Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘reading’

Learning about learning

When I was growing up, and I saw some of my peers battle with learning disorders like dyslexia, I really did feel compassion for them. A bit.

But to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.

As far as I could see, those poor souls had their own strengths, and those strengths simply didn’t rely very much on the ability to read at all. I reasoned that not everyone could be academically brilliant (and I now know that true academic genius potential afflicts less than 10% of the population, so I was right ;)). It seemed logical to me that some of us would be good at book learning, and others would be good at other stuff, and all of these unique giftednesses (see what I did there?) would work together to make a nicely balanced, rounded world (ha ha, there’s another).

And it’s true. Each of us is uniquely skilled and these differences are what make us better as a community.

Having said that, at the very same time as I was having those noble, accepting, inclusive thoughts about my peers, I was also developing a philosophy of learning of my own. And this philosophy was based on how I learn best, and the kind of teaching I would like to give my own children one day.

The very teaching, as it happens, that I am giving my children now.

Here’s how it goes:

My philosophy of education in a nutshell

Only three things matter:

  • A strong, grounded moral compass and the tools for survival in modern society;

  • A firm grasp of mathematical concepts;

  • The ability to read.

Once you’ve got those, you’re unstoppable.


The ability to read is the lynch pin. I saw it as a kind of clockwork key: you instil the ability to read (and the love of reading) in the child in much the same way as you’d wind up a clockwork car. Then you let them loose. All knowledge in their path would be voraciously devoured. They’d be unstoppable. There’d be no avenue of endeavour closed to the avid reader, as long as there were words explaining it all out there somewhere.

Easy, huh?

And that’s how I’ve been focusing my efforts at teaching my girls. As long as I could give them a firm grasp of maths and an abiding love of reading, the rest would come naturally (since naturally we’d model a strong moral compass and the tools for survival in everyday life. *Drips irony onto the napkin conveniently placed next to the large serving of humble pie*).

It never crossed my mind – not even once – that a child of mine would not read.

I know just how it sounds and how it seems from the outside, because I was there, outside. Vaguely glancing in as I bustled on by but, honestly, barely even noticing the window I was passing, let alone understanding all the it implied.

I was afraid of the pitfalls and preparing myself for the challenges. I was scared of having a sick child, a dying child. I was scared of losing a child. And I was ready. I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers and turned my face towards the wind. I’d handle it.

But what of a bright, capable, incredible child with infinite curiosity and unplumbed potential, but without the simple tool to sate it? How can such a child learn? Especially when her teacher is such a closed-minded, one-track, and above-all distracted imparter of information like me? How will she progress? How will she make her way in the world when that way is barred by briars and tangles and weeds and thorns all shaped like letters of the alphabet and their cruel modifying punctuation marks?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that.

However, I am nothing if not determined. And fortunately the same is true of Goldilocks. Now that we have a better idea of what we’re up against, we can begin to hack a way through the thorny hedge and find the enchanted castle, filled with the magical wonder of knowledge lurking deep within.

We just have a dyslexic dragon to slay along the way. Wish us luck!


The Right to Read

I’ve written before about Goldilocks’ reluctance to read. Until very recently, it absolutely baffled me. Honestly, I anticipated that all my children would be voracious readers. They’re my children, after all. And Papa Bear reads even more than I do.

While I anticipated a number of potential obstacles and challenges along this parenting journey, reluctance to read was never one for which I prepared myself.

Which just goes to show.

But Goldilocks is a reluctant reader, and whether I was prepared for it or not makes no difference. It is what it is.

I confess that I’ve even gone so far as to convince my kids that reading LESS than an hour a day is a sure-fire way to get Alzheimer’s in later life, and the only way to ensure good mental health is by reading at every possible opportunity. Now, I don’t doubt that there may well be some study out there vaguely alluding to something along those lines, but I really don’t think the study I read could be stretched that far.

What has been puzzling me, though, is that she likes a lot of literary pursuits. She LOVES stories, and would happily listen to me reading to her for hours on end. She loves audio books even more. She adores literature in as much as she loves to be told the old, classic tales that make English such a rich cultural experience. And it’s not limited to English, either. She loves ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology at least as much as ancient Celtic tales, if not more so. She’s fascinated my Norse mythology, too.

Moreover, Goldilocks loves the rich depth of language. She loves to unravel the meanings and origins of words. She loves to delve into the proper use of grammar, and takes almost as much delight in correcting poor grammar as I did at that age (which, believe me, is saying something).

She can read pages and pages of data on the NASA space school site, and she’s read every single comic book in the house many times over.

So what’s the problem with books? I know it’s not something I’ve done to put her off. First of all, the body of evidence tends to suggest that stories and concentration and even broad vocabularies are not the problem. (She even understands King James Bible verses!).

Very slowly, like peeling week-old goo out of a Barbie Doll’s hair, the obvious answer began to dawn on me.

Goldilocks is dyslexic.

I think the biggest part of why I didn’t put two and two together before now is that we’ve actually had Goldilocks tested for dyslexia in the past. The educational psychologist ruled it out, and referred us to an opthalmic specialist to investigate vision-related reading disorders. Of which there were none.


Mama knows best, as the brilliantly sung Tangled tune asserts. And Mama surely does.

As always, my default reaction to any new thought or suspicion is to turn to Old Faithful: I Googled it. I found a number of symptom lists, detailed explanations, and incredibly useful online assessments. In every single case, Goldilocks scored 100% for dyslexia symptoms. She has them all. Every. Single. One.

So finally I turned to the Goldilocks expert herself, and asked Miss G what it feels like to read, and why she avoids it. She explained to me that the words seem to dance around a little bit while her eyes are trying to nail them down. They swim in and out of focus and even seem to change size. It’s like they don’t want her to know their secrets, and eventually nailing them down is just too much of a challenge. So she gives up. Comic books typically have larger type, and less of it, with supportive pictures to carry the story forward when the reading gets too much.

Frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not picking up on it sooner. For some reason I just thought she was being obstreperous because reading well meant so much to me.

Now I know better, and it’s time to work out a way to help her.

All suggestions are welcome!

Read Alouds Rock

I love to read. Everyone in my family, and everyone in Papa Bear’s family, loves to read. In fact, at the heart of my philosophy of education for eat least the last three decades has been the firmly held belief – nay, conviction – that when you’ve once learnt to read, no sphere of knowledge will ever be closed to you. There’s nothing you cannot know. And in this age of Google and online EVERYTHING, once you’ve mastered the ability to read and research, you really never have an excuse for ignorance.

For this reason, we have emphasised reading above every other educational discipline, since before the girls ever attended school of any kind. We were warned not to teach them to read too soon, as this would annoy the teachers and result in the girls being targets of their educators’ ire. This was terrible advice and I strongly advise you never to follow it if your children are still young enough to be imprinted with a love of reading. Start early, and never stop.

Even though our early efforts were focused more on a love of words and books than a love of reading, we nonetheless have read stories to Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood since they first came into existence – many months before they were even born. We’ve never stopped reading to them, and now reading stories makes up a significant part of our home school day.

Charlotte Mason’s method relies heavily on the use of what she calls “Living Books” for its success. These books are well-written works of art, written by individuals who took part in the even being described, or who have studied it so thoroughly that they can describe it as if they were there. We have been using books like this to study history, geography, literature and even some aspects of science. We read books about ancient mythology because they interest us, and morally uplifting tales like “What Katy Did” to build character (without the otherwise-necessary intervention of a faulty barn swing and four years of paralysis!).

We are very pleased with the results. While the girls are less avid readers than I’d like, they’re both fluent and capable readers. They love to hear and tell stories, they have rich imaginations, and they have remarkable powers of concentration and retention – especially taking into account the genetic challenges they’re supposed to face.

Jim Trelease is a dad who has discovered the joys of read alouds in his own family, and has created a whole site dedicated to getting it right. You can find out how to get the most out of reading aloud with your family, which books to choose, and the answers to most of the questions people usually have on this approach to education. Read more about what he has to say on the matter here.

Does reading aloud work for your family? What methods work best for you?

Dinosaurs and storybooks

As far as I’m concerned, if they’re reading, it’s a good thing. Agreed? So if DD#2 can only read Sleeping Beauty, but can read it almost fluently, that’s fine by me. I can hear about golden caskets and sealed invitations over and over, because my 6-year-old is telling me all about them. No matter that similar words in books about zoo animals, say, are illegible. We’ll get there.

I’ve always believed that once you can read there are no doors closed to you. You can do anything, be anything, know anything. You can find out anything.

This is why, if I find my kids reading instead of doing – well, pretty much anything else – I normally “let it go”. In other words, I pretend that they should be doing whatever task I had set, but they can carry on reading “for a little while”, since it is clearly so engrossing, and they’ll want to know how it ends, of course. It’s a trick, you see, so that they don’t think I’m too supportive of their disobedience. This is because:

a) I really shouldn’t encourage disobedience.

b) I want them to think reading the book was their idea alone, and let them maintain the pleasure that comes from clandestine activities for as long as possible. If reading is the “naughty” thing they do, that works for me. As long as they never really believe reading is “bad”. But we model enough addictive reading patterns in this house for that to be an unlikely scenario.

c) I’m at least as guilty of many, many hours of reading instead of – well, pretty much anything else. Who am I to judge, after all?

(Purists: yes, I know.)

So this afternoon I was delighted to find my eldest daughter reading a book instead of – well, pretty much anything else. And not just any book. A science book. With dinosaurs in. I subtly complimented her and obliquely encouraged her to continue without squelching her enthusiasm by actually approving too much. You know.

She looked at me sweetly and said, “Oh, I’m just trying to choose which dinosaur to be in the game. This one looks cool to me. Do you like it?”

And of course, I did.

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