Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Help! My son is nine and he can't read!

(Originally posted January 2006, edited slightly)

I've posted before about why we started homeschooling and about some of the difficulties we faced, but the reading issue was a huge problem for us. Patrick couldn't read when he was six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine.

My oldest child had been reading since she was four. When she was in school, she had a hard time getting them to let her check books out of the library that she wanted to read, because the librarians didn't believe she could read them. Add to that the fact that my husband and I both come from families that have a lot of teachers and are very conventional. Kids are supposed to read in first grade. End of story.

So we started trying when he was six. But he absolutely could not read phonetically. He had to learn all words by sight. He would "learn" a word one day and the next he wouldn't remember it at all. It was frustrating for both of us.

Our family had been dubious about homeschooling anyway, and I think that all of them, except for my mom, were sure that I was in WAY over my head. But I knew that he was going to read and read well. He was a very bright little boy. He was fabulous at math, had a huge vocabulary, and a fantastic memory.

Then I read a book, that led me to another, and another that began to give me hope. There are a lot of kids, especially boys, whose brains are just not ready
at the age of six or seven or even nine or ten for the kind of processing that reading requires. I started talking to other moms who had boys with reading difficulties and had overcome them.

I quit trying to teach him to read when he was almost seven. But that doesn't mean we forgot about books. If anything I read to him more. Sometimes he'd sit by me and follow along with a picture book, but more often we read really good interesting books for the whole family and he would just listen. Every once in a while he'd pick up a book and try to read. He also had several books memorzied that he would "read" to his little brothers. He would spend hours poring over the DK Cross Sections Book that he bought with his own money.

At nine-and-a-half he was still barely reading. It was getting harder to convince friends and family that things were okay, but for some reason I still felt confident. Shortly before his tenth birthday, many people in our homeschool group were in an uproar over the first Harry Potter book. A group of them even burned it. Well, that convinced me that I needed to read it. Patrick's best friend read it and Patrick really wanted to read it, too. We bought it and Bethany made short work of it, pronounced it "good" and then passed it on to Patrick. I didn't think a lot about it, but a couple of days later I realized that he was carrying the book around everywhere and was actually making progress. And he finished the book. After that, he just picked up speed.

And now, at 17, he reads whatever he wants with good speed and excellent comprehension and retention.He has read many of the great works of western literature. He has read things that I haven't tackled.

What worked for him may not work for everyone, but I think it is vital as parents that we trust our instincts. I knew that Patrick was smart, but already in kindergarten he was being pigeonholed as being behind. It would have only gotten worse. I feel sorry for kids who are in school and labeled. All three of my boys would be wearing a closetful of labels if they were in school. But our goal isn't to keep our kids up to some arbitrary school schedule, it is to produce human beings who love learning. For that we don't need labels.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Beautiful story. I don't know if I could've had your courage in the face of so many teachers (my whole family are teachers as well. My only salvation from them was that my kids read early.

It is remarkable watching our kids, that we know wouldn't thrive in a "normal" environment thrive and blossom. Lately, I think I am constantly in awe.

Barb the Evil Genius said...

Does Indiana have laws like Ohio where you have to test or have a certified teacher approve your curriculum/work at the end of the school year?

Jane said...

Lora, it is remarkable. I really hate to think what school could have done to Patrick.

Barb, no, we don't. Indiana is very hands off when it comes to unaccredited private schools, which is what we are. (If you're needing a more flexible/open-minded teacher to work with let me know. I have unschooling friends in Ohio.)

elephantschild said...

So my burning question, as it were, is whether or not the Harry Potter books screamed or smoked in interesting colors when they were burned.


Andrew Clarke said...

I know the problem you are talking about. I worked as a school teacher for 25 years and because of the numbers of kids a teacher has to deal with individual attention is difficult, and generalizations tend to be made. School can be inflexible, partly because it has to keep organized and the general does not always suit the individual. That being said, I can well understand why home-schooling is becoming as widely practiced as it is. We nearly had to do that with our daughter because she found the peer group at school so hard to put up with. And the state schools are at times antipathetic to Christianity, which is a major concern.

Andrew Clarke said...

If you enjoy reading Christian fiction and fantasy, may I suggest a title to try? "Outcasts of Skagaray" was written from a Christian perspective about the brutal way an ungodly society treats some people. It may appeal if you enjoy such authors as Lewis or Tolkien. For excerpts please check I would be delighted if you read it but irrespective I greet you as a sister in the Lord. My blog is if you are interested in exchanging opinions.

Dana said...

I think that is a very difficult thing to do: maintain your faith that what you are doing is right when you don't have the "product" to show doubters who still trust the "normal" way of going about things. "Normal" isn't all bad. It works for most people most of the time, but it is with the exceptional child that real problems begin.

Uvulapie said...

I dunno... sounds an awful lot like he was bewitched by those Potter books. I can lend you some thumbscrews if you can to get a confession out of him.