How I (Never) Taught My Son To Read

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by Linda Schrock Taylor

Recently by Linda Schrock Taylor: Empty People Not Loaded Guns

So often I hear, “Of course, your son reads well. He has a reading specialist for a mother!”

My son does read with ease, taking in entire pages in what appear to be single glances. His 2nd grade standardized tests found that he was reading at the 11th grade level. (Of course, David was not allowed to check out chapter books from the school library until he became a 3rd grader because it was against school policy. See this.)

We kept the family cars supplied with clip-on book lights so darkness had no power to stop our reading. By high school, David would take 3-4 thick novels on each day trip…so he would not run out of reading material. Usually, all had been read before we arrived home in the evening. I kept a miniature encyclopedia in the car and he read every page, more than once. I smile when people say that David seems to know something about everything because well, he does.

But, I never taught him to read.

David learned to read without effort because he received four important gifts in life:

  1. Articulate, chatty relatives who were always discussing the past, the present, and the future; who talked about plans, books, people, animals, news, relationships, problem solving, mechanics, movies, television programs, experiences, and personal reactions to Life, from trivial to weighty.

  2. A family that traveled extensively to see new and interesting things which were photographed, discussed, and described to others: Wilder’s Little Houses; Caddie Woodlawn‘s home; ferries; lakes; rivers; mountains; zoos; aquariums; aviaries; caves; trails; historical markers, and more.
  3. Parents who began – soon after David was born – to read aloud in the morning, mid-morning, during lunch, before nap, after nap, in the car, in the living room, on the porch, at the supper table, in waiting rooms, while riding all the way to Colorado, while riding all the way back, to and from everywhere and at all the times in between; parents who ended each and every day with “Bath, teeth, and a couple good books.” PLUS
  4. A very wise day care provider who made one day of every week “Sound Day”. Prior to those days, parents led their children on treasure hunts through their homes to fill bags with “things that begin with the sound /m/” …or /b/ or /th/…on through most of The Code in which English is written. Mitten, mouse, mug, movie, even a picture of a moustache, were carried to “school” for group discussions that went like this: “Look! David brought his cat’s toy mouse. Mmmmmouse. Listen! The word ‘mouse’ begins with /mmm/. mmmmouse. The word ‘house’ does not begin with /mmm/ but the word ‘mouse’ does. Everyone say mmmmmmmmouse.”

After these 4 gifts of gold, David could easily recognize spellings-for-sounds in the thousands of words that he already knew and used. Those words flowed together into language and concepts which were already known, or were added to his knowledge base. The stage had been set and David required no other reading lessons. He is not unique. He just has a mother who understands that Language is the foundation for constructing a Life. Readers must have a variety of language tools stored in their brains which they then use to assist them in the act of reading. Words, concepts, ideas, knowledge, sounds, and spellings are the absolutely necessary tools for a Reader. A child who knows little-to-nothing will read little-to-nothing.

As a preschooler, David listened to the best in children’s literature, including chapter books like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Once of school age, he listened to the best in literature for young adults, and even to adult novels like James Oliver Curwood’s memorable Kazan and Baree, Son of Kazan. As a preschooler, David was not interested in trying to read the books himself, so I never had to worry that he might memorize sight words and so mis-wire his brain. He listened to sounds; to vocabulary; to themes; to language usage; to beginnings-middles-endings. He soaked up books. One day, when he was nearing 5 years old, he told me that he had decided to read a chapter book, and he did. Around the World In Eighty Days, in an shortened version, was the first book that he chose to read, then he was on his way to become a non-stop and lifelong reader.

The best reading lessons are those that teach language, vocabulary, and knowledge. One cannot read print without the ability to quickly and smoothly make mental connections between 1) things already stored in the brain and 2) the print on the page. A wise parent will make sure that their children’s time – and brains – are filled with information and experiences that will make connections between the Language of Books, and the Language of Life, simply snap, crackle, and pop!

The schools have forgotten – and now unfortunately refuse – to carefully teach the Code in Which English Is Written. How well can a person, who has never been taught the code in which music has been written, read music? To read English skillfully, both children and adults must learn the full Code for English: /b/ is spelled ‘b’; /k/ is spelled ‘k,’ ‘c,’ and ‘ck’; /f/ can be spelled with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph’; /z/ can be spelled with an ‘s’ or ‘z’; …and on through both the Simple and Advanced Code.

linda3 Look in your rearview mirrors, educators! You made a very wrong turn! DIBBLES and sight words are simply the left lane on a terrible highway! Please double back and correct your life-destroying errors. It is vital that a phonetic language like English be taught by methodically teaching the Phonetic Code for English. There is no need to blame parents or genetics or culture or poverty. Only the education establishment is at fault, with professors, teachers, and consultants pushing bad policies, fad-philosophies, and damaging curriculum offerings.

My mother, Doris Sneary Regnier, was indeed right when she said, “Children who manage to learn to read in today’s schools do so in spite of the teaching and curriculum.”

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a retired special education teacher; a reading specialist; and a former homeschooling parent. Linda recently finished writing her first book, which will hopefully be out by the end of the year. She has begun work on the second book in what will become a series.

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