I remember when my oldest child, Ethan, who is now 17 years old, was a tiny thing and I thought about everything I was going to teach him. I was going to do it right, too, I tell you!
I’d armed myself with all my books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Books like Better Late Than Early and the annotated version School Can Wait, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, Home Grown Kids, and many more.
I was ready!
And, wait I would. Because I wasn’t going to force my children to learn to read.
Then, while I was waiting, Ethan did something unexpected.
He taught himself to read.
But, seriously! The only thing I did, quite selfishly, was purchase a LeapPad for him to play with in the car. In fact, I wouldn’t let him play it anywhere else other than in the car because I didn’t want him to a) lose the parts (there were books and cartridges that went together) and thus have nothing to do in the car, or b) get bored with it and thus have nothing to do in the car.
After playing with the books, he would ask me these questions – out of the blue – like, “Mom? Why don’t you pronounce both these letters [referring to vowels]?” Pointing to the A and the E in the word SAVE.
“Oh, that’s because the second vowel is silent so that the first says its name.”
Several days later, he’d challenge, “Mom? This word doesn’t follow the rules,” pointing to the word SIGHT. “The letter I says its name even though there’s only one [vowel].”
“Nope,” I’d answer. “That’s because there’s another rule that says…”
Or, “I guess that one breaks the rules,” in the case of most of the sight words.
We walked our way through the phonics rules in this manner — me explaining one, Ethan identifying either one that followed a new rule or a rule breaker. That’s what he called them, “rule breakers.”
And, just like that he was reading! Before the age of six! By not-quite-eight years old, he was reading chapter books.
Boy, did I think I was good.
Actually, I kind of felt like a fraud at this homeschooling thing. I was supposed to be teaching him, but instead he was managing quite well without me.
In retrospect, I was so glad that he was my first child and not Lowell.
Lowell was a completely different story.
Lowell wasn’t reading by the time he was eight. He showed no aptitude by the time he was 10. At 12, I started second-guessing myself, second-guessing my methods. And then I would look at my son who, had he attended traditional school, would have been diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, SPD, with Asperger’s and dyslexia.
And, instead of being labeled, instead of believing himself to be “disabled” or stupid or a whole host of other less-formal labels, my son was a little oblivious — blissfully oblivious to what others thought of him. I was the one who fielded questions or looks from those who thought he should have been reading long before then.
My poor mother was almost beside herself. She’s a very in-the-box thinker, and she was not so certain about this whole homeschooling thing, at least not the way I was going about it. Unschooling, indeed!
And then one day…he was reading.
I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t because I sat him down and worked with a curriculum. It wasn’t any one specific thing I did. Except that I waited.
I waited for him to find a reason to learn to read. And write. They came hand in hand since his motivation to read – and write – resulted from playing games on a server with his friends. The only way they could communicate was by a rudimentary instant messenger program.
My oldest daughter, four years younger than my youngest son, wasn’t reading at the age of six, or eight.
This child! Oh, I have to laugh. THIS child was the one that the other homeschooling mom at our church — one of the leaders — had to corral and explain to her that it made homeschoolers look bad when she went around announcing that she didn’t read because she was homeschooled!
My kids are long on confidence, short on nuance.
And so I waited with her too. Of course, it didn’t help that our youth pastor’s wife is a fifth-grade school teacher…who doesn’t appreciate the fact that my children are late readers…and that I do nothing about it.
Waiting has had a different feel to it this time. It feels a little like a subtle chess game punctuated with awkward silences where conversations aren’t had. Even when it’s just she and I, standing there, pretending that we aren’t not crazy about each other. It’s the silence instead of the “Good morning,” or “Happy Sabbath.” It’s dodging into rooms off hallways and seeing her do the same.
And, I smile. Because fundamentally, I know that she believes strongly in what she does. And, I know that I do too. I guess as long as I avoid the pitched battle, I should be thankful, no?
Until one day, my daughter knew how to read. Just like that. No fuss, no muss.
I used to tease this daughter, “Wait a minute. You can’t be texting. You don’t know how to read!”
Predictably, she would just roll her eyes, smile, and say, “Oh mom…”
I have one last girl child who is almost 10 years old. She’s not reading.
Since we now live in a neighborhood replete with little girls her age and younger who are all reading with ease, she’s made lots of noise about wanting to learn how to read. And so, I do what I’ve done with all my children. I encourage her. I purchase reading programs, just like I did with Ethan all those years ago. And, I’m not above bribery!
I’ve told Laurie that once she learns to read, I’ll start her in voice lessons. She was interested and excited for precisely one day.
I guess I’m just sitting here writing with a firm knowing in my chest that, one day, I’ll look up and this girl child will be holding a baby of her own. She’ll start on a journey where she’ll decide to allow her children to learn at home. Or she’ll homeschool them. Or they’ll head off to school each morning.
But, one thing I know: She’ll be reading long before then.
And, I’ll wait. I’m not in a hurry.
A couple of months ago, I took the kids with my mom up into the mountains to look at the fall colors. We went over a pass called “Guanella Pass” just outside Denver.
As we were driving, Mom and I were chatting about the name, wondering if it were an early explorer to our state.
“Lowell. Google it on your phone.”
Several moments later, he began reading about the history of the area.
In that moment, I had one of those times of clarity. I liken it to the commercials where the action stops. The man or woman has leapt in the air during a rainstorm and everything freezes. The raindrops hang suspended as does the main character in the scene.
Suddenly the camera swings around to a different perspective — from the side and behind to directly in front — and a second later the action continues.
I had one of those moments, with my mom, lately a believer, and my three younger children driving along a pretty mountain pass.
“Mom,” I said quietly as Lowell paused mid-sentence, “Lowell’s reading.”