Readiness

by Vicky Williams

Years ago I read the book "Better Late Than Early" by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. I promised myself that I would never push my child. I would hold realistic expectations - not school dictated ones - and I would wait patiently for my child to flower in her own time. As my daughter mastered swimming I saw the process at work.

My daughter went to the pool with her father very regularly. She loved to splash about with a floatation noodle tucked under her armpits, but she could not bear to get her face wet. Her daddy suggested and demonstrated underwater swimming and blowing bubbles, but she refused to even try. Until one day she announced her readiness and ducked her head under. Two days later, her favourite game was to try and sit on the bottom of the pool, at the deep end.

This break through occurred at about the same time that she "should" have started learning to read. She's a bright child and we had spent many hours reading aloud to her. I was expecting an easy time of it. During the next two years I introduced her to flash cards, phonics, paired reading, words on the chalkboard, making and writing books together and letter formation.

She learned to write capital letters, but refused to learn lower case. She greeted each new reading strategy with great enthusiasm, but she simply could not remember the words. Any apparent progress disappeared completely over night. “Never mind,” I thought, “remember the swimming. Reading will come when she is ready.”

What I didn't count on was the pressure! You see, no-one cares particularly when, or even if, your child learns to swim, but everyone knows that children learn to read when they go to school, at age 5. Children not reading by age 6 will usually be placed in a remedial reading group.

To compound the problem, at age six, my daughter was already as big as an average 10 year old. Therefore everyone assumed she could read. People in the community, family, some of our friends and the teachers at workshops - no-one could imagine that she wasn't reading yet. She frequently corrected their mistake, without embarrassment. To her there was no stigma attached. She had heard me say "She will read when she is ready, it will probably be soon, but she is not ready yet."

The embarrassment was all mine. I felt as if people were judging me and finding me inadequate, because I couldn't teach my daughter to read. Worse still I felt like people were judging home education and I was letting all of you down, because now they could nod wisely and say, "There's a child who would do better at school."

I was worried that the E.R.O. would revoke our exemption, because my daughter couldn't read and I wasn't waving word cards at her every day. All in all I was getting very tense about the issue. Until one day, at just under six and a half, she asked for some more word cards.

We gave her the "at" series. She learnt them instantly and still knew them the next day. Oh joy! Now I was sure she would learn to read quicker than ever. She's ready now! In a few weeks she'll be reading "Little House on the Prairie" all by herself! Well, it hasn't been that way either.

Progress happens in jumps and starts, with plenty of pauses and backward leaps. She became very distressed when the print in her readers became smaller. So I put it away and we revised all the earlier ones. When we returned to the offending reader, she didn't even notice the size difference, she just worked her way through it. I'm looking forward to the time when reading becomes a joy to her rather than a chore to struggle with. I'm sure she will make the transition - when she is ready!

Posted by Mike Woods on February 11, 2002