How Jason learned to read

When Jason was younger, I never really set out to "teach him to read". But he has always liked books and being read to so we did that a lot. He loved board books starting at around 6 months. We moved on to Dr Suess and short picture books. At around 2 he would easily sit through Cat and the Hat and longer picture books. Around 3 or so we started on chapter books…Thomas the Tank and Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne not Disney). He loved them! During that time we also played around a lot with letters…had the refrig magnets and read alphabet books (Dr Suess again was a fav).

Jason loved anything that rhymed. We would play rhyming games in the car…I would call out a word and he would give me something that rhymed…sometimes a real word sometimes a goofy made up word. He knew the names of letters somewhere around 3 (maybe 4??) or so. That, coupled, with his love of books led me to believe that he would be reading "on time" if not early. I was in no rush though (I have always believed in letting kids do things in their own time) and in my research into homeschooling had learned that kids can and do learn to read without being pushed or formally taught. So I continued to read to Jason and we played around with words (he was really interested in how words that sound the same can be spelled differently or how words that are spelled the same can have different meanings). He slowly started picking up sight words..his first being stop (from seeing stop signs) followed later by play and exit (from his computer games). Occasionally I would try playing a game from Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye, but he pretty much was never interested and I never forced the issue.

Sometime around 5, we were talking and he told me that he was afraid to try to learn how to read because he thought that it might be too hard. I reassured him that when he was ready, he would learn just fine and that everyone became ready at different times. He has very perfectionistic tendencies so I did not push the issue (not to mention he was only 5!). So I kept reading to him and talking about letters and letter sounds and words etc. At 5 he was thoroughly infatuated with Harry Potter and the Redwall series. Jason also picks up words incredibly easily…he has always had an awesome vocabulary…if he hears a word in a story it becomes his and he will go on to use it appropriately (my favorite was telling me that his little brother "cut a comical figure" when he was 5 and my mom loves to tell the story of how at 2.5 he told her that the puddle had evaporated!).

So we pretty much went on in this manner for the next year or so. I continued to read to him (and he also LOVES audio books…we go through so many of these..thank goodness for the library). He gradually picked up more and more sight words. I would talk about/point out letter sounds and sometimes try to show him how to break down words into phonics but it never seemed to click and he honestly was resistant to hearing it. I could tell that he was not ready. I will admit though when he was 7 I started worrying about if he would ever be ready! Luckily I had heard many stories on homeschool email lists about kids who read "late" and caught up quickly so I just kept doing what we were doing. One nice thing about homeschooling is that his not being able to read did not stop him from learning…I just kept reading to him about the subjects he was interested in and we also watched a lot of discovery/science channel shows. Not reading did not slow his learning down but I do know that it bothered him to not be able to read…he was very aware that other kids his age and younger could read. We had lots of conversations about kids being ready to do things at different ages.

Somewhere around 7.5 I realized that he actually had amassed a pretty large number of sight words that he could read…mostly from seeing them in books we read and from seeing them in video games. He did not consider this reading, however, even though I did. I also realized that he seemed to not quite understand that there were rules for figuring out how to sound out words (despite my talking about and showing him phonics informally throughout the past years). He seemed to be struggling a bit at pulling the whole thing together. At this point I thought that he could benefit from something that explained phonics in a more structured way. At first I checked out Phonics Pathways from the library. It was an utter disaster…it focused very much on letter sounds and letter blends. Jason hated it and did not see the point…he did not want to sound out letters…he wanted to read words! We did not stick with it very long.

I then decided to check out Teach Your Child to Read in 100EZ Lessons. I was a bit turned off by the strange notations they used and the directions to the teacher that said that I had to read the text exactly as written or it would not work! Needless to say we ignored that. Actually we ignored a lot of the directions and just took what we needed from it…we did not do the writing section, I stopped doing the reading comprehension questions after the first couple of ones when it became clear that Jason had no problems understanding what he was reading. We did not do the number of repetitions they recommended either because Jason did not need them (and had no patience for them). Basically we used it to explain the basic phonics rules and as practice in reading words and sentences. It got him reading words in the first lesson or so and sentences very quickly so he could see results while still giving him the phonics info. It also turns out that since he is such a visual kid, the strange notations they used were just what he needed and he progressed naturally from needing the visual cues to reading normal text.

I would say that his reading has really clicked only in the past year or so since he turned 8. But now that it has clicked he has be progressing very fast. He still is not reading books for pleasure but that is because his reading comprehension is well above his reading level. He wants to be reading Star Wars, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, the Spiderwick Chronicles, Redwall, and Harry Potter, not "easy readers". One easy reader that we have found that he enjoys is the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen. He has absolutely no problems reading his video games now and he is constantly catching me off guard by reading something that I know just a few months ago he could not (menus, signs, posters etc). I have no doubt that he will in time become a voracious reader…he loves books too much not to. He goes through audio books like water…I just brought about 10 home from the library which will probably last us a bit over a week.

One thing that I notice also is that even though he does know phonics, it is NOT his reading method of choice. He very quickly stores sight words (as opposed to me who has to sound out an unfamiliar word many times before "knowing" it) and is awesome at using the context and look of the word to figure out what it is saying. He is a visual/spatial learner ( also know as a right brained learner) and as I read more about his learning style, his journey towards reading makes more and more sense. He sees things in pictures, not words. So he needed more time to be able to recognize and make sense of words (in the beginning I noticed that the words he had the most trouble with remembering were words with which he could not associate an image…the, and, what, here etc) Basically he is a big picture/concept break down type of learner (as opposed to a learn the individual parts and build up learner). He needed a large number of sight words in order for phonics to make sense to him. Traditional phonics made no sense to him until he had a context in which to put it into…learning the "building blocks" made no sense until he knew what he was building. But even now that he knows the building blocks, he still prefers not to use them! And it is not holding him back. I am amazed at how quickly he adds to the words he knows by sight…there are many words I know that I have never shown him that he has just picked up from the context of things that he has read.

It has been a very interesting journey and I am not sure who has learned more…him or me! Although he did not follow a traditional path when it came to learning to read, he followed the one that works best for him. And knowing him, I am sure this won't be the last time he takes a different route to get where he is going!

Also published on Life Without School.