Teaching a Child to Read

Reading is important. But, I’m not one to push kids into it. My first was reading at the age of 5 while my second just seemed to be unable to get the words together. Girl number 3 was a go-getter but wasn’t overly excited when it came to reading and daughter number 4 was at Korean preschool and could care less about English words on a page. My goal was to have them loving books and reading seriously by about fourth grade. The good news is, regardless of when they started or how rough it was in the beginning, they all read now.

Hanissa sees them reading. They read to her. I read to her. And she wants to read, too. She’s a perfectionist that is highly motivated. If you’re thinking, “This should be easy,” you’d be wrong.

Day one of first grade, she was excited. She was running around telling her sisters that today she would be learning to read. And then, she would be able to read their books. Her short list of books to read include The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and the Little House on the Prairie series. I’d tried to prepare her by saying it would take time to learn to read, but she wasn’t listening.

She’s been learning letter sounds, but today we start putting sounds together. “Let’s say each sound. r-a-t. Say it slow rrrraaat. Now, say it fast.”
We were on a roll. When it came time to say it fast, Hanissa shouted out “at” not “rat.” No big deal, I just told her that she left off the first sound. “Let’s go back and look at the three sounds again.” But instead of us looking at the sounds, she had a meltdown, complete with tears, kicking, and screaming. She had gotten it wrong and was sure that I thought she was a terrible reader. In between sobs I heard, “I’ll never learn how to read. You said I didn’t do it right.” Not the response I was expecting or wanting.

Having a child who feels it is necessary to prove her worth in every situation, doesn’t understand that mistakes happen and are acceptable in life, gets confused easily by culture and language, and struggles to explain her frustration all make for challenging educational moments. But, it was only the first day of school, surely things would get better.

Here we are, mid-October, and this week we had reading without tears. Finally. I was beginning to dread reading more than Hanissa. But, we had a breakthrough. It wasn’t in her reading ability, that had been increasing steadily, but in her ability to deal with mistakes. She sat down and reread the stories we had already finished together. She made mistakes and looked to me to help her. No tears, no defeatist attitude, just the joy of reading. I was afraid to blink thinking I might ruin the moment. And, it was a beautiful moment.

Hanissa is pretty confident that she’ll be moving on to her preferred reading list (see above) by the end of next week. I know the reading battle isn’t over. She still has a lot to learn (and patience is on that list). Even if more difficult days come, I’m thankful for the excitement that is growing in her and the progress in learning about life.


~ Regina

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