Can You Make My Child a Reader? Yes.

Anna Dusseau | 22nd April 2020

Thank you to Aliyah for letting me share our email exchange earlier this week. I hope it’s of use to some of you, especially if you are deep-end homeschooling right now.

Hi Anna, I am new to homeschooling with my kids. I’ve got a 6 year old daughter and 3 year old son. My daughter is in Grade 1. Please can you give me some advice getting her to read? She can read slowly but she spells it and I am trying to make her come out of that. I also don’t feel like she enjoys reading. Many thanks, Aliyah

Hi Aliyah, 
Thanks for your email. Our daughters are around the same age and I had this exact problem when she was at school, mainly that she wasn’t very interested in reading and also that she was stuck in phonically sounding out the words. We have been homeschooling now for some time and she can comfortably read a chapter of Harry Potter to herself in bed. Here’s how we got there: 

1. Forget the phonics books. I quickly found that my daughter wasn’t at all interested in these basic phonics stories with repeated sentence structures and vocabulary (such as Biff and Chip, or Topsy and Tim) so I just let her have a go at anything she was interested in, from newspaper headlines to non fiction books on topics like the Egyptians, which interests her. 

2. Don’t force reading aloud. Schools always ask children to read aloud, as with 30 children in a class, this is the one way you can get round the class and find out where they are all at. But I discovered my daughter doesn’t like reading aloud, so I just started leaving her alone to browse books. Mostly she would flick through the pictures at first but then bit by bit she started reading. You can tell by their eye movement across the lines if they are reading or not and if it feels appropriate you could ask a few gentle questions later on to check her comprehension of what she’s read. This was the ‘breakthrough’ for us and the point at which our daughter’s reading really took off. 

3. Make reading special. To encourage independent reading, we do several things to make reading feel like a fun and special activity. Sometimes we’ll put up a tent indoors and get the kids to fill it with books and toys to enjoy in their own private space, or else I might just grab a couple of beanbags and put them in the corner or the kitchen with a big blanket over the top to create a ‘reading den’ where they can hide away with books and magazines. Sometimes playing chilled background music at a low volume can also boost attention span and concentration. 

4. Model reading. I know it’s difficult to fit this in, but if you can, aim to model independent reading at least once during the day to show your kids how adults enjoy reading and to encourage them to do the same. I have 3 small ones and I do find this hard to fit into the day sometimes, but I always make sure I have a newspaper or magazine at the breakfast table and if an article interests me, I will read it and sometimes tell the children about what I’m reading, if they ask me. 

5. Read as much as possible to your children. I am sure you do this already, but the more exciting books you can fill their heads with now (your daughter is a good age for Enid Blyton books and Lemony Snickett, for example) the more of an appetite they will have to become fluent readers themselves. 

6. Sibling reading. You might find that asking your daughter to read a story book to your son will get a better response than you sitting with her. This is a chance for her to step up and show him ‘how it’s done’ so often I find this a good way to get both of my middle ones (my eldest son is 4) to spend some quiet time together and both progress with reading, as my daughter sounds out difficult words for my son to follow. 

7. Avoid correcting words too quickly. It is very natural as a parent to step in and help them to make the correct word sound as they are reading, but actually this means that your brain is doing all the work putting the connections together, rather than your little reader. If she sounds a word out and it doesn’t come together correctly, leave it and see if she can figure out herself what the word could be. This makes their brain work much harder and helps the learning experience to stick.

8. Don’t over-stress phonics. In conversation with a primary school teacher recently, I was discussing the fact that my son has started reading age 4 – which I find very young – and we never did phonics with him. In fact, we use both the English and French alphabet and sometimes end up, rather confusingly, spelling out an English word using French alphabet letter sounds. Anyway, the feedback from my primary teacher buddy was that phonics is basically a recipe for getting a classroom of children to the same level, but that without a doubt it dumbs down the experience of learning to read and administers it in puree form, rather than letting children really get their teeth into it. Sorry for all the food analogies! Basically, don’t worry about using phonics. Let your daughter draw the connections herself.

9. Finally, DON’T WORRY! In many countries, such as Finland where their international PISA test scores for Maths and English are way above the UK and have in recent history been the highest globally, children don’t even begin learning to read until they start school at age 7. We push them very young in the UK (and the US) and this isn’t right for many children. Some child psychologists even say that children developmentally aren’t ready to read until they start losing their baby teeth, which sounds crazy but anecdotally, I have heard of many families who found this to be true. What I’m saying is, your daughter is at the start of a lifetime of reading; try to make it a pleasure and don’t feel too much anxiety about where she ‘should’ be.

I hope your find this helpful. Would you mind me putting your excellent question and my response as a post on my blog, as I’m sure there are other parents who might be wondering the same thing as you? Let me know. 

Anna x

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Published by Anna Dusseau

Writer | Educator | Homeschooling Mum

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