When Harry was at school, reading was a chore. It bothered me because I so wanted him to love books and reading because, you know, they’re such a big part of my life. To be fair, he has always been interested in books as objects – if we go into a bookshop, there are loads he wants to buy (don’t know who he gets it from) – but reading them? Himself? No.
School sent home the reading scheme books – The Magic Key. I hated them and so did Harry. They were just so dull with very little in the way of plot. I understand it must be difficult to make an entertaining story and stick to the rules of teaching phonics, but it does not make for a fun read. For a while, I tried to read them with him like the conscientious student I am (or was). I would cajole and bribe and threaten Harry. Sometimes he’d cry. Sometimes I’d cry. At one parents’ evening I told the teacher how much we hated them and she said she knew they weren’t great and they’d been trying to buy a new scheme, but didn’t have the funds.
When we read other books – when I read other books to him – we both enjoyed them, but then I always felt like I needed to get him to read too. So I’d suggest we read alternate pages or even alternate sentences and he would resist. Or refuse. At one point, I was getting him to read just the first word on each page. He’d read a few and then he’d get in a nark. And we’d end up shouting again.
Since I took him out of school, reading has become a joy again. I read to him and I don’t ask him to read to me. We’re discovering books together (Olga da Polga has been a big hit) and he is reading, but mostly not books. He reads on the computer and on the TV. He reads signs and information when we’re out and about. On the way to the cinema one day, he noticed a warning light on the car dashboard and asked me what it was. I told him to get the manual out of the glove compartment and look it up. He found it and read it out to me. (The car needs a service.)
The other night, as we were having dinner, Joe handed Harry this book and Harry read the questions out for the rest of the meal. We still have to be careful – if he gets the impression we want him to read – or even sometimes that we’re impressed that he’s reading something – he shuts right down. (One of the other home ed mums told me that’s probably a hangover from the school pressure and he’ll get over it eventually as part of the deschooling process.)
I love this Frank Cottrell Boyce article about reading for pleasure. The ‘wow words’ and ‘connectors’ (although when I asked Harry and his friend about it, they said it was ‘connectives’ not ‘connectors’) stuff drives me nuts. We went to have a look around a local secondary school during the summer – just out of nosiness – and went into the English class where there was a very enthusiastic and friendly teacher. He put something up on the whiteboard about writing a story… I can’t remember the details, partly because it was a while ago, partly because my brain just rejects this stuff. Anyway, he’d obviously tried to make it as entertaining as possible – it was a grid and you had to touch the word that should go in the sentence (I think). He asked Harry, who immediately went shy and I had a school flashback, thinking “Don’t ask me!” Because I wouldn’t have been able to answer with any confidence. And I’m a writer. With three published novels. My point being that the best way to learn to write is to read. And the best way to learn to read is to read for pleasure.
I’ve quoted this before, but it was such a A-ha moment for me that I’m quoting it again
As the founder and leader of The Manhattan Free School, Pat Werner recently explained to a group of educators, kids never stop learning. They are learning all along. They don’t “learn to read” the moment when they pick up a book and can sound out the words. They’ve been processing relevant information since they were born, and that moment is only the moment when the information begins to fit together in a way others can plainly observe and categorize.
It’s from this Kate Fridkis post Learning how to write.
(Perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find a photo of Harry reading – or at least not reading to Joe – so here’s one of him looking like he’s in a story instead.)