Learning to Read

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about how children learn to read, specifically at what age.  The traditional schooling system tries to get all kids reading as early as possible because that makes it easier for one teacher to educate 30 kids at a time, which is completely understandable.  The idea though that all children are ready to start reading at the magic age of 6 is not based on the way we actually develop.  Some kids are ready much earlier than that, others aren’t ready till later, and despite all the hoopla about early literacy being a good indicator of future intelligence I’m not buying it.  Correlation does not necessarily equal causality.

One of my favorite bloggers shared a little bit about her experience with her dyslexic daughter’s struggle to learn to read and it inspired me to share my own somewhat painful story.

I didn’t learn how to read until I was almost 10.  (I say that like learning how to read is one singular event instead of a long process, which I know it isn’t, but bare with me.)  I loved books, I loved being read to, I loved making up my own stories, but put the written word in front of me and it was like the letters were swimming around on the page.  I understood the basic rules of the English language (at least as far as an elementary schooler would be expected to understand them) but when put into practice the whole process just didn’t click. 

When the other kids would have the reading portion of the day I would march off to “Reading Lab” with a handful of other kids.  I’m sure the teachers thought was so sneaky… maybe if we call it something other than special ed it will spare those poor stupid children the ostracization of their peers.  No.  Every kid knew it was just a fancy word for the place the dumb kids went while everyone else read.  The teacher was nice, but just explained the mechanics of reading over and over to us, something that helped the other kids but was incredibly frusterating to me because it was all things I already knew and understood.  During the writing portion of the day I would go out into the hall to work by myself with a wonderful woman named Ms. Schneider who would try unsuccessfully to make my brain understand the difference between a b and a d and how to tell a p from a q. 

I felt like a moron.  The other kids thought I was a moron.  I’m sure the teachers wouldn’t use the word “moron” specifically to describe me but they weren’t different.  The fact that my vocabulary was miles ahead of other kids my age or that my comprehension skills were far above average didn’t matter.  Can’t read?  You’re not smart.  Reading was all that mattered.

Then suddenly it happened.  It was fourth grade and something clicked… that sounds so cliché but that’s exactly what happened.  The lines and curves on the page started translating into words in my head, and once that started I couldn’t be stopped.  I devoured the books I had always loved because now I didn’t have to have someone else read them to me.  My love for the written word blossomed and developed in a way that I, and certinly none of my teachers or classmates, had ever thought possible.  I learned how to read in 4th grade and by the end of 5th grade I had a high school reading level.  Middle school was a totally different experience than elementary school because teachers automatically assumed I was smart because I was the 6th grader reading J.R.R. Tolkin for the fourth time that year.

The point is, the traditional schooling assumption that everyone is ready to learn the same things because they’re the same age is misguided at best, and many times incredibly harmful.  As an adult I don’t know too many people who would consider me unintelligent or illiterate, but my childhood would have been so much better if my abilities and talents had been nurtured where they were.  Who knows, maybe without the stress the situation produced I would have learned to read earlier (not that it matters). 

Anyway, that’s my story.  Verona already loves being read to, she brings me children’s books all day long wanting me to read them to her and plays contentedly while I read to her out of the pictureless books that I’m reading.  She even “reads” to the younger children, taking books over to them, opening them up and babbling away while occasionally pausing to point at pictures for them or turn a page.  Maybe that means she’ll read when she’s four.  Maybe she won’t read till she’s 10.  I’m going to try my hardest though to nurture her love of books and let the rest happen when it’s time, trusting (hopefully) that’s it’s all ok.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Lydia says:

    I didn’t learn how to tell time on analog clocks or figure out left from right until I was 12.

    Like you said there’s nothing wrong with developing on your own time. Some people need a little extra time! 🙂

  2. Tammy says:

    I did a lot of research on education and kids when my own kids were preschool age. I loved the Montessori system and would have sent them there if we had the money for it, and if we had lived in a city where it was available. Instead I homeschooled them for a few years so I could set the tone of the learning. I’ve never regretted those years. our first two kids learned to read at home with me. the last one went to regular kindergarten, cause he wanted to be like his older brother who was going to school, and I was back in college so it was getting to be too much to do the home school thing. I tried to always keep things as relaxed at home as I could, cause I don’t like the high pressure of education for kids, and its starts so young.

  3. jboring says:

    Lydia, the way my letters would turn themselves around (b and d and all that) did it even worse with numbers. The result is that I can still barely read digitial clocks. I can usually figure it out based on other cues in the world but if I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s dark out I will never have any idea if that clock says it’s 2 or 5… it will be a mystery.

  4. Your early elementary self sounds like a copy of my own 7.5 years old daughter today. She loves to be read to, always has, always had her eyes in books on her own all through her life from very very early on, and just cannot flip the letters around. This has been good food for my thoughts on the matter and I thank you for sharing!

  5. I found your blog when I commented above — so that was back in September. I found it while poking around the internet for information and stories on homeschooling blogs about learning to read. Having had the exact opposite experience in school myself with my own reading AND also seeing my daughter in your own experiences, I knew that your story was an important one for us. I wanted to share our own “click” moment which you wrote about (and although it does sound cliche, I have read SO many accounts of homeschooling parents talk about their own children/struggling reader in that same way .. “click”.) So, thanks for sharing your story!!! Here’s a story from our family. http://youknowwhatmama.blogspot.com/2011/12/long-line-of-book-worms-click.html

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