My eldest might be classified as a reluctant reader. Matthew has known all of his letters and sounds since he was four/five, but his interest in reading has ebbed and flowed in the years since. Over two years ago, in June of 2010, I published this blog post about Matthew's reading - he was going great guns!
But something happened and I'm not quite sure what that was. He wasn't quite six when he announced that he hated reading and would never do it again. Though I knew this would change over time, I was privately rather devastated, to be honest, because reading is so important in my life and so critical for most everything in life. But thankfully I didn't react much to his assertion (on the outside) and I made the time to do a little thinking about the matter. After also talking to a bunch of homeschooling moms and listening to a couple of speakers talking about reading, I decided to relax about the whole thing. After all, I was looking for a life-long reader, not a kid who was forced to read and who then stopped reading pretty much when he reached adulthood. Besides, we're h/schooling for reasons - and one of them is to be able to take things at a kid's speed, whether faster or slower than what is required by the school system.
Since the day when Matthew announced two+ years ago that he was not going to read again, I have completely and utterly backed off of the reading issue. I told him 'ok,' that he didn't have to read, and that I would wait until he was ready again to pursue the topic. I have read out loud to him every single instruction related to the curriculum work we do and have never insisted that he read out loud to me. When he has expressed frustration about not being able to read something, I have responded with something like "that's ok - someday you're going to be a great reader. I'll help you for now."
Every couple of months, I casually ask him if he is ready to try again, and he's almost always said no. There have been a number of times when he briefly jumped back into it, but they faded away after very short intervals. I have been encouraged on countless occasions when I have noticed that he has possessed information/knowledge that he could only have had by reading a sign or a piece of paper. I know that he is far more able to read than he is willing to let on.
Last fall, while the little kids were in their Monday-morning music class, I took along a piece of paper that I prepared each week for Matthew. The paper contained about twenty sound combinations at the top and about fifty words using those sounds at the bottom. Every Monday for months, I brought a small, special treat along for Matthew and he would slowly nibble/drink that while he was working through the sheet of sounds/letters...just saying them out loud to me. I varied the sounds/words every week so that it wouldn't be too boring, and I usually arranged the words in columns or rows that had some sort of storybook quality to it. By doing this, I figured, he would still maintain the memory of sounds without actually having to 'read.' He didn't mind the exercise too much because he got to indulge in a special treat that only he got on those occasions, and he loved spending the time one-on-one leaning against me with my arm around him at a time when he seemed always surrounded by his new siblings.
About two weeks ago, as I do every couple of months, I asked him again if he felt ready to try reading yet. His response? "I think so. I've been waiting for you to ask again." Oh. Ok. I casually answered that I'd be happy to give it a whirl with him, and I immediately went out and bought a handful of early readers that I thought would be interesting to him - not that we don't have a whole bunch already, but I thought it could only help if we had a few new ones. I casually put the new books in the library on the stool by the chairs where Matthew and I sit when I'm reading aloud to him before bed. That evening, Matt and I headed towards the library and he saw the books strewn on the stool. He picked one up and made a comment about how he could probably read something like that. I suggested that he go ahead if he wanted to and that I could then read to him a little later.
He read two of the early readers. The first one was rather halting, and the second one not so much.
The next morning he read three. The improvements in his ability to read from the beginning of book number one through to the end of book number three was frankly astounding!
Over the next week, he decided on about four different days that he wanted to read to me rather than me reading to him. On the face of it, I was totally laid back and casual about it all. Inside, I was squirming with excitement...I forced myself to look almost bored, and I injected a yawn once in a while just for good measure. It was a very, very encouraging week and I am so glad that my hunch was right - he is far more capable of reading than appearances indicate.
Then last Monday, I heard some noises and laughter coming from the library so I went to check it out. Here's what brought tears to my eyes.
He read them two stories! Goldilocks and a Little Critter book. He read them. It wasn't even too halting. Seth and Lizzie loved it, loved it, and were totally absorbed. And Matthew beamed afterwards - I think he felt like a million bucks.
I'm still not pushing anything, and am totally letting him drive the bus on this issue. We're not through the reading challenge yet, but in my mind's eye I am already picturing Matthew and me curled up on chairs together while we quietly read our books. I can hardly wait for that day!