On Reading & Teaching Reading

For those few who may follow these thoughts, you’ve probably garnered that reading is a passion of mine.  In this age of the e-reader, texts, web-utopia there is something simple and unique about sitting down with a book.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read and typically flew through books in my childhood.  I wasn’t a child prodigy of any sort- I just loved knowing things.  However, in teaching my daughter to read I am discovering a key phrase in that earlier sentence.  “I don’t remember…”  My mom often tells me that when I began kindergarten I would come home complaining of how hard reading was and how I didn’t like it.  My mom (who is also a fantastic reader) worked with me and imparted a phrase that, although I don’t remember her saying it when I was five I remember it from later years.  She would tell us “Anything worth having is worth working for.”  I’m sure she shared with me her love of reading.  I know she read to my brother and I regularly (as did my Dad) which sparked our interest.  And I did once have the distinction of being the youngest kid in Brandon, VT to have a library card-that I used!  Reading is something that makes up my identity and I can’t imagine not being an avid reader.

Now, it is my turn to teach my own child how to read and it is one of the most intimidating things I’ve attempted.  Before homeschooling, reading was the one thing I was just plain scared about.  It seemed to me such a “make it or break it” situation.  What if I screwed up and bored my kids to death so much so that they would hate reading and never know the joy of getting to the “good stuff”?  What if I succeeded and BOB Books and Dr. Suess became the gateway into whole new areas.  Since my kids were little-around 2 or 3- I read about how to encourage readers.  I would read the parenting books and either feel happiness (My child reads to her stuffed animals-yes!) or fear/worry (My child has no interest in learning letter sounds-ugh!).  Currently, we are using a phonetic method in Jessie Wise’s book “The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading.”  I choose it because a) I’m an ordinary parent and b) the phonetic approach seems to be the better foundation for future reading.  Right now, we are struggling a little.  My daughter is doing well, but I keep thinking “Shouldn’t this be going faster?” The one book that helped the most to calm my parental worry-wart was Jim Trelease’ Read A Loud Handbook.    The book was first published in 1982 and is a classic.  It is divided into two parts- the first is why reading aloud is important and how to go about it in your own, the second is lists upon lists of great read aloud books.  From this one handbook I got a peace of mind that no other reading handbook was able to provide.  There are two points to Trelease’ handbook.

  1. If your home is filled with readers, if you have multiple sources/types of print materials, if your kids see you reading AND you read aloud to them as often as you are able-they will be readers.
  2. For very young children, experiences are as important as lessons.  For example, it is hard to conceive of just how big an elephant is until you see one in a zoo.  You can see photos and videos of elephants but you can’t really understand their size until you see it for yourself.  Trelease recommends that you get outside the home as often as you can-not only to the traditional zoos & museums but go to local events as well.

Now, these two points greatly simplify how to teach reading and I do not consider myself a reading expert.  I leave that to folks like my friend PJ and her excellent site Every Kid Can Read.  My point is that I’m coming to understand that any parent who cares about reading, cares about their child reading will probably be a great encouragement to their child going through the process.  I am gaining a greater appreciation for what my mom must have experienced when I struggled as a kindergartener.  So, we follow the lessons in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide and I fill our days with library books.  I let the kids choose books and I choose books so that at any given time we leave the library with a bag that would make a weightlifter proud.  And we read aloud-a lot.  About 45-an hour each day (spread out, of course).  I see my kids enjoying it so even though they are not reading on their own yet I think its coming.  Soon and very soon as the saying goes.  Now, if you’ll excuse me-I’ve got some new books myself to pick up.  Our library is holding “Caleb’s Crossing”  by Geraldine Brooks, a historical fiction piece based upon an American-Indian who went to Harvard in the days before our revolution and “The Widow Cliquot” by Tilar Mazzeo a biography about the woman who founded/ran the champagne label Veuve Cliquot.  Happiness.


2 thoughts on “On Reading & Teaching Reading

  1. Nice post, Martha! Don’t worry about when they finally get ‘hooked’ on books ~ as it’s different for every child. My first fell in love with books after having read the Harry Potter series and the second just told me last summer (age 8), after reading one of her chapter books, “Mom, I LOVE reading!” It was a very exciting and a moment of celebration. You’re doing the right thing by reading aloud to them so often. It will easily transition to independent reading; but they will always ( I think) love being read to ~ mine still do! 🙂

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