Thursday, September 19, 2013

Helping My Reluctant Reader

First and foremost, my apologies for not posting as often as I'd like.  Between trying to get into a new routine and being sick the last few days, I haven't felt like doing much of anything.

I have been thinking about this post a lot though.  I'd like for you to meet Noah.

Photo by - Anna Schmidt Photography
This is the Bug.  He'll be 8 in January.  He puts up a tough front and struggles with controlling his temper but he's a sensitive soul.  He is very self defeating and truly has no idea about how awesome he really is.  He's impulsive and wacky.  He goes hell bent for leather from the time his feet hit the floor in the morning until he climbs into bed at night.  He loves building and has an amazing imagination.

Noah was brought into my life to teach me patience, remind me to think outside of the box and to enjoy life.  Being his mom is complete exhausting but more fun that you can imagine.

Noah started Kindergarten in 2011.  The goal for Kindergarten was to teach him to read because all kids read by the end of Kindergarten.  That is at least what I thought when the school year started.  We fought constantly over reading.  I cried a lot and so did he.  I felt I was failing him.  We tried Hooked on Phonics (which worked fabulously for Bryce), which works for thousands of kids (just ask a group of homeschool moms about Starfall and the rave reviews will come rolling in), we tried The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching reading (I am pretty sure Noah wanted to set this book on fire), Leap Frog DVDs (which he loved but didn't retain) and we even tried it winging it (yeah, that didn't work either).  I just knew I was the biggest failure on the planet.  Add on top of this, we were having the same issue with writing.  He LOATHED handwriting.

I was at a complete loss as what to do with a kid who refused to learn the basics.  Especially after homeschooling a kid who would (usually) willingly sit for hours and happily do schoolwork.

Kindergarten comes to an end and I have a 6 year old who could not only read but was close to losing a child's nature love of learning.  I was careful who I talked to about our issue because I didn't want the judgement.  I could hear all the negative comments about homeschooling in my head and I had enough to deal with.  Those I did speak to assured me that he would learn when he was ready and that I needed to relax and just keep reading to him.  Relaxing seemed like the worst idea ever because I had images of my son being illiterate at 12.

A homeschooling friend who is also a former teacher told me about with Waldorf teaching they believe in a direct connection between physical milestones and educational ones.  What she was telling me made sense.  She again assured me that he would get there in his own time, relax and back off a bit and keep reading to him.  I decided to give it a go because I didn't know what else to do at that point.

When Noah started First Grade, Abbie started Kindergarten.  The one thing you should know about Abbie and Noah is they are two peas in a pod.  We call them our Irish twins even though they were technically born too far apart.

I decided I would attempt (again) to teach Noah to read while teaching Abbie.  This time I decided to use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons along with Bob Books.  Abbie was definitely far more interested in learning to read than Noah but I was hoping that their natural competitiveness would push him.

The best part of TYCTR was that the lessons only took 15 min.  As long as I caught him at the right time of day I could get him to sit still that long.  Progress was slow but we were getting somewhere and then it happened......Abbie got ahead of him and he started shutting down.  He wouldn't do the lessons anymore so I took the advice of my fellow homeschoolers and put the book away.  We only made it half way through the book.  I tried to get him to read occasionally but I spent more times than not, reading to him/for him.  When he did read we made (and still make) a HUGE deal about it.  

When his portfolio review came up, I knew that Noah had made progress.  After all, he was reading simple books but I also knew he was behind for his age (yep...there I go again, thinking that age is the defining marker of all things).  I explained to our reviewer our continued reading issues.  She again assured me that he would get there, to be patient, relax and keep reading to him.  She also tossed another piece of info my way.....and it was something I never considered.  Here I have this kid who is very active, always thinking, always moving.  He struggles with three things.....reading, writing and getting distracted.  Reading and writing are both very passive activities and he likely struggles with them because he's a kinesthetic learner.  Have you ever tried to read or write while jumping around?  Me either but I imagine that my handwriting would be horrible and I would get sick trying to focus on what I was reading.

LIGHT BULB!  I know, some of you are probably laughing at my foolishness but I really never imagined one having anything to do with the other.

I've spent much of the summer educating myself on how to teach a kinestetic learner.  I also realized this summer that while Noah may be turning 8 in January, he is emotionally younger than 8 and that could be a factor in all of this.  To make sure I had all my ducks in a row, I even tested all of the kids to see where they were reading level wise.  Abbie scored at about first grade, month 7 and Noah scored at first grade, month 5.  I did not tell them their scores because I know how self defeating Noah is.  

I had my plan and a schedule that I was confident.  I knew all the ways/suggestions on how to teach a kinesthetic learner.  I also learned ways to keep him engaged and active while also keeping him in his seat.  I was ready to go....and then school started.

We started school three weeks ago.  The first day I pulled out TYCTR.  The plan was to review with Noah (and Abbie) to see where they needed to start up.  As soon as Noah laid eyes on the book, he was done.   Yep, we are done with it and it will be donated to the library.  I also asked him to read to him and he went to the Bob Books.  They had become his security blanket because he had them memorized.  They are going to the library too.

Plan B - Scratch Reading Plan A.  Reading isn't done with 'How-to' books anymore.  It is him and I, on the couch reading any book he chooses (usually a level 1 or level 2 reader).  Some days he gets through the whole book with some help from me, other days he only gets through a few pages and on those days I finish reading it for him.  When he struggles with sounding out a word I will write as it is pronounced on the board.

Spelling and grammar (which Abbie and Noah do together) has also helped with Noah's reading.  The kids are learning spelling by word families.  This has been an easy way to build Noah's confidence because he has the ending sound down, he just has to change out the first few letters.  We play a lot of hangman for spelling and because it's a game, he often forgets that he's reading.

During grammar, I have Noah and Abbie take turns reading the sentences on their worksheets.  I've noticed the last few days that he's working ahead of where we are which means he's reading to himself.

Another thing we do is I read a chapter to them every night.  The book we are reading right now is The Witches' Kitchen.  They are enjoying the story and will ask about the words they aren't familiar with.

The last thing I am doing is FINALLY, truly relaxing.  Noah has his own timeline and I am okay with that.  Being wrapped up in the numbers game does nothing but hurt him and our relationship.

We have our good and bad days but I have to say, I have seen more progress in Noah's reading in the last three weeks than I did in Kindergarten and First Grade combined.  I think all of the pieces have come together for him and he's ready.    

For those of you who are wondering, what happened with his handwriting?  Well, I tried teaching it again in First Grade but gave up because we were both miserable.  I decided instead to encourage him to take him time.  He has great handwriting for a kid who doesn't like to sit down and write.  Dare I say, it is neater than his older brother's!?!?!

I hope those of you out there with reluctant readers find this encouraging and hopeful.  I wasn't going to blog about it because of how judgmental people can be but I've seen so many moms and dads just like me, wanting to do what is best for their child and feeling, completely and totally lost.  You are not alone, there are lots of us out there.  Your child will get there.  Be patient.

Have a wonderful day!


  1. I'm so glad you scrapped the how-to stuff and tailored it to fit him! We never used reading curricula to teach our kids and they learned naturally on their own timetables. My oldest was reading fluently at 4 and the next two were 5. My current 6 y/o is just now starting to get the hang of it and he loves it, but he is quite a lot like Noah in terms of being very active and physical. Reading games (like this one and my reading to him are the best fits for him.

    I've run a HSing group online for nearly a dozen years and have had the benefit of not just seeing what worked over that time with my own kids but keeping up with what worked with many other parents and their various styles. I really have seen that no matter what program or style you use, kids learn on their own timetables, and that forced reading programs so frequently lead to power struggles and a dislike of reading. I've also seen many moms post worriedly that their kids (typically active boys) are way behind in reading/spelling and they don't know what to do, and then a few years later it is SUCH a non-issue. Even those whose kids were still struggling at 8 or 10 *did* eventually get to that point where it clicked.

    Thanks for sharing all of that. I'm sure it will be a big help to others since this is such a common issue. Nevermind the judgmental people. Write for the nice ones! :)

    Nice to meet you, BTW. I found you through your post on a FB group. I've had fun looking around.

    1. Alicia

      It's nice to meet you too. Thanks for taking a peek, I've enjoyed reading through yours as well.

      Thank you for the encouragement and the link to the game. I appreciate it. I think I will be making it this weekend. I think Abbie and Noah both will love it.

      Have a great weekend.