Saturday, August 30, 2014

Time for Reading

I shared some stories about teaching my kids Spelling, Vocabulary and Writing in another blogpost. The short version of those stories was, "don't worry about it."

This is my Reading story.

It is very hard not to worry when your child can't read.

My first child read at age 4, the second at age 6, the third just shy of age 10, and my fourth child at age 12.

There is a gap of 6 years between my 3rd and 4th child, so I thought when my 3rd child read late, that I had seen that struggle and conquered it.  I was wrong.

When your child struggles with reading, I would say that the worst thing for you and your child is the pressure.  You feel pressure because people imply it is somehow your responsibility to MAKE your child learn to read.  "What, they aren't reading yet?" The child feels pressure from you and from circumstances that arise due to the fact that they cannot read.  Everyone assumes they can read comfortably.  Sometimes the pressure leads you to good places - resources and ideas that help you to reach new milestones.   Sometimes the pressure leads to bad places - saying things to and about your child that make them feel like a failure, or circumstances where they are asked publicly to read something.  My biggest triumph was in saying "no" to the pressure.  Praying against the pressure was my recourse.  God was in control of when this child read.  I would just be obedient to teaching her and pray for success when I felt the pressure.

When child #3 was 8, 9....reaching 10 without reading, we were scared.  Would he ever learn how to read?  We just kept at it with him....... sounding out the words......yawning.  The boredom set in.  He couldn't grasp the context because he read so slowly.   Finally, we decided that a new approach was necessary, or in the end, this child was just going to think that reading was boring work.  We started reading stories he enjoyed.  They were way over his reading level, but we read them together anyway.   First we had him read every 3 or 4 letter word, then any word that we thought he could handle, then every other word, then every other sentence, then every other paragraph.  Finally during one summer, he asked my husband to read "TinTin" with him (comics had become a standard in our home, a potential temptation to read.)  They sat on the bed and in a half an hour, my husband came out and said, "Tyler's reading."  He went from reading at a 1st grade level to a 5th grade level, overnight it seemed.  I have no idea why he didn't read sooner than that.  I suspect it was just developmental.  He had all the "tools" he needed to read.  The sound every phonogram makes, etc.  They just weren't flowing together until that day.

I am thankful for the reading experience I had with child #3, it gave me some patience and perspective with late-reading child #4.  I am only writing this now because within the past few weeks, she actually read something on her own, without help from me, and got pretty far into it before she did ask for any help.  I could hear the Hallelujah chorus!  Oh....that was me!  I nearly cried as I sat next to her and she read a chunk of a magazine story to me.  What a relief.  You don't even know, or maybe you do.

My friend had asked me last year to do a seminar at our homeschool conference on struggling readers, but I didn't think I really could....until I got through the struggle myself.  I still feel like we have work to do, but at least I see major progress.  I asked my daughter's permission to share this story.  She said, "I'm okay with that." I asked because there is that pressure......when mom talks about how you struggle with reading.

I am pretty sure my daughter has dyslexia.  Everything that I have read about overcoming dyslexia is exactly what I have been doing all along.  Using phonics to teach reading.  Even though I didn't have the official diagnosis, there were some telltale signs - flipping the beginning and ending of words, mixing up the letter order, grabbing letters from surrounding words, etc. (Here is a link to a list of some symptoms: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/dyslexia/)   I used phonics with all of my children, once you have the formula it's easy, right?  No.

Even though every phonics program we used "worked," it didn't always translate into reading real books.  For instance,  we used "Explode the Code".  She would learn the phonogram for that letter or set of letters - for example: "o" says o  when there is an e at the end of the word. She would remember that for that whole lesson.  In reading and writing in the workbook, but not when we would read in a book later on.  I would say, "remember "o" says o when there is an e at the end."  She would say, "but I'm not looking at the e at the end, I'm looking at the o!"  It took a very long time for her to remember the potential sounds that a letter or letter group made, and then to retain it and apply it to regular reading.  6 years or so, to be exact!  Some phonograms she learned and retained quickly, s, t, r, m, n, ch, sh, etc. others she still struggles with b, d, p, q, ough, igh. Sometimes she mixes up vowels sounds.  Fortunately, she has finally reached some whole-word reading where she can look at and identify words,  there is still some sounding out, but it is getting quicker.

Now that I can look back a bit,  I feel like I should tell you how we got here.

1. Pray.  I had to continually go to God and ask Him to take care of this.  I cannot force a developmental milestone, or demand understanding.

2. Phonics. Use a reputable phonics program. If you think your child truly has a reading disability do some research and go right for the one that has a solid reputation.  The Orton-Gillingham method is the proven method for "treating" dyslexia.  It is basic phonics, but in a pretty methodical presentation.  If I had it to do over again,  I would probably use All About Reading.  I do think that repetition and consistency are the key, rather than the specific program. We probably used them all and that is probably the key - not using every program - but repeating the same material to keep it fresh and cement it in their mind.  We used Reading Reflex, Explode the Code, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, a little Phonics Pathways, and finally, All About Spelling (from the same developer as All About Reading).  We dabbled in Reading Eggs, Reading Horizons, etc. as far as the free programs would take us, but in general, learning on the screen did not translate to the page.

2. Practice reading every day.  Not just the phonics lesson, although sometimes that is enough, but real reading.  Sometimes I would just have them sit beside me and run my finger along the words, then I might stop and have them read a word that they know.  Like I said above, as they learned more and more phonograms (the sounds that letters and groups of letters make) I would increase the amount of reading I would ask them to do.  Going from a few words here and there, to 10 words on a page, to every other word, to every other sentence, to every other paragraph.   The increase was over a long period of time.  It also depended on the difficulty of the book.  At one point, even though she was much older, I had my daughter read me a Dr. Seuss book a day for practice.  It also depends on the age of the child.  If your child is 6 and not reading, please do not stress about it, you could have 6 more years to go!  I remember when my children were younger - 5, 6, up to say 8, they would start yawning while reading or doing a phonics lesson.  This was my cue that they were done. It was not an attitude or refusal, it was just a yawn.  I knew they were working hard and now, they were done.

3. Persevere. It may take a LONG time for them to grasp and remember phonograms and what sounds they make.  So many times I have said, "but you knew this yesterday!"  I think, in actuality, it was in her short-term memory.  She did remember it yesterday.   But today it needs to be reviewed again...... and again......and presented in different ways to get it into their long-term memory.

4. Read TO your child.  Don't make all reading work.  Read to your child for their pleasure.  Let your child see you read for your own purposes and pleasure.   People say that reading to your child is all that is necessary for them to learn to read....well, I don't think I believe that anymore, but I do think that it is a necessary component for a child to learn to read.

There were many, many little stories and other tidbits of advice that I could include here, but those are the basics.  I wish I could say, "Use THIS program and your child will succeed!", "Do this THING and your child will get it!" but really, the solution is that it is hard work and there is no easy road.  It is a hard road, but not the hardest road.  You will have to invest time and energy into your child, but investing that time is accomplishing far more than them learning to read.  It tells them that THEY are worthy of putting time into AND reading is an activity worthy of putting time into.

PS:  Thought I should add that we did have our daughter's vision tested. She was tested by a pediatric ophthalmologist referred by our pediatrician.  I do think that parents should consider possible physical causes to reading struggles, it would be so easy to miss.

UPDATE 8/4/2015  My youngest has spent this summer in her bedroom READING!  My goal for the end of the school year/summer was to get her ensconced in the plot of a book, so that when I could no longer read it to her, she would pick it up to find out what happened next.  We were reading books that she already knew the plot to, so they didn't have the cliffhanger motivation I was looking for.  Well, it finally worked!  She read the Margaret Peterson Haddix "Shadow Children" Series and is now on the third book of Suzanne Collins "Hunger Games" trilogy!  I am so thankful to God and relieved.  (Yes, she can handle the content of the Hunger Games and we are having some very thought-provoking conversations about it,)