Monday, December 10, 2018

Teaching My Children to Read (is Torture)

I started teaching Z to read much earlier than I intended to. We hadn't been homeschooling long when she announced that she needed to know how to read. She was younger than I thought she'd be when we commenced reading instruction, but she would not be deterred. She insisted, because she couldn't wait for us to read her stories every time she wanted one read. Sometimes we were too busy or too tired or one of the other reasons that adults have for not doing something that a child wants them to do, when the child wants them to do it. This has been her way with a lot of things; if we can't or won't do something, she will just take care of it herself. So she determined that she needed to learn to read, and she did, despite some difficulties in her way.

With E things have been different. She said she wanted to learn to read, and we began the same book I used to help Z learn (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and we installed two reading apps on the old iPhone she uses for this sort of thing, for independent study. But E wasn't as keen on continuing to learn after we got through about a third of the lessons in the book. At some point she decided the book was too boring and too hard, and she didn't want to do it anymore. As she was just on the cusp of turning six years old at the time, I set the book aside and encouraged her to use the apps when she wanted screen time. But I didn't push it.

In most cases, I would rather wait until my children are ready and willing to learn things before we make a herculean effort. To me, one of the greatest weaknesses of current education policy is the expectation for kids to learn things ever earlier. This is something that I feel that a lot of people don't understand about kids and academic pursuits - many kids can learn early, but it is a much bigger challenge than if you wait until their development advances a bit. And for those who simply are not ready to learn, it gives a sense of failure that is unfair to say the least. In our case, I knew E could learn to read if I pushed her. I absolutely could have forced her to do the lessons last winter and spring, but it would've been really difficult (for both of us!) and utterly unnecessary. I'm not into doing things that are difficult if they are utterly unnecessary. It seems...rather silly.

This term I realized that she was ready, but being willing is another thing altogether for E. With plenty of people around to read to her or tell her stories, which Z is keen to do frequently, she had no need to read things for herself most of the time. If she were going to learn at this point, she would have to be required to do the lessons. I wasn't opposed to waiting a bit longer, but there are a lot of things that she wants to do that she could do independently if she were able to read, and while she may say she doesn't want to read, she does want to do some of those things for herself. So I decided that, for her own sake, I would force her. We started the book over again. She flew through the first quarter of the lessons; we did two per day. Then she asked to do just one per day, and I agreed. We are on lesson forty now, and it is going well. I wouldn't say easily, as she would still rather not have to do it, but we manage. There are a few things that she wants to do each day which she cannot do until the reading lesson is done, and so she does it.

I have confidence that she will move through the remaining sixty lessons with relative ease. I've promised her that after she's done all the lessons and knows how reading works, she won't have to do any more required reading for me. This is what keeps her going without excessive whining - if she does the lessons daily, she will be done well before Easter. She looks forward to this, and I do, too.

When we set out to homeschool, I didn't really think about what the hardest parts would be. We were just trying to do what was right for Z, so we did it. But in hindsight, I see that my biggest challenge as a teacher has been reading instruction. There are other hurdles for sure, especially as we encounter more advanced material for Z, but something about the reading instruction process is difficult for me in a way that other things aren't. I am pleased as punch when my kids can read, but I do not get a warm, happy feeling from the learning process, as some fellow homeschooling parents have described. I'm white knuckling my way through it.

I get the sense that I'm not the only homeschooling parent who feels this way, which is why I am writing this today. It's okay if you don't love it. It's okay if you don't feel particularly nurturing while trying to get your child to say the sound for h when she wants to say Hamilton every time instead. (This was cute the first time. It got old fast.) We don't have to adore every aspect of home education. Sometimes, we just need to get the job done, and so we do it. There is nothing wrong with that. And as a bonus? For those of us who hate teaching reading the most, at least we're getting our biggest frustration out of the way early. After this, I'm pretty confident I can manage to teach my kids anything.

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