Saturday, October 25, 2014

Learning to Read the Easy Way, Vs. The Hard Way

I didn't really mean to conduct a reading educational experiment in my home, it just kind of happened that way...

Yesterday Lily learned to read. As in, officially picked up a book and read the words on the page correctly READING. It happened while we were waiting for our taco dinner to be boxed up, in between a tantrum about not have chips and a tantrum about... oh I can't even remember, she throws a lot of tantrums about nothing, especially when it's dinner time and we're Friday-afternoon-tired out.

Anyway... Lily learned to read, in the 3 minutes that we were sitting outside waiting for tacos.

Or, Lily started reading, because she's spent 3 1/2 years getting ready to, and she was really, perfectly ready. Which I knew, because I've been a teacher for 16 years, which is why I had a beginning reader in my purse that afternoon to take home to her. And in between tantrums, I thought, hey, why not learn to read, Right Now. And I had Daniel film her reading, because I am a teacher, and my child learning to read for the first time is pretty much the holy grail of parenting moments for me. That video was on Facebook with a whole lot of exclamation points within seconds! (!!!!)

I don't have a video of Daniel learning to read. More on that in a moment...

Here is how I knew Lily was ready to read:

1. She knows all the letters of the alphabet and most of the sounds they represent. She can say "r/r/r red, R!"

2. She knows that letters form words, and words carry meaning. She says to us, "What does h-o-i-q-r spell? She recognizes her name and she asks us "What does that say?" when we write something.

3. She can "read" her favorite story books. She mimics reading, using the same intonation and cadence as we do. She looks at the pictures to give her clues, and then either makes up the story or uses the words she memorized from listening to the same story over and over.

4. She notices print in her environment. She asks us what the words on signs mean, and what does "O-P-E-N" spell?

5. She wants to learn to read. This is the most important thing. If she wasn't interested, then I wouldn't have put that reading book in my purse. I'm not one of those parents who desperately wants her kid to be gifted. I do not have any Harvard posters up. Sure, I want her to be a doctor, mostly because she seems to be attracted to the medical profession, (and also who couldn't use a doctor in the family!) But mostly I just want my kids to be Happy and Independent.

Lily was 100% ready to learn to read, and my guess is, she will quickly become an independent reader who rarely needs help.  (If this keeps her from waking us all up at 6:30 AM on weekends GREAT.)

Learning to read for Lily is a happy stroll up a sunny hillside full of flowers.

Learning to read for Daniel was/is a vertical climb on slippery rocks.

Daniel came home to our family at the age of 5. He spoke no English. He had never been to school, except for orphanage school, which doesn't count because orphanage. He started Kindergarten 6 weeks later.

Daniel was 0% ready to read. He knew the letters of the alphabet, sure, but that knowledge existed without any context at all. His first family does not own any books or writing implements, puzzles or alphabet blocks. Those are luxuries in Ethiopia. He had been told stories, I'm sure, but never read any.  Everything, everything in his world was new and challenging: new family, new country, new name, new language, new culture, new food, new home. New, new, new. Hard.

Not surprisingly, Daniel struggled, and continues to struggle, with reading and writing.  He speaks English beautifully, but he cannot pass the test that would un-qualify him for English Language Services.  Daniel can read, yes, and sometimes enjoys reading, but it's not easy. 

Which is why I don't have a joyful video of Daniel learning to read. I could have a feature length movie of the nights we struggled through beginning reading books, me cursing under my breath every time he forgot the word THE again.  There would be plenty of drama in this video- books tossed across the room, crying and screaming, "I hate homework!" I can't do this!" It's too hard!". Lots of drama, and little joy.

At the end of last year I was deeply worried about Daniel and school. He's getting extra help, sure. He's had a series of wonderful teachers (Thank you- A, M, R and now A and C) I worried that the extra help wasn't enough. We considered hiring a tutor for the summer.

The tutoring never got scheduled. But, Daniel cut his foot on a rock, and he couldn't walk for a few days, and so we started reading Harry Potter to him. The happiest of accidents.

notice the giant bandage.

My son is now obsessed with Harry Potter
(insert gleeful jumping- because I am obsessed! Only don't tell him. Mom liking the same things is so. not. cool!)

My son is obsessed, and he's also doing better in school. His reading is a bit more joyful and smooth. There is a lot less book tossing and cursing.  There is a LOT less complaining about school and homework.

Daniel has finally caught up to Lily in being ready to read. 3 1/2 years later.  Just like her he now knows that words carry meaning. Because spells. Just like her he knows that books have special cadences and rhythms. Because magic.  He now wants to learn to read. Because I won't tell him what happens in the end.

I didn't mean to conduct an educational experiment on my own children, it just kind of happened. The results are in, and they are fairly predictable:

1. Reading aloud to your child IS the most valuable thing you can do to help them learn to read joyfully.

2. A child who has none or limited experience with books, words, letters or language prior to traditional schooling will struggle in school, for years.

Thank you, Harry Potter. Thank you.

PS: He is dressing up as He-who-shall-not-be-named for Halloween.

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