Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Reading is for the Dogs
One of the biggest challenges for Kiki in school has been learning to read. She's always LOVED books, and could sit on her own for hours and look at them. When she was younger, she'd often sit and "read" the books, looking at the pictures and making up her own story to go with them.
When she was only three, she started reading many words on her own. Most were simple words like cat, dog, etc. But she even could read some color words, such as red, blue, green and yellow. She'd point to words she recognized out the car window and shout them out as I was driving, beaming with pride that she could read. So I figured reading would be a piece of cake, no? WRONG!
While she was in pre-kindergarten, her teachers introduced some reading and even sent books home to read for "homework." These books mostly had 2-3 words per page, or were really familiar books the kids basically memorized, such as "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" Some were photocopied with blank pages in them and the kids could actually draw their own characters to match the story. We were encouraged to read these books each night. Kiki loved doing this and wanted to read more. So I bought a set of Bob books, which are basically little simple readers, similar to the Dick and Jane series we used when I was a kid. She liked them, but the stories were BORING and just didn't hold her attention and she lost interest.
So we tried some I Can Read Books, which are much harder books to read for a not-yet Kindergartner. She couldn't read most of the stories and immediately she wanted NOTHING to do with learning to read. I encouraged her, helped her sound out words, gave her all of the gentle, positive reinforcement needed, but she dug in her heels and refused. I didn't want to push, she was just getting ready to start Kindergarten after all, so I let it go. Why rush? After all, I didn't learn to read until first grade!
I also assumed that when she started Kindergarten, the interest would be renewed, but it wasn't. She loved Kindergarten, but reading was definitely not her favorite part. Instead, she loved math, doing science type projects, and of course the typical favorite of most school aged children, recess. Granted, she still loved books at this age, but she preferred to be read to instead of reading to us. When she did read to us, she quickly became frustrated and fussed and that was the end of it for the day. So I just didn't push and we read the readers sent home from school but did not attempt to read much else, unless she wanted to.
Eventually first grade rolled around and the reading thing became even more of a nightmare. The kids were tested and put in reading groups and this cycle of learning and frustration started all over again. We continued reading the books sent home from school, I found all kinds of wonderful websites focused on reading online, we did reading scavenger hunts, ANYTHING to motivate her to want to read and hopefully ease her frustration. We struggled the first several months of school and I thought she would be stuck at the same reading level forever. We encouraged her, at her teacher's suggestion, to read to other people besides us, like her sister, or a friend. And if she really wanted to, she could get a favorite stuffed animal or doll and read to it.
Finally, in January, it all clicked for her. Kiki began getting more comfortable as she learned more words. She started having spelling tests at school and I really think that helped her get over the hump. After it all came together for her, she took off with the reading. Suddenly she realized she could read regular books and even words in chapter books and her interest was renewed. She once again loved reading to us and that continued through the summer and now through second grade.
After many tries at this reading thing, we figured out the big source of the problem. Kiki has always been the type that wants everything to be easy , and expects to know everything right away. When it doesn't work out that way, she becomes frustrated and shuts down. I've learned this is the case with everything, not just reading. When learning something new, whether it be tying her shoes, riding her bike, even learning to play a new game, if it was at all a challenge, she balked and wanted nothing to do with that particular thing for a long time. Once she figures it out, her confidence builds and then she realizes she can do whatever it is and masters the skill.
I am so happy because Kiki now LOVES to read and is now reading chapter books and learning the joy of absorbing herself in a book. I am amazed at the detail she retains while reading. She can often relate an entire chapter, right down to the exact words in the story.
One of her new favorite subjects to read to is her puppy, Laci. Kiki started reading books to Laci last week, and the puppy has proven to be quite the attentive audience. I really think this will just help boost Kiki's confidence more. While she enjoys reading to us, she knows she can read to Laci without worrying about being corrected, which she absolutely hates. Laci seems to enjoy this routine as well, often lying next to her when she's reading and cuddling with her.
I've recently learned that there are special programs where kids are paired with dogs to practice their reading skills, and that such programs greatly improved the confidence of these struggling readers. The dogs are trained to sit and listen attentively to the child read. Since I have seen this work right before my eyes, I am inclined to believe it is a highly rewarding and effective experience!