Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Joy of Reading...

One of the questions that I receive most often at my workshops, is "how can I help my child learn to read?" Or, "how can I help my child improve their reading ability?" Many of the parents asking the questions are frustrated or embarrassed or completely baffled by the problem they are facing.

One of the first things that I tell parents, is that not all children are ready to read at the same age. Schools must keep everyone "on track" because they do not have the staffing or funding needed to help each child at their own pace. In homeschooling, we do have that luxury. We can wait and try many different approaches.

In most cases, the main problem is a lack of readiness for reading. The child may be spending all of his energy on other tasks (like building with Legos or running races), and has little energy or interest to put to use figuring out what those little squiggly lines might mean. With time, and with continued effort from the parents, most children will learn to read.

What can parents do to speed this process along? Include storytime in the schedule each day. Hearing good stories often inspires children to want to read on their own. Choose books that are well illustrated and interesting. Stories that are humorous or exciting are often good choices. Read to your children with enthusiasm and with expression.

If your child has hobbies or enjoys sports or loves animals, choose books that relate to those interests. Read some of them aloud to your child, and leave others on the table or somewhere they will be seen. Just getting children to pick up a book, and look through it, can lead to increased interest and desire.

Subscribe to magazines that are interesting and fun. "Sports Illustrated for Kids" is a wonderful magazine for any child with an interest in sports. It covers a wide range of sports, avoids sensationalism, and it includes wonderful photographs, activities and games. For animal lovers, check out "Ranger Rick," "Your Big Backyard" or "National Geographic Kids." Filled with facts, photos and activities, they will pique your child's interest in learning. "Highlights for Children" was always very popular at our house, because it included such a wide variety of activities and stories.

Try giving your child a "book allowance," money that can be used only to purchase books. There are many places that offer inexpensive books for children, such as the grocery store, library book sales, used book stores and garage sales. Ownership is very important to many youngsters. Set up a spot in your child's room for their books. If they purchased them, and they can see them on their own shelves, it often increases their desire to learn to read them.

Comic books, interesting and educational websites and computer games that require reading are, also, good options for increasing interest in reading.

One of the most important factors is to be a reader yourself, and to enforce a positive approach to reading. Most children should not have a required reading time each day. Forcing children to read for pleasure usually has the opposite of the desired effect. You might try a family reading time each day, where everyone spends time "reading." Let them choose what interests them, even if it is something that is very light. Keep the time fairly short and be sure to participate in this event yourself.

If you feel that there may be other reasons your child is not learning to read, consider having them tested to determine if there is a learning difference that might be causing the problem. Dyslexia or ADHD or other differences in learning are all challenges that require specialized approaches. Determining if your child needs a specialized approach is important. There are many resources to assist you and your child. Some are listed at the end of this article.

Learning to read is a very important skill, and one that should be encouraged. Celebrate your children's improvements (even small ones) and let them know that you are proud of their efforts. Include time at the dinner table to discuss interesting, exciting or humorous things you've read. Include enrichment activities to bring stories "to life," such as meeting a favorite author, visiting a location mentioned in a book, making a recipe or trying a craft that was described in a favorite story.

Let me know about your family's book activities. I would love to be able to share some "real life" reading adventures with the readers of this newsletter.

Happy reading!


25 fun ways to encourage reading

The 100 best children's books (according to this website)

A great source for wonderful reading material

Reading and Dyslexia - methods and resources

Parents resource guide for learning disabilities
"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." - Dr. Seuss, "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!"

"Never judge a book by its movie." - J. W. Eagan

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." ~Groucho Marx

"I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book." - Groucho Marx


This past week's snowstorm disrupted many people's well-planned, and scheduled lives. It, also, offered us some wonderful lessons.

Sometimes while teaching or learning, you may be hit by a surprise storm. It may be a difficult subject that you are studying or teaching, and you find that you are stuck. You don't understand it, or you really don't like it, and you are just not making any progress. You may choose to dig in, and plow your way through. Or, maybe you decide to take a break, rest your mind, or at least, pursue a different subject for awhile, then return to the difficult subject with a fresh perspective. Or you may decide that the subject is not what you want to pursue at all, and try a new route. There is nothing wrong with any of the above methods, but sometimes, it is possible to become so blinded by the snowstorm of difficulty, that you may not see the alternative approaches.

In other words, if algebra is proving to be so challenging that you are stuck, sometimes you force yourself to keep trying (digging) to understand it for so long, that you begin to hate the word algebra. But, if you stop for a minute and relax, you may realize that a short break can bring a fresh perspective, before you put up such a high mental wall of frustration. After a week or two, you may want to try something that might shed some new light on the subject. Maybe books that take a unique approach, such as "Algebra Unplugged," by Kenn Amdahl, or "The Algebra Survival Guide," by Josh Rappaport. Or, you may even decide to postpone the study of algebra, and try geometry, business math, economics or some other branch of mathematics. Maybe you decide to take a long break from all math, and dig into literature for a while, or plow through an interesting period of history. A break won't hurt you, and will probably be helpful in the long run.

I hope that the snowstorm provided you with time to rest and rejuvenate your body and mind, and filled you with a blizzard of ideas and inspiration. It's all in your attitude, you know.



Fears. Everybody has them, in varying degrees. Even the most confident people have things they fear. Sometimes fear is warranted. Any life-threatening situation may bring fear, and that’s a natural reaction. Most of us experience other fears that are not as logical.

For many, meeting new people, speaking to a group (large or small), or learning something new can be terrifying. Most of the time, these fears happen because we are worried about making a mistake or appearing incompetent. Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver and others have said that their greatest learning was from their mistakes. Wouldn't it have been a shame if they had given up without trying?

Sometimes, we are afraid to say what we really think or believe, because we don’t know how others will react. Will we be able to express our thoughts clearly, so that we are not misunderstood? Will others disagree with us, or think that we are foolish or wrong?

While many people fear failure and embarrassment, others fear success. I know a number of people who have turned down wonderful opportunities, because they feared that others would be jealous, or would think that they didn’t deserve such success or abundance.

There are times when these fears affect not only our lives, but those of our children, as well. For example, choosing an educational plan for our children can be affected by our fears. It can be scary to pull our children out of school to begin homeschooling. It can, also, be scary to send our children to school, if homeschooling is not working. It can be especially scary for some families to choose an online school, when so many express opposition to them, whether the opposition is to the funding, or to the use of the term “homeschooling” by charters. In some cases, families stick with the familiar, even if it’s not working, rather than risk criticism or ostracism.

Although there have been many, many times when my fears held me back, I have tried to encourage my children to try new things, to meet new people, to ask questions when they don’t understand and to say what they believe. It is easier for my more outgoing daughter to do this, than it is for the one who tends to be quieter, but on many occasions the quieter one has surprised me by overcoming fears to attempt something I never thought she would. Often they have done things that I don’t think I would have had the courage to try. That is a good lesson for me, to “practice what I preach.” Many times, I have to force myself to step up to a new experience, but nearly every time, I am rewarded for my bravery with a new friend, a new skill (or the beginnings of one), new understanding and ever-so-slightly increased courage for the next time.

Sometimes when I am facing a scary situation, I try to determine exactly what it is that is scaring me about that situation. I sometimes talk to myself about the situation, as if I am explaining it to someone else. Often, as I am explaining why I am afraid to do something, I realize that my reasons are not really logical, and sound more like excuses. Often, this realization gives me just the boost I need to do what needs to be done.

It can, also, help to talk to a good friend about the situation. Often they can look at it more objectively, and advise you as to whether your fears are justified, or an excuse for not trying. Ask them to encourage you -- to be your own personal cheerleader.

Many people choose to make new plans or resolutions for New Year's, yet many of those plans and resolutions are forgotten due to fear.

So, face your fears with all the courage you can muster (even if you have to fake it for awhile). Ask yourself, “what is the worst that can happen, if I do this?” And “what is the best that can happen, if I do this?” Answer those questions honestly, and then make the best decision based on those answers. You will be on your way to a richer and more rewarding life experience, and your actions will inspire your children and many others to face and overcome their own fears.



“Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

“Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.” ~Brendan Francis

“There is much in the world to make us afraid. There is much more in our faith to make us unafraid.” ~Frederick W. Cropp