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Worrying about late readers

by Beverley Paine, Aug 2012

We worry about learning to read because so success at school hinges on a child being able to read well by age eight. As a parent of two boys who began reading after this age, I understand the worry and frustration that can undermine confidence as home educators.

As parents we can continue to read aloud to our non-reading children and help find other ways to get information, rather than by trying to push them to read before they're ready, or want to. Sharing a newspaper report, chapter from a novels, or a poem are important activities in family life, not just part of a learning-to-read program. I read aloud to my sons wherever we found ourselves: at the museum, in the car, subtitles on movies, labels on boxes. Considerable conversational learning about all manner of things was sparked in this way, enriching our home learning experience.

When my children were young I knew of a couple of school children who only became reasonably competent readers at around age twelve. Both boys had suffered loss of confidence and self-esteem. One had been helped with 'special' classes at school; the other began homeschooling at nine. Both were emotionally sensitive boys, with practical interests, mostly mechanics. And both had been classified by their teachers as 'problem students'.

I wanted to spare our youngest son, who had a similar learning profile to my young friends, the loss of self-esteem I witnessed in them. It wasn't easy for me, an excellent reader, to watch him learn to read so slowly. I needed to know for sure that he didn't have specific learning disabilities and that he was simply learning differently to others. Over time I recognised his unique learning style was not hindering his progress, but it would have in a school environment.

By continuing to educate myself about how reading skills develop across the spectrum of learning styles, and by reassuring myself with stories of successful late readers in the homeschooling community, I was able to practice patience and have faith in his ability to work it out eventually. I was also able to more adequately help Thomas cope with the comments and inquiries constantly directed at him, and his own frustration. I found it extremely valuable to recognise and celebrate his difference, and to help him see that learning to read is just one facet of life, just another skill to accomplish in a long list of skills.

In fact I de-emphasised its importance. He knew that in time he would master the printed word. At times his patience would run thin, and we'd do some 'school work' for a week or two. This was all that was needed to demonstrate that without learning to read lessons he was, in his own way, progressing, in his own way and style. Honouring that process was the key to maintaining his self-confidence and self-esteem as a learner.

We could have done a lot more to accelerate his reading skills, made it a major focus of our home learning program, in the same way that schools do. But that would have meant he wouldn't have been developing other skills, ones that were far more important to him. And it was those areas of interest and learning that became the focus of his reading activities. We had the sense to allow learning to read to develop over time. It takes about three years to master talking and about ten more before a child is fully competent: why then rush into learning to read or write? We should let our children have their entire childhood, to explore and play and learn.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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