Why is it that we can easily understand that toddlers will learn to walk and talk at different ages, in varying ways, yet people still expect that all children will learn to read within the same timetable?
If a toddler isn’t walking much by 12 months of age, people just smile and say, “Oh, look at the way he’s crawling, or pulling himself up, or using the coffee table to help him cruise around. He’ll be walking soon.” But with reading, it seems to be an all or nothing proposition. “What do you mean, he’s not reading by age seven? Aren’t you worried?”
Our son was a late-blooming reader. For years, we read other people’s homeschooling stories about how their children learned to read. Some early, some later. They learned in their own ways when they were ready.
During the first ten years of his life, we read aloud to Ben nearly every day and he listened to many stories and songs on CD. He knew the alphabet early on, had a big vocabulary, and loved books and stories of every kind. He could sound out simple words if needed, could read street and restaurant signs, but he wasn’t very interested in independent book-reading during his early years, seemingly overwhelmed by large blocks of text.
So we read wonderful books with interesting characters and engaging plots. From these he learned an amazing amount of vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and the richness of all sorts of amazing stories. Here are a few of our favorites: Winnie the Pooh, Swallows & Amazons, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Tuck Everlasting, and The BFG
Every now and then, I’d bring out the easy reader books, especially those with interesting, predictable texts. Ben enjoyed some of them and could gradually read them with a little help. A few more favorites: Henry & Mudge, Mr. Putter & Tabby, So Many Bunnies, Mary Wore Her Red Dress, and Green Light Readers
We played with words, sang songs, and enjoyed a few homemade reading games. But Ben didn’t especially care about reading on his own. He mostly enjoyed us reading aloud to him.
Then came Calvin and Hobbes. At first I would read all the comics aloud to him. We laughed. We’d read our favorites again and again – they were interesting enough to keep him engaged and wanting more. Sometimes I would read Calvin’s parts, and Ben would read Hobbes’s parts. The print itself was easy to read and written in small chunks, and he could enjoy a whole storyline in just a few pages. They were so funny, it was easy to just read more and more. So we did.
Gradually, Ben would take these books off by himself to read on his own. He’d come to us if he needed help reading a certain word or phrase, but mostly he’d just figure things out himself. We learned not to make him sound out words when he was stuck, because usually he had tried that already, and that’s why he was asking us. Also, it would just keep him from getting to the good parts, which was what kept him reading.
It wasn’t long before the following books started attracting his attention, and he realized he could read them also: The Magic Tree House Books, Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, and Henry & Ribsy
So all this is to say that Ben really became a fluent reader in his own right between the ages of ten and eleven…joyfully, and with confidence and a continuing love for books that will last his entire life.
Give your child time. Have plenty of books around. Read together. Every child’s journey with reading is different. Enjoy the process.