Learning to read shouldn’t make you cry

February 7, 2023


Harrison was a smart little toddler. Before he could speak, I would ask him to locate different countries on a globe, and he found them every time. Most adults couldn’t do that. 

He walked at 14 months old, which for babies was on the late side, but we were confident his little friend Matthew wouldn’t have to pull him around in a wagon at college. We knew Harrison would eventually walk on his own, and he did. 

Thank goodness, Harrison’s stunning cuteness distracted me from worrying about his physical milestones­­, speaking as his mother, of course. 

My husband and I read to Harrison and his brother every day and provided them with a rich language environment. This is one area where I know my stuff.  For credibility purposes and to make my mother happy about college tuition . . . I earned an advanced degree in early childhood and elementary education with an emphasis in reading education. I also worked, as a college student, in the campus Reading Lab and taught people of all ages to read. I knew what I was doing. Math? Not so much, but reading and language, I was in the game to play. 

So, you can understand why I just about fell over when Harrison came home from the first grade and asked, “Why did they take me out of class and make me go with the dumb kids?” 

Whaaat? He may not have been tactful nor politically correct, but he was telling us what he knew to be true. We discovered Harrison had scored low on a reading test, so the reading specialist, without notifying us, had pulled the low-scoring students out of class so she could work with them. It sounded practical, but Harrison was A) smart enough to know he was being labeled, and B) clearly on track to read, but just wasn’t ready. 

The very wise first grade teacher agreed the labeling was more harmful than the tutoring was helpful. All Harrison needed was a bit more time, so she thankfully put a stop to him being removed from her classroom. 

Parents don’t often realize; schools want to offer special resources but need qualifying students to receive grant money to pay for them. In other words, the special area teachers need to justify their jobs. 

First day of school

In time, Harrison started reading just fine, actually, better than fine. By the third grade, he was winning awards and ranked as one of the top readers in the school. The only time he was ever reprimanded in 12 years of school was for reading a book when he was supposed to be listening to the teacher and again for not tucking his shirt in his pants in high school. What a kid. 

Punishing a child for not reading on a school’s schedule, is like spanking all the children who haven’t lost teeth by Christmastime. 

Would we place all the 9th grade boys who aren’t yet shaving in a remedial class? 

What about grouping all the skinny girls together in the 10th grade and make them attend an after-school tutoring class? 

Reading is a natural pattern reached in varying ways on different schedules. Back at the Reading Lab, I taught a 40-year-old man to read. He was finally ready. Brains are as varied as feet, faces, legs and hands. 

I was reminded of Harrison’s experience when I recently found a little girl crying because her first grade teacher told her she was “in big trouble” for not being able to read aloud in front of the other children. I spent time with this girl on a weekly basis and knew her to be developmentally on track otherwise, but she didn’t have anyone at home who would read to her. She was learning by herself. Making children uncomfortable about something that isn’t their fault makes them hate school. This is especially true for boys, who often read and speak much later than girls. 

Do some students need extra help learning to read? Yes, they do, but I’m not in favor of singling them out in front of the other children. They already know who the red birds and blue birds are.  There’s no need to illuminate it every day. The stress and anxiety caused by over-testing and over-analyzing our children is shameful. 

Once the basics are learned, novels, comic books, instruction manuals and love letters can be read with ease and joy. 

Harrison would tell you the same thing – if he would put the book down long enough to notice you. 

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