Posts Tagged ‘reading’

home reading 002

Tee is in grade four at the local public elementary school this year. One of the programs his teacher has in place is called Home Reading. As the teacher explained at the beginning of the year, it has been proven that readers become better readers by reading, and for her, the next logical step was to enforce that reading. So she insists that the children in her class read for at least a half hour every day at home, and after each reading session, write down the name of the book, how many pages were read, and a comment about the reading.

Up until this year, nobody had ever insisted that Tee read.

Predictably, within several weeks of starting school, his interest in reading dropped dramatically.

When I asked him about why he wasn’t reading much anymore, he told me that whenever he felt like reading, he remembered that he would have to write down all that stuff, and that made him not want to read. When his teacher began insisting that he read at least a half hour every day, he really became resistant, and started “forgetting” his backpack at school and “losing” the book he was supposed to be reading. Then he started getting weepy about it.

So I went in to the school for a little chat with the teacher.

I explained the situation. She said that “we all have to do things we don’t want to do.” I said that it was my understanding that she was trying to encourage reading. She agreed. I said that this program was not encouraging Tee’s reading, that it was in fact squelching his desire to read. I went on to explain that Tee didn’t need encouragement to read. That he had been an avid and skilled reader before he started in her class. That if she left him alone with his reading, he would continue to read. That we didn’t need to document the number of pages he read, and that by taking such an overzealous interest in his reading, we were taking away his intrinsic enjoyment of it. She pulled out the research that provided the evidence that children who read a lot become better readers.

Back to square one. We were clearly going in circles.

So I smiled and said that while her program might very well work for some children, it obviously wasn’t working for my son.

She said that it would be unfair if Tee was excused from doing homework that the rest of the class was expected to do.

I said that I thought it was unfair to be inhibiting Tee’s interest in reading.

She said that Tee needed a better attitude, that he was homeschooling no longer, that he was now part of a group, and that sometimes “we” do things because “we” are told to do them.


I finally just told the teacher that I truly did appreciate her care for her students but that I disagreed with her opinions on this matter. Then I said that I would no longer be insisting that Tee do the Home Reading when he was at my house. That I wasn’t willing to coerce him into doing something that I thought was to his detriment. That I had to pick my battles with my contrary young son, and that Home Reading wasn’t going to be one of them. She said that she would be having a chat with Tee about doing the homework, that she was his teacher, that she insisted. Fine by me, I said. Give it your best shot. Just don’t expect me to be one of your henchmen.

In counselling lingo, what I did was extricate myself from a relationship triangle.

I was no longer willing to be the middle person in a conflict between two other people.

I’m not sure what ended up happening with the Home Reading. I found the journal, soggy and torn, on the kitchen table this morning, and there were some entries in it, so he must record at least a bit of what he reads. All I know is that when he’s at my house, he’s back to his old reading self, and that’s what I care about.

home reading 001

note: why are the entries for dates that haven’t happened yet? and does he read anything but comics?

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I’m Grateful….

j reading dec 2008 001

sept 09 2008 walk to school 002

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……that all four of the children are avid readers. I love to read, I love books, I love discussing books, I still get chills remembering how exciting it was to open the covers of an as-yet unread picture book when I was very small. I’m so glad that my kids share my love of reading. I’m glad for them, and glad for me.

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Big girl L found out at school that she’s expected to read 10 books in the next twelve weeks. According to her calculations, based on an estimate of 250 pages per book, and leaving weekends out, she’ll have to read 40 pages every day. Outside of school hours. Which for her is either at lunch or in the half hour between the end of school and the start of diving practice.

She WAS reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but now that it’s become a job, she decided to re-read a book from two summers ago, thinking that it would be faster and that she’d be more likely to be able to meet the quota.

I can think of no benefit to making reading a despised chore.

Here we have a girl who reads for pleasure, who reads whenever she has a spare moment, who never once thought of reading as anything other than something she did for herself, in tears at the thought of all the reading she has ahead of her.


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Boys and Books


There seems to have been a proliferation of graphic novels at the library, which is excellent news for Comics Boy. There’s a whole series of graphic mythology, like Roman Myths, graphic nonfiction, like Julius Caesar, and even historical fiction. Tee often goes on to reading more about subjects that he first comes across in these kinds of books, because they really spark his interest.

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Ethics 101

DSCN1210 We’ve been doing a lot of reading around here lately. It’s lovely. Cold outside, warm and snuggly inside, all lined up on the couch. One reading the Narnia series, one deep in the pioneer world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and me happily embarking on whatever I have in front of me.

Even though we’re a family of independent readers, the two youngest still love being read to, so every day before lunch, I read out loud. Right now I’m reading from The Kite Rider, a book set in 13th century China, around the time of Kublai Khan. Lots of wordy descriptions, and endless examples of similes, full of luscious language. Today the main character, the boy who is sent up in the air strapped to a kite, realizes that the circus he performs with cheats the public out of money by allowing them to believe that the kite rider brings messages to the spirits of their ancestors. The leader of the circus justifies his actions by saying that the villagers may be lied to, but that the lies make them happy, so in essence, everyone wins.

I asked the kids what they thought. Were the lies justifiable? Are lies ever justifiable?

It was an interesting discussion that went on through lunch, and led to talk of the moral implications of all sorts of actions. By the time we headed off to knitting, I was telling them about Mahatma Ghandi.

One book chapter, one question, and 2 hours of impassioned debate.

Homeschooling rocks.

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Teach Your Child To Read

DSCN0281When each of my children in turn learned how to read, I had an almost visceral sense of putting a little checkmark by their names in my head. It was a huge, huge, item crossed off my parental To-Do List. Up there with making sure they knew how to speak.

I was lucky, because all four of mine read early, and without much trouble, leading me to believe that they inherited the Early Reading Gene (along with other less beneficial genes that I won’t mention) but I did stumble upon some little tricks that I think may have sped the process along.

I thought I’d share my experience in case it helps any parents out there with pre-readers.

So here goes.

I read to them a lot. Visited the library at least once a week and took out stacks of picture books, mostly to keep me from getting bored with the same old, but also because I love libraries.

When I read them books, I asked questions. Look at this. What’s that? Where’s the blue ball? Point out the dog. I got them to turn the pages. Sometimes I ran my finger under the words as I read. I often got them to find me examples of real objects like the ones in the books, even when they were crawling babies. If we saw a ball on the B is for Ball page, I’d say Can you find mama a ball?

Which brings me to an important point. I think that the biggest initial challenge for kids is to understand that the printed word represents an object. Step one is realizing that a printed picture represents an actual object. Then the word. To help get this concept across, I pointed out things like the McDonald’s arch and stop signs. See that big M? It means McDonalds. See this E X I T? It means a place to go out. I also pointed out individual letters on our walks, on licence plates and things like that, but I didn’t obsess over teaching the names of the letters. Or over letter sounds.

By the time they were toddlers, they began pointing out exit signs and school signs, knowing what they meant, simply by being able to recognize the shapes of those words.

Then I started pointing out common words in books, ones that came up often. See? This says ball. Oh, here it is again! Ball.

Then I printed out the word ball on an index card. Or on a piece of paper. I would draw a ball, and label it. They would see the word a lot. Pretty soon they could recognize it. Not read it. Just know that that shape of letters meant ball.

I didn’t really make a big deal out of it, for me or for them. Just kept pointing words out, reading a lot, writing words when we were drawing stuff, and showing them, and making it a part of whatever else we were doing.

By age 3, they were able to recognize a lot of words this way, and I remember a few of them really seeming to get a sense of ownership over the words they knew. One of the kids kept the index cards in a box labeled “My Words”.

Then they would spontaneously begin to notice those words in the picture books we read. I gingerly began helping them notice the sounds of the beginning letters, saying stuff like look here’s another one that starts with B. It’s Bird! It has the buh sound too!

After they were able to “read” a few words, I would make simple sentences on index cards like The Ball is Up. I would read it to them, finger under each word. They got to read the word they knew. Pretty soon they could parrot the sentence. Then they began recognizing the other words in the sentence, and began to say things like I can read! I can read!

They couldn’t really. They could just recognize words. Sight reading, I think it’s called in education-land. But it sure made them proud. And it set the stage, because they felt masterful, and were excited about reading, and confident that they would be able to do it.

 At this point I usually backed off. Just continued to read, let them point out words here and there, added words to their “word banks” if they asked me to, but didn’t do any formal teachery sort of stuff. This is where each of them went at their own pace, and learned in their own way. But each of them was reading early reader “chapter books” by age 4, reading comfortably by age 5, and onto regular chapter books by 6.

Which brings me to the phonics vs whole word debate. My gut feeling is that it may be hard for small children to understand the link between individual letter, their sounds, and how learning those things will help them read. My own kids always want immediate results. Learning how to play guitar? I want to play a song. Right away. I can’t be bothered to learn the names of the notes. That sort of thing. So it seemed to me to make more sense to get them “reading” or recognizing whole words, before showing them how to sound out letters, because I thought they’d be more motivated to sound out a new word if they understood what reading was. Kind of like giving them the big picture before getting them to understand the details.

Each of the kids used a different mix of phonics and whole words in their eventual mastery of reading. The first kid was a natural pattern-spotter and code cracker, and he amassed amazing numbers of sight words. He didn’t sound words out at all. He learned how to read by reading. He skipped over words he didn’t know, sometimes asking me what they were, but mostly getting them eventually by repeated exposure. The other three used sounding out a little more, but I spent zero time with any of them on drills or flash cards or phonics programs. I just helped them figure out words if they wanted help. Otherwise I left them alone. 

The other thing I’ve noticed, in my small sample of four, is that writing/spelling ability and reading ability don’t always develop at the same rate. Writing depends on mature fine motor coordination. Spelling seems to be a separate process entirely. Or maybe it was just my lack of emphasis.

Well, as long as they can read, they’ll be alright.

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