Monday, 26 March 2012

My boy is finally, truly, really, properly, reading!

Well ok, he's been reading for ages. But it's been mainly very short books, or snippets here and there - under duress - and he has really not enjoyed doing it, seeking any excuse under the sun to not have to do it. "My eyeballs are too tired". "This books too hard". "I need a drink/snack/the loo". "I'm just too completely busy right now!" And I have for the most part, apart from the odd short-lived panic attack, just let things be, preferring the gently gently approach so he can get to it in his own time. Today, he read me this entire book (64 pages) called Doctor Doolittle and the Pirates! Go Finn, go!

The beauty of home-ed is that a dyslexic lad like Finn can find his own way to reading, on his own terms, without being stigmatized or mocked or punished for it, without being endlessly tested in that medium, as if all his intelligence were tied up in that one skill. He has found it hard enough that Herbie, his younger brother by 18 months just suddenly took to reading over two years ago, and didn't have the least bit of trouble with it.

It has been harder and harder to hold our nerve as Finn got older. Being our firstborn, it feels a little like he has been the litmus paper of our home educating 'success' or 'failure' in the eyes of family and friends, and not everyone perhaps has shared our laissez-faire acceptance that our boy is doing just great as a non-reader. It's pretty unconventional to allow a boy to reach the age of 10 and not get into hysterics about his reading 'levels'. It's taken some guts, I can tell you.

One thing that we ditched some time ago was conventional literacy workbooks, when we realised that whilst he could complete books (a very frustrating process all-round), we would find soon afterwards none of it had really gone in or been truly understood. As we researched autonomous learning and gained confidence from other families' stories, we relaxed and decided that if we were going to be just like school, then our boys may as well go to school!!! So we've become less and less school-like - much to the raised eyebrows of some people I'm sure!

Anyway - I have written on this topic of reading before, in my article Life is not a race.... for EOS magazine. For those who are interested I'd also love to point you towards this wonderful collection of reflections posted on Lord Lucas' blog, from parents describing how their children came to reading outside of the school system - many of them rather later than the school age for learning to read. It makes for a really fascinating read.

So....... what do we do around here if we don't do workbooks, to encourage reading in the house?

Well, we are a pretty literate family overall. We are always reading so I guess we model for our gang that reading is fun, useful, etc etc. Our house is full of books on every subject - a couple of thousand spread out across the house. We converted an old bedroom on the landing into a library and have shelves of books in different categories. Science and nature. History. Mathematics. Languages (including English). Geography and peoples of the world. Gardening and Hobbies. Cooking. Then there are stacks and stacks of various different magazines - National geographic Kids, Birdlife, Learning is fun, Aquila, Anorak, First News, Lego magazine, plus the odd random one that we've bought. They read comics like Asterix and Tintin, and own a number of books on how to draw comics, characters, and do animation. We have a shelf full of colouring/ activity/ puzzle/ sticker books. We have joke books, books about the body, hardback story books, hundreds of paperbacks, reading scheme books - Peter and Jane, Jolly Phonics, Usborne Phonics, Red Nose Readers, Letterland, Magic key, 4u2Read and others. Books about dragons, legends, movie-making, origami, bike-riding, paper-making, cooking.....random books of every kind! We are often hanging out in bookshops, and to date the children have met four authors who they got to spend time chatting to before getting their signed books. Just today I bought some wonderful books in Waterstones including this fab large print, oversized paperback treasure by Roddy Doyle

which is a big hit in our household since we've heard the Giggler treatment so many times I reckon the disc will wear out at some point!

So how else do they read, besides books? Well they play a whole variety of games on their PC, and have had to read instructions and complete quests, enter, read, decipher and decode to be advance through different levels. Sometimes they play alone but oftentimes it's a really collaborative process, working together as a team. They play literacy games, maths games, logic games, adventure games, science games, role playing games, comic-making games where they insert their own photos, beat-em-ups (we are talking pretty tame ones here, like Ruthless Romans gladiatorial battles on the wii, definitely not graphic military style war games) - pretty much every type of game you can think of that's not really graphic or violent.

The boys have watched Magic Key DVD endless times, plus all manner of different BBC literacy programmes over the years. We are crazy about audiobooks, and just recently the How to Train your Dragon series has been on repeat play - the wonderful voices of David Tennant in glorious scottish technicolour, all music to our ears! Roddy Doyle, Atticus the Story Teller, Diary of a Wimpy Kid - all that vocab and warmth and passion in the telling. It all soaks in.

Trading cards have sped up all the boys reading skills and particularly Pokemon. I have been quite amazed at the rate at which Herbie in particular has learnt to spell some really tricky words just recently through his love of Pokemon. It has spawned a whole bunch of Pokemon related activity - inventing their own cards, drawing and copying characters on paper (refining their drawing skills), making posters and games and all sorts of other written and hand-drawn work. I say work, because they have treated these activities as important work, their inner drive to do it has been un-stoppable! Indie proudly tells me how something is spelt, and runs off again, delighted with himself. Alfie follows the boys around, wanting to be just like them, singing "P-O-K-E-M-O-N woooahhh..."

Herbie started a craze for comic-making, and ran his own comic-making workshop at our local home ed group last week, teaching other kids what he knows, and learning from them too. I forgot to take my camera that day so have no photos of it sadly. Anyway. To support this I invested in boxes of clickable pencils, drew up and photocopied templates of different cartoon-strip sized boxes, bought a couple of dozen technical-drawing pens in black ink (the ones that don't smudge, and flow beautifully), a box of artists rubbers, and two dozen coloured technical drawing pens, oh how they love them - they are drawing, drawing, drawing, and writing all sorts!

I have sometimes had moments of doubt that Finn never 'get there' as he has grown well past the school timings for reading - felt a little pink-faced when grilled by kindly but befuddled friends and family, wondered if our faith was misguided....

But here we are.....

They always get there in the end!!!



  1. Well done Finn and I know exactly how you feel. I felt the same only a few weeks or so back when I kept catching S (also aged 10) reading voluntarily for pleasure and I took to blogging and recording the moment too x

  2. Well done Finn, well done parents. Timmy has been under pressure from school to read more, because he's "so able" but he just has no interest in reading books for homework. But road signs, his baby sisters bed time story, The Guardian, those he'll read out of choice with gusto. I'm not up for forcing either. It comes in time. The most important thing is that there's lots around for them. I have serious book envy of your lads - and I thought WE had a lot! Timmyspent an hour yesterday demanding to do spellings, he tantrumed about going to bed as he'd only done a hundred! But if that'd been "homework" we would have been nagging him for hours!

  3. I know Angela, its wonderful when tit just clicks into place for them, isn't it? think boys in particular just get performance anxiety about reading - and I can't blame them really!!! I have total book envy of the boys too Lucy- I think I had probably 20 books in total as a kid! Still turned out pretty literate anyway :-)

  4. that is totally exciting.. well done finn and well done you for being relaxed enough just to let him get on with it. x

  5. Great news!

    My 8 year old has just started reading (a very little) and my 13 year old read his first children's novel the other day after years of difficulties.

    It's amazing how difficult it has been to keep the faith, and to not be tempted to intervene, but, yes, it certainly seems like they do get there in the end. I am a little greyer as a result, tho!

  6. Yay to Finn and Yay to you for trusting he would get there. Its not always easy swimming up this stream is it?

  7. What a triumph. I'm so impressed with your faith! Good on you. It must feel such a victory and a relief.

    And - I WANT your library. It sounds so awesome. I have been totally inspired to organise and expand ours now.

    I have a question for you. What is the consensus among home-schoolers (or unschoolers - I'm not sure of all the lingo, sorry) on the best way to approach teaching kids who have obvious but non-specific learning difficulties? My 6 yr old daughter has difficulties in most areas, and we're all experiencing trauma with the school's 'read now' 'write now' and 'do math now' approach.

  8. Thanks ladies! Yeah, it's not an easy thing when the rest of the world is doing things the other way round!!! Leigh - in answer to your question, hmmmm, I don't know as 'non-specific learning difficulties' is a bit broad ranging.... all i can say is your daughter only has difficulties in the sense that that's how others have maybe decided to label her. Maybe she in fact has some talents which are not able to shine cos the teachers are (necessarily) busy focusing on the wrong things? The environment she is in and the criteria for being a 'successful learner' will vary from one school to another and one homeschool to another - there's no one right answer - each child flourishes in different environments :-)

  9. Leigh, all I know is that with home ed it's not a race and we can escape from the idea that children need to do certain things at a certain age, which takes away alot of the pressure on children who struggle in certain areas.

    My experience is that in most cases children will 'get there' at their own pace. And those that don't will find a way round it, or shine in something else. Taking the focus away from the area of difficulty can help alot. e.g. if the child struggles with writing, get them to dictate and you do the writing for them, or if your child struggles with reading, get them audiobooks or simply read to them without the pressure for them to read anything. One of the main things I've learned as a home edder is to step back and stop intervening when the child asks, rather than insisting on battling on! (If we were made to do something we found incredibly difficult day-in-day-out we'd be pretty miserable!)

    It's been hard watching two of my kids really struggle with literacy, but they both made the decision that they didn't want me to teach them. Both, with a little support when asked for, have come a long way. Not to anyone else's schedule perhaps (!), but at a pace that was right for them.

    If you unschool (or in the UK we call it autonomous education) then pretty much everything is child-led and the parent does not 'teach' the child unless the child wishes it. Most home educators in the uk cover a wide spectrum between quite structured 'school at home' to autonomous and everything in between.

  10. Have you ever seen Sir Ken Robinson's video on YouTube or Ted talks called 'Do schools kill creativity? He is such a wonderful man. Go watch it. He basically says we are making thousands of brilliant, talented, creative individuals think they're not, because we are forcing kids to conform to an idea or concept or definition of intelligence which needs broadening. I've watched this one talk probably a dozen times!!!

  11. I am a bit behind on reading blogs but i love this post. Go Finn! :)
    Find your library idea really inspiring and now I want one! ;)