by Stephanie Elms, Annandale
Originally published in the January-February 2008 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
My 11-year-old son, Jason, has always loved books. At six months, he would happily sit in my lap as I read board books; by the time he was three, we had moved onto chapter books such as Winnie the Pooh and the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories, and by the time he was six, we were reading Redwall and Harry Potter. His comprehension level was very high, even at a young age. However, I found that this early interest and enjoyment did not translate to early reading.
Reading is like any other developmental area such as walking or speaking —it has a “normal” range that can vary. Contrary to popular belief, not all kids are ready to read by six years old. Some kids are ready to read as early as four years old. Others (especially right-brained learners) may not be ready until closer to eight or even ten years old. Just as you cannot make children walk before they are ready, you cannot make children learn to read before they are ready.
So what do you do in the meantime? Looking back, I think the most important thing I did (besides not panicking) was to encourage a “relationship with reading.” I went about this in several ways.
Read, Read, Read
Reading to your child is the most common advice given for encouraging reading in children, and I think it is especially important with “late” readers. Reading out loud will not, however, make your child read any earlier than he or she is developmentally ready. What it will do is create a positive relationship with books and with reading. Reading aloud also helps develop vocabulary as well as comprehension, both essential for reading.
Listen to Audio Books
Audio books allowed Jason to enjoy books above his reading level, which engaged and challenged him until his reading ability clicked. Listening to audio books also helps develop visualization skills (translating words to pictures), which, for many “late” readers, is a critical pre-reading skill. We always have an audio book on in the car, and even now Jason listen to audio books every evening in his room.
Allow Kids to Choose Their Own Books
One benefit to having a late reader is that when Jason started reading, I did not worry as much about what he was reading, as long as he was reading. If he showed interest in a book, I did not worry about whether it was “too young” or “too easy” or “twaddle.” The first book series he got hooked on was Captain Underpants, and while not exactly quality literature, being able to read these books on his own gave him a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment. Because of this, the series will always have a special fondness in my memory.
Obviously, I also want Jason to be exposed to good quality literature, which is where reading out loud and audio books come in. I have found that overall we seem to find a good balance. And most importantly, Jason has the unqualified freedom to choose books that interest him, ultimately leading to a more positive reading experience.
Encourage, Don’t Require
One of the biggest impulses I have had to resist has been requiring Jason to read, especially in the beginning when he could read but still did not choose to read a lot. In my opinion, one of the sure ways to make reading a chore is to make it required. Instead, I have focused on finding books and materials that capture his interest and engage him, giving him a reason to want to read.
One of our reading challenges was actually due to Jason’s high comprehension level. He found many early readers boring. As his reading ability increased, this became less of a problem. He had the most success early on with books that were highly visual with smaller amounts of text. Pages filled with text were very intimidating for him in the beginning. He enjoyed books such as:
- Graphic novels such as Bone by Jeff Smith and Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi (note: not all graphic novels are appropriate for all ages, so be sure to prescreen for your child)
- Comic books such as The Far Side by Gary Larson and Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Visually interesting books such as DK Eyewitness and Usborne books or Ripley’s Believe It or Not
- Poetry books, especially humorous ones such as Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex or It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles by Jack Prelutsky
- Humorous books such as riddle and joke books or Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
When reading first clicked for Jason, he did not immediately start reading a lot of books. Part of this was because of the initial disparity between his interest level and his reading level. What did happen, however, was that he was reading more things as part of his day-to-day life. To be honest, much of his early reading practice came from reading while playing video games or while on the computer. The LEGO© catalog was also an early source of reading practice. I encouraged this type of real-life reading because it is meaningful and help increase reading fluency.
As I mentioned earlier, much of Jason’s early reading success came, not from easy reader or chapter books, but from more “non-traditional” books such as graphic novels and comic books. These types of books should not be dismissed and were an important step on his reading path.
Late readers can and do become strong readers. If given space and support to develop on their own timetable, reading can come easily, albeit a bit later than “normal.” I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the process unfold and have reaped the benefits of having a later reader—the biggest benefit being all the books that we have shared and continue to share as read-alouds. Yes, there were some nerve-wracking times wondering if “it” would ever happen, but luckily I had the support of some wonderful homeschool mentors who reassured me.
Supporting a late reader on his or her journey often involves a leap of faith—faith that the timetable is the right one for your child and faith that when your child is ready, he will read. Looking back, I can definitely say that it is a leap well worth taking.
About the Author
Stephanie Elms is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows. She is also a contributing author on the Life Without School blog.
Originally published in the January-February 2008 VaHomeschoolers Voice.
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