It often feels like the job of teaching kids to read is a lot like teaching kids to ride a bike.
First, there are the tricycles and bikes with training wheels -- much like helping kids learn the alphabet and basic sounds that letters make.
Pretty soon, you've removed the training wheels and you're running along behind your kid (nearly passing out if you're in as good shape as I am) and cheering him or her on -- much like the encouragement that comes with helping them sound out whole words and then nice, easy sentences.
Finally, you let go of the bike and stand there in the street watching (and catching your breath) as they go riding on their own, still a bit wobbly, but clearly, no longer requiring your hand on the back of the seat. Once a child is reading sentences, they're going to come across a word that takes them an extra moment to sound out or ask for help on (wobbling), but overall, they've got the mechanics of reading down and now it's just practice, practice, practice.
In our house -- like most home schools, I'm sure -- our kids do a lot of reading. They enjoy it even. Nothing gives me quite the same pleasure as listening to our children reading (or watching them, if they're doing it quietly) and reflecting on the part I played in helping them do that. Not only in helping them with the mechanics of it, but helping them discover the joy that reading can bring them in life.
If a child can read, learning anything from that point is much, much simpler. If a child loves to read, that's all the more the case.
We have five children and they are at five very different stages of reading.
S has been reading since before we knew her, but we have seen her grow in her ability and gravitate from a child who avoided reading to one who longs to read whenever there is a quiet moment. She prefers mystery books and Christian teen books. But she's always happy to pick up anything lying around if there is a dull moment.
H was slow to start reading, receiving early lessons in his kindergarten class and first grade until he was pulled to be homeschooled. He didn't really catch on until about second grade and then he took off like lightning. Now he reads at a high school level and he's only in 6th grade. Amazing! He loves history and stories of fantasy like The Hobbit (which he read in a couple days; did I mention he's a fast reader, too?).
Z was super fast in learning to read. Ironically (or perhaps not) he was also super fast in learning to ride his bike by himself. He was four when he could do it without training wheels and I think I only had to hold the back of his seat like three times. But back to reading; he was a natural.
Z's in fourth grade and he probably reads at about a typical fourth grade level, but I think the only thing that really held him back was his eye sight. After a year of headaches and watching him tilt books to one side and close one eye, I finally thought to take him to the eye doctor's. Sure enough, he has terrible astigmatism and 20/100 vision. Poor kid! Now with glasses, I'm noticing that when he reads aloud he's doing it a little quicker and sounding out long words with a little more ease and success. So I'm sure he'll be right up there with his big brother in no time. Wish I'd caught the eyesight issue earlier though.
J -- I know I've mentioned it ten times now -- proclaims that she doesn't know how to read. And for her, she'd rather just take random guesses at words based on first letters than actually sound them out. But a funny thing has been happening since the beginning of the school year. She suddenly realized that while she doesn't like to try reading, she really, really wants to write stuff. So she's kind of learning to read by teaching herself to write.
I hear her in a corner sounding things out and writing them phonetically. Very cool. While she doesn't like to be caught in a mistake while trying to read, she doesn't seem to mind if I help show her the correct spelling of things that she's written. She really would rather have the written stuff right. And then she's remembering it for the next time! So cool. She practices constantly, too.
We'll make a reader out of her yet.
Then, last, but not least, is O. O has always blown me away in his ease of learning anything. I don't know how so many people -- caught up in his weaknesses of speech and development -- could not see through his behindness to see that in spite of everything, he learns new things so darn fast! And, not only that, but he's persistent. If he doesn't get it on the first try, he'll continue trying again and again and again, without concern for what others think about him, till he gets it right.
He was the fastest kid we potty-trained, both at night and in the day. He was the first to teach himself to cartwheel, handstand and to flip a skateboard up with his foot to catch it in his hands. He does these all really well, too. We've been reluctant to take the training wheels off his bike because he is pretty fearless and doesn't always check for traffic and I afford some extra safety by having a rule that kids with training wheels can't ride in the street (only on sidewalks). I'm the one holding him back from riding without the training wheels, I don't doubt he could do it in a flash.
Now his style of learning to read has been mostly about memorizing. The sight words on our Word Wall: he's got them down pat. The little minibooks we practice learning to read in: he's got those memorized, too. He can read without even looking at the pages! Ha. I noticed he was starting to get a little frustrated today because I gave him another minibook and he didn't want to try reading it because I hadn't read it to him enough times for him to memorize it. He doesn't want to sound things out, he only wants to pull from memory.
So somehow, I've got to teach the kid that he can memorize how letters sound and how letter-combinations sound ... but he wants to hurry up and just ride! So for a bit, he still needs his training wheels on his bike till I can help him catch up with important things like slowing down to check for traffic and in reading, he's going to need me for a bit to help him slow down and sound things out so he can read and not rely just on memorization.
But whatever pace we do things, the coolest part is that I get to be the main one here doing it with them. God gives me the strength and the wisdom and somehow, in the end, everyone rides.