Reveling in the glory and beauty of everyday life... all the mess and chaos of raising five little girls!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Learning to Read

Teaching my girls to read is one of my greatest joys in life. I love, love, love to read. And I love, love, love reading to my children. There is nothing better than a rainy day and a basket of books to share. I wanted to share a little about the different journeys to "fluent reader" that my daughters have taken - because the path has looked different for all of them, and I didn't expect that! 

I learned to read when I was very young, and from my mom's stories, I learned without much assistance.  It just came naturally.  So, I think I was caught off guard to discover that reading is very much a process of learning - not an automatic skill. 

When I first began to ponder homeschooling options, I decided quickly that clear phonics was my preferred route, rather than sight-word teaching. Funny thing? I didn't really know phonics! :) I had to learn the sounds of the seventy basic phonograms, and I am still muddling through some of the more complicated, extra ones. I ended up trying several different programs, reading many books, and eventually learning that the process and the methods need to look a little different for every kiddo. 

With Elisa, I used primarily The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. This book by Jessie Wise has scripted, short lessons which are phonics-based but contained enough of a story and game component to keep my Ellie-girl interested.  She loved reading stories with Mom, so she was excited to learn - but it came painstakingly.  It was hard work! Decoding was a challenge, but her progress was steady. Sometime near the end of kindergarten, Ellie had a breakthrough. She realized that all those phonics drills and sentences were teaching her to read! She grabbed a chapter book off the shelf and read most of Sarah, Plain and Tall to herself when we thought she was sleeping. Ta-da! She could read.  

Sadie was my girl who just wanted to snuggle and hear Mama read. She didn't want to learn letter sounds. She didn't want to practice sounding out words.  Learning her first 26 phonograms took a long time, and it was a struggle. The Ordinary Parent's Guide was a flop for her. She needed the motivation of complete stories, and something a bit more "colorful" than those scripted lessons in black and white. Enter All About Reading.  We used the first two levels of All About Reading during late Pre-K and Kindergarten. They are fantastic, holistic, fun, and have super cute (though still black and white) story books, along with simple games to play. Sadie made slow progress - eventually learning to decode simple words.  Often, I would help her out by reading one page, then having her read the next. She needed that reward of listening to Mommy instead of struggling through a whole story on her own.  Late in kindergarten, a friend from our co-op shared that her sister (in New Mexico) had just published a series of Bible readers.  Sadie loves the Bible - so I thought they might boost her excitement a bit. We followed the recommendations to read each story several days in a row, and somehow, the combination of repetition and her love for God's Word worked a little miracle.  Her fluency dramatically improved, and she began to take pride (and joy) in reading out loud.  By the time we finished the seven book series (found at Me and Thee Studios online) Sadie was reading well. She entered first grade as an avid reader - reading well above grade level. She still prefers picture books to chapter books, though, because she has such a sensitive little heart and can't handle anything intense or scary. 

Raina just turned five. She was jumping at the bit to start a phonics program, and, because I thought she might go to kindergarten at JHCA, I was eager to teach her early reading skills at home during this pre-K year. I wanted to have the joy of seeing that little light turn on. So, I set a goal of teaching her to read this year.  It turned out that I didn't need to set that goal - because she already had her heart set on accomplishing it.  We started with All About Reading and quickly raced through Level One. By the time I started Level Two with her, she could sit down and just read the storybooks - fluently and with ease. There was very little of that halting, painstaking, slow decoding. She just started to read. Because my older kiddos' learned much more incrementally, that still amazes me. Today, she can pick up chapter books from big sisters' shelves (she loves Ramona and the new Amelia Bedelias) and read a chapter without much help.  She just loves it. Like a duck to water, that one.  She is actually going to stay at home with me for kindergarten while the older two continue at the Classical Academy, and I am so grateful.

My three girls are so different! I think I expected reading to be a bit more formulaic that it has proved in our family.  The resources we have used have been wonderful - but the journeys to reading fluency were so different.  If you are teaching little ones to read - my encouragement is to enjoy reading to them as much as you can, trusting that a love for stories will eventually grow into reading ability.  For most kiddos, learning phonics is key to being a proficient reader - but every child will learn at a different pace, and different tools might spark their interests. I did not expect repetition to be so key for my Sadie; in fact I steered away from it initially because I wanted her to be decoding phonics, not memorizing words! Do what works for your children! Make the everyday reading lesson non-negotiable (if you are at that point), but bracket it with lots of snuggles, stories, and praise. Make tea, nestle close, and pray for patience and grace - because, honestly, even though reading with our kids is a delight, it can also be a challenge.  Listening to a new reader sound out consonant-vowel-consonant words for twenty minutes can feel sort of tortuous without a dose of supernatural patience.  It takes a bit of intentionality to revel in the process and not feel frustrated by a lack of progress.  Purpose and pray to enjoy it - whether they are advanced or perhaps a bit uninterested.

Happy Reading! 

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