The Chat: A circuitous route to reading

Reading, in particular my kids’ disinterest in it, has dangled many fingers of doubt across my homeschool journey. We started with curricula from Oak Meadows, and the pace of their beautiful fairy tales while we drew each letter painstakingly with beeswax crayons felt just right. Already we read books at the table after breakfast, as many as it took for the eggs to disappear, and this felt like a natural extension. But instead of completing the remaining curriculum, we headed outside to explore nature, wandering our neighborhood or visiting nearby hiking trails. Hours outside was its own curriculum, and I joined outdoor play groups, even started my own. We’d head home for lunch, with more books, and sink into naps with the exhaustion of the truly tired.

Quiet time became the hour after lunch when we needed rest, but nobody napped. I added CD players to each bedroom and requested library audiobooks, music CDs. Afternoons included play sessions in the yard, always there were books on the blanket alongside water and snacks.

In short, I have filled our life with books, and my kids’ appetite for stories is insatiable. Our Audible membership, combined with library audiobooks, keeps a story going in the background as we Lego, draw or drive. Morning to night, it’s books.

Imagine my surprise when nobody showed an interest in reading. “You read to them too much,” I was told. I shook it off. I was reading at four, largely because my mother read to me so much. While my husband and my sisters didn’t read until 8, I felt certain one of my children would follow my capable footsteps. They should. I read even more than my mother had. I’m a person who downloads reading lists from Read-Aloud Revival and our Moon Club and adds titles to my library holds each month. We max out our checkouts and we read them.

Each year I turned the calendar to May and sighed with increasing disappointment. Nope. Even last year when Rosetta showed interest and we learned capitals and lowercase letters, nothing. Wilder decided he only liked capitals and he wanted to learn to spell things. Okaaaay. We instituted a spelling “test” every week at their request.

Wilder’s an excellent speller, and spends only a few minutes reading the words before he can write them out. Yet if anyone asks him whether he can read, he says no. Less pressure that way, I believe, as nobody immediately says, “Read this!” So we stick with his weekly spelling test and a daily reading practice that he’s chosen. Hopefully one day, he’ll admit he can read. Now that he’s 10, everyone looks at me in horror when he says he can’t. “There is a difference between ability and motivation,” I’d explain. But I am so tired of feeling like a negligent homeschool parent.

My kids’ interest in reading has grown this year, largely in part to our lockdown from coronavirus. We’ve been home more than ever before. What’s left? Online gaming. Wilder scrolls the Minecraft chat, sometimes daily, exchanging messages with his friends in Hangouts and deciding when and what to play. Rosetta’s friends are less tech savvy.

One day Rosetta asked me to turn on the chat in her Roblox game. Oh fine, I thought, internally rolling my eyes. Now she’ll be running back and forth, trying to figure out what everyone is saying. That definitely happens, and it’s annoying! But pretty quickly she started to read it. Just the small words at first, but then recognition set in. Despite all the misspellings and the quick scroll of words disappearing off-screen, she tries. “You should be glad I play this,” she told me, “because Roblox is teaching me to read.” I felt sad that my contributions were discredited, but that’s parenting.

A week later, she asked ME to teach her to read. And I didn’t even cry!

Now, this girl also knows the letter sounds and how to put them together. She can read Bob books with me and alone, and recognize certain words everywhere. She’s already on this path, but this is the first major “school” thing she’s asked me. I bought her All About Reading, Level 1, that same day and we’ve begun this journey together.

Yes, she does roll her eyes when I bring out the books, probably twice weekly. But I see her practicing on her own and how many other words she’s beginning to sound out, even when she finds them in the chat. It’s powerful to have a choice and to be empowered to follow it. If she’s learning to read in a more traditional way than I expected, oh well. It’s on her timeline and at her pace, and I’m excited to have a reader in the family at any age.

I’m most excited that my kids have grown such unending love for stories, something I’ve managed to instill with all of my reading, something we’ll always share.

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