. . . .wherein I share my foolproof secrets for teaching kids to read early and often–NOT!  The truth is, I’ve never taught a kid to read, not from scratch so to speak, and I don’t know what the best way is or even if there is a best way.
My mother started teaching me to read when I was two, following the method described in Dr. Glenn Doman‘s How to Teach Your Baby to Read. I still have the battered box of big red-letter words she used to teach me. [edit: not anymore.]  I read picture books at four and at six read at the sixth grade level.  I was eight when I read Gone with the Wind for the first time.  For years I was convinced that my academic success sprang from my early reading instruction.  I read the Doman book over and over again and vowed that one day I, too, would teach my baby to read.
Only . . . I didn’t.  Like I said, I have the cards.  And I seem to recall dragging them out and trying to teach my firstborn “Mommy” and “Daddy.”  But I was working part-time until she was past three, and I had three kids by the time she was four (my mother was all finished teaching me to read before I ever had a second sibling!), and she started kindergarten without knowing how to read.  And I felt like a failure, convinced that I had dampened her potential by my negligence.
Emily was always “reading,” in her own way.  At one year old she would sit for an hour in front of a bookshelf, looking at every single book until she was surrounded by a pile of them.  And once she did learn to read, in first grade, she never stopped.  She always had a book in her hand, just like me.   My oldest son started learning to read in kindergarten.  When I started homeschooling him in fourth grade, he was not a confident reader.  He read only when he was forced to.  So we started reading at the third grade level, using one of my old Catholic textbooks.  I would read one page aloud, then he would.  Page by page, his confidence increased.  One day he picked up The Tale of Despereaux on his own and became absorbed.  This once reluctant reader read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and THE SILMARILLION!!! of his own accord just a few years later.  Son number two learned at school, with no difficulty.  While not a voracious reader, he can get through a Harry Potter book in two days if he wants to.
No doubt I shall be writing many a post on son number three, who marches to the beat of his own drummer.  I anticipated no problems from him, even though he had not picked up on letters and numbers by his kindergarten testing date.  But by the end of kindergarten, he had not learned to read.  He did not even know all the letter sounds.
If there’s just one thing I’ve learned in the 14 years I’ve had kids in school, it’s that educational fads come and go.  Little William’s kindergarten experience was much the same as his big sister’s–learning letter sounds from worksheets.  Both his big brothers learned from the fabulous Letter People program, retired now from their alma mater for unknown (to me) reasons.  If I could have afforded to buy the program–even on ebay it was too much–I would have, because I think creative, imaginative William would have been captivated.
As it was, though, he got stubborn and shut down.  We nixed having him repeat kindergarten and instead sent him to first grade at our local public school, where he had a great time with a fantastic teacher who really “got” him and appreciated his strengths, especially his fount of animal knowledge.  But despite the extra tutoring offered by the public school system, and a stint in summer school, he was still not at grade level by second grade.   I’ve been homeschooling him for more than a year, and the situation is finally improving.  I got him a little more interested in reading last year with Extreme Readers which catered to his passions.  This year he is finally showing signs of reading because he wants to–picking up Bionicle instruction sheets or looking up facts in his book on cat breeds. [edit: William at 16 is now a voracious reader, although he prefers to get his information via computer rather than actual books.]
You would think being the mother of five would have made me an expert on many things, but it’s actually humbling because I realize how little I DO know.  All I can promise is that I am an expert on my OWN kids, and that I will always keep trying to find ways to help them learn the way they learn best.


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