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. 

Falling in Love…with Books

When the student is ready, the master appears. 
 – Buddhist Proverb

We have been reading to Bounce since birth.  He has chewed on books for breakfast, he has written on books at naptime, we have read countless stories at bedtime and finally, in Kindergarten he began to read them himself.  The process from beginning reader to, “I love this book and I can’t put it down until I have read every last word,” can take years.  During this time, like a sapling, the young reader must be constantly nourished and encouraged.

This school year, 3rd grade, I decided that my first priority for Bounce was learning to love reading.  If your student is a reader, with easy fluency, expansive vocabulary, and is endlessly enticed by the written word then, and only then, they can learn ANY subject.  Without the ability to read fluently, every subject is a struggle.

Bounce began the year as an adequate, steady but uninspired reader.  We took a multiple step approach.  My favorite way to develop early reading skills is through reading aloud.  When your child reads aloud you can really hear the words he/she knows and those they stumble over.  The child must also anticipate the story as they read so the inflection is correct.  Clear diction becomes necessary if others are to enjoy the story.

So how do we accomplish this in our busy household?  With the Greatest of Ease.

Bedtime on the top bunk Bounce is assigned to read all of Scooter’s bedtime stories, aloud, to Scooter.  Scooter and Bounce both love this system.  Scooter loves to pick out his favorite books and will happily choose 10 to 15 books for bedtime.  No self-possessed parent would be able to read 15 bedtime stories every night.  However, Bounce is happy to do all this reading.  The longer he reads, the longer they can both stay up.  The more books they read, the more time I have to get the rest of the family organized.  Everyone wins, Scooter learns to love stories and Bounce, well, he is just getting better and better at reading each night.

Don’t have a younger sibling handy? How about a neighbor or cousin?  Elementary school children can also read aloud at library programs designed for toddlers.  Ask your local librarian for suggestions.

Bounce and I also read You Read to Me, I Read to You books by, Mary Ann Hoberman.  These are perfect for developing readers as the words are slightly more complex but the rhyming couplets can help the reader “guess” difficult words.  These books are alternating read-alouds.  Parent and child can share the reading and enjoy the story together.

Meanwhile, I choose a more difficult book and read this aloud each night to Bounce.  The purpose of this book is to create interest in complex plot lines and encourage understanding of more sophisticated grammar and vocabulary.

This year we read Pinocchio:

https://homeschoolhappymess.com/2011/10/18/pinocchio-a-captivating-cautionary-tale-for-read-aloud-bedtime/

We have also read A Christmas Carol, unabridged, by Charles Dickens and Wind in the Willows, unabridged, by Kenneth Grahame.  I am NOT a fan of abridged books for children.  Abridged books discourage the later reading of the original book.

My suggestion:  If a child is not ready to read the original do NOT read a picture book version, do NOT read an abridged version and most definitely do NOT see the movie.

The child should have the joy of reading the real story when they are intellectually ready.  If they already know the plot of every story what will motivate them to struggle through a difficult text when they are older?

 Treasure Island is an excellent example.  The original version of this book, by Robert Louis Stevenson, uses challenging vocabulary and the story is presented in an unusual manner..  The story, however, about pirates and adventures at sea, is very exciting.  This is a book that is definitely worth the struggle.  The student who reads this book will be much better prepared to read other challenging material.

Surprisingly, another book that fits perfectly into this category is Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.  Many children have grown up watching the TV version of this book.  Few children have had the opportunity to enjoy the original.  This book, and the others written as sequels, utilize difficult vocabulary and is an excellent read-aloud book to encourage children to pay close attention to the story and to understand the meaning of words.

Another excellent series for developing word appreciation is Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter.  Children are captivated by the darling illustrations, but even more important is the fact that these little tales are literary gems.  Each story has a defined plot, clear moral and an unapologetic use of formal English.

So where are we now?  Bounce has irrevocable fallen in love…with reading.  He reads day and night and has progressed from the Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne, a great first “chapter book” series to Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, to Raold Dahl, the mainstay of the elementary school reading experience.  He has read Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvelous Medicine.   Currently he is reading an all-time favorite, Matilda.

Bounce says, “My favorite books to read are books about reading (Matilda)”

What better statement could I hope for?  I am thinking that soon he may be ready for Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke.  This book is the ultimate children’s book about books.

For more on Learning to Love Literature by Happymess:

https://homeschoolhappymess.com/literature-art-is-the-looking-glass-through-which-we-see-our-lives/

Let Me Count the Days:  Homeschool is teaching a love of books by reading books that are worth loving.

Pinocchio: A Captivating Cautionary Tale for Read-Aloud Bedtime

We are not talking about the Disney reincarnation of Pinocchio, a brightly clad young puppet closely resembling Mickey Mouse, who hops about from one misadventure to another.  We are talking about the original, unabridged, version by Carlo Collodi.  I recommend the 1988 Alfred A. Knopf edition illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. The translation is lovely and the vocabulary is challenging but easily understood in context.  What really makes this edition so compelling for young and middle level readers are the illustrations.  Roberto Innocenti’s illustrations are breathtaking.  These are not beautiful pictures.  They are morose, macabre and slightly disturbing.  Children are completely enthralled by the images.  The pictures perfectly complement the edgy dangerous mood of this cautionary tale.

Roberto Innocenti

Here is the original block of wood from which Pinocchio is carved.  The wood maker is shocked to hear the wood crying out in pain each time he attempts to chop it into bits.  In great haste he gives this wood away to Geppetto who will carve the famous puppet from this magic wood.

Roberto Innocenti

Despite Pinocchio’s repeated bad behavior he does have a repenting heart and this is an endearing characteristic.  Here Pinocchio begs the Showman to take his life and spare the life of the Harlequin.  The Showmaster spares them both and Pinnochio has another chance to improve his behavior.

Pinocchio sets off with the best intentions and plans to reconnect with his loving father, Geppetto.  Unfortunately, he is accosted by the wily fox and cat who entice him into burying his gold pieces in the Field of Miracles.

Roberto Innocenti

Let us just say that this encounter leads to nothing but profoundly poor fortune.  Fortunately Pinnochio’s luck will prevail and his ever-repenting nature will continue to procure him a new chance to get on the path toward righteousness.

Roberto Innocenti

Having finally procured his freedom, Pinocchio is once again on his way to see his father.  In his hurry and hunger, having recently escaped from prison, Pinocchio stops to steal some grapes.  He is apprehended and forcibly employed as a guard dog for the local farmer.  His excellent job as an honest guard dog causes the grateful farmer to set Pinocchio free.

Bounce and Scooter reading Pinocchio

This is one of the best read-aloud bedtime stories.  Each night Bounce and Scooter hurry-hurry-hurry to get into bed so we can continue with the Pinocchio story.  They immediately identify with Pinocchio and his bad-boy antics.  They are not disturbed by his predicaments.  They have confidence that he will learn to behave himself and will be redeemed by the end of the story.  Pinocchio, like all  classic tales, has a clear message and honestly reflects the emotions and actions of real-life boys and girls.  This is an eminently satisfying tale of the battle between right and wrong.  Bounce and Scooter know that right will prevail, but it is so much fun to watch Pinocchio easily being mislead in the meantime.