Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning to read

I am loving the stories shared at Ordinary Life Magic, in Stephanie's Unschooling Tools series.  If you haven't had a look, it is really worth visiting over there and at least bookmarking the posts for future reference!

We live in a town where there are a couple of older homeschooling/unschooling families - the ones whose children are now in their thirties, the ones who worked with John Holt and the unschooling movement - and I think about how different the "climate" is now for us.  Back then the kids hid when the schoolbus went down their road.  Finding other kids to play with during the week was impossible.  Going anywhere with the kids during school hours was unwise; there was always some busybody wondering why your kids weren't in school - and can you imagine dodging the truant officer? Today not only are there multiple options of ways for us to engage with other families during the week - formally in a class or a coop, or more casually - there is so much support online.  From curricula and lesson plans to personal "how we do it" stories (my favorite), there is something for every hurdle, every "huh, how do we do that?", not to mention the inspiration and encouragement we all share with each other.  I am so grateful.

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This week's "tools" are for learning to read.  Unlike my occasional (mostly internal) worries about math, I have been able to trust that reading would be something our kids would learn when they were ready, because they are curious and want to know more and more about the world.  In fact, our experiences with reading give me courage to trust their capacity to learn anything they want to; any residual worry is my own baggage to sort out. Our two girls have come to reading so differently; Eliza, while totally immersed in story from the minute she was born, has been much more interested in being read to that in figuring out how to do it herself.  She is incredibly social, and not only is it a prime hang-out time with a parent, it is also a time to indulge her first love - drawing.  How can one draw when one is holding a book?? Her initial disinterest (beyond learning her letters and simple words) was understandable, and she has told us that she didn't want to learn to read and have us stop reading to her (we reassured her that we loved that time together and wouldn't stop anytime soon!).

I wrote about a turning point she hit two summers ago, when she had just turned 8.  She was attending a theater camp and the time came to read from her script - she had been given a large part, and was unable to do more than stumble through it, with much help from the teacher/director.  My guess is that the director didn't give it a second thought, knowing she would memorize it quickly, but Eliza was horrified.  She came home and read through her pages over and over and over.  She ended up asking for a smaller role, even though she had already memorized her part and all the other lines in her scene, and she became determined to read.

Now, I would say that she had been learning to read all along, it just wasn't a priority to her to put any "work" into it.  We played lots of word games - bingo, made with words I knew would pique her interest (magic! fairy! fly!), scavenger hunts with simple rhyming couplets as clues, several of the games from Peggy Kayes Games for Reading - but most of all, we read to her.  We went to the library weekly, sometimes twice a week.  Every night there was a chapter book being read, and most mornings would find us on the couch or snuggled on a bed, reading picture books.  We took books along on hikes and would find a rock or spread a blanket for some reading.  

The other thing that happened was that she started to really write - lists, menus, journal entries, the 8th and 9th Harry Potter books, stories about her sister and their friends, letters, notes, songs, poems.  She was really writing before she would ever admit to being able to really read.

We have also listened to a lot of audio books together.  Books on CD, books online at Storynory, books on tape in the car.  Learning to read the year that she was eight presented a problem in that the stories she was accustomed to were fairly sophisticated, with wonderful vocabulary and long, involved sentences. Those are difficult to read! Books written to her level were hideously boring.  What she found bridged the gap were some of the graphic novels at our library.  Most were carefully previewed by me (you wouldn't believe some of the stuff that I find in the "kids'" section of the graphic novels...don't get me started), and some were on the line for me, but I saw her reading, not just looking at the pictures. She is very visual, and the pictures were a natural draw for her, but some of the stories - like The Courageous Princess, or the new renditions of the Oz books - were also good stories and would satisfy her need for substance.  A recent challenge for me was Neil Gaiman's Coraline, in graphic novel form. Shudder.  It's a scary book, and she had picked it up (unbeknownst to me) at the library when she was 7 or so and had nightmares about it, mostly because she wasn't reading the story, just looking at those horrible empty button eyes...So when she picked it up again we talked about it, and I read it, and suggested that if she actually read the story, she would probably not find it so scary. She devoured it. Loved it. It was 186 pages long.

She had the satisfaction of finishing reading her first short novel - Indigo by Alice Hoffman - last week, and I had the pleasure of being her listener!  She now, at nine and a half,  considers herself a reader, but continues to love being read to most of all.

Ani, who is six, has had a different relationship to words and reading.  She has always heard words and used words carefully. Her awareness of how things sound is precise - when a friend pronounces something even slightly differently than she's used to, she picks up on it.  She has always worried sounds over in her mind, once in a while piping up from the back seat of the car with a question about how something might be spelled.  A stranger at a playground observed her playing at age 2 and asked how we had raised her to have such developed vocabulary and articulation and I guess I just shrugged because I didn't really feel like we had much to do with it! She had a sister who talked non-stop, and spent much of every day listening to us read to her, so it didn't seem odd that she would be so verbal.

This has translated over to her reading.  She...just reads.  But of course that's not the whole story - she has always played those reading games along with Eliza, listened to the stories with her, soaked it all up in her own way.  This last year we began getting books from the library that I thought would engage her sense of humor - books like Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems.  This are totally up her alley, as are the Shel Silverstein poetry books - she LOVES them, their silly word plays and total nonsense.  Loves them.  She was also more willing than Eliza to try to read.  We'd borrow You Read to Me and I'll Read to You books from the library, and she'd actually read some of it.  She'd happily take the part of Elephant or Piggie to read - there is a lot of repetition and she easily caught on.

This last fall we played a lot of games that encouraged reading - Camp, Cadoo, Apples to Apples Jr., Bananagrams.  Ani also started getting up earlier than I really wanted to, and so after a nice long snuggle with me, she settles onto the couch with a stack of books to read for half an hour. At some point she decided looking at the pictures wasn't enough and she started reading them. There are graphic novels that appeal to her too - Stinky, Owly, Shark Hunters, Sticky Burr, to name a few. She has always loved The Mole Sisters, and now loves being able to read them by herself.  She is the perfect age for all of those easy readers like Henry and Mudge, Frog and Toad, Poppleton, The Golly Sisters, and she has fallen hard for that incredible word-twister, Amelia Bedelia (all I can say is, thank the stars she can read them to herself. I would not survive that much Amelia Bedelia).

We also have a lot of words around...fridge magnet poetry, seasonal poems that I copy and put up around the house, an outline of our day that goes up on the wall a few times a week, when we have particular things we need to get to.  There are things to read in the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room...when you hear about a "print-rich environment", I think we've got it!  

Dan has been reading the fifth Harry Potter book to Eliza for what feels like 2 months, during which time I've read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest and Ramona the Brave to Ani.  I love Beverly Cleary, but that's a lot of Ramona in quick succession.   So today I said casually to Ani, you know, you could read the Ramona books whenever you wanted to, you don't have to wait for bedtime with me...So off she went with a glint in her eye, returning 15 minutes later to announce that she'd read 7 pages and the only word that was confusing to her was "shoes".   When she'd left the room to read some more, Eliza said to me, "isn't it so wonderful that Ani can read now?"  Not a glimmer of anything other than sisterly pride and joy in her accomplishment.

Turning the tables - reading to us

At one point over Dan's spring break, Ani announced that we were a Reading Family - reading, reading, reading, everyone at that moment was reading!  And it is wonderful! 


merry said...

Do you sometimes pinch yourself?Did we think this time would ever come?But how could children and grandchildren of such readers NOT be readers themselves?Just in their own time!I love, love, love their enthusiasm and joy they have in their reading.Worlds are opening up for them! YIPEE!!

Stephanie said...

Such a wonderful post... so full of joy and expansiveness. ('Expansive' seems to be my word, these last couple of days!) :)
And I love Merry's comment. It is a pinching sort of thing.
How marvelous it all is!