Homeschooling Harry: reading for pleasure

SAM_9509When 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.)

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7 thoughts on “Homeschooling Harry: reading for pleasure

  1. Such an important post Keris! True for us too – our daughter rediscovered her joy of reading once the pressure of school-ised reading had vanished from her life when we home schooled. In fact, she read so much I had to tell her to stop and do something else! Can you imagine?!

    1. Thanks, Ross. Oh I would love that – that’s just what I was like. I’m much more likely to be tearing Harry away from the Wii though…

  2. It seems so regimented! I’m like you and as a girl I had to be dragged out of libraries – the local one let me have an adult membership as I read so fast. But my school just encouraged me to read anything I wanted from the school library and so did my parents, so it was always fun. But when I was forced to read Chaucer for A level I rebelled… No wonder Harry is bored if he’s having to read boring books!

    1. It’s much more regimented than it was when we were at school, Sarah, and it’s getting worse and worse under this government. Such a shame, because reading is such a joy and I can’t think of a quicker way to turn it into a chore.

      1. It’s such a shame the powers that be can’t see what’s glaringly obvious – making kids read boring, unimaginative books that they don’t like will make them hate reading because they associate it with boredom. Harry’s proved that! It’s like making kids eat things like liver. I detested it as a child and refuse to eat it as an adult because I associate it with trying to hide the stuff under mash and retching at being made to eat it when my mum found it. What you learn to hate as a child, you’ll never enjoy as an adult…

  3. I was speaking to someone the other day about the school her granddaughter attends. “Does she use the library there?” I enquired. “There isn’t a library there” came the response. It IS a primary school, granted, and call me old fashioned but I think a library at any school is essential. In fact, I once proudly held the post of ‘school librarian’. (Oh, the power!) Reading isn’t just essential for its own sake, it’s essential for life. Like your example with the car warning light. For warnings generally. For everything! Reading is a life saver, and also, I love it. I know I keep saying it but it isn’t just kids who learn from reading, we’re all learning, all the time. Whether we realise it or not. It’s such a shame that schools are ruining the whole learning experience.

    1. I was school librarian at primary school too. I had a badge and was very proud 🙂

      I don’t remember having a library at secondary school, but that may just be my awful memory. The schools I’ve been to on school visits have had great libraries, but very much set up as ‘media centres’ with lots of computers, etc.

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