Teaching Scooter to Read: A Cautionary Tale

For the 8th time in my life, I am embarking upon the initially impossible task of teaching a young child to read.  Not memorizing, but actually decoding the letters into real sounds and real words with meaning.  I will be honest. It is daunting.

We began months ago with rhyming words and consonant recognition.  This initial step was successful but we were not able to make much headway, so like a good progressive mommy, I gave Scooter time off to grow and develop.

Months later, as we were preparing for Kindergarten, I was called into the new school’s office for a “special” meeting.

“We are delighted to be offering Scooter a spot in our school,” the earnest headmistress assured me. “However, Mrs. Happymess, it has come to our attention that he may need some assistance learning to read…”

“Oh, of course, Miss Headmistress,” I smiling assured the brusque woman addressing me, “I can certainly help Scooter as he prepares for Kindergarten.”

Well, since those fateful words have been spoken, Scooter and I have used every learn-to-read program I can find, and we are still just mastering the consonant sounds.

To be sure, Scooter, as Dr. Seuss says, “Can read little words, little words like if and it.”  Actually, he can read Mat, Pan, Can, Jam, And, The End.  That’s about it, and I generally put that skill set into the memorizing rather than decoding box.

So when my husband and I recently went to Parents Night at Scooter’s school and were asked to write him a note, I struggled to compose one that I thought he could read.  It went something like this,

Dear Scooter,

I can see you like school.  We can be sad to miss you.  And do you like to eat jam with no ants?  Me too.  The End.

My husband was quite mystified.

“What the heck kind of note is that to write?”  He asked suspiciously.

“One he can read,” I answered defensively.

And there you have it.  Months and days and hours of effort and still we are learning the same lesson each day.

Our pediatrician smiled wisely and said, “They all develop at different times and there is no point trying to teach them beyond their capabilities.”  Truer words were never spoken, and yet she may not be acquainted with my tenacious tendencies.

Scooter is not without his charm.  In this picture he has copied the Bob Book cover and carefully written “Pre-Reading Skills,” not withstanding the fact that he has no idea what that actually means.

 My favorite learn-to-read books have always been the Bob Books.  They are simple, uncomplicated and truly tell a viable tale with very few letters.  Each story adds just one or two new words and your child will soon be able to gain confidence “reading” these short stories.

Once Scooter can read approximately 20 – 30 words I will begin to “write” my own little stories for him to read.  For me, this is always the really “fun” time in a child’s reading development.  They love reading the little, silly stories about themselves, their friends and family.  We are definitely not there yet.

This year, owing to needing additional material for Scooter, I have used Hooked On Phonics Pre-K and Kindergarten levels 1 and 2.  These are nice sets, easy to use and quite appealing.  Scooter enjoys the words and graphics.

Scooter loves interaction.  He is fascinated with the “sounds” this computerized D for Dinosaur makes.  I am wondering, Who is that knows what a dinosaur sounds like?  Scooter enjoys the “Dinosaur Dance.”

 I have also found some great FREE online reading programs.  My absolute favorite is Starfall.  www.starfall.com

This program offers a complete introduction to the alphabet, beginning word construction Pan, Can, Fan, etc. and then small stories using each new word and sound set.  Additionally, Starfall has some very nice introductory number and math programs.

 There are countless electronic learn-to-read programs but it still always comes back to the basics.  Words and Books.  After all our lessons, Scooter and I return to the basics of reading together.

 Scooter loves stories and I show him how the words I am reading are right there on the page.  Ultimately, I evaluate his reading skills based upon true decoding.  Can Scooter read a new word in a new context because he can sound out the letters and recognize the word?  Can he read a story and understand the meaning?  We are still a long way from success but I am confident we will get there.  Meanwhile, Scooter is learning that I love him and I love words and together we are loving the words that make up the stories that we always enjoy reading together.

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschooling is the opportunity to practice eternal patience.  For each child, it is their first beginning. 

6 Responses

  1. I appreciate the honesty of your story, but even more I’m glad to know that you are struggling with him for his education. A parent’s interest plays a huge role in a child’s motivation to learn and you are doing a great job!

    • Thanks for your support and your ability to read between the lines. Yes, teaching Scooter has been a struggle but he is not aware of it. Scooter believes we are just enjoying the same lessons again (and again).

  2. My sister-in-law is a teacher. She has taught Kinder to 2nd grade. This year will be her first year to teach pre-school kids that are three year olds. She is a bit nervous, but very excited.

    I told you this is my first year to do homeschooling in a previous post. Mine are 3 and 2 years old. Our school days are just the basic stuff to get them ready for Kindergarten. But I am extremely nervous with it all either way. I am not even sure if I have what it takes to do homeschooling but it is my hearts desire. So I figure this is a great way to try it out! This way if I can, I will and if I can’t they will be somewhat ready for public school. (wink)

    Anyways, she has been very encouraging and has said the same thing that the pediatrician has told you. They learn when they are ready. It is like when they learned to crawl or to walk, no matter how many times we try to show them, they still go at their own pace. But she said to me that all we put in front of them is absorbed in one shape or fashion.

    So with that being said when when your son really takes off in reading he will do really well! And by the way, I love the letter you wrote. I bet he felt so proud that he could read what it said. And really that is what is the important thing right now, building his confidence so that way he does not lose heart and keeps trying. Way to go mama!

    • Lisa,
      Thanks for all your comments and your insight. It is true, we certainly can not “force” our children to learn, nor do we want to. But thanks for reminding me that when Scooter does learn, all the previous work will turn out to be worthwhile.

      You are doing a great service for your children. Whether or not you choose to homeschool them, you are teaching them today and everyday. By teaching your children daily you are actively demonstrating that you love them, you love learning and you love to see them learning. This thoughtful approach will benefit them for the rest of their lives. I wish you the best, Allia

  3. http://www.cookie.com

    Here is another site sort of like Starfall if he gets bored and wants something different. I found it on an elementary schools website along with starfall and some others. ha ha I went through all the local schools in our district and found tons of resources. (wink) I have 2 older boys, 14 and 17 years old, and I remember the schools offering tons of things for the kids to do when at home.

    • Lisa,
      Thanks for this link. It looks excellent. Scooter certainly needs a variety of sites. He keeps memorizing the sequences of words as opposed to decoding the letters and sounds. A new set of words will be helpful.
      Many thanks,

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