by Karen D. Koch
Back in my early days of homeschool about 12 years ago, I had a moment of extreme panic. (More than one, but we’ll focus on just one today). My second child couldn’t read. He didn’t know most of his letters–didn’t care, actually. He didn’t seem to understand how letters went together or how to sound them out, despite my somewhat desperate repeated efforts. He was a bright, happy, healthy, inquisitive child who loved to hit golf balls, build things, climb things, and talk, but really wasn’t interested in reading books himself. I read aloud to him and his older brother every day He loved the library and being read to, but the letters=words-you-can-read didn’t click for him. [Spoiler alert: I now have four children who are all avid readers, so it turned out ok.]
Mistake #1 and #2
But back in 2004, being a fairly new homeschool mom, I made a huge miscalculation, and I panicked. “My child’s never going to learn to read! What will people think? How will he ever go to college?” I laugh now when I realize dear son #2 was just six years old. Then I made a second, even worse mistake by comparing him to his older brother who knew all his letters and their various sounds by age 3, watched me read aloud, and one day at age 4, just knew how to read (I’m not kidding–I still marvel at this).
Finding a Solution
A year or so went by, and although said child continued to excel in math and hands-on type activities, and loved being read to (thank you Sonlight Curriculum!), it just didn’t click for him, He’d get easily frustrated when reading. Fortunately, I bought a $5 copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons at a used curriculum sale. When he was seven, we steadily worked through that book about 15 minutes a day for the 100 days, and lo and behold, he jumped about three grade levels in reading in those 3+ months. He improved steadily from there. It turns out this child is extremely logical and sequential, and having tightly controlled vocabulary/letters/sounds in an incremental format was exactly what he needed to make the connections. AND, he was ready.
So I breathed a huge sigh of relief and considered it a job well done. (And we continued reading aloud as a family every morning and evening until my older boys bowed out at about age 16. Now I just read to the littles). A few years later I prepared to teach child #3 with the same 100 Easy Lessons book. We never got that far because she, too, was an early reader who intuitively “got” language sounds and structure without a lot of repetition and sounding out.
Interestingly enough, child #4 was a bit of a hybrid. He loves books and being read to, and did reasonably well about halfway through the 100 Easy Lessons, but then just seemed to hit a brick wall and it just didn’t work for him. This time around, though, I didn’t panic, but shelved the book for about six months. When we picked it up again, we flew through it with nary a hiccup. He is a tremendous reader now at age 7.
Moral of the Story
♦ One size does not fit all. What works brilliantly for one child may not work at all for another. Make peace with this. Take a deep breath.
♦ Read aloud ALL THE TIME to your kids. I cannot emphasize this enough. Whether they can read by themselves or not, they are learning powerful stuff when you read aloud: sentence structure, pronunciation, vocabulary, cultural knowledge, compassion, and more. Associating reading with pleasure and togetherness is half the battle. On my death bed some day, I think the memories of thousands of hours reading aloud to the kids will be near the top of my list of favorite memories. Stories are powerful.
♦ Don’t compare your children. God has generously gifted each of them differently, and they will progress and blossom at their own speeds. When the right motivation or method connects, they will move forward more rapidly.
♦ Ask for help or suggestions from other homeschool moms farther down the road if you need inspiration. The 100 Easy Lessons book worked great for one half of my children, but the other two didn’t need it.
♦ Don’t panic. Ask God for help. Don’t give up. I remember praying out loud, “Dear Lord, please help my child learn to read.”
That same son, who is now 17 and at community college for his senior homeschooling year, texted me last night about his English Composition 101 class. “Mom. I got a 96 on my last essay. High enough to get a 3.9 GPA!” I texted back, “I am grinning so wide I think my smile goes around my whole head.” [That’s a line I borrowed from Shiloh that I’m reading aloud to the younger kids right now]. Then I bowed my head and thanked God for helping my child learn to read.
Update 2017: Karen and Monte Koch have been homeschooling for nearly 16 years, graduating the first two from homeschool high school. Their younger children are 14 and 8. Their oldest son has completed his BA degree in Communications and is working full time. Son #2 is currently playing golf and studying business management at George Fox University. He made the Dean’s List his first semester away at college. The Kochs have been avid Sonlight Curriculum users for 15 years, mainly because of its strong emphasis on literature and history.