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Raising Readers At Home
by Paula Harper-Christensen

To a homeschooling parent, there are few academic issues more unsettling than a ten-year-old non-reader. We turn all criticism onto ourselves because the schools teach reading at age six. After all, once our children learn to read, they can teach themselves anything they want to know, and we can feel relief in knowing that all education doesn't have to originate from the instruction of mom and dad. Yet, the age range in which children learn to read may vary within a six to twelve year span and students from nine to thirteen may still be learning to read.

Child development specialists agree that instruction in reading should begin when the child is developmentally ready. Most reading failures and disabilities could be prevented if children were not taught reading too early. Premature reading instruction is the most common factor in reading problems. There is nothing one can do to accelerate reading readiness, and attempts to force reading can frequently lead to temporary or permanent maladjustment.

Dr. Raymond Moore has stated, “There is research evidence that the brain does not physically mature until the child is eight or ten. Studies on cognition also reveal a readiness for sustained high cortical thought–such abstract thinking as required in mathematics, reading, etc.” We also know that the incidence of myopia (nearsightedness) has increased with early reading instruction. Forcing children to focus on fine print when they are not developmentally ready can cause problems with their physical vision. In addition, it can frustrate the child intellectually and emotionally to the point where he views himself as a failure and never has the opportunity to express his true ability.

Love of books and the written word is the most difficult ingredient to recapture once it is lost. A parent's primary responsibility in preparing a child to be a good reader is to read to the child every day, beginning early in life and ending when the child is an adult and moves away from home. Teaching children to love stories will ensure the desire to read.

When school children are asked, “What have you read lately?” they often name classroom textbooks, because they rarely read for pleasure. Children imitate what they hear and see, therefore parents can set an example by being good readers. People of all ages can delight in picture books. My teenagers and young adults still pore through books that we refer to as preschool or picture books. Read a few short novels to your budding adolescent and then buy a full-length novel. Never underestimate your child's listening ability. Even young children will sit for hours with a parent who reads interesting material to them. In most cases, homeschooled children have been read to on a regular basis, and reading to this audience is a delightful experience for all.

The best reason for postponing reading instruction is that knowledge and acceptance comes easier when the child is older. Why work twice as hard on a task that can be mastered easily later? Playing reading games draws on the one skill all children have in abundance - the ability to play. Have a good time teaching ownership of our language and the written word. Make bingo cards with reading vocabulary or a card file box with words your child can read. When it is time, you might wish to begin a phonics program if it is necessary. Some children will learn best with a phonics program while others will thrive in a whole language or sight word approach. Trying different methods and observing will give a parent a clue into what works well for their child's style of learning. Often when a preadolescent begins to read, she learns overnight and little instruction is needed. How do you know your child's reading and comprehension level? Try to let observation rather than testing be your guide. When your daughter is reading a book and calls out “Mom, did you know that only female mosquitoes sting and the males feed only on fruits and berries?,” you can be assured that she comprehends her reading material.

When my first born child was nine, I nearly ruined reading for him by insisting he write book reports. He joyfully read on his own but began to be secretive about it for fear of an attached written assignment. Thankfully, in time, I realized the need to back off and allow him to read with no requirements. The old saying “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” seems to be appropriate here. We read because it's fun and it is our way of gathering knowledge, not because there will be a test at the end of the chapter.

The object of education is to prepare young children to educate themselves throughout all of their lives. Some children are developmentally ready to read sooner than others, but the issue of “developmental readiness” is not an issue of intelligence; it is an issue of timing. Trying to teach a child to read early is as futile and potentially damaging as training a baby to walk before he is developmentally (physically, mentally and emotionally) mature. As homeschooling parents, we should be able to enjoy our children's extended childhood and be respectful of their individual style of learning. Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” We should never fear spoiling our children by making them happy. Happiness is the condition in which all that is good grows. Read to yourself and your children everyday. The reading model you establish is exemplary and lifelong. Reading makes us happy.

Paula is a mother of 4 children who have all been schooled at home. By profession, she is a child development specialist holding a B.S. degree in Child Development and a M.S. degree in Early Childhood Education. She has spent decades reading to children and never tires of the rich lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Cyrus The Unsinkable Sea Serpent, or Hank The Cowdog. Reading has allowed her family to travel the world without ever leaving the comfort of their old couch and their old dog. Paula is Director and Instructor of Options for Parents, a qualifying course for WA homeschoolers.

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