We are firmly into our 4th reading journey in this house, as the last one, Josie, suddenly begins to make sense of letters and sounds and turn them into words she can use. It’s the end of an era – but the beginning of a new one too. And like her sisters, Josie is doing it her own way, discovering the complexities of written language quite differently to the others.
It seems like a long time since I tried to teach anyone to read in this house; luckily I learned, with minimum casualties, that this is not really the way forward. I had learned to read before I was 3, so I simply assumed that Fran could be encouraged to do similar; I loved books and reading, I simply assumed she would be the same. With the imminent arrival of Amelie on the horizon, I tried to get almost 4 year old Fran reading with the Peter and Jane books that had worked for me. She’d learned her letters in one morning at the age of 2 1/2 when a letters puzzle arrived in the post. This seemed quite precocious, so I was surprised she took no further interest in words, but at 4, she was still not interested and books became a battle ground, one which fortunately was quickly forgotten in the madness of a third baby in the house.
At 6 she was a word user, marginally competent with Bob Books and Peter and Jane, at 7 she could read simple words out and about but while I wasn’t concerned about her processing of language (and she had no doubt been delayed by having a serious speech delay and hearing issues) she simply wasn’t interested in reading. We laboured through various readers but simple words and sounding out still bothered and eluded her. At almost 8, with me well aware that my ability to home educate was being externally measured by her lack of reading, we went away on a holiday to Centerparcs. She took with her, despite my trying to convince her otherwise, two Rainbow Fairy books which she said she planned to read.
And she did read them, in one morning. By the end of the week she’d also read various Horrid Henry books, hastily bought from the park shop and came home to read her way solidly through another 40 Rainbow Fairy books. Even now, if a new one comes out, she’ll pine to buy it, despite being far too old for them. She retains a real affection for them, which an only mean that her final, belated, entry into reading is something she remembers as joyful and magical. It took a long time before she read for pleasure though and getting her to settle with a book was nearly impossible until she was 10. She wowed her (brief) school teacher though, who was surprised at the maturity of her reading and now, as you can see from her blog, she is an avid reader. At just under 13, she’s devoured Anne Frank and Twilight in the last few weeks.
Maddy has been very different. With Aspergers traits she has been an entirely ‘look see’ learner and still struggles massively with phonic sounding out, saved mainly by a good memory for letters and let down by a combination of lack of confidence in herself and some form of processing issue that tends to mean she struggles to get the right letters sorted into the right order. But that is writing; her reading, which occurred a little earlier than Fran’s, is mature and measured and a joy to her. She has only recently gained the confidence to move out of Horrid Henry territory and now enjoys Roald Dahl and Michael Morpurgo. She finds phonics a real chore but considering I suspect she has what would be called quite significant learning disabilities if she was in school, her reading is great. The world is open to her, she loves gaining knowledge from books and she’s established her skills at a pace and in an order which make sense to her. We still work hard on sounds, blends and spelling, but that is more her ability to put words on to paper – getting them off the paper is not an issue .
By the time Amelie was heading in the direction of reading, I had concluded that children did not naturally learn to read until at least 7. She had all the normal tool; StudyDog, games, books to look at, but I decided not to bother teaching her and to wait, frankly, till she begged. I have a vivid memory of her sat on a friends lap, someone who was also mid the reading journeys of 4 children and her saying “you could teach her to read you know!” as Amelie devoured words on the page of a book. But I continued to miss the cues and eventually Amelie took matters into her own hands. I swear I have no knowledge of how she learned to read or even the process of it occurring but long before she was 7, she had it completely sussed. As yet, she has only cursory interest in using the skill but she can and reads at the same level Maddy does.
And so to Josie. We’re old hands (you’d think!) by now and so we haven’t pushed her but we’ve perhaps provided a few more opportunities in terms of wooden letters and spelling out opportunities. She has been quite resistant and I’ve been un-inclined to push her at it. Recently though she has begun to make progress and now it is quite clear she is on the cusp of a break through; she’s had cvc letters on paper slips for ages and we’ve encouraged her to spell some out each day with wooden letters. More recently she has been asked to sound them back to us. 6 weeks ago she refused to even know the sounds of letters and would deliberately say letter names instead. Suddenly though, she can do it and she’s the most phonically able of all of them; she can sound out, hear the word in her head and say it back to me. The picture at the top, of the Orchard Toys Alphabet Lotto game, was a breakthrough yesterday; she was desperate to play so I added a rule that to put a piece on your card, you had to give the first letter sound. And she beat us all 🙂
It amazes me, when I hear that 1 in 6 kids leave our schools without basic literacy skills, that this is possible. It seems, from my experience with the girls, that for a child to fail to learn to read, you have to actively stop them, actively prevent the process. Even Maddy, with her difficulties, can do it and all of them, in their own time and at their own pace, have fond a path through it, without new fangled and ever changing methods and ideas. I’ve got no idea what synthetic phonics is, but all my girls can read.
It makes you wonder really: “What do they teach in schools these days?”
(You can have a point for knowing where the quote comes from!)