Learning to read. It’s one of those things that must be accomplished. Everyone needs to learn how to read. But, what is the best way to teach a child how to read, that will not only teach him how to identify words correctly, but instill within them a love of reading?
As a mother of preschoolers and a future homeschooler, I often feel nervous about my ability to teach my children how to read. I don’t personally remember learning how to read. I don’t remember sounding out letters and forming words; I just remember slowly getting better at it over the course of several years.
But, I feel like there is so much pressure on parents to teach their children how to read and to read early. Where did this extreme emphasis on learning to read early come from?
There are several different “learn to read” programs out there which include books, computer software, websites, movies, and TV shows. And parents love to brag in person and on Facebook about their gifted children decoding words and reading by the time they are three and a half.
And it all leaves me conflicted.
I strive for balance in every aspect of my life, and educating my children is certainly one of those areas. I don’t want to be the drill sergeant mom who quizzes her kids with flash cards at every meal, forces endless educational games and software at them, and gives them dozens of worksheets. But, I also don’t want to be the lazy mother who just wants the school do all the teaching, especially when my children seem eager to learn how to read and write already.
But, I’m torn. I have been told about several different reading programs (I have even been recently pitched one to review on my site) and how wonderful they are and how they helped little Susie and Johnny read whole books by the time they started kindergarten. And, I believe they really do work. But, I guess I am questioning the method with which children are taught to read today, namely the overemphasis on breaking down reading into fragments.
I recently read the book On Learning to Read: The Child’s Fascination with Meaning. While I am not huge into psychoanalysis, I am curious as to why, despite more preschoolers learning to read (preK is the new K!), we still aren’t raising generations of readers. Teenagers and young adults don’t generally read books for fun, and especially not for the purpose of educating themselves. And this is what worries me. Is how we teach reading affecting the quality of the relationship children have with books themselves?
That’s where the research and studies presented in the book On Learning to Read proved very interesting to me. While the book was super redundant, long, and very scientific, the point they were getting at was clearly driven home: there is a huge difference between decoding to read and reading for context. Children are taught to read by decoding sounds, learning rules, and memorizing sight words. This process could be the reason why children don’t like to read on their own. Because, identifying words, sounding them out, and putting sentences together are not the same as true literacy.
Reading by decoding is boring
Reading by decoding each word doesn’t stimulate children. The books designed to teach children how to read are trivial, simple, repetitive texts about unreal, simplistic, too happy, purely entertaining situations. And children aren’t buying it. They hate them and get bored by them. And it is this boredom with the texts that frequently cause misreadings. We somehow think that Dr. Suess-esque books with 75 word vocabularies in them are a great way to teach our children to read. They will see the same word 20 times, read a story about nothing, and soon be on their way to read more complicated texts, right?
But, the problem with Dr. Suess type books and many other “Early Readers” is that the stories don’t make sense. People do not talk that way! It’s so unnatural and unrealistic, and at times confusing. These word-drilling books are, in short, obnoxious; personally, I hate reading them.
Preschoolers spoken vocabulary is huge and they are learning new words daily, but yet we somehow expect them to love reading a silly story with only 75 different words! Seventy-five! Most of which are repeated a dozen times. Why would a child see reading as something worthwhile when the stories are banal? Sure, they will come to recognize and read the words correctly, and by doing so bring pleasure to parents and teachers alike, but will they come to see the greatness of reading “See Jane run” for themselves?
Because, here’s the truth about learning to read: if we are interested in the text, in the story, in the information it holds, we will learn to read easily and quickly. In fact, conquering difficult texts gives us more confidence in our ability to read. A child who may be “unable to focus” may only be doing so because they are not interested in reading a story that has no point and does not interest them in the least.
Then there is the other problem with children’s books in that they are so picture heavy and picture dependent with a huge overemphasis on the importance of play. Children are curious about the world all around them, and especially about familial relationships. They have questions about death, old people, emotions, new babies, older and younger siblings, and friendships. But it seems children’s books sole purpose is to entertain children, and to make the child the star, the one in control of their surroundings (or to promote social agendas). And this is frustrating to me. I can’t tell you how many books my husband and I have picked up from the library to read to our girls and have been utterly disgusted by the message of selfish entitlement we find in it: the child can do no wrong.
In On Learning to Read there are several chapters devoted to why a child misreads texts, blocks, or refuses to read, most of which are based on the subconscious of the child. I’m not huge into psychology, but I am sure there is much validation in their research. The main point was that by asking a child a question about what they just misread – by saying something like “I’ve never seen a purple goat before!” for a child who misread “The girl put on the purple coat” as opposed to just correcting the mistake – the child will reread and correct their mistake themselves. Also, we should address the context of the story when a child blocks or refuses to read, as it might be scary to them, or remind them of a difficult memory or situation, instead of just demanding the child read the word they are stuck on. Essentially much of their research boils down to addressing a child’s emotional responses to the text.
I have read countless articles about how to raise a reader and how to teach my child how to read. But, reading books like On Learning to Read and some other homeschool books and literature have me questioning everything, but most especially the books I am reading to my children, leaving me asking what should I be reading to them?
My approach (so far) of teaching my children to read:
I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t really know what is best, but here’s my thoughts on literacy and reading:
- I will read out loud to my children from the scriptures, and hopefully soon more “advanced” books.
- I will read books with my children that we own and get from the library.
- I will read myself, leading by example. Currently, I read an article out of the Ensign each morning, read a book in their room during nap time, read on my kindle, read the newspaper twice a week, and read countless articles on the computer. Plus, I attend two book clubs, which I tell my daughters I am attending.
- I will avoid reading dumb, stupid, repetitive, annoying, child-ego-centric, unrealistic stories to my children.
- I will strive to read linear stories that are true to real life.
- I will avoid reading books that make kids smarter than their parents or teachers or older siblings.
- I will read books about death, birth, and difficult situations.
- I will talk to my children about what I am reading and why I value reading.
- I will write out and spell out words for my children.
- I will point out the words as we read.
- I will have books easily accessible and all around the house.
- I will strive to carve out a regular time to read books together and to my children.
How have you taught your child to read? What do you think is the best way to teach a child to read? How are you working to foster true literacy in your home?