Can kids learn to read if you don’t push them to learn to read?

Olive reading

Reading at school for our kids was a really stressful, they had a programme they had to follow, it was painful for me to watch as every bone in my body knew it was not right for them. It was even more painful to collude with, so I didn’t really. I would rather that my kids only learnt to read when they were ready. And if that is late according to a system then they would be late. But to make them read early and introduce books in a way that made them never want to pick up a book ever again would be the worst thing I could do around my kids and their love, or not of reading.

One of our daughters absolutely loves reading. If I could liken her reading to being on a horse she would be cantering with her hair flowing in the wind. Her twin sister is at trotting level. Frustrated but beautifully getting there in her own time, she watches me read the words to her at night. Sometimes I say to her ‘look at the words’ and she says ‘Mum, nooo, I am looking in to space so I can imagine the story’ There is a part of me that says ‘Why are am I still reading to them at night they are 11 years old they shouldn’t they be reading their own books?’ I question myself ‘Am I hindering their reading?’ Then there is a deeper voice that I listen to. The voice that says these moments are precious, there will be a point when I am not reading to them, when they will be privately ensconced in books, when that door will be closed. Teenager hood will be there and those golden scenes in literature, like when we realise that a girl is in love with a boy and she has just given it away by accidently putting her hand on a boys knee!!! Those moments will be gone, for ever. The girls will both be galloping with their reading and be off and that will be right and how it should be. They will not want me to lie between them giggling about the story or slowing down at the really scary parts, just because I can and I like to hang them out to dry a bit until they shout ‘Mum, GO ON, JUST READ IT!’

Our son doesn’t want to read, he is not even on the horse, he is looking at it in the stable, placing his fingers occasionally on the saddle and thinking. He wants to only read when he can read…So when we talk about reading or whether he would like to have a go, he goes floppy and says ‘naaah’. When I read him a story he is adamant that I put my fingers under the words. If I stop moving my fingers under the words he physically puts them back again.

But he won’t read to me, till he is ready. It is a leap of faith, I have to address my own scripted self… will he ever read? Will he be able to keep up? What is ‘up’ anyway? Then we see a pop band on the internet and he says ‘Mum, are they our friends?’ I say ‘No’ and he says ‘They should be. Can we write to them?’ and I say ‘yes’, and I write to them. We invite them to come and visit us. As I write it he watches the screen and he says ‘Mum, don’t write that about me’ and I realise he has read the whole thing. So I change it and he says ‘that is better.’ Then we play another of his favourite songs on the internet, I say do the ‘lyrics’ version, he is glued to the screen reading and singing his heart out… the words to the song come and go on the screenand no doubt float in to that reading part of his brain…

 

If I can bestow a love of literature on to my kids then for me that is enough, the rest I know will slot in to place. There is no need to rush this process, life is long and reading is a magical thing. I am doing my best to help it stay that way, even though it is counter to everything that I was ever taught about learning to read. I believe that our kids will be able to read and whether it is now or in a few years’ time, to me that is perfectly ok.

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About the Author

Lehla is an illustrator and an author of books, she has written for The Guardian. She trained as an actress at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She wrote The South African Illustrated Cookbook, The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women and she illustrated a kid's book by M.J. Amani called 'Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read' and also 'I am Me, You, Us and We' by Caroline Trowbridge. Above all she is a mother to three fast growing kids, she juggles her time between them and working on new books and projects. She has recently co authored with Anthony 'Jump', Fall, Fly - from schooling, to homeschooling, to unschooling' Her art work can be seen at http://lehlaeldridge.wix.com/lehla-

4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. ellenrowland says:

    Lehla, I love the horse analogy–it really captures the process of learning to read. I went through those same insecurities but consciously put them aside so that when they were ready to read, their love of reading and curiosity were still intact. It’s such an important message. Thank you. In case there’s any doubt in your mind, this comment is a “Yipee”! XO

  2. Thanks for the yippee Ellen!! Yes, the horse… but what a lovely horse it is! And with all the research I have read, alot of boys take much more time and I think that is right. Am so glad that our kids have not been pushed to read. My hope is that they love love love reading. x

  3. Dan says:

    Great article, Lehla. Thank you. Why is the book in the photo upside down?

  4. Thank you Dan, it is because I wanted the person reading the piece to feel awkward about the book and to think twice about reading. Also my daughter was actually trying to read upside down!

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