It seems like every parent I talk to that is considering homeschooling the early grades is worried about reading. So much stress is placed on us, as parents, to get our children reading well as young as possible. I have two kids, one that read novels at 6 and another that didn’t read picture books until 11. Both are raised in a home where I read to them every day, where they see me read on my own, and where reading is fun and useful without being forced. I refused from the beginning to force reading upon my children, believing instead that it would come when they were ready. That gets incredibly difficult when your homeschooled child is still not reading at 10. Other homeschoolers made comments, extended family offered advice, and I even had a lady at the library tell me that my son couldn’t read (she was surprised that I didn’t know!).
Our son started getting a bit self-conscious about not being able to read when he was 10 so we started doing some reading lessons. We tried a dozen different “methods” and the best one for us was The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading. It was suitable for an older child and had him reading sentences in the first lesson. We never did more than one lesson in a day and only did a lesson when he was willing. It still took almost a year for him to get comfortable reading but neither of us felt any rush. My early reader learned to read by memorizing picture books that were read to him over and over again, by reading comic books, and by giving me random letters of the alphabet and asking me how it they sounded. My late reader does not like reading (or being read) anything that he’s heard before and his only interest in the alphabet was when he made a book of the letters. He may never love books the way his brother does but he never has; he has always been more interested in Lego and action figures. While his brother sits at his computer writing a novel, he makes stop-motion Lego movies and draws in his notebook. Forcing him to be an early reader would not have made him love books but it would have guaranteed that he never would like books. That was not a risk we were willing to take.
My early reader has a beautiful vocabulary and loves to read and write. My late reader has an incredible memory and an eye for detail. He’s the one we ask when we can’t remember where we saw something or which movie a certain song was in. There are advantages to reading late – you have to develop a strong memory because you don’t have the advantage of reading something repeatedly. My kids played Monopoly together long before the younger one could read, and while the oldest read the cards each time he played, the younger knew the names of all the properties by memory. I’ve had people tell me that those skills don’t translate into useful career skills but they’re wrong – how many of us struggle to remember someone’s name? Or see someone at a party and stare at them trying to figure out where we first met? Any salesperson will tell you that memory is a huge part of being successful.
The second advantage of reading late is that readers will see words before anything else. My youngest still doesn’t see the words first – he will see colours, design, spacial relationships, and pictures before his eye is drawn to words, whether he is in a car or reading a comic book. Perhaps he will always see those things first but even if he doesn’t, it will be easier for him to notice them. It also means that out of all of us, he would have the most success if he moved to a different country where he doesn’t speak the language. While the rest of us will struggle to read signs, he will use other cues to get what he needs.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether your child learns to read at 3 or 13. They are who they are. What matters is that they are loved and encouraged to be the best version of themselves that they can be.