Child-led Remedial Reading

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When my third son finally stated at age twelve that he DID want to learn to read, and then still couldn’t seem to get the hang of it after four or five months of trying, I applied some brain power to the problem, (Parenting 4 children has sometimes meant that  certain issues can just slip to the back burner while other issues just naturally scream for my attention) Son 1 and son 2 had both quickly mastered reading once they were about 11, so I just had not been too worried about son number 3. Once I consulted with the other parenting experts like my friend Sophie, mother of 6 some of whom have dyslexia and other issues, I began wondering about my son’s vision. I remembered my own childhood experience with vision correction which included a “brock string” and so on. I sat down with my son and  held a pencil close to his face pointed at him. I asked him what he saw. He saw two pencils. I made an appointment with the vision specialist that the mother of six had highly recommended. We took our son there where he was diagnosed with 20/20 vision but also double vision. Who would guess?

We spent the next year driving to the weekly appointments in a city over an hour away. If we had had medical insurance, it would not have covered these visits. Our son was pretty good about doing the assigned exercises each week which of course included a “brock” string, and he really liked the therapist who was assigned to him. She was zany and appreciative of my son’s generally positive attitude and snappy sense of style. Together they worked methodically on closing the gap between what most of us see and what my son saw. Later sessions involved slow reading of easy-to-read children’s books. My son put up with this pretty patiently, but it was difficult to find any books with which  to practice reading at home once he had read every Dr. Seuss book in our home and local library. He loved those as the illustrations are excellent and the text is unarguably brilliant. The rest of the genre of children’s easy-to-read literature left him pretty unexcited. One more story about a toad and he would have given up.

After I had ransacked our extensive collection of children’s literature for the hundredth time and come up with nothing acceptable to him, it was desperation that inspired me to invite him to go look for a book he wanted to read in Barnes and Noble when we there one day to pick up an SAT prep book for son number 2. Son number 3 disappeared into the children’s section and came back about 5 minutes later with Horten’s Mechanical Mechanisms by Lissa Evans. It was a chapter book about a 10 year old boy and it looked dense and challenging for my poor remedial reader, but it had beautiful elegant pen and ink illustrations at every chapter beginning. I thumbed through it and asked my son if he was sure he wanted to try to read it, was there not something with more pictures maybe about natural science as he is very interested in that also. He was adamant that this looked like a good book.

At home, we began reading, only a page a day at first, as it took about 10 torturous minutes to get through a page.  The story was compelling. It was about a boy who has just moved to a town that his family originated from and where a mysterious magician Uncle once lived. The boy finds one of his uncle’s mysterious “mechanical mechanism” and follows a message that he gleans from it into a whole scenario with a bizarre cast of interesting characters who revere the lost Uncle.

The book is incredibly perfect for my son’s first essay into chapter book reading. Not only does it have the beautiful illustrations at chapter headings, but it has many typographical illustrations of the cryptic messages that the child must decode, and various illustrations of signage that are part of the story. It is funny. The boy’s father is an intellectual who uses the longest and most complicated language to say anything. He calls a short walk, a “brief perambulation” for example.  It could not be a better book for a 14 year old boy struggling to read his first novel on his own. I suggested that he read a page and then I read a page. I explained that this is the way it would have been happening in school, with students taking turns to read through a text out loud. He refused, stating that he wanted to read the whole thing. On the one hand this is great, but on the other, when the story is so good, it is excrutiating. We are up to two pages in a sitting. He is reading a little faster and I was thrilled yesterday when he sounded out several long words like “confidently” and “cylindrical”. He can still get stumped by something like “bower” or even “wishes”.

I post this mainly by way of encouraging other parents to trust their children’s judgement as much as possible, as I really and truly could not have wandered through the Barnes and Noble myself and found a better book for him.

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5 thoughts on “Child-led Remedial Reading

  1. Teaching reading is such a misunderstood concept given the push to make sure all are reading by kindergarten without ever considering emotional readiness let alone special learning circumstances. Watching Akiva approach reading – in Hebrew mostly – what’s interesting is how unimportant it is to him and isn’t that the most critical element? It’s gotta matter to the reader and then, as you pointed out, finding the right reading material makes a world of difference. I have a friend who’s written books for her daughter with special needs so she’d have interesting, age-appropriate stuff for an older reader who has learning challenges. Glad I saw the post! Now I’ll save it to my reader.

  2. Beth,
    Yes, it was their lack of “understanding why it mattered” as you put it, that stopped me from pushing the older boys, neither of whom had extenuating learning circumstances. It was so much more efficient to wait until it “did matter!” I attribute a lot of what goes wrong in the Classroom to kids who just are not ready to understand “why it matters.”

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