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Reading Late

Reading Late
By Denise Leduc

There is a saying within the homeschool community, “The proof is in the pudding.” That is easy when your child is excelling and outperforming his schooled peers, but that is not always the case. What happens when your homeschooled child is lagging far behind children who go to school, at least in certain areas? Unfortunately, sometimes in homeschooling it takes years to see the results of that “pudding.”

Both my daughters were late readers. By late, I mean really late. Most children generally begin reading between the ages of four and eight. My oldest daughter didn’t begin reading until she was almost eleven while my youngest daughter started reading around age nine.

We started reading to our children when they were infants. As babies, they loved the sound of poetry. When they were toddlers, we read stories, sang songs, and chanted poems throughout the day. Bedtime with its story ritual was always a favorite time of day. Stories about animals and books with vibrant pictures were loved. We recited the alphabet and the children learned to draw their letters. Simple words such as cat and dog were written along with drawings that the girls made of the animals. They memorized the words that mattered to them, such as animal words, yet seemed uninterested in learning other words or in trying to read. Because of their obvious love of stories and words, I didn’t worry. I felt confident they would read when they were ready.

As they moved through childhood, we added children’s novels such as Little House on the Prairie, A Secret Garden, and Silverwing to our reading material. Both girls could sit enthralled for hours while I read aloud to them. However, when I tried to push for them to read, I was usually met with resistance. This would often lead to frustration all around. During this time, I still encouraged them to sound out words they saw as well as to write. I would suggest they compose a story, a poem, or a letter to their great grandmothers and I would write out the words for them to copy. They always found these types of activities fun.

“Because of her continuing love of literature and words, I decided that when our oldest was ready to read she would, and hoped I was right.”

Still, I was beginning to get slightly worried, especially about my oldest daughter. I decided to have her vision tested. I researched learning disabilities and ruled out some of the most common ones that can affect reading. As life learning parents, we are often asked how we know our children are performing at grade level. When they aren’t, we can be met with negative comments, hostility, and judgements from those who do not approve of our choice to avoid school. On occasion, this did happen to our family. However, most people we encountered were understanding, especially those closest to us.

We did sometimes find extracurricular activities a bit of a challenge with our children because many of these programs are created on the assumption that children of a certain age are reading. However, our oldest daughter was always involved in activities such as Girl Guides, theater, and sailing. I found that if I explained to the leaders that she was not yet reading and had an active presence within these organizations, they were always happy to accommodate her needs. Furthermore, during her time in theater when she was not yet reading, she relied heavily on memorization for her lines as well as other people’s lines. Working her memorization skills so vigorously when she was young helped her later in theater, which she studied in college, and even now into adulthood.

I concluded that when pushed she probably could read, but that she just didn’t want to. During that time, we did not watch television on week nights. Video games were not part of our family’s lifestyle until our oldest daughter was in her teens. Instead, time was spent with me reading to them, and the girls exploring and playing, often outside. If a movie based on a book was coming out, I insisted that we read the book together before seeing the movie. We always discussed the books we were reading. The girls often made up their own stories for characters we had met in books. Because of her continuing love of literature and words, I decided that when our oldest was ready to read she would, and hoped I was right.

When she was ten-and-a-half, we had been reading the Harry Potter series. We had finished the third book The Prisoner of Azkaban, and the fourth book was just being released. The girls received The Goblet of Fire as a Christmas gift and were eager for us to get started on it. Immediately after Christmas, I came down with a terrible cold that left me unable to talk. I let the girls now that they would have to wait until I was feeling better before we could start the book.

“The summer when she was twelve, the girl who hadn’t started reading until almost eleven was curled up with a collection of Shakespeare. When I asked her why she was reading Shakespeare, she replied, ‘Just for the fun of it.’”

The cold lingered. The girls grew impatient. One night I was awakened in the middle of the night. I could hear some noise coming from their bedroom and went to investigate. I opened the door and there to my surprise, in a tent made of blankets, by flashlight, my oldest daughter was reading Harry Potter aloud to her little sister. “We just couldn’t wait,” they explained.

After that, there was no turning back. I let them finish Harry Potter on their own; it was their thing. It then became the norm to find my oldest daughter with her nose in a book. She continued to read aloud to her little sister. I remember the summer when she was twelve, the girl who hadn’t started reading until almost eleven was curled up with a collection of Shakespeare.

When I asked her why she was reading Shakespeare, she replied, “Just for the fun of it.” As her reading progressed, she also began writing – a lot. She won a poetry competition for teens held by our local library at age fifteen. Even still in her mid-twenties she can often be found with her nose in a book. She also continues to write, both her own projects and as an intern for the publications department of the LA Zoo.

Our youngest daughter took up reading on her own at around nine years of age. This time around, I did not have the worries I had with her older sister. It was easier for me to trust that when she was ready to read she would, and she did. She also took up writing. As a young woman, she continues to read – anything from fiction to psychology to history. She also works as a ghost writer, is a book reviewer, and writes her own fiction.

When a child is slow to reach milestones, parents are naturally concerned. Learning disabilities can definitely affect a child’s ability to read. Yet one of the gifts of being a homeschool parent is the amount of time we get to spend interacting with our children. We know our children so well, as daily we watch them grow and develop. Nonetheless, sometimes it is difficult to trust our instincts. Looking back now, I know that for my children I took the right approach. Instead of caving to societal pressures, I listened to my intuition and allowed my children to read when they were ready. I believe if I had pushed reading before they were ready they would not have the passion for reading and writing that continues into their adult lives. I also believe that their passion for literature makes their lives much richer. 

Denise Leduc is a writer who homeschooled her two daughters for fifteen years using a unschooling/life learning approach. With her children now grown, she continues her own studies online while writing and traveling Canada for her husband’s work. She is currently working on a book based on her experiences and reflections on homeschooling.

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