One of the nice things about having four such different children is gaining a sense of perspective. I often hear (or read) parents espousing one particular way of doing something as the best, or only, way. As far as I can see, life is never that black and white - it is lived in the shades of grey in between. I almost called this blog "parenting in shades of grey", but recently that would have taken on a whole new meaning . . .
At the start of August A (now 6) decided it was high time she learned to read. She has known most of the letter names and their "typical" sounds for a while, but the task of putting that knowledge into practice seemed too hard (in her opinion). A while ago I bought a set of synthetic phonics books (from the Book People) - Read Write Inc by Ruth Miskin. A had been stuck on the first book of the first level, having shown a brief flare of interest when the parcel arrived, but not wanting to put any effort in. Suddenly, on August 1st, she decided it was time . . . now here we are three weeks later and she has read twenty stories in level one, ten in level two, five in level three and the first of level four.
She learned the phonemes (sounds) by a lot of hard work, but the putting them together has come easily - once she was ready. It would be really easy to extrapolate from this that - as a family - we use a synthetic phonics program and lots of practice. But that's just how A has done it . . .
Go back ten years, to when L was learning, and you will find we did things differently. Sort of. We started with letter sounds workbooks, but nothing ever stuck, we tried phonics based reading books, but it was not working. We tried "Peter and Jane" books - which use a whole word recognition system - but that got us nowhere. We tried words stuck to things . . . that didn't work either. I looked at reading schemes, phonics programmes, high frequency word lists, THRASS work, none of them seemed to have helped. But in the end each of them did help - a little. L is dyslexic, and he found matching the sounds to the letters hard work. Some how - through years of picking away at it, he learned. Each system added a tiny bit to his understanding, and eventually he managed to work it all out. Now at 14 1/2 L likes to read national Geographic and Focus - he likes non-fiction, and cutting edge knowledge.
If we look at the next child - M - we see a different way of learning all together. M likes routine, likes to know what is coming next, likes things that are linked. We played games to get the sounds sorted - M picked up a lot of them listening to L doing things - really we just cemented what he suspected. We read jolly phonics books, and did finger phonics activity books (that we had been given). We worked through a "whole word" reading scheme from the 70's that my mother gave us (1 2 3 and Away. The Village with Three Corners books), but it wasn't a quick thing. Whereas A has picked up reading in a matter of weeks, M wasn't confident until early last year (9 1/2 ish). He *could* read, but it was still sounding things out and slowly. M still prefers to be read to (now 11), but he is beginning to take books out with us to read if there is going to be waiting around, and reads silently and much more quickly.
Son number three - J - learned to read when no one was looking. And then he hid the fact he could read. When we started home edding I read a lot about how children would just effortlessly, magically, learn to read as long as you read to them and showed them you valued reading. Our home is full of books and my husband and I read voraciously, we have always read to the children. With the older two boys I had come to the conclusion that *maybe* some children just pick up reading, but not many! My small sample showed a lot of hard work was needed. J wasn't interested in doing workbooks or worksheets. He didn't like songs or rhymes. I was struggling to work out a way in. Then I realised he was reading instructions to games on the computer. And reading his DS games. And choosing TV programmes after checking the listings . . . but still he wouldn't read a book with me if I asked him to - we'd have wriggling, chair rocking, flopping on the table, but no actual reading. I took a deep breath and backed off. It was hard work to do that - the experience with the older two was so different, but I managed it. I realised that each time I tidied his room I'd find a pile of books hidden under J's bed - a good sign I hoped. I watched sneakily and yes, he was reading. I don't know how, and I don't know when, but some time before he hit 7 J had learned to read.
So, what does this mean for other people? Well . . . teaching reading has to be reflective of the child. With L there were physical difficulties to overcome and that needed time, encouragement and hard work. With M there was no magic fix - only sustained effort. For J backing off was the right thing to do. For A facilitating and having good materials on hand was right. There is no one true way. No magic effortless guaranteed path. Watch your child, go with what works, and have fun :)