Monday, July 02, 2012

Breaking The Reading Barrier

For nine years, I have been fretting about my son reading. All of my unschool friends just assured me that it would happen when it was time to happen. Last night, my son transformed from a “reluctant reader” to an enthusiastic reader.

It’s one thing to believe that you trust your child. It’s quite another to put that into practice. Anyone who know me, also knows how much my son amazes me. But, he has been something of a challenge.

He is not a challenge in the traditional meaning such as rambunctious, temper-tantrum kinds of ways. It always been his patience with himself and his own process that has been a challenge. He sort of arrived on this planet with a personal philosophy he articulated around the age of two. “I do by self.”

And he is quite firm about following this little mantra. He has a way of doing things. And when he is asked to deviate from his personal way of understanding things, he patiently, calmly and cheerfully makes it clear that it won’t work.

I used to call it, cheerful non-compliance. I would sit him down to do work sheets or visit educational websites designed to teach him how to read. And he would cheerfully sit there and hum or sing and take about 15 minutes to write the letter “A.” Eventually, I would become so frustrated that I just concluded the lesson.

It has been a long journey. A journey of trying to get out of the way of his willingness to learn. As far as I knew, I was doing everything “right.” I introduced books at an early age. I offered to read to him frequently. Sometimes, I just insisted that it was “reading time.” Then one day, I realized he didn’t like to read what I thought was excellent reading material. I realized, I was reading him the wrong things. An exciting bed time story was not a classic folktale, it was non-fiction. Dutifully, at bed time I would read to him the life cycle of butterflies, cell structure or nocturnal animals.

Then - we met a librarian who found kinds of fiction he liked. And I thought, “Awesome! We are on our way!” And we were reading fiction again. And sometimes, he would pick up his favorites and mull over Then, I re-defined what reading to him meant. I read him video games hour after hour until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Eventually, he started to just learn to read those things to himself.

But still he showed no inclination towards picking up a book and reading it himself. So, I thought, I am not doing this properly. I got a tutor. And she started working through it. She experienced the same cheerful non-compliance. But, that wasn’t going to stop her. Still, he performed for her. I carefully monitored his likes and dislikes. Still, he showed no interest in picking up a book and reading it to himself.

Fortunately, I had experience in the “I do by self,” attitude. My daughter read well and often at a much earlier age. She read her first chapter book after an afternoon of reading. Then, when I stopped because other things needed to happen, she defiantly announced, “Fine, I’ll just read it to myself.” She did. An enthusiastic reader was born.

Recently, we’ve been reading the works of Nnendi Okorafor. At first, I thought, this is it! This is our “!AhAuthor.” We were reading more. It opened doorways into an infinite amount of study he wants to do. Our whole list of “learning objectives changed in the course of a few books. And then I found “Long Juju Man,” and thought, this is the break through book. Close, but, it laid a foundation for being open to his own “Aha! Book.” What Miss Okorafor did for him is let him know that there are unique voices out there saying very cool things which he will only ever discover in a book. (I learned this because I tried reading the Harry Potter Books and The Lightning Thief Series to him, but the movies were good enough. He just preferred to read the supplemental materials...the original myths. The movies delivered all the modern day acoutrements to making them relevant.) Mis Okorafor's work was fresh and more importantly spoke to his soul.

Part of this journey has been realizing and accepting that my son has strong tastes. He has always had distinct literary preferences. He has a way of doing things. My job is to pay attention.

But, it was my husband who finally put all the puzzle pieces together. Our son has been reading “pinyin” since he was four or five. He has been reading music since around that same time. He has a way with patterns and numbers. He often writes backwards. Sometimes in mirror. He has a preference for anime. So, of course, the breakthrough book would be Manga. A book read backwards with lots of pictures and dialog.

And when I was done reading to him for the evening, just like his sister, he cheerfully said, “I’ll just read it myself, if that offer to stay up and read in my bedroom is still okay. That is what he did. Now, he wants to get the next book in the series.

Here is where patience and observation and preparing a child to be ready let me know that it is okay to trust my children. It is not my job to judge what they are reading. It is my job to encourage a supportive climate for reading and provide all the necessary building blocks which help them achieve their goal . Ultimately, they will find their path.

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