kids to read. If you want the form I made to help them/me keep track of the books they've read, I can email it to you also.)

    I would love to do more or even just child led learning but feel I can't because our state requires that homeschooled students be state tested yearly from 3rd - 9th grade. I feel like I have to somewhat prepare them for that. So I'm very interested in how you marry the two methods, please do share.

    Thank you Rachel!

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    1. That book bucks idea sounds fun. I like it because the reward is more reading. Now THAT is a fitting reward for reading. So much better than candy or a trophy or something, as if reading itself weren't worthwhile.

      Luckily my state does not mandate testing. I really appreciate that on so many levels. I will have to share my "idea" here, but I'm going to give it a whirl first. Maybe I'll be back in a few weeks to share!

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    2. The ebook is 'Book Love' here is the website of the author http://imaginationsoup.net/

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    3. I think we were writing at the same time :)
      That's why I liked the idea too. Reading is the reward for reading!!!

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  14. And to you (and me) reading is like breathing, right? You're so verbal, and such a gifted writer, that I can only imagine your own feelings about reading are complicating the situation for you.

    I was homeschooled (have I ever mentioned that?) and my only "learning-to-read" memory is being angry at my mom for trying to make me read a Little Bear book aloud. I wouldn't do it, and she told me she knew I could read--I learned to read on my own before she tried to teach me, apparently--and there was a scene. I went to graduate school for English Literature so, be assured, my mom didn't wreck me or my relationship with books when she pushed. :)

    Maybe we just all have to fight a little bit before we "get" it, huh? I know you'll raise another reader!

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  15. I, too, learned that pushing is not what we want to do. I hated it, my son hated it, and it just wasn't worth it. My son is 9, and he is just starting to read. We had issues and once I let go and let him do his own thing for awhile, not pushing the reading, he did so much better. He now WANTS to read, and that is whole idea... because if they want to, then they'll learn a whole lot easier. Keep up the good work. I can't wait to hear your ideas too! Calvin is a big hit here also :)

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  16. Hi, after reading your post on home schooling and reading , I had to write. I homeschooled my 4 children and it all began back in 1983 when no one was doing it. My son had attended a traditional school for 2 years and couldn't read. They said he had learning problems! I was blessed to find a little book called "An Acorn in my Hand' don't remember the author, but I followed it and he was reading in 6 weeks, the Bible! I think it worked because of the way it was taught. I would suggest that you try to find this little book and start over with it. Your son will love the spelling sheets that they have them doing with simple little words, that are sounded out on paper and then will go smoothly into reading easily. Hope this helps you. Keep up the effort it is well worth it.

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  17. This is why your blog is one of my favorite blogs - quilting AND homeschool?! My two biggest passions in one blog. *happy sigh* I completely agree with everything you've said here. In teaching my daughter to read, everytime I got stumped on how to get from point A to point B (Simple sentences to paragraphs for example), I would let it go for awhile. Not intentionally, but life was very busy at the time! Before I realized it, she found books that were delightful and worth reading to her, and paragraphs became a fun challenge.

    Ooh, and speaking of simple sentence books - if you haven't seen the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, I HIGHLY recommend them as an early reader. SO much more engaging that Dr, Suess, and they are hilarious! One of the few easy reader books I look forward to reading along with my daughter!

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  18. I've taught 4 of my children to read, currently on the 5th one. 2 of those were boys and I can totally relate to you here! it was torture for both of us at times until I learned to back off. we live in an area where it is common for children to be in highly academic preschools where they learn to read at the age of 4. I don't begin instruction til about 6 and have learned with the boys I have to wait longer. there is pressure coming at me from many, many angles - including, sometimes, my husband, "but he can't read! all the boys his age can read!" having now been successful with 4 children, I am learning to relax and trust myself more. they may not read until 8 or so, and yes that can be embarrassing some times. both my boys do read well now and, as you noted, more importantly, love to read. they are highly intelligent boys, it just took them time to come around to it. with my oldest son (nearly 13) he was still slow for a few years after learning to read, but is speeding up now and regularly has to be told to "put that book away and go to bed!" i'm positive you will get there with your own son in a family culture like yours. big hugs from one who understands!

    and thanks for being brave enough to share the bumps along the way in homeschooling. when we make a choice to be different, it's hard to admit when it's not perfect.

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  19. Ah, bess him! It took several reads to get Fox In Socks down when I read it to my son for the first few times and I'm nearly 40! Sounds like you're doing an awesome job. I don't know if you know about this book but my son loves it (I have read it to him since he was a baby) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/835451.Slinky_Malinki. It's possibly a bit young for your son maybe, but the vocabulary in it is awesome, funny and interesting. Linley Dodd has written loads of children's books, so maybe check Slinky (or Hairy McLairy) out if you haven't come across him yet :)

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  20. Yes, True learning is fueled by genuine interest, and the love of learning is as natural as breathing. We can facilitate that, or we can hinder it . I am a home school workshop leader, and reading is my specialty.

    Brain Based Learning And Teaching is a very detailed, but informative article about the new research into how children learn and do not learn. There are also other articles on that page that give insight into the common things that hinder children's ability to read.

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  21. My mom is a reading teacher, and she always laughed when people asked her if she taught us (3 kids) to read. She said that was her job at school but at home, her job was to create an environment in which words and books were interesting and exciting. So I learned how to read on my own pretty young and was very content to read alone. But my siblings took much longer and my parents just kept reading to them. My sister eventually became an avid reader and while my brother isn't so enthusiastic, he certainly can read. Different timelines for different kids...and to this day, my brother is way more likely to read non-fiction than fiction whereas my sister reads almost all fiction and I read both...

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  22. I too had a child that was doing great and thn, wham. It was over. When it came reading time, I took a two week break. Reading time was what ever you wanted to read and 20 minutes on your favorite couch to do it. She read Archie comics. I thought oh, great. But it worked. We graduated into assignments where they were assigned a magazine article in a Art magazine, popular science, farm journel, etc. I had subscribed to a wide magazine base for school time. They had to read and article, think and answer some questions. Thinking questions not dogma what did it say. That too worked really well. Home school was great.

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    1. I like how you've integrated current ideas/events into your school via magazines. That sounds fun! You could do that know via blog reading too.

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  23. It's lovely to come back to your blog after a crazy couple of weeks and read this. We've had a couple of 'homeschool' days during school holidays recently because Tully's become really aware that all his pre-school friends are off to kindergarten and he's not. I wanted to give him a taste. I can definitely tell that he loves it for the intentional interaction and not the 'lesson plan'. I know I'm going to have to walk that fine line between exposure and a pushed agenda to keep it a positive experience for both of us. I look forward to hearing how stepping back works for you. Have you ever watched that TED talk by Sugata Mitra about child-led learning? He set up 'schools' in the slums in India. It's truely inspirational. xx

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  24. This is very interesting. My daughter is just learning to read and I don't want to push her too fast, yet I find myself anticipating her light bulb moment.
    When I was in grade 1 or 2 I used to be horrible at reading out loud--because I could read very well and my tongue couldn't keep up with my eyes. It made me annoyed and I had to teach myself how to read out loud. And by grade 3 I was reading at a grade 8 level.

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