Train a Child to Read: Entry 2

Recently I offered free books to parents who could explain the most creative ways they have used to train their children to read and to appreciate books. I’ve chosen three finalists.

The second finalist is Deb, who has 20 years of experience homeschooling her 6 children ages 7.5–25. Here’s her entry:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a mother who read to me.

—Strickland Gillilan

This poem expresses the cornerstone of teaching my children both to read and to love reading. I was blessed to have a mother who read to me, and I have passed that blessing on to my children. I have found in 20 years of homeschooling that many times it is the basics, adapted for each child’s needs and interests that produce the best results.

1. Read Aloud to Your Children—both consistently and often

Reading aloud to my children started with simple board books when they were only weeks old. We would look at the pictures and I would talk about them, often only for a few minutes at a time. But my children came to associate reading with snuggling with mom and listening to my voice. As they grew older through the pre-school years we read many, many picture books. We had regular reading time before naps and before bedtime.  And woe unto Dad & Mom if we had to skip that time for some reason!

We did fun things with their favorite read-alouds.  They looked forward to when I would “make mistakes” in reading and they could correct me!  Sometimes we would change the story line around  to include their favorite toys and make Barney Bear’s Pizza Shop become Erin Joy’s Ice Cream Parlor. Never mind that the pictures didn’t exactly match—they loved it! They begged to have their dad (a construction contractor) read The House Book because as he read he would point out all the defects in the pictures (like a closet located in an impossible spot). They would all be in gales of laughter by the time he was done. Many, many memories in our family center around reading aloud.

As it became time for schooling to start, the reading aloud continued. I have used a literature approach to history for most of our homeschooling years.  We’ve traveled in Egypt with Mara, Daughter of the Nile and met King Hezekiah in God King.

Adventures on the high seas were exciting as we carried on with Mr. Bowditch and traveled with Columbus. We’ve put The Wheel on the School and had adventures with the Swiss Family Robinson. All my children would laughingly tell you today that Mom always cries at the end of biographies when the person dies. Even my older children still enjoy listening to a good book.

Reading aloud books with my children has nurtured in them a love of reading and a love of learning that has continued into adulthood.

2. Take them to the library regularly

Weekly trips to the library are another foundational aspect of learning to read and love reading. Kids want to read or be read to more when they get to choose the books. My local librarians often joked with me that my children believed that books were cheaper by the pound. We came home with stacks and stacks of books.  Sometimes we would get an older-level book about a topic that interested one of them, and we would snuggle on the couch so the child could look at the pictures while I either read or paraphrased from the book to bring the information to the appropriate level. One library book on how roads are repaired (a photo essay for children) was so memorable to one of my older sons that he found a copy online to buy for his little brother for his birthday a few years ago.

Our kids have looked at the librarians as their friends and a great resource for learning. Recently, my 11-year-old son went to the librarian on his own one day and had her help him look online for some books on trebuchets, which he then asked her to inter-library loan. When my kids start doing things like that, I know that they have learned what a wonderful resource the library is.

3. Let them read at the level where they are comfortable

This was probably the most valuable advice on teaching reading that I came across as a home educator (credit goes to Ruth Beechick). Two of my sons struggled in learning to read. For both of them, reading did not completely “click” until about 5th grade. With my older son, I made the mistake of pushing him to read simple chapter books when I thought he should be ready. After reading Dr. Beechick’s advice I changed my approach. I let him choose the books he was comfortable reading. Often it was Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad or other picture books or easy readers. He was allowed to read those as long as he needed to read them to become comfortable. It gave him the opportunity to practice reading and built fluency. When he was ready, he started reading chapter books by his own choice. Now a senior in college, the books he is apt to choose are by Bonhoeffer, Lewis and similar Christian thinkers. My youngest son went from picture books to The Hobbit in about 15 months once he was ready.

I hear a lot about creativity today, but in 20 years of home educating experience, I have found that the need to be “creative” often intimidates home educators. It is the simple things like reading to your children regularly and often, day after day, that do the most nurturing. You demonstrate both your love for your children and your love of reading as you do this. And through the years, the delight of reading is caught more than taught.

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday. Thanks for the entry, Deb.

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