Learning To Read

When my daughter was learning to read, it was an eye-opening experience. Of course I started with the basics: phonics. Introducing letters and the sounds they made was a simple job. She learned them quickly. But that was when the real work began. I soon found that the act of stringing the sounds together to make words wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It seemed that we pushed on for weeks with her sounding out words like c-a-t but never making them come together to form “cat.” I remember getting very discouraged, thinking somehow I was doing it wrong. I even began to question my decision to homeschool, thinking that I must not have what it takes if I couldn’t do the most simple of acts in teaching my oldest child to read.

Then, one day, it was as though someone flipped a light switch. “Cat.” “Dog.” You name it, she was suddenly reading it. We tore through anything we could get our hands on. I felt much better about homeschooling, and as she progressed from early reader to strong reader, many aspects of homeschooling became easier.

And then along came my second child, my son. Although he is different than his sister in every way, for some reason I made the assumption that teaching him to read would go much the way it had with his sister. At the beginning, it did. We started with a solid foundation of phonics, and started to take the next step into forming words. At that point we hit a brick wall. For some reason, my son had the hardest time putting the sounds together. We worked and worked, but for all our efforts he was reduced to frustration and even tears at times. I’ll admit there were days I cried too. Again, I questioned my ability to homeschool, at least with my son.

But, just as I was thinking he would never read, again someone flipped that light switch. One day, it just all made sense to him. Again, I was filled with relief that I hadn’t failed my child in teaching him to read. However, after a few weeks I was confused by the fact that he didn’t seem to be progressing past rudimentary sounding out words.

My son loves to play video games. His favorite is The Legend of Zelda, which involves a lot of reading. Up to this point, he had always asked me to read it to him. That’s when the epiphany struck: the next time he asked me to read, I told him “No. You either have to read it yourself or you can’t play.” So he started trying to read the dialogue in Zelda, and something amazing happened. His reading progressed exponentially in a very short time. Within months, not only was he reading proficiently, but he could read fast and retain basically everything he read. To this day he is an amazing reader.

Watching my son learn to read well through playing a video game taught me not to reject any learning opportunities, as off-the-wall as they may seem. His love of the Zelda game inspired him to try harder than any schoolbook I could give him, and I learned to let him follow his interests more.

Learning Styles

Every child learns differently, as we’ve all been told. Nowhere has that been more evident than in my life, with my four children. My daughter is my oldest, and for the most part can work very independently. She needs things shown to her and read to her for her to learn best, and needs lots of scratch paper for working out problems and making rough drafts. She needs to hear it, think it, and write it before it cements itself in her mind, and can do all of this herself without me needing to remind her to do it.

My son, on the other hand, learns entirely differently. He needs to see it and then think about it. I can’t really fit the way he learns into a pre-conceived learning style, such as they are. I’ve seen my son, when faced with new math concepts, put his head down on to the kitchen table. At first, I thought he was avoiding work by pretending to take a nap, but suddenly his head popped up and he had the answer. I asked him how he had done the math without writing anything, and he told me he could “see the math problem” in his head, and that he worked it all out in his head.

Now, for the sake of him learning to do it and having the ability to do it, I do make him work out his problems on paper, but amazingly he can take multi-digit problems and “see” them in his head to work them out. His sister at times is frustrated, because she has to painstakingly write everything down and slowly work the problems out, but as I’ve told her, they’re both different and will learn and grow in very different ways.

This, I believe, is where homeschooling really shines. At a public school, each one of my children would be taught the exact same way. Despite the fact that they are two individuals with individual strengths and weaknesses, they would be expected to learn the same, output the same, keep to the same time table, and perform the same as their twenty or so classmates. I’ve never found this to be an ideal way of teaching children.

Instead, through homeschooling my kids, I can give each of them the teaching style they need to fit best to the way they learn. I can give my daughter the extra time she needs to work out her math problems, and I can let my son put his head down on the desk to “see” his math problems. I trust that by allowing them to learn in their own fashion, they’ll grow to be the best learners they can be and realize their full potential. Also, by allowing them each to work as they work best, we have school with a limited amount of frustration.