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When a Child Isn't Ready to Read

Homeschooling Expert Advice from Isabel Shaw

Q: I have an eight-year-old who is supposed to be in third grade but is still working at an end-of-the-first-grade reading program. He thinks reading is hard and often seems discouraged. I want him to enjoy reading but just don't know what to do to get him excited about it. I'm afraid we're both frustrated. What can we do?

A: Surprisingly, many children aren't ready to read at seven, eight, or even nine years old. All children develop differently and your son's resistance is showing you something is not right. For efficiency, schools need students to learn the same thing at the same time. Homeschoolers have the freedom to learn when they are ready. Today's reluctant reader will become tomorrow's joyful learner if you give him a little space. Do you read with him regularly? Not beginner books -- books that have a solid plot and an interesting story line. The Boxcar Children series(by Gertrude C. Warner) tells the stoires of four orphans, who make a life for themselves and are very self-sufficient. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne tells of a boy and a girl who go to a tree house to read and are transported to wherever the action is in their book. Your son might be able to read these himself. For real adventure, try any of The Indian in the Cupboard books by Lynn Reid Banks. Pick a quiet time when there are no distractions. We like to read just before bed or early in the morning.

When you read an exciting book to him, you are sharing the pleasure of reading. And don't follow up with quizzes and book reports -- you'll know if he's "getting it" by his reaction. Discuss the characters and the plot as if you are genuinely interested. Go to the library and get a lot of books on a number of different subjects. What are his interests? Soccer? Bugs? Rocks? Hockey? Mummies? There are so many wonderful books on every subject and at every reading level. Get basic books he can handle. Have him see that books are a source of pleasure and learning. Redirect your efforts to incorporate reading as a part of your life, not as a task to be completed only when you do "reading." After he's read about rocks, for instance, go to a hobby shop and buy some interesting rocks and minerals, then look them up in additional books. Or go to a museum and see the mineral displays. Same with snakes, turtles, or frogs.

Whatever method you were using to teach reading, try something different. Workbooks are often frustrating and boring. We used to write the word for all the objects in our house on small index cards, then pin them to the object. We'd walk around the house and the words became familiar. Later we took off the cards and made silly sentences with them. (The lamp sat on the cat's hat.)

Did I mention turn off the TV? Put away the Gameboys? Pack away the computer games? All of these are distractions and will interfere with learning.

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Isabel Shaw is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom of 15 years. She and her husband Ray homeschool their two daughters, Jessica and Amanda. Besides being a contributor to FamilyEducation.com, Shaw has written for Home Education Magazine, The Link, Homeschooling Horizons Magazine, The Homeschool Gazette, and other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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