A Letter to a Parent About reading

reading

This is what I would I have told my worried self about reading and my children about three years ago. One of children was diagnosed with Irlen’s syndrome and so I was very stressed about whether she would be able to read or not. As time went by she did. But here is a letter that I would have liked to have read as worrying  served nothing for me.

 

Dear Lehla,

Please stop it, stop worrying about the children’s ability to read. Have more faith in them. You have been conditioned in to thinking that they should learn at a certain age. In this process of learning there is no thing as a certain age. You know this so stop worrying.

 

Here is what will help them read

Start having more faith in them

Stop worrying about them falling behind.

Know that falling behind doesn’t exist. There is no behind, advanced, on target, there is just the present moment.

Read books yourself.

Leave books around.

Don’t try to trick them in to reading, they are smart.

Let them play video games, where in order to do well at the game they have to read and write.

Read to them if they want you to. Put your fingers under the words if they ask you to.

Relax.

 

With love from,

An older version of

Lehla

 

The best thing that happened to us around reading was when one of our daughters, who was aged 10 at the time said to us ‘Please can you stop worrying about me reading and actually, just leave me alone’ I was aghast, mainly as I had thought I had done such a good job of subtley trying to help her to read. As I said before kids are clever. I had to admit to myself that I had been ‘lightly’ chasing her around in a ‘I am not making you read’ kind of way. There was nothing subtle about it.

So my husband and I stopped, it was not easy, it flew in the face of everything I had been taught. IE reading is something that is taught to you. She did not want me to teach her. She was asking us to have faith in her. We did.

 

She is now, at the age of twelve, reading non stop, she has novels lined up for the next few months, she reads them back to back. What is more, she loves it. The most we did (after we stopped chasing her around) was to say what the words were, once she spelt them out and that was that. It is the same for her twin sister, who seemed to find reading easier, they both read non stop.

 

Our son says he doesn’t like reading, he may well not be a book worm and that is ok.  He is ten, I could panic but I don’t. He says ‘I will read when I can read’ that to me is it. It is up me to have an inner leap of faith and to not listen to the scripted voice that holds a clock up to my childs learning. He says he can’t read but for fun I write to him on Skype even if we are in the same room he instantly writes back.

 

But what if you child has dyslexia Lehla? I can’t speak for other families who have dyslexic children and of course if support is needed then that is important. The point I am trying to make is about worrying, as I personally could have a degree in anxiety and I have found it of no use when it comes to supporting my childs learning.

 

But moreover I would say this to any child who is setting out on that beautiful exciting journey of reading. May reading for you be like a stepping on to fantastical boat, may it sail you through the sea of words and take you on a myriad of unexpected journeys. Even if the sea is sometimes choppy my wish is that you all get to where you need to get in your own time.

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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-

14 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Crystal says:

    So, what would you say for the child who is eager to learn, but not getting it? My almost 8 year old is dying to read like his older siblings, but nothing is clicking. Because this is something that he really wants, I’m a bit freaked. Thoughts?

  2. I suppose if this were me, I would question why I was feeling freaked by it. Then I would do what I could to support his reading and let him lead the process.Our son has twin sisters who read all the time and he also gets frustrated and annoyed and with him, he wants to read but read well. As I said in the post he wants to only read when he can read!! So I don’t know your son but I would try to support as best as I could without putting pressure on him. And I would most likely do my best to enjoy his eagerness to read, if that makes any sense. It is a fine art though, if you sense that he is as you say ‘not getting it’ then maybe it is just not falling in to place yet having said that I would imagine that more is going in than your realise. When our son was 8 he and reading were like oppositie magnets, so I stepped back and now he is nearly 10 and the other day he read me a line fluently from his sisters novel. I feel he will get it but most likely later than school kids do. Much later. Does that help at all? Also I don’t know what you feel about Minecraft but that has helped his reading no end.

  3. M says:

    While this approach works perfectly for my one daughter (now age 9), and she reads on her own, when she wants to, and has taught herself completely, her twin sister was not getting it. Her twin struggled, suffered, and hated trying to read. After having her read aloud to me and realizing that she was stumped by the word “the” after me telling her what it was just 3 words prior, and then again missing it a few words later… she was not seeing it as the same word, each time it was completely new and confusing to her… I realized something wasn’t right. Turns out she has a pretty severe form of dyslexia and she has needed intense and explicit reading instruction. I shudder to think of what would have happened had I just left it alone. Her brain works completely differently, and had she not received proper instruction at an early age, she would likely never be a strong reader. Now at 9, she is reading at grade level, but she will always be dyslexic and reading may never be her favorite way to take in information. That’s fine. But sometimes not worrying can be detrimental to the development of a child. Since 20% of the population, 1 out of five people, has a form of dyslexia, I think it’s a huge mistake to advocate not worrying. If a parent is worried, they should discuss their concerned with a reading specialist who knows how to identify dyslexia, they should google dyslexia and read about the signs/symptoms, and/or they should meet with a pediatric neurophsych to make sure dylexia is not the cause of the problem.

    Also: The need for glasses is another commonly overlooked problem!

  4. Hello M, you make a really good point and thanks for mentioning this. It is a coincidence as I also have twin daughters one who found reading easy and the other who, when at school was diagnosed with Irlesns Syndrome (at first it was thought to be dyslexia) and like you say she needed special glasses. But as the time went on reading became stressful. It was stressful for everyone and anxiety and worrying in our situation really made things worse. Then things changed and she began to want to read on her own. She stopped wearing the glasses and started piecing it together herself and did not want help. So there was a major break through. So your comments really have made me think, so thank you, and you are right many people have dyslexia and there are many wonderful people out there who can help them and anything that can help a child learn is wonderful. I suppose the piece I wrote was to myself, as I had worried so much and when I stopped things shifted. But you have helped me, as you make a good point as my piece was written mainly about children who don’t have reading problems. So thank you for your comments, it has made me delve deeper in to what I was writing about and I am going to re look at the piece.

  5. Hi Crystal,

    M’s points are interesting on the comments section, have a look!!

  6. Crystal says:

    Yes, thank you M for your reply! Something in my gut has been telling me maybe something is off with him. I never stressed with the others, and usually don’t no matter how long something takes. But this, this is nagging at me in a different way. I’ll look into it a bit more and see if maybe he does have some type of issue. Thanks so you both!

  7. Great Crystal, I hope it all becomes clear for you and for him.

  8. Rysh says:

    Hi I enjoyed your post thanks. My daughter is 11.5 and still learning to read. Her fluency improved through Minecraft, mostly playing online servers, there’s a lot of reading to be done there. We have used phonics and whole word and kinaesthetic approach and more. But the best things hands down have been read alouds and letting her follow her interests and pick it up as she goes. This is when she improves the most. When I’m at college in a class everyone picks things up at a different pace. But everyone gets it because they want to be there. Why would it be any different for a younger person. And why does it even matter what age they read? If she was meant to read fluently at a younger age then she would of. She has dyslexic tendancies and is probably somewhere on that scale but an official diagnosis won’t serve us or her. She is improving all the time on her own and enjoying the process. Just a lot slower than society expects. In my experience trying to force people to do or see things before they are ready rarely works and if it does there’s usually a cost. Most people accept this in adult relationships and get it but don’t apply it to kids. She gets frustrated at times….but don’t we all when we are learning something new or complex. What’s the saying….frustration is the mother of all breakthrough. I’ve experienced this many many times in my life. To want her to breeze through life without struggles and challenges isn’t in her best interest that’s where the best lessons are learnt. My job is to support all of her in the best way that I can in this moment.

  9. Rysh says:

    May I add to my last comment that I have done my fair share of worrying but I’m of better service to my daughter and her needs when I’m coming from a place of belief in her and respect for her unique journey rather than a place that’s fuelled by worry from outside expectations. Easier said than done much like most facets of parenting….doing my own work is better than working on them. Which I think is the way this post was leaning.

  10. Hi Rysh,

    Yes you are right, it is really interesting and inspiring for me to read your story. Yes, in this process I have had to rethink the way I think about my conditioning around the speed of learning. I am always really curious to hear other people’s stories. I also loved the way that you spoke about frustration and I have never heard that saying ‘frustration is the mother of all breakthroughs’ It puts a positive spin on frustration. I know that the more I backed down from our kids needing to read the less frustration there has been around reading and they would be considered very late readers if they were in a schooling environment but then what is very late? When you are out of a system all that falls away. Like you, my job is to support them as best I can and to manage my own worries, which have really subsided as I see them flourish and start to have a real deep love of reading.

  11. DebbieCorbin says:

    I have dyslexia but didnt know it untill my son (now 9, was identified dyslexic at 7). While i agree with not stressing out about it i do however think it important to follow your gut. If you think thier is an issue because dispite the fact your child is smart and just not getting it then more of the same wont work for dyslexic’s. They need an orton-gillingham based reading intervention. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. So waiting is NOT A GOOD APPROACH. When my son was 7 and beyond upset with himself i decided it was time to find out what was going on. Dyslexia is hereditary. After my son was identified dyslexic I wounderd why his sisters couldn’t spell but could read well. Guess what its dyslexia too. Just not as severe. Dyslexia is on a continuum ( mild moderate severe profound ). Thru learning about dyslexia it has opened up a world of how to teach/help differently. They literally learn differently not only to read but at all things…. so while I agree “stressing out” wont help finding out WHY they struggle will. Like the other lady said dyslexia stats are 1 in 5. Thats 20% of the population. If gone unidentified we often believe ourselves “dumb” because why is it si much harder than what seems so natural to others?… its the way we process language, its different from a typical brain. The brain has no “reading center” and its not a vision issue either. We dont SEE THINGS BACKWARDS. Its they way our brains process language in ALL things not just reading. So i say dont stress but DO TAKE ACTION. early intervention is best with all things. Also knowing your dyslexic explains and comforts why its more difficult for us.

  12. Hi Debbie,

    Have you read ‘The Gift of Dyslexia?’ It is an interesting book, and when I think of people who are dyslexic, I love to think the flip side, the positive side of dyslexia. Also all the great people in history who have been dyslexic and who have really changed the world in the most amazing ways. I think you make some great points here. Yes, following your gut is always the best in most things and it sounds like you have done a great job in doing that.

  13. I completely agree with Debbie. Lehla, your advice is sound for kids who do not have dyslexia or a specific learning disability. I understand that schools do put too much pressure on children to read early and to be at a certain level at a specified age. Some children do not have the patience to sit and read a book. Some pick it up later. There are many tactics one can take, as you mentioned, to help these children to discover the pleasure of reading. (Read the Book Whisperer.) However, struggling readers, particularly those with dyslexia (which can be diagnosed) need intervention in order to become successful readers. This is no different from getting your child prescription eye classes or speech therapy. I am a veteran homeschooling mom, educational consultant, and reading specialist. I’ve worked for years with dyslexic children. They are so grateful and relieved to find out that they are not stupid. I show them how their brain works differently–with a traffic jam in certain places. I help the child find “detours” to get to their destination. The earlier this process starts the better. I don’t torture them; I make lessons fun. If they are not ready or willing, then we try something else or simply wait. I recommend that the child gets info from being read aloud or listening to recorded books. So, yes, worrying doesn’t help. Taking action does.

  14. Hi Evelyn,

    Thanks so much for your insight, it is interesting reading. It is a big topic which I am mulling on…

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