A Little Unobtrusive Help with Reading

Many years ago, I taught my first child Felicity to read so quickly and easily, I was sure I was a brilliant homeschooling mother. What was everyone else doing wrong? Teaching a child to read? Easy!

Or so I thought.

Then Duncan came along and the word ‘frustrated’ became part of my everyday vocabulary. He could remember the sounds of letters, but running them together to form words was a slow and laborious process. I suddenly realised I hadn’t taught Felicity to read at all. She’d been ready to read and really had done all the work by herself.

Unfortunately, (big sigh!) I wasn’t a brilliant homeschooling mother after all.

Two of my seven homeschooled children have been ‘slow’ at reading… not really slow… just slower that the average mother is comfortable with. Both children seemed to want to read so I went looking for something to help them.

Both Duncan and I had got fed up of trying to read simple, not very imaginative texts. Duncan was impatient to read real stories so I asked him to choose a book he really wanted to read. I didn’t make any comment about its level of difficulty or suitability. Then we settled down to enjoy…

I’d start reading and when Duncan wanted to take a turn all he had to do was tap the page and I’d pass the reading over to him. If he got stuck on a word, I’d say the word for him (without requiring him to sound it out) and then continue reading until Duncan again wanted to take a turn. He really enjoyed reading this way. We could read complicated books that engaged his interest, he didn’t have to worry about sounding out words, the story flowed at a quick pace and we didn’t get bogged down. Best of all, Duncan loved deciding when it was his turn to read. His face would light up just as he was about to tap the page. All the pressure was gone. Duncan and I just enjoyed our reading times together.

It all sounds so simple but did sharing our reading help?

Every two years we need to be registered as homeschoolers. When Duncan was six, an authorised person (AP) came to visit and look at my plans for teaching him. It didn’t matter Duncan couldn’t read at that stage. It wasn’t expected. This was his first registration.

Two years later, as Duncan’s 8th birthday arrived, I was just a tiny bit anxious about his second imminent registration visit. After two years of homeschooling, wouldn’t the AP expect Duncan to be reading fluently? I had decided I would have to look very confident and tell the AP how much Duncan was enjoying his reading and how I was sure independent reading wasn’t too far off.

Then the day before the visit, I noticed Duncan was reading our current book. “Can I read to you, Mum?” And he did… pages and pages, all by himself. Everything had fallen into place. My son was an independent reader. The AP never even suspected he’d been a fluent reader for such a short time.

After that experience, I thought I could tackle any reading problem. (ha ha) Then Sophie came along. Her problem was even more basic than Duncan’s. She couldn’t even remember the sounds of the letters. I did some more research and…

I discovered a book where each letter was represented by a picture. The letter was modified until it looked like something starting with that sound. For example, an ‘o’ looks like an orange, a ‘b’ looks like a bat and a ball, an ‘m’ could be a mountain, ‘s’ is obviously a snake…

I liked some of the picture and letter associations but I did modify a few. ‘l’ became a long stick of liquorice, ‘h’ became a horse, ‘r’ was a roof, ‘w’ represented the wings of a bird.

Sophie would look at the letter, imagine the associated picture, think: “Horse”, and say, “h”.
It didn’t seem to matter if the pictures exactly matched the letters or not. Close enough was good enough. ‘p’ became Polly with plaited hair and ‘g’ was a girl. 

It didn’t matter I can’t draw very well. Soon Sophie knew her sounds.

Why do we get so worried about our children’s reading? Do we think our homeschooling will be judged on our ability to teach this essential skill? Sometimes I think we bow to outside pressure and force our children along before they are ready.

Thinking back, did I offer my children extra help they wanted, or did I just want to push them along because of my anxiety? To be honest, I think it was a bit of both.

Mothers do sometimes get worried, but at the same time children do want to learn to read… so maybe a little unobtrusive extra help makes all the difference.

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  1. Reply

    I am loving reading your posts, I am in early days of educating at home. My children are 5.5, 4, 2 and 8 months. Sometimes just getting through the day can seem challenge enough 🙂 I am affected by the comments of those around me (especially my mum who tells me they should be in school) and those who like to 'test' my children to see if they know what they 'should' know at that age!
    I am trying to learn from your years of experience. I sometimes get agitated and frustrated when my oldest is reading early readers with me, I've already discovered that sometimes she reads really well and is in the mood and other times she is not in that head space and I just cut our reading short and tell her we'll try another day (for both of our sanity)
    My 4 year old Felicity is learning alongside Lacey quite well so I asked her the other day if she'd like to learn to read, her answer, "no thank you mummy, when I'm a little bit older" and we left it at that 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom, it is invaluable to me and my family.

  2. Reply


    Other people's comments can make life difficult, can't they? I imagine it would be so lovely to have the support of your family. Could you share some positive articles or books about homeschooling with your parents? My parents have always been supportive because they homeschooled my younger brother. I don't know if they understand unschooling though. We never go into the details of exactly what we're doing!

    Reading is such a tricky issue. For some reason we all seem to get anxious about it, and it's relief when our children get the hang of it. Maybe we don't want anyone saying, "Isn't she reading yet?" We have to prove our homeschooling is working. I got caught up in that at one stage. Also, we know the world opens up when a child can read. It's hard sometimes to be patient. I stepped back from the whole issue of reading when I realised I was getting frustrated and it was affecting my relationship with my child. And every time I did decide to leave reading for a while, my children surprised me by suddenly announcing they could do it. It all fell into place at the right time. Pushing didn't help at all.

    Your Felicity sounds like a very sensible 4 year old, a real delight!

    Thank you so much for your kind words about my posts. I am glad if something I share is helpful. It was lovely to chat!

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