“We’re trying to read,” Mr. M says, face tight with frustration. In the background, I can hear Lil Dude reading about a big, blue fish. “No. No, Lil Dude. Where do you see the word ‘big?’ Can you point to me where the word is on this page?”
Mr. M turns back to me, over FaceTime, exclaiming, “He keeps making up words on the page. I don’t understand why he’s doing this. We’ve been working on this book for over an hour, with him crying most of the time.”
A song comes to mind, one I sing to Tiny Tot when he asks me for milk twenty times in five seconds. “Have patience,” I say. “He can feel your emotions, and he’s feeding off of that. The more he feels like he’s reading it wrong, the more anxious he will become to make a mistake.”
They struggle for a bit longer, with me (hacking, coughing, and blowing my nose) lending meager, helpful advice. Finally, when I figure out a sentence Lil Dude is about to read, and I feel my instructions overwhelming Mr. M, I step in. “D-d-d-d … sound it out. D-d-d-d.”
“D-uuuuu …,” Lil Dude reads, struggling.
“D-d-d-uuuu …,” I prompt. “Keep going.”
“D-uuu-s. Dooooooo-es. Does,” he says.
“Great job. What’s the next word?” I ask. Then I continue to prompt him. “It’s a short i, and short I says i-i-i (Sorry, people. I can’t figure out how to make a short /i/ sound on my computer). What’s the next letter; what does it say?”
“T. T-t-t,” he says.
“Good! Put it together. I-i-i, … .”
“I-t. It,” Lil Dude reads, sounding it out.
“Great job! Let’s go to the next word.” We continue working through the words until we reach the end of the book, where the bird says, “BOO!”
Lil Dude is super excited to read that page to me, and the reading portion of the morning ends.
“I can’t teach reading like you can,” Mr. M laments, still frustrated. This time, however, his frustration is with himself.
“Not everyone can teach. That saying is false. Teaching is a different skill set, and requires massive patience and strategy. But you’re learning to teach him to read, and you’ll get it with time,” I explain.
See, the idea that everyone can teach is a complete fallacy. It’s actually one of the worst illusions of our time. Not everyone is born to be a teacher, and once we become parents, most of us are thrown into that teaching role. Usually, it’s without much guidance.
I guess that’s why there are books upon books, all fighting each other over which “parenting strategy” works best.
Teaching reading is not easy. Like parenting, it takes strategy. Unfortunately, unlike parenting, you cannot discipline a child into learning how to read. The act of teaching reading is completely different from the act of parenting. You cannot sit a child in time out and expect them to read better. You cannot bribe a child with treats and expect them to read better. You cannot pop them on the bottom, take away toys, or mean parent voice them into reading better.
You also cannot coddle, wheedle, or ignore a child into reading better, or having better reading habits. Reading needs to be taught, but it has to be taught with oodles upon oodles of patience.
Yes, patience is short in the world of parenting; I know that, too.
I have taught children who know how to read to read better. I have taught children who know how to write to write better. Shoot, I now teach adults who know how to read to analyze and infer what they read, in order to write better. But, teaching the art of reading the way I just explained?
Well, until this last year, I had never done that. It wasn’t for the lack of trying, though. After all, I’m a teacher, I can teach my own kid, right? So, we started by learning the alphabet, like every other child. Then we moved to letter sounds, and those tricky–pesky–vowel sounds. Next we moved to the little readers that came home from preschool.
Oh, wait, I forgot to mention this part: I lost my patience. And then I lost my patience some more. And then, I lost my patience, again.
I can remember one day very clearly. I got so frustrated hearing Tiny say, “I don’t know, I can’t read this. I can’t!” that I lost my mind, and decided he was messing with me. He knew it; we had been over it, but he was jacking with me, just to make me angry.
That day, I turned to my mom group on Facebook, ranting. A seasoned mother of four (four!) told me that I needed to utilize patience, because he was feeding off of my emotions. The more frustrated I got, the more he could feel the frustration, and the more he didn’t want to mess up, or get a word wrong. So, he shut down, because of my irritation.
See? I don’t come up with this shit on my own; I learn from the pros. Like I’ve said before, I’m winging this parenting thing, until I get it right.
Which will never happen, by the way.
I realized that if I wanted Tiny to learn to love reading like I love reading, I needed to foster positivity around the action of reading. I have always loved to read. Leaving this world for one that’s been created through words–words can be imagined in the mind–moves me.
From that day forward, I began to infuse my love of reading into our daily reading sessions, while utilizing my knowledge of the teaching process. And, unsurprisingly, Tiny started to get excited about reading, to the point where he now reads books by himself–a huge step in our world!
One of the first things I taught myself to do when learning to read with Tiny (yes, I had to relearn how to read, in order to help him read better), was to listen to what he’d been taught about reading. Emergent readers are taught to look at the pictures on the page, and determine what that page will be about, especially when they come upon a word they do not know. For example, if they read, “Bob walked to the pond,” the featured image shows the main character, Bob, his action of walking, and a pond somewhere on the page. This helps the emergent reader gain contextual clues, through pictures, and allows them to look at the word, and the picture, and draw conclusions.
This is the first way I relearned how to read through the eyes of my emergent reader.
Another method I utilized was to remember to constantly ask what sounds letters make, even though it slows down the process of reading. I had to remind myself to only sound out a word if I knew it to be frustrating. A frustrating word makes an emergent reader, one who has been gaining pride at his or her reading skills, stumble.
It’s not that the word is “too hard,” for that reader. Words are never “too hard” for children; they are frustrating. The term “too hard” implies a child cannot read the word, and will never be able to read the word. This is not the case. Children will, with time, get the word. But, the English language is frustrating to learn.
I know; I teach it.
So, I do not knee-jerk into reading a word for Tiny Tot. I wait for him to sound it out, I aid him in the process of sounding it out, and I prompt him with context clues–like cluing him into long vowel sounds or short vowel sounds. And, when needed, I use mini lessons to teach consonant and vowel blends as they arise.
Another thing I’ve learned is that if the child is too tired, too overwhelmed, or too hormonal (damn growth spurts!), reading should be done in short spurts. If Tiny is rubbing his eyes and whining over the word “to,” then I’ll read a page, and prompt him to read a page. If that doesn’t work, I’ll read the whole book, with voice, inflection, and tone. Why? Because reading fluency is just as important as learning to read.
Teaching a child to read is hard; it’s time-consuming. It can knock a parent down, and make them feel like total failures. But, the key to teaching a child to read–and the key to parental sanity–is learning to exhibit patience, while praising every correct word, and every correct sentence.
Because, one day, they’ll get it. But, until they do, we need to be the positive force encouraging that understanding, and fostering the love of reading.