A Week of Answers – My Son Is not Reading

Brothers sharing bookThis week we will study from the questions of others, what to do, how to do it, and why. Hope you enjoy this and learn lots from it. The first letter is from a woman who was so scared, she set up a new email account so she could be anonymous. I’ll call her “Jane”.

Dear Katharine,

My oldest son is smart but is still not reading and we have home schooled him for three years, now, making him eight. I am so scared. I have used phonics, daily, and he seems to like it, but he often just doesn’t get it. What am I doing wrong? Have I ruined him? I cannot even bear to think what the schools will say if I send him back there, but I truly do not know what to do, and cannot let him grow up not reading. He reads so slowly and so incorrectly, that it just kills me to listen to it. I hardly dare confess this to anyone, even anonymously like this. HELP! –Jane

Dear Jane,

No you have not ruined him. You probably are teaching correctly, especially since you are using an accepted curriculum, are consistent, and you say he does enjoy it and does actually read, however poorly.

Some children just are slower, for one reason or another, independent of their setting.

Before I answer your questions, I would like to tell you what the schools would have done with your child, okay?

How it would have gone:

First, they would have put him in a reading group with all slow, low-skilled readers, so the “bright” children would not have had to bear the frustration that you are expressing. The results would have been that he would not have been around good reading, ever.

Also they would have instituted some sort of classroom reading competition, in which your son either would not have been expected to compete, or else just would never have had a chance. He and his reading-group friends would have been grouped together for other activities, too, just for convenience’s sake. (You know, the redbirds, the bluebirds, the robins, and the wrens, with the bird species becoming less flashy as the reading skills become less flashy.)Many in his group would have expressed feelings of inferiority about themselves and their group.

Eventually he might have been placed outside the classroom for a few hours a week, to receive special education. This may or may not have been conducted by a learning specialist of any kind–possibly by a substitute teacher or a volunteer–and may not necessarily have been very educational. After all this isolation, he and all his classmates would have begun to get the picture.

Are you beginning to get the picture?

What to do?!

Children who are slow to learn to read, possibly above all others, need to have the chance to exit the collective educational systems. Your son needs individual attention, and believe me, that is impossible in a public setting. If the teacher were able to give him what he needed, she might be of the sweet type who would want to do so, but she simply cannot, because she is in charge of twenty or so individuals who all have needs.

One thing I would suggest, that you are not doing wrong, but maybe have not known to do (and that your son never would receive in a public setting) is that you work on his vision.

  1. Have his eyes professionally examined.
  2. Eliminate fluorescent lighting, at least in his work room. This goes for all “screen lighting”, too, as comes from a computer or TV.
  3. Let him use a white bookmark to underline his reading.
  4. Obtain for your son colored cellophane page covers from a teacher supply store, to see if a different color helps.
  5. Make sure he is receiving excellent nutrition and low amounts of all sugars; no junk food whatsoever, and plenty of outdoor exercise
  6. Nix television and electronic games.

All these little changes possibly can add up to big improvements.

Also, you need to be aware that many children are not ready to learn reading until they are ten, and some after they are nearly grown. (President Andrew Johnson‘s wife taught him to read.) If this is the case with your son, he certainly does not need to be in a collective educational system. He may be the next Edison or Einstein, who both had trouble with traditional schoolwork, and both skipped “school”, learning at home.

You have done your son an immense favor by helping him to escape the isolation and embarrassment that are inherent to those in his situation. Do not stop. Just be patient until he begins to catch on more. Read to him a lot, and let him watch you point at the copy while you read. Especially read his other subjects to him, so he can learn them. Play word games with him, such as hangman or Jr. Scrabble, and get him a simple word-search book. Find an easy story that he likes a lot and read it together, daily. Help him memorize many passages from the Bible, plus some from historical documents, such as the Constitution. Please, also continue with the phonics; there are phonics courses for every age, to adult.

Help him discover and push him into his area of high skill, which may not be a “school” subject, but something more like Edison or Einstein did.

Perhaps it would help you to hear this: One of my older son’s best homeschool friends does not read or spell very well, is beginning a college major in computers, and loves to play word games, of all things. He does well, holding down a job, refereeing soccer, driving, and everything else a young man hopes to do. The important thing, though to his mother, and to you, is that he is a well-rounded gentleman with many moral friends, is of great accountability, is trusted with important adult-level responsibilities, and is not on drugs. He will be fine.

Home schooling did this.

Do not give up. Do not fear. Do not despair. Do not faint.

In due season, you will reap!

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7 thoughts on “A Week of Answers – My Son Is not Reading

  1. faerylandmom says:

    How in the world do you know exactly what I need to hear, when I need to hear it??? Sigh…I feel so much better. I can do this.

  2. Gina says:

    Love that, my 8 yro learned just after his birthday this year. It is still a little difficult for him but in the last two weeks he has started reading signs and titles with a sweet, shy sideways glance and a smile to see it we noticed. We noticed! We love the smile so very much. That smiles says ‘I get it, reading is fun, reading is mine. I got it!’
    We realised when he was about 6 we were in danger of killing his love of books. So we decided not to hear him read anymore. We gave him reading eggs and Nessie and let him play. We continued with written literacy and went over and over and over the phonics. We read everything to him. We read loads of books to him, we got audible books. We reminded ourselves that he would read, one day, but mostly we wanted him to love stories and not associate them with stress. We made sure no one else put him on the spot either. We wanted him to have the time.
    It was hard to trust him, we wondered if it would ever happen, if we were failing him. But we kept going. Now it feels like something he truly owns.
    He has read chapter books out loud to us this year. He got there. It is still a work in progress, it still feels like a rare, beautiful bloom that we could so easily crush with the wrong word. So we are gentle and we receive his offerings with praise and smiles.

    • katharinetrauger says:

      What a beautiful and encouraging testimony, Gina! Thanks so much for this comment and WELCOME to Home’s Cool!
      I sometimes wonder how many unhappy adults got where they are because they did not have a mom and dad like you have been. It is a sad world that treats children like products of a factory that can be labeled defective if they need more time or a different direction from the rest.
      Of course, reading is very important, every good human wants reading skills for every child, most kids pick it up earlier, and phonics is the most successful way: All true.
      But NONE of that is the child’s fault!
      It behooves us to figure out how to get it into the child’s mind.
      It is not the child’s responsibility to wrap his young mind around our world.
      Thanks, again, for sharing from your lives. May God bless your every step!

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