I confess

I have done something that I never thought I would do, in a million years.

I have bought some components of.. a proprietary reading scheme.

Not only that. It’s the very same reading scheme (Oxford Reading Tree) as the older three were made to use in school and quite similar to the one I was put through as a child too. (Probably Peter and Jane, some of which I’ve also used for Lyddie.)

And I always hated reading schemes. Instead of using that ghastly process, I was going to rely on our room full of books, the enthusiasm of some of the adults here for reading them, and the children’s freedom to browse them and learn to read by osmosis. So what happened?

Well, first – when Lyddie was about three – I read John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education (no, we’re not American but it was still an eye-opener) and this particular section made me wonder whether I would be doing Lyddie a disservice by relying on look-say and osmosis to enable her to read.

The thing was though, that I knew for a fact that leaving them to it does work, because we have some family friends who learned that way, and I was lucky enough to witness them doing it. When the girls were about nine or ten, they were asking to be told what the traffic signs said on journeys and you could see them starting to piece it together and work out for themselves how the language is constructed. Within a few months of that they were easily reading epic novels, with enthusiasm.

This was inspiring to me because I’d also known many people who had been structuredly taught to read from an early age who would never read an epic novel, nor want to. (Though I didn’t include myself in that group because I was both taught early and I always loved reading – except for the dreaded reading scheme books!)

Out of my older three children who were taught to read at school with the Oxford scheme, only one was an avid reader a few years ago, although interestingly all three now are.

I really hoped all of my children would love reading, because it was often the only thing that made my childhood bearable. My saviour: to be able to escape into a book. But then I realised, as the older three settled happily into home education, that they didn’t have anything odious to escape from, so perhaps they didn’t have the same incentive to become so immersed in the printed page.

But then reading Gatto made me wonder again as to the best approach of all the available options, for us. Having the ability to decode words into their component sounds is important – or at least very useful, isn’t it? I was musing along these lines during one of our weekly home ed meetings around that time (and I also blogged my thoughts) after which someone brought us their old Letterland machine. If you follow the ‘reading’ thread from the drop-down menus in the sidebar of my other home ed blog, you’ll be able to see how we progressed with that, and the making of some tactile letters and so on, then doing a lot of blending the sounds together into words.

But I wanted to stay involved in the process. One of the things I hated about proprietary schemes is the sense one gets of delegating the teaching/learning process to the scheme. It seemed to steal some of the creativity and individuality of the learning process. We did some Letterland, but we avoided Jolly Phonics (and glancing at it in Borders yesterday made me quite glad that we did.)

So when a well-meaning relative (ex-teacher) turned up with some Peter and Jane books for us, my heart sank. They brought back very unhappy memories of my own school days in which, a read since the age of three, I’d been forced to read every single book from every single level of that and several other schemes, before being ‘allowed’ to choose anything to read ‘for pleasure’. It had felt like torture to me. That’s why in our house at that time, Peter and Jane stayed on the shelf for quite some months, if not a year or more.

“We can do this in a fun way,” I was thinking. “We don’t have to resort to Peter and Jane. Lyddie can choose for herself what she wants to read because she doesn’t have to comply with an asinine school system.”

So, she chose. She chose Peter and Jane.

“Do we have to read these?” I complained. “There are lots of other fun stories on the shelves..”

“Yes, we do,” she said. “The others have too many words on the page. These look a lot easier.”

She was quite right. We’d kept trying to read (I’d kept trying to inspire her to read for herself) some of the other books we had, but it was the number of words on the page that put her off every time. She became overwhelmed and overfaced and lost the ability to focus on each individual word.

“Oh well,” I consoled myself as we plodded doggedly through Peter and Jane. “At least it’s not the dreaded Oxford Reading Tree.”

The older children had those books from school, when my hatred of reading schemes was confirmed. But again it was probably the lack of choice and personal involvement that annoyed me. The regimented, impersonal detached procedure of sending every child home with every book at every level in any old illogical order (I think the Oxford books really need reading in the right order, especially the Magic Key ones, or they don’t make sense.) regardless of the child’s actual ability, much less their preference, really irritated me. Factory schooling. Horrible.

I thought I’d seen the last of Biff and blooming Chip and I was very glad to have done so. Until…

Well, we ran out of Peter and Janes, and there just happened to be some of the basic Oxford books at the supermarket last week. Lyddie wanted them. We bought them. She then raced through them all in about ten minutes flat, and said “I want some more of these.”

And that is how we found ourselves in Borders yesterday, buying one from each level (I’m so glad I’ve got another, younger child to help to justify all this buying of books). Lyddie raced through them all last night, only slowing down a bit when she got to level 6 but even then she could still read independently by decoding and blending the sounds of the words on which she was stuck.

I’ve since ordered some more of the level 6 books from Amazon, and I reckon that we’re only a few more Oxford books off her being able to read about half of the children’s books on our shelves. And there are a lot of those to get through.

So. It wasn’t the schemes that I hated, as much as the lack of choice involved in the way they were delivered and the tick box mentality that was required to get through them in a school system. On their own, for an autonomous child, the schemes are actually really useful. Amazing.



Filed under Reading

2 responses to “I confess

  1. you’re so right – I’ve read that Gatto piece too I think. What I’ve experienced and read, and confirmed here for me by your post – is that, as ever, all children are different and (therefore) it’s worth trying different methods/styles until/unless they find/state the one that works for them and they’re comfortable with.

    Interestingly, I taught myself to read with Peter & Janes before I ever got to school, and LOVED them – we had lots with the orginal illustrations. I’ve seen the Biff & Chips ones (from when my two eldest were in school for a bit) and was supremely unimpressed – I thought the stories dull and badly written and constructed, the illustrations AWFUL and the whole things UGLY!

    Wig’s trotting along on the DK star wars readers at the mo, he loves them!

  2. Tech

    we’ve enjoyed peter and jane here in the past, and they were mine as a child and i loved them too 🙂

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