Learning to read is definitely one of the hallmarks of childhood, and a particularly special on for a homeschooling parent. Not only do you have the joy of a parent watching your child learn to read but also the joy as their teacher. Remembering the point for each of my children reading journey where they finally put it all together is a delight for me. It was an exciting time for them and for me. Their journeys were as different as their personalities. My oldest did not learn until the end of his seventh year of life, but when he did start reading he just took off going from first readers to 5th grade material like a race car from 0 to 60. My youngest’s journey was a stark contrast. She learned slightly earlier than my oldest, but her learning journey was slower and more laid-back, stopping and starting several times along the way. Thankfully at that point I was a seasoned homeschooler and had seen not only my first child learn to read but several other homeschooling children as well. Being fortunate enough to have that gift of hindsight I was not concerned about her slow progression or her disjointed progression. At this point in our homes journey both of my children are good readers and enjoy a wide variety of books both together as a family and on their own.
We know that reading is important. British academic Adam Swift ascertains
“Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.”
That’s a big one. Let that sink in for a while. Reading to your child at night gives your child a better academic advantage than sending your child to a private school. Unfortunately Pew reports
“Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 8 to Feb. 7”
Why is this? Some Public schools often require questions be answered and reports made for every book read, making reading more of a chore than enjoyment. In addition limiting selection of books one is allowed to read in order to stay within reading level scale and requiring a certain number of books be read within a given time frame can drain any reasonable enjoyment out of reading. So how does the homeschooling parent make sure that a child is reading on level and how can they know a child’s reading skills and comprehension while still cultivating a love and enjoyment for literature?
For the first question I would suggest that this question false dichotomy. A child is exactly where they are. There is no “behind” in homeschooling. Children learn at a very wide range of ages anywhere from as early as 3 years old and as late as 11. Children also differ in their abilities and challenges in regard to reading. Some struggle with dyslexia and some with other learning disabilities. It took me a long time to realize in homeschooling a child is exactly where they need to be, and it’s our responsibility to meet them where ever they are.
On the second question of comprehension I would suggest there are far better ways of assessing reading comprehension and furthering a child’s abilities than limiting a child’s book selection or requiring forced reading or questions and reports after every book. In order for us to raise a child who loves to read, developing a culture of a love of literature is a necessity above all else in the realm of reading. A love of literature will follow a child throughout their lifetime and enable them to not only be well read, but to enjoy it and take comfort in it thus to continue learning her for the rest of their lives. There are all kinds of curricula and styles, but I want to talk about the undertones that run even below those – cultivating a love of literature in your family home.
So how do you nurture a love a reading? How do you ignite the spark that causes a child to want to hold books, peruse through them, and eventually yearn to read? There are many ways of doing this, and it changes as your child grows, but oddly enough not quite as much as you may think. The methods you do when they are little change, but are similar to ones you use with them when they are older. The first of those is reading is to read to them.
Reading to your child
Reading to your child gives them an array of vocabulary. This treasure of words, it turns out, is really important on all levels of education – reading, writing, and communication. Because spelling of the English language does not translate exactly with its phonetics, when a child goes to read, the more vocabulary they have, the easier it is for the child to learn the word. Reading is also instrumental in a child learning to write well. It helps build sentence structure, helps form metaphors, and gives them that treasure of words to pull from. But aside all the technical aspects of reading aloud, reading with your child creates a bond with you, the reader. It creates a comfortable, sacred space that your child can come back to again and again, even when you are not there, simply by picking up a book. This bond and love of reading is what will motivate a child to read for themselves later.
The books change as your children grow, but the method is the same – still reading. In recent year there has been a read aloud movement – Read Aloud Revival. My oldest is in high school, and we still read together, and we listen to audiobooks together as well. Part of this is the connection it brings us. We love reading together, but part of it is my personal academic goals for my child. When we read together it prompts all kinds of discussion during the book. We can pause and discuss a certain metaphor or imagery that we find interesting, talk about the author’s style, or the plot twist. In addition the best ways to learn vocabulary is to hear and read it several times over, so the books we read are mostly those just a little beyond my children’s reading skills, but that not every book. Some books are just for the fun of reading together. We usually have at least one family read aloud going, and sometimes a read aloud in addition for each child. Reading aloud is a great way to connect and to nurture a love for great literature.
Encouraging your children to read is not limited to reading itself. There are a number actions that can be pursued at the same time. Play acting is one of them. When my children were younger we would take their animal toys and play all the Anansi, the spider stories. Our favorite was Ananzi, and the Moss covered Rock. It was so fun to see Ananzi take each of the animals on a walk to see the moss covered rock only to be fooled, but even more fun when little bush deer took Ananzi for that walk. You can also encourage your child to come up with a play from a book that you’ve read to perform for someone, but the performance part isn’t necessary. Just the acting is fun in and of itself. This is, of course, fun for young children, but don’t be fooled into think your older children are too old to play. One of our favorite games is Harry Potter charades. We have several family friends that also love the Harry Potter series, so sometimes when we have them over we take turns miming out scenes from the Harry Potter books, sometimes in pairs or sometimes alone. It’s hilarious and so much fun.
Watch the Movie
After reading the book, watch the movie. They recently began making little short movies about picture books like Room on a Broom, and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. These are fun to watch after reading the books. This can go the other way around as well. If there is a movie that you’ve watched that you love, you might enjoy the book as well. As your child gets older, or even a little when they are young, you can discuss what was different about the book than the movie, why the producers (or author sometimes) choose to deviate from the books, and how you think that changes the storyline. Maybe ask how they would have done it differently. Mary with MaryHannahWilson.com has a couple list of books that have been made into movies – one for teens and one for picture books. If you sign up for her newsletter, she also sends you a discussion guide.
“Big Juicy Conversations”
As discussed above having all kinds of conversations about movie and book are a great way to encourage reading, but you can also just have conversations about books. Does the character remind you of anyone? How does this book compare to the previous book you just read? Who was the character you liked or identified with the most and why? There are so many topics to discuss about a book, even a simple one. Julie with Brave Writer calls these “big juicy conversations.” For instance you can talk about how reliable the story teller is. Young children may take it for granted that a narrator is reliable, but take a look at the picture book This Is Not my Hat by Jon Klassen as suggested by Rooted in Language’s curriculum Trees in the Forest: Growing Readers & Writers through Deep Comprehension. You may have to read it a couple of times.
Your conversations don’t have to be limited to your own family. The next time you are with friends ask them, “What have you all been reading lately?” It’s a great way to get book recommendations, and to share that connection with a friend. There are some books I’m convinced we would never have had the opportunity to enjoy except that a friend recommended it to us. Asking “What are you reading?” instead of “Are you reading?” implies that reading a good book is just a state of being. Of course you’re reading.
The last suggestion to cultivate a love of reading I’d like to mention today is games. Games are a lovely way to encourage reading, to learn to read, but here I’m talking about to encourage a love of reading. When my son was around 9, our family was really enjoying Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. We had read the book, listen to the audios, and watched the movie, and then a friend found the board game in a thrift store. She gave it to my son for his birthday. We played that game endlessly. It was so much fun. I don’t know all the games associated with books. I think Harry Potter now has a board game, but the games don’t have to be purchased. Traditional games like charades can be modified to include a book theme.