Awhile ago, a lovely reader asked me a question, “How do we transition to self reading when the level of listening exceeds the level of reading?” Great question and one that I have struggled with myself in the past.
My first child learned to read at age 5 and was reading very well, independently at age 6. “This is GREAT!” I thought to myself. There was really very little transition. Way back then, I had loads of time for read-alouds anyway, so there was no problem.
Things were similar with my next child. He took longer to become an avid reader, though competency came quickly.
Our third also learned to read at about age 5, but she seemed to need more time to be able to tackle more challenging material. This was when my own struggle started. With five children now (two younger than her), it was more difficult to read-aloud. In fact, it was almost impossible. What was I to do then if I couldn’t hand her the Ambleside books and await precise narrations?
I struggled over this for a long time. My husband, who works in the public-school system, said to me, “If she isn’t reading really well, yet, I think that should be your primary focus since all other skills really hinge on reading well.” Huh. Very true.
I decided then that I would do several things. Until a child was reading challenging material quite well, I would:
- pare down her Ambleside year until it was manageable for all of us (without guilt, which was the hardest part)
- read-aloud only one selection each day from her Ambleside year
- have older children also help with additional read-alouds, if possible (but if this was not possible, I would stick with just one, guilt-free)
- provide her with an opportunity to build her own reading skills with two things: short selections of material that was somewhat challenging for her and material that was well within her grasp
Finding simple reading material that is not too dumbed-down can be tricky. For our youngest children, I like Christian Liberty Press Nature Readers. While the difficulty level is nowhere near something like Madam How and Lady Why, they meet a need that is different from the needs met by challenging literature. The need for mastery.
I find that my children take off with reading not by conquering especially difficult books, but by not struggling for every sentence, by feeling competent and being able to read through something fairly quickly.
When I teach our little ones to read sometimes it is so slow going that by the time they finish reading “Mac sat on Sam,” they have forgotten what they have read. Yesterday, my five year old wanted to know why I kept getting her to practice reading ‘the fast way’. I demonstrated to her what happens if we have to dig for every single word by reading a sentence one word at at time very slowly. Neither of us could follow what it said. Then, I repeated the sentence ‘the fast way’ and it was easy to comprehend. She understood exactly what I was getting at.
So, while beautiful, challenging literature is extremely important, the content will be lost on children who are still emerging readers if they have to do too much digging. For me, getting through those transitional years involves paring down my expectations, and combining challenging read-alouds (or having the child listen to good recordings) with easier material.