A Tale of Two Children: Readiness for Readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic

Paul_Hoecker-Vally-1888_I never understood the “Three R’s” label for readingwriting, and arithmetic. I am sure that someone thought it was cute at one point, but, looking at the state of education in the country today, the joke may be on us.

Certainly without these basics no other course of study is possible, but one of the things we’ve noticed during our home education adventure is that there is a big difference between reading, retention, and understanding. Further, a child’s readiness plays a big part in the success or failure to teach the most basic subjects. With modern education theory (and practice) pushing to have children start their “3-R’s” earlier and earlier, many parents feel pressure when their child appears to be behind their peers.

My advice? Relax. Children are sponges, but each has a different timeline. In the end, however, they will all learn what they need, when they recognize they need (or want) it. This self pacing is actually the biggest academic benefit to home education, and it all but guarantees success. I say “all but guarantees success” because there will be times that you will have to push the child to excel, but those times are few and far between if, as parents, we convey a love of knowledge and practice in our every day lives. 

A tale of two children

Primo, our eldest, was “reading” early, before his 4th birthday, yet Secondo, our youngest, did not take an interest in reading until he was 7-1/2, partly due to some auditory issues and partly due to personality (he is a natural contrarian). In a public school environment one would be labeled “gifted,” the other “challenged.” In both cases the labels would have negative impacts, creating stress in the eldest to live up to the label, and demoralizing the youngest into staying within his position. This is especially repugnant since the “challenged” one is very likely brighter in almost every respect than his parents and peers.

The trick to home education success in this situation was just accepting that the children are different. While Primo would dive right into his work, Secondo had a more kinetic approach to his day to day activities; the public school system would have probably pegged him with a more severe label: ADHD; of course, the reality is Secondo is just a little boy who loves to move around (which is why gymnastics is his favorite sport). The point is that it is not possible to force the learning curve upon the child, he would need to recognize, himself, that he wants to know something.

For us, this knowledge centers around reading and writing.

However, as the years progress we realized we needed to challenge Primo on what he remembers and understands. He may plow through books at light speed, but that is not always beneficial as the concepts go in one eye and out the other. Secondo on the other hand would remember anything you read to him, but was disinterested in reading it himself.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to get Primo to read it out loud to his little brother to ensure that Primo would listen to what he was reading, and we hoped it would inspire Secondo to start reading. Other times we will give Primo open book exams for which either GranolaGirl or I will provide detailed questions that cover at least every paragraph of a chapter, section, or sidebar he has already read (or should’ve read).

Another great strategy was letting the boys watch a movie based on a book given the condition that they have to tell us what is different (as a secondary exercise we sometimes ask him why it may have been different). For some book/movies the differences are dramatic (e.g., The Tale of Despereaux) so this task is easier as just about everything is different. On other books (e.g., any of the Harry Potter series) the differences are more subtle, requiring Primo to pay more attention as he spent nearly three years working off his Harry Potter rewards. Since we’ve read the books as well, he knows that we will catch on quickly if he didn’t actually read the book.

This strategy even works with children that don’t read proficiently at first, like Secondo. We have been reading the Percy Jackson and the OlympiansThe Heros of Olympus, and The Kane Chronicles out loud for the benefit of Secondo, for which we know he is listening because he points out when the movie (The Lightning Thief) is different. The added benefit is we also managed to work in both Egyptian, Greek, and Roman history and mythology.

When Primo was younger we read the entire Chronicles of Narnia to him and went to see the movies in the theater. One of the most precious moments was during Prince Caspian when, at the beginning of the movie, Primo stood up and shouted, “They skipped the whole first chapter!” The reality was that the movie was re-ordered from the book to provide a more dramatic beginning, which lead to some good discussions.

UnknownMeanwhile, Secondo has worked on catching up to grade level reading in the last year. In Secondo’s case, he has read through a grade appropriate Star Wars book and was rewarded with a Star Wars marathon (which, I should point out, takes about a week to get through, including an all-day, brain-busting, eye-bugging, tongue-hanging, drool-a-thon watching Season Four of The Clone Wars).

So what changed for Secondo? Honestly, we don’t know. Maybe some of the letter writing finally connected the shapes to the sounds (with which he always had trouble). Sometime last summer reading became useful; he could find out stuff that mom, dad, and big brother would not just tell him. And just like that, on his own he has been working through parts of the McGuffey readers, every Dr. Seuss, a Zita: Spacegirl graphic novel, and anything else he can find in our library.

That spark of yearning was planted, but I can’t help but think that this would not have happened in a public or private school where pressure to perform and limited attention from the teacher would have held him back, despite our best efforts. Remember the Evil One from How We Ended Up Homeschooling? In Primo’s class, near the end of the year, she would penalize the 1st graders that could not read the class assignment instruction to themselves; think about that for a second: penalizing a child for what they are unable to do. Not refuse, but unable. I shudder when thinking about how that would have affected Secondo.

So, again, my advice: Relax. Coach the children into curiosity. Dangle the carrot of knowledge in front of them, lead them up to the edge, pick them up when they fall down, but above all help them fly.


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  1. Pingback: The Same, But Different (Abridged vs Classic vs Modern Literature) RocketRedNeck

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