Home Education ; children learning to read.

I have had a number of conversations about reading recently. It seems to be the topic of the moment.

One of the questions that those of us who admit in public that we are home educating our children get asked is, “How will you teach them to read?”

A friend has told me her health visitor has made another visit – we were all amazed as no HV we know will leave their desk. But my friend wonders if she is getting extra visits because she has said her children will not be going to school. The HV said in tones of careful admonition, “You will have to teach them to read.”

My friend managed to restrain her reply. She is a better woman than me.

Another mum who knows I have been using  a “scheme” has phoned on more than oe occasion to check out where in the scheme my 6 yr old is. As my 8 yr old is finished with those books, it makes it harder for her to judge ‘where’ he is. In our last conversation I explained that I move between books and scheme. Avila has finished the grade 10 Oxford Reading Books, so we have moved onto Stage 4 of Step Into Reading and then there’s a couple of ORT books at stage 11 for her to read and some Step Into Reading stage 5. She is reading other books as she likes. So I am not asking her to follow a set pattern of reading any more.

I know a lot of home educators believe that schemes are not a good idea, and I do understand their misgivings. The biggest problem with them is that it can lead to a sort of competition, where short cuts are made to ensure the child is ticking the correct achievement box, and if they are not, they will know.  The other problem is that Oxford Reading Tree books in particular are very expensive. Step Into Reading books are much more reasonable. Both lean to the gimmicky approach at times so you need to weed out the twaddle to find the gems. The advantage of them,  to me, is that they are very gradual in building reading vocabulary so the child learning isn’t overwhelmed by lots of new words. I like the fact that the Step Into Reading books are stand alone, so we don’t need a whole load of them. I like the ORT books because they were lent to me 🙂 And the children have enjoyed the Magic Key stories.

All three of the younger children started with Starfall alongside the Oxford Reading Tree books. I decided some time ago that Avila needed to come off the Oxford RT books for a while as they are mixed approach and she really needed a strongly phonics approach to help her decode new words. We went to the old McGuffey Readers for a while, until she was stronger and more confident in reading. It worked, and when she returned to the ORT books she read much more fluently. Those of you reading this for ideas on teaching reading – all I can say is, you will know if your child is struggling, and these days there are a lot of excellent old and free resources that can help.

If she went to school she would be in Year 1 (kindergarten for Americans). The other mother who wanted to know where she was in her reading thought that Stage 10 ORT was very advanced for her age (6). I wasn’t so sure. I have been out of the school loop for a while, so I just didn’t know (or care) whether she was advanced or not. I know she struggles to decode words and her perception of letters is somewhat off, and this has slowed her down; but she can read fine and enjoys reading. That’s what matters to me.

But more recently I have heard mothers say that their children (with no perceived reading problem) have moved to Year 2 while reading Stage 6 or 7 or ORT books. Aha, so my 6 year old is better than theirs? I really doubt that. And something in the conversations that comes up over and over again is that their children are becoming bored and more reluctant to read.  Some parents are by-passing the school and having their children read harder and more interesting books at home to keep the love of reading alive in spite of the “scheme,” and in spite the number of mums reporting that the teacher will not accept their child needs more challenge.

I have to say, I can’t really think that I have “taught” any of the younger children to read. I did have to re-teach Alex to read, and that was a very different process. But the younger ones just show interest in words and stories and then we read together, they read with me and then they read to me. It sort of happens, without a strictly formal lesson of any kind.

I do make sure they read to me  every day. But now they all spend independent time with books, even Heleyna, and they read to one another. They also get quite a bit of time to read to other people’s children. Even Heleyna has “read” to a baby, from one of the little books she knows by heart.

The important part of this process is to leave them with a love of reading. I don’t want them to see books as something of a chore, to do with boredom and banality. If they are stripped of their natural love of reading because I give them boring, poorly written books to read, very, very slowly – then they will have a huge treasure trove of thought, ideas and history closed to them.

So, if there is one piece of advice I would give to a home ed family starting out with younger children learning to read it is this; do not be trapped into the “What stage are yours?” questions. Go as fast or as slowly as your child needs and don’t stick with books they hate, just because you think they should.

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