Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When Reading Becomes a Mind Game

I always thought I would want my children to be early readers. I remember being 8 and coaching my 2-year-old sister on her letter sounds, or 10 and making up worksheets for her to practice writing at 4. I think it improved my handwriting but didn't have much effect on her.

Then I grew up and had children. I started reading and thinking about early childhood development and education, and changed my mind. I decided to neither deny nor force learning on my child, teaching her what she asked, when she asked. In Europe (at least our part) preschool and kindergarten are about play-based learning with no pressure to learn to read before first grade (fall 2014 for us), so we haven't had any outside pressure to step up the academics.

Then K asked me to teach her to write when she was less than 2. So we started a very slow introduction into formal learning, mainly using things like Kumon workbooks. They're great for the very young child who wants to 'do school'.

We eventually got to the point where K knows most/all of her letters and can write simple words by sounding them out, but she couldn't read by sounding out (or by word recognition). I wondered if she had some kind of block or if she just wasn't developmentally ready for it yet.

Then she started developing this kind of love-hate relationship with learning and reading in particular. She would passionately insist that I teach her something, wanting to keep going and going instead of just doing a short session, and then she would turn on a dime and say she hated learning and never wanted to go to big kid school, ever, not even a little bit. Often this happened when she made a mistake, even the tiniest mistake.

She went from yearning to go to big kid school (first grade) to regularly saying that she is afraid of big kid school and doesn't ever want to go. She wants to stay in preschool until she grows up and enter the workforce straight from there.

She finds it difficult to articulate why she is afraid of big kid school, but the main factors seem to be that she will not be able to learn to read, the other children will know more than her, she doesn't want to make new friends and she doesn't want to sit down at a desk and not play.

I believe other complicating factors are a strain of perfectionism, high expectations of herself and a tendency to be easily discouraged. Not to point fingers, but the Slovak has also been known to make dramatic NEVER statements when frustrated. And, of course, high expectations and emotional intensity also describes me as a child, though according to my mother I didn't really lose my temper, I just wouldn't give up until I mastered whatever I was trying.

I first decided to slow down the 'reading lessons' (occasionally we would sit down and practice writing or reading some simple words) and focus on me reading to her instead, since she seemed to be getting more and more anxious, but that didn't work. It still came up at odd times and she would break down during the day or at bedtime, saying she would never learn to read and didn't want to go to school.

Then it occurred to me that maybe by not teaching her to read properly I was just dragging things out and contributing to her anxiety, allowing her to build it up in her mind as this impossible, terrifying thing. Maybe instead of backing off I should just TEACH HER TO READ now so that she would see she can do it and stop being afraid.

That's my current theory.

I had already ordered Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and brought it back with us, because several people, including Perogyo, recommended it specifically.

When we got home from our trip I decided to make time every day (with a jealous 15-month-old and as little as a one-hour window between Apo coming home and bedtime, this is an issue), buckle down and go through the book one lesson per day.

The first day K breezed through Lesson 1 with no difficulty and wanted to do the next lesson right away (as usual). I said no, let's keep it short and just do one per day. She lost it. She went in a heartbeat from 'please can we do more, it's all I've ever wanted' to 'fine, I won't do any more lessons ever, I don't want to learn to read, I don't want to go to big kid school, I don't like words, I only like dressing up and playing and I do like writing because that's different, but not reading...'

It was not a very coherent rant but I did like the part about not liking words. I talked her down from the ledge and she cheerfully drew a few pictures before putting the book and paper away. The next day she skipped in from being outside and asked if we can do our lesson now please.

Yesterday we did Lesson 11 and I have to say - it works! I can see the logic in the way things are presented and within two or three lessons, when you start actually sounding out two to three letter words, K could do it. She had a couple of specific difficulties with the concept of sounding out and the book addresses these straight away (probably common problems then). She still gets frustrated sometimes but not as badly and she is very encouraged by her success when she reads words on her own.

I hope to report in three months' time that we have finished the book and K is reading with confidence!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails