I think we all know that in homeschooling, it’s easy to let the younger children fall through the cracks. I’ve observed this in other families, and I’ve seen it in my own. The fact is that by the time you’re starting, say, Student Number Three on lessons for the first time, your time is already largely spoken for. So you’re squishing said child into all the crevices and hoping that she fits. When you get to Student Number Four, the additional squishing starts to feel like a rather hopeless endeavor.
I’ve been there and I get it.
So I’m talking to a random person I don’t know at the park about a year or so ago, and she looks at me and tells me that she knows she really needs to start her six-year-old on reading, but it’s really hard to find the time because she already has so many students she’s teaching, so maybe he can just wait. I, naturally, sympathize with this line of reasoning. I always said that I would start teaching my children phonics at age six, but they always insisted before that age, much to my chagrin. I remember complaining once to a friend that they might have been ready, but I certainly wasn’t.
I look at this woman and I say, “Well, and some children really aren’t ready to read at six, anyhow.”
I expect her to agree, to say something about how he really wasn’t ready yet. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “Oh, he’s ready. He’s been ready for over a year. I’m just busy.”
Now, I am not one to give hard words to random people I meet at the park, so I saved up all my thoughts and I’m bringing them here today. (Lucky you.)
Here is the most important part of today’s post:
Children who can read are like money in the bank when it comes to successful homeschooling.
Let’s think about this issue. The delay that can happen with reading lessons is similar to what we are tempted to do with chores, isn’t it? I’ve got this little two-year-old, and he’s so cute, but he also slows me down — and I have sooooo much to do. I’m so tired, and if I stop and let him help with everything, it’s going to take even longer to get done. And Done is the goal. Right?
Done is not the goal.
We already talked about this when we talked more generally about independent children. The ultimate goal of childrearing is adulthood. We expect our children to eventually be like us — we can live our day to day lives without assistance from our parents.
Those earliest days, when the toddler is trying to help, when she looks you in the eye and says, “Mommy, I do it” — those are the little seeds of independence. When we let them help — when we spend the time to train them how — we are watering those seeds.
In regard to literacy, the same is true. I said this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s easier to read aloud to my child than it is to teach him how to read. Or, at least, it’s easier today.
What we need is a bigger picture, a long-term vision.
I remember the days when my three younger children were all mostly illiterate. When my girls were in first and third grade, lessons felt like an insurmountable task. I had to read everything aloud — there was nothing assigned that they were able to read for themselves. In addition to this, I needed to be reading aloud a bit to my preschooler. In addition to this addition, I didn’t want to skip all reading aloud with my oldest (who was in sixth grade at the time), because I have always felt that reading aloud was a bonding experience.
I have a very strong voice, and yet I was hoarse at the end of most days. I spent hours and hours reading aloud. I love reading aloud, but this was a bit much, even for me.
And that was the way it went. There was nothing I could do. I had started everyone on reading lessons when they were ready developmentally, and their reading levels just weren’t where they needed to be to read school books for themselves.
We continued with phonics, and guess what? This past year was remarkable. The girls were in third and fifth grades, and both of them could read almost everything! I was able to read aloud to my youngest without going crazy because I didn’t have so many students who needed to be read to. It was beautiful. It was amazing. And I’m still doing phonics, which means it will get even better in the future. Already my youngest is eating up our easy reader collection. He’ll be able to read his school books in no time!
Here’s the thing: I met Park Lady when I was in the midst of this hard time. I was so worn down by all the reading aloud and the trying-to-fit-it-all-in. And here she was telling me that she was creating this same situation for herself by not giving phonics lessons to her child who was ready for them.
As you know, I created a phonics curriculum that takes only 10-15 minutes per day. (I laughingly told my husband I should call it my Low-Energy Mom’s Phonics Curriculum.) On some days, it feels difficult to find even those 10-15 minutes. But for every lesson we do, we are moving closer to the goal of the child being able to read independently. Reading independently is the key to independent learning.
I was thinking the other day about what Charlotte Mason said about reading and children learning to read, such as this:
The child who has been taught to read with care and deliberation until he has mastered the words of a limited vocabulary, usually does the rest for himself.Home Education, p. 226
And also this:
We must remember the natural inertness of a child’s mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.Home Education, p. 228
Those early years, when the child is obviously ready to learn to read, and he is sometimes begging to learn to read, are the prime time to teach him how to read. He is the equivalent of the toddler begging to help with chores. This is your moment, Mom! Don’t miss it!
If it is missed, he may do exactly what Charlotte Mason says: get lazy, and begin to shirk the labor of reading for himself.
I’m not saying to force a child to read who isn’t ready. Not at all. But I am saying this: don’t let busyness, the magnitude of managing a large family, or even low energy problems, crowd out those reading lessons. The child who can read for himself can learn … for himself. He’s no longer dependent on someone else to read for him. This is a beautiful thing in life, and it’s also really handy for busy, overwhelmed, tired homeschool moms.
We need to make the investments that count. Smart investors think about where they can pack the most punch. Making investments in the children’s overall independence is smart. But let’s keep in mind that we are homeschooling — because of this, certain investments will pay huge dividends. Literacy is a big one — possibly the biggest one.
Don’t forget the literacy.
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