Struggling readers

If all goes well, your home educated child will start reading, by some method or another, by the time he’s about eight or nine at the latest. Right?

Not necessarily. In most cases, yes. But occasionally, a children of ten or eleven are still struggling readers, perhaps with no interest in learning to read. Perhaps they are primarily auditory learners, with good general knowledge and debating skills. Perhaps they think in 3D, able to build amazing structures. But if a child can’t – or won’t – read, life will probably be difficult in the teenage and adult years.

Here’s where doubt about home education, or comparison with other children can be quite a threat. If your child is approaching the teenage years and hasn’t yet started reading, you might feel that you’ve let him down. It would be a good idea to discuss with him the advantages of being able to read, without any pressure. Perhaps he worries that you might stop reading to him, or maybe  he feels that he must be stupid if he can’t read. Or he might be too busy learning and doing other things.

Whatever the reason, reading is an important skill in the 21st century. Most children understand that, and should  be able to discuss what kind of books he would like to read, what worries he might have. An advantage of working with an older child is that his logical abilities will be better developed than those of a younger child, so the idea of putting phonics together should come easily. You may find that he has already grasped many of the principles without realising.

One problem when older children are still struggling readers is that many ‘easy-read’ books are intended for five or six-year-olds. This is something which has been addressed in recent years: your library or bookshops should be able to provide suitable material that will not make an older child feel bored or humiliated.

I know of children who did not start reading at all until they were ten or eleven, and by the time they were twelve were reading at adult level. It’s never too late, and if your child is happy not to read until this stage, there’s no reason to worry. On the other hand, if he adamantly does not want to read, you may need to dig a little to find out if he’s been taunted about his lack of skill by other children, or whether he tried to read something advanced and then decided it was ‘too difficult’.

Reading difficulties

While most children learn to read, sooner or later, if given suitable opportunities and encouragement, there are some who suffer from dyslexia, literally ‘word blindness’, meaning that they see letters and words oriented in different ways, and have no easy way of recognising them. There is much debate over how this happens – whether it’s something genetic, or from too early introduction to reading, or too much emphasis on phonics, or too little… nobody is entirely certain.

Dyslexic children often have other excellent gifts (such as an ability to think rapidly in three dimensions, making them excellent at Lego building and architecture) and tend to be highly intelligent. If your child has good verbal skills, but seems unable to read despite wanting to do so, and is at least eight or nine, then it may be worth having him tested for dyslexia. There are some excellent resources available to help dyslexic children: from a different method of phonic learning through to coloured acetate glasses which apparently stop the words from jumping around on the page.

However if your child is younger than eight, it may simply be that he’s not yet ready to learn to read. Just as some young children are unable to hop, or to sing in tune, or to tie shoe-laces, so some young children are not yet able to read. Patience, and encouragement may be all that is needed, and eventually the skills will be acquired.

No single method

I once chatted to an experienced Reception class teacher. She said that in all her years of teaching she had never come across two children who learned to read in exactly the same way. She said that a few children grasp everything quickly, and read fluently by the end of the Reception year (age 4-5). However, a few others have no interest at all at this age, and are still struggling with understanding basic sounds by the time they go into Year One. The majority are somewhere in between, learning sometimes in leaps, sometimes by plateaux, sometimes by repetition, sometimes by new books to inspire them.

She assigned reading books based on the child’s learning style, ability and interests, and heard each child privately at least once a week, preferably more. Most of the reading, she acknowledged, was learned at home when the parents read with and to the child daily, and talked about words and language.

There is no single method that will work for every child. If you choose to follow a book or method of teaching reading, it may work with your children, or it may not. Those schemes which seem to guarantee success probably use a variety of techniques, so that almost any child will find something to catch his interest.