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Reading for your child is often the best tool to teach them to read. Especially if they struggle.

In our last post we discussed the importance of allowing children to read books that are too easy for them. If you missed it, you can check it out here. Today, we are going to explore another mistake we make when it comes to our child’s reading level.

The oldest of my sons was slow to read. He was also highly intelligent, had an expansive vocabulary, and loved learning. When he was in early elementary school I began checking out options for history and science. Mind you, this was before Homeschooling had really taken off, so my options were limited. A friend suggested I check out a popular Christian Textbook publisher. I was VERY disappointed in the material.

The history text was stories about community helpers; firemen, postal workers and police. It was cute and boring, so boring. The reason…the book was written for a 6 year old’s reading ability, and so the content had to be “dumbed down.” I couldn’t see my bright son being even slightly interested in the book.

My solution was to work on his reading everyday for about 20 minutes…and the rest of the time, I read to him. We explored all sorts of interesting people, concepts, places, and art. With me, standing in the gap, he was able to pursue information about anything that interested him. At the time the Ninja Turtles were huge, and so he poured over Art books about Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and DaVinci.

Tim was a sponge. He could sit for long periods with books, even when he couldn’t read them. He would come to me with questions that illustrations had sparked and ask me to read sections.

During these years of struggle with reading, I was determined to keep his love of learning and books alive. While he may have made halting progress with phonics, in every other subject he was leaping ahead. When his reading skills eventually caught up I knew he would have a strong foundation and mastery of words and concepts to build on.

At the beginning of his 3rd grade year he was still sounding out most words, and reading quite slowly. Then, seemingly overnight (although it had been years of steady work) it clicked. Boy, did it click. By the end of 3rd grade he was reading at a 9th grade level.  When his reading skills synced up with all of the other learning he’d been doing he was capable of reading and understanding just about everything he picked up.

Even if your child is a whiz at reading, more than likely, in the early years, their comprehension will be greater than their reading ability. Don’t limit their science books to only those they can read on their own. Don’t limit their enjoyment of literature to graded readers with limited vocabulary. Read to your children all sorts of books! Their busy minds will love being fed a steady supply of fresh ideas, and their love of learning and books will continue to grow. They will want to become better readers because they will know, through you, the magic that books contain.

I had another student who was severally dyslexic. After years of testing and work, the conclusion was he was always going to struggle. You might think this limited him educationally, but it absolutely didn’t. His mother, and a younger sister read him all of his books. In High School I taught him Shakespeare, Chemistry, Biology, and History. He did great in each course.

He was able to enjoy the language and beauty of Shakespeare through others standing in the gap for him. (And he built me an amazing reproduction of the Globe Theater) He excelled in the sciences. He had the science series in an audio format and would work ahead so that he could do the experiments, work out all the kinks and do them in class for the rest of us. It was awesome.

I was so proud of him when he graduated. He hadn’t ‘just’ made it through high school, he’d thrived. With his family’s help, he’d received an excellent, well-rounded education, because his mom hadn’t let his inability in one area determine what he could study in other areas. She played up to his strengths and stood in the gap to help him in his weak area.Reat to your kids, a lot

The point, all children will experience a time when all of their skills will not sync together, growing in perfect harmony.  This does not mean they cannot continue to excel and grow in every other area of their education. With you, helping to bear the burden, they can continue to progress while you work on their weaker areas.

I’ve witnessed far too many students who have difficulty with reading, or a learning disability become stalled in every other area of their studies. Not being able to read well meant they did poorly with history, literature, and science. Not being able to read, could stall our student. They could be limited to remain at their reading level…but they don’t have to be.

No, we don’t want to do the work for our child, but there are certainly times where we can bear the burden with our child, and stand in the gaps so that they can continue to grow and enjoy their school years.

This doesn’t just make academic sense, it makes emotional sense.

A child who is slow to read can experience severe damage to their sense of self. They can feel stupid and less than their peers. I know adults who have never recovered from being in the ‘slow’ reading group in elementary school. At a young age they internalized the message that they are not intelligent, not good at school.

For most kids, that’s a lie. The problem is we expect children to all develop at an arbitrary rate, to learn in a steady progression upwards. For a percentage of kids that works, but for most they learn in a stop, start, 2 steps back, 1 leap forward individual pattern.  Each child has their own strengths, their own areas of intelligence and giftedness, it’s our job to nurture those areas, and work steadily where they struggle.

So, be aware of where your child struggles, get them assessed and helped if they need it. But also, don’t allow those areas to limit their education. Stand in the gap with them to be the bridge to the information they need while they develop the tools to build that bridge for themselves.

Oh, by the way, my son Tim graduated from college with an English degree and is now a High School English teacher.

If you’d like to check out the other posts in this series, here are the links.

Curriculum is a tool, nothing more

The key to raising a reader that most of us miss

Make this paradigm shift to get the most out of your school year

When rewards backfire

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