I’ve now got, somewhat to my surprise, 3 readers, more or less. I say surprise, because i was confidently expecting Amelie to do the ‘sometime between 7 and 8’ thing that the elder 2 have done, becasue i’d got to the point of assuming that either that was genetically or socially normal for my children, or i was such a rubbish home educator that ‘sometime between 7 and 8’ was when enough information eventually sunk in to make reading possible.
However, Amelie HASN’T done the same as the elder two, which has kind of left me with a bit of thinking to do. Something about Amelie is very different; i’m confident it isn’t environmental because i’m certainly not doing a better job of HEing than i was doing 4 years ago, nor is it the “stuff” we have, unless it’s the inclusion of a large number of ORT books in our reading scheme library, because overall we have a lot less in the way of ‘reading materials’ than we used to have. I couldn’t say it was my attitude, because although i set about Fran’s reading experience fairly robustly, it was never a bone of contention between us and we never fell out in any way. I’ve been very hands off Maddy, because to stress her is to provoke collapse and yet despite her early interest in writing and spelling and indeed her apparent ability to randomly recognise words all over the place, reading hasn’t come fast to her. Maddy seemed like she was going to read early, but she didn’t. She might have done had i pushed away at her, but i decided not to, because by that time i was watching the crumbling of another child who was being hurried into academic study. I really felt very strongly that Maddy was a child who needed every ounce of my ability to do “nothing till 7” and luckily for both of us, that has been easy enough to live up to!
A while ago, someone put a crumb of something into my head about it, pointing out that as Amelie had learned to speak a couple of years earlier than the elder 2, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that reading and language in general was coming more easily to her. That reminded me forcibly of things i know about Fran and Maddy, that are so far lost in the mist of time that it is easy to forget. Just how easy was illustrated by Max the other day; we looked after a little boy for tea, 6 months younger than Josie, who is still very much at the “look” “rabbits” “sausages” stage of conversation. Josie’s conversation was not noticeably less fluent 6 months ago than it is now; her ability to express herself is extremely sophisticated. Max remarked on D’s language and asked if it was usual and i was astonished; how could he have forgotten that Fran and Maddy were only just becoming intelligible at 3 1/2, never mind 2 1/2!?!?!?! But really, that is exactly how it was; in fact, back in the early days of this blog, much of Maddy’s emergent language is noted; at 2 1/2, she could parrot “I love ya, mom” from Barney and very little else. Though she never showed massively overt signs of echolilia, it was definitely there; very little of her speech was spontaneous and her own until she reached her second year at nursery, the year she could have been in reception. She was, from very early on, incredibly clever at covering the tracks of her difficulties – i actually think she is less good at hiding them now than she was as a 3 year old. When she and i looked at books together, she would obsessively pick out certain words, “I” (but not “i”) and “like” (but not “likes”) without any interest in the story as a whole; come to think of it, Fran had almost no interest in books at all, not on her own, not with a parent, not at playgroup. She ripped them, she pulled them off shelves, but she didn’t look at them and she didn’t particularly want to hear them until she was 4 or so. I didn’t read her her first chapter book until she was 6, before that her concentration simply wasn’t there. And in all those things, she and Maddy, 2 years her junior, reached the same levels of concentration ability at the same time as Fran, rather than at the same age.
Josie and Amelie are really different; neither of them have ever intentionally destroyed a book and they’ve looked at and absorbed them since they were tiny things. They’ve been able to tell a story from pictures from very little, by which i mean normally little not exceptionally little, and they’ve always enjoyed being read to. Neither has picked out words early, but they can hear a “joke” in the form of a quote from a story, something that used to go over Fran and Maddy’s head. If you’d made up a Charlie and Lola-esque quote to Maddy, she’d have panicked cos you didn’t have it right. Josie laughs and plays along. If i try to think what has been different for the younger two, it is hard to put my finger on something that might be environmentally more stimulating. They watch less tv that the old ones did, mainly because they have a much better grasp of imaginative play and so play more. The tv they do watch is probably better, more sophisticated, more tuned towards educational learning goals and aimed at older children. They mix with a wider age range of children and get proportionally more opportunity for conversation, but then, they CAN converse so doing so is infinitely more appealing. It isn’t like i ignored my first 2 children, far from it, but it was exhausting to try and engage them all day. At 3 Fran still hadn’t made it passed ‘point, grunt, affect outrage and then screech’ as a communication method. She sole ‘playing’ was to scatter things on the floor. Maddy didn’t play, unless you count finding two objects that vaguely matched and acting out a solitary scene from A Bug’s Life; Maddy lay on the floor by the tv and watched Peter Pan and Toy Story. Fran and Maddy did make it to reinacting Dsoney on their own, but it was Amelie that taught those 2 to use their imaginations with toys. Conversely, Amelie and Josie rarely play out film scenes or use film characters, with the notable exception of a Doctor Who scene they do as a party piece.
Which leads me back to wondering if i somehow “put them off” learning to read, but there, i have to say, i think not. Certainly, the big test of home educating among the masses seems to be “is she reading yet?” and i certainly felt that pressure, but i can also remember that a lot of my inclination to get Fran reading was because she was so thirty for knowledge, so hard to entertain and so frustrated by the fact that i couldn’t always jump to her needs. Even before BM got so huge, Fran wasn’t reading when Josie was born and the strain of “being a home educator” and having 4 non readers, felt a bit huge. If it had ever become a fight or a strain between us, i might think that my need for her to read had affected her but in fact, it was a perfectly amiable process. And even then, there has been almost no process at all for Maddy, certainly no pressure of any sort, and that didn’t hasten her towards reading.
With Fran, the process was a pretty consistant slow burn from the age of 4ish onwards. I did some P&J with her shortly before Amelie was born, then nothing because she clearly wasn’t ready. That was an anathema to me, as i could read at 3, but the new baby let me let it go. I can clearly remember blogging at around her 6th birthday that we would do “a bit a day” from now on and that meant a little bit of Explode the Code, a little bit of writing and a reading book; slowly, slowly, that built up a reading ability without which, i am utterly convinced, she would not have had the building blocks for her eventual “explosion into reading” which happened when she was around 7 1/2. Thank the reading gods for fairy books; even then, it took a long, long time before she would challenge herself at all and only very recently has she begun to pick up books that stretch her. But then, looking at her reading Dr Dolittle, i think that if she were in school they’d not now be remotely bothered if ORT Treetop books were still the height of her interest, even though she’d have been harried to “get on, get on” at 5 and 6 years old.
Fran had lots of things at her disposal; Montessori materials, computer games, endless books and a very interested in helping mother. But letters and words didn’t motivate her, neither did a “need to read” seem to inspire her particularly. When it cames to words, i think she was just pretty lazy. Briefly Animal Crossing inspired her, but not massively; for Fran, reading did seem to be an accumulation of skillsand fact that eventually added up to an ability to decode language, much as speaking was achieved like that. Fran learned to speak quite differently to her peers; there was no opportunity to copy, repeat, experiment and experience delight with language for her. Every sound was fought for; i still remember her achieving b’s and p’s finally after a weekend at granny’s. Often her greatest efforts still went passed without people understanding, which must have been demoralising for her. Perhaps, having missed out on language being learned in a fluid and linear manner once, the building blocks were not there for reading? Or maybe she really was distracted by computer games and tv and too many toys. It’s hard to know; i think not, but it is hard to know.
Maddy didn’t get any reading “help” until she was nearly 7; then it was mainly EC and StudyDog and we’ve only begun to actively read books together in the last few months with any consistency. Some days it is easy for her, somedays it is like she has a different brain in. With Maddy it seems to be a matter of confidence still, she thinks she can’t, or perhaps she doesn’t entirely want to. Despite her fascination with writing, drawing and letters, her desire to read is really not that strong. And that’s okay. She does rely on Fran a lot though and really, if you’ve got to the point at 7 1/2 where you want to know whaty it says, perhaps you should read it yourself?
Something i’ve noticed since Amelie started to read, is that Fran and Maddy still seem to be missing “something” in their reading armoury. I’m not sure entirely what it is, or indeed whether i ought to worry about it or if it’s an actual “thing” or just something that will go as they mature. They still seem to lack a certain “decoding” knack – they often skate passed a difficult word, or get it quite wrong and out of context, or just fail to sound it out at all. Maddy is still at the “it begins with th- so it could well be the” stage, though it is passing. Fran just still seems to lack the inner patience to stop and say “hang on, could it be x?” or “hang on, it just can’t be x….” I only notice it because Amelie seems to have already estblished that this is a skill worth having.
What i can say for definite though is if Amelie’s learning process is what most of my friends children have done, what i have experienced with my elder children was NOT a normal learning to read process. Something was amiss. Amelie is utterly different. She sees word patterns, hears and sees word likenesses; she makes intelligent guesses based on the context, the letters, the sounds she can see. She wants to learn and to know and to understand those letters and what they add up to. This is a girl who grabs a level 2 book and does it, sees there are no level 3s and so decides she can probably manage level 4. This child wants to be on, fast, cleverly and with meaning. She looks at the pictures but she doesn’t make up a sentence to fit them, she looks at the words and then makes educated guesses about the bits she didn’t know. Amelie remembers a word from one day to the next, from one book to the next, whether it is in Times font or Comic Sans. She doesn’t mind if an name is in one book for a dog and in another for a child. She”ll try a few times, read on her own, write on her own. If Amelie’s reading learning curve is a normal expression of a child being inspired and able to decode and learn, then it is a very, very different thing to what Fran and Maddy did so torturously. Hopefully, Josie will be more like Amelie.
It was only fairly recently that i discovered that Max clearly recalls learning to read at 8 years old, so maybe we just ended up with two eldest child who were more like him. I know he rarely spoke as a young child but i’d never really equated these two things as perhaps being linked until recently. But just as my more physical children have toilets and run earlier than they’ve spoke and my more verbal children have been less physcially boisterous, perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise to me that the two children who needed the attentions of endless Speech and Language Therapists, should have been slow developers at decoding and making use of written language too.