Reading and Rest Time

This blog is beginning to look like a hiking blog. But, as my son says “there is no school in summer,” so I have to make learning look less like school and more like just life. (That isn’t really very hard. Many homeschools don’t look like school at all. And that is probably the better way to do it.)

But mine looks kind of like school. Because that is what I am comfortable with.

Except, apparently, we aren’t allowed to look like school in the summer.

One of my better ideas for the summer has been what I like to call Reading and Rest Time. Which, if you know me, is exactly what it sounds like. After lunch, when everyone is kind of worn out from playing all morning – or swim lessons or sports camp when we had those earlier in the summer – we break off into our own books. Baby goes down for a nap, toddler used to go down for a nap. (We are in a transition period, and if you have been through this you know it is better to just smile and move on instead of lament the fact that they don’t take naps forever. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what to do with him now.) Nine year old and 7 year old get their book and find a comfy spot to read for about 45 minutes to an hour. This was the time limit they set themselves. At first they were reading to get their prizes from the library summer reading program – which we totally finished before the month of June ended. Now we just keep up the program because mom likes quite time every afternoon. And a routine, even if minimal, is probably healthy during the summer.

I’ve left out the preschooler. During the first part of reading and rest time the preschooler and I snuggle up on my bed for reading lessons.

I use “Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” solely because that is how my mother taught me how to read and I think it worked out pretty well. I do know others who really don’t like that particular method, and that is fine. It is pretty boring at the beginning and takes an intense direct instruction approach.

Now, I have very few regrets as a mother. But one of them has to do with teaching reading. I started teaching my daughter right after she turned 5. I think that is how old I was when I learned and my son who went to public school kindergarten learned at that age as well. But this was a huge mistake for my daughter. It was nothing but tears and frustration and angry blow ups. Less from her, and more from me.

I had so little patience that you maybe could call it negative patience. After a week or so I would be frustrated and angry even before we started the lesson for the day. This was not my sweet daughter’s fault at all. It was just so hard for me to understand why she couldn’t remember the sounds of certain letters day after day after day. And I let her know it. That is where the regret part comes in. I was not very nice and that was very wrong of me. I was making life miserable for both of us. I finally had to call it quits.

So we quit. For a few months at least.

And that was one of the best decisions (besides Reading and Rest Time, of course) that I have made as a new homeschool mom. Sometimes it is better to quit and take a break and then start again, than to try and “keep up” with an arbitrary schedule, or even a legit schedule that is ruining your relationships with your children. By forcing information and demanding compliance without understanding and compassion, what was I actually teaching my child? I wasn’t teaching her to read, obviously. But she was learning some negative lessons about how to act and how to feel about herself and those lessons were damaging and false.

When we started up again a few months later I had had enough time to repent and commit myself to moving at her pace instead of mine. The funny thing about it is, she was a fantastic reader. Once I let go of my stress and unrealistic expectations, she just took off and has never looked back. She was never a slow reader or really had any difficulty that any other new reader doesn’t have.  The problem, again, was my expectations of what I thought she should be able to do. If I didn’t think that particular task should be difficult, it was beyond irritating that she didn’t instinctively know how to do it. Anyway, that was my bad mom moment.

We finished up the book hugging and laughing and thoroughly enjoying each other. I hope she has forgotten those first attempts. But I refuse to forget them, even though it makes me feel horrible, because I learned a great lesson myself.

So now it is my cute 5 year old’s turn to learn to read. And since I have not forgotten my terrible behavior from before for which I still feel bad, we are having a wonderful time! He isn’t one to sit still for very long – unless it is his idea. And he isn’t one to take instruction very well – which is difficult for a hard core direct instruction approach. But for the first two weeks or so of lessons he would just snuggle up to me and give me a huge hug after every lesson and tell me he loved me. (Wow! The subtitle of the book was coming true! “This remarkable step-by-step program teaches your child to read in just 20 minutes a day – with love, care, and joy only a parent and child can share!”)

I still get a little irritated (and I am learning this is a deeper issue that will take a while to work on) but I am a much, much more patient mother now. Another benefit of being a homeschool mom is that you develop patience – which we all pray for but somehow never want to put the work into to develop. Sometimes I hear people say they could never teach someone to read. I think this is more of a patience issue than a reading issue. And for that matter, I hear people say all the time they don’t think they could ever homeschool their children at all and it is probably for the same reason – that and they don’t like to be around their children because they think they are annoying and the kids don’t listen to them anyway – which breaks my heart on so many levels. (Yes, I do think my children are annoying sometimes – just not in general!)

OK, so here is a way-too-long video of one reading lesson session with my 5 year old. (Really, don’t watch the entire thing. Just enough to get the point.) I put this up here to show that he doesn’t sit still at all, sometimes he doesn’t even look at the book (he likes to try and memorize the word first and then read it? I don’t really get it but he does it every single day) and I have to constantly redirect his focus to what we are doing. I cannot imagine trying to make him do this while sitting in a chair! But he is learning a ton. This is a video from about 4 weeks ago so we have progressed quote a bit past this point now.

On a slightly different note, there are books and then there are books. Lately -well, maybe the last 2 years- I have slipped into the YA fiction genre. More specifically the fantasy sci-fi stuff. Like Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, Brotherband by the same author, all the Brandon Mull stuff except Candy Shop Wars (don’t ask me why, I don’t know, I just don’t want to read it), The Missing Series by Margaret Haddix, and a gazillion others that of course I can’t remember right now. Those books are really good. They are fun and entertaining and you can just zoom right through them! They are a perfect escape when your brain is full and just needs to veg. (Because we don’t have TV or netflix or whatever else is out there so I veg reading a book – nerdy.)

However, an older friend of mine recently let me borrow a book from her that was not a good book like all those mentioned above. It is a good book like those books that change your view of the world and open up emotions and understanding into humanity that either you didn’t know before or had forgotten because you were busy reading stuff about fairies and dragons and teenagers floating through time trying to save the world. It is called And There was Light, the autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, subtitled “Blind Hero of the French Resistance.” This book is beautiful.

I am sorry that I have spent so many hours reading fluff.  I would be a better person if I would seek out and read literature such as this. I like the fluff. Actually I like it a lot. And there is a place for it. But we would all be better people if we spent some time seeing through the eyes of real people who have gone through really hard experiences and come out better for it. I think that is part of the reason why I picked a major in the college of Humanities. I like the humanity of it.

Anyway, that is just something to think about. You know, what you are reading and how it is affecting you. Or what your kids are reading. Here’s a great link to some great literature for children. The slightest knowledge of a great book is better than the greatest knowledge of a slight book.