Interest Led Learning

This phrase says so much to me. It's the reason I sent my first two to a charter school instead of the local public school and why we eventually chose to homeschool. It's a concept I dreamed of when I sat through hours and hours of boring school as a kid myself, even then I knew it could should be better. And it's an idea I have to remind myself to follow when the doubts creep in. FIMBY's post today struck a cord with me. So, I thought I'd share one of our experiences with Interest Led Learning too. I've mentioned it before, here's the whole story.

By the time we started to homeschool, our two oldest had finished 2nd and 3rd grade at a public charter school. They both did well in almost every area, but after Christmas break of that last year, we were told we should consider holding back our 2nd grader because of her reading level and the impending MEAP test that kicks off 3rd grade. My daughter, wanting very badly to join her sister and cousin in the 3rd/4th grade class the next year, worked really, really hard and improve her scores. But, the toll that all that work had on her love for reading and the fact that she now saw herself as "stupid" crushed me. And, she still wasn't that great of a reader. 

We knew by the end of that school year that our kids would not be going back and I chose, with much hesitation and self doubt, to not push the reading thing.

Her teachers, only hoping for the best for her, had instructed me to keep her working hard all summer. To be sure and keep up the pace they had set at school or she would surely fall behind by the beginning of the next school year. And, because 3rd grade transitions from learning to read, to reading to learn, if she did, she would struggle in all subjects.

But instead, she rode her bike and found bugs in the yard and chased her little brother and played on the swing set and took walks to see the horses and fought with her little brother and explored the beaches of Lake Michigan and not once, not even once did she pick up a book. I'll admit, this worried and shocked me. She was my fairytale girl, my one more chapter please mom, girl. She LOVED stories. But, that summer, she hardly even asked to be read to, her love for books and stories was smothered.

By the time fall rolled around and cousins and friends were heading off to school, and we weren't, I was understandably stressed. We would be moving soon and I had 4 kids home, 3 school age who should be doing something productive every day, right?  And neither she or her younger brother were reading "at level."

The requests to be read to had returned at least, and I found myself reading out loud multiple times a day. So, I decided to try setting up times for my struggling reader, and the others, to read to me. We weren't very consistent, I didn't like nagging them to do something I thought should be enjoyable, and by the time we were settled in the new house I was the only one reading out loud.

I decided once again, with much hesitation and self doubt, to not push it.

My oldest joined a book club at the library that winter, they would read a novel, then meet once a month to discuss and do a craft. She loved it and her little sister decided she wanted to join too. We got her the book and, on her own, she decided to read a little of it to me each night. she worked her way through one chapter a page at a time, one page a day. It was slow and she was struggling.

One day she decided to figure out how many pages she'd have to read each day to finish in time for the meeting and when she did, she realized there was no way she could do it. I was worried this would discourage her, that she'd feel defeated and give up, well she did, on this book anyway. But then she started asking me questions.

How did her big sister read so fast? How could she learn to read faster? It wasn't about being better or smarter, she just wanted to finish a book.

I tried not to say too much, I pointed out how much her sister read, how she'd take a book to bed with her every night, how she'd come to the dinner table with one hoping to finish a chapter before Daddy told her to put it down. How much she "practiced" reading.

Well, that's all it took, that and some trial and error in finding the right books. She's particular about the types of stories she reads, she loves adventures and love stories, of course, but not dumbed down for her reading level. I realized large print with adequate line spacing made a huge difference in the beginning and Daddy introduced graphic novels.

Last night, my struggling reader, the one who barely passed 2nd grade, who didn't touch a book for 6 months, who still can't read out loud all that well, came downstairs (way past lights out time) to tell me with giggles and stutters and lots of "and um's" all about how Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets ended and wanting to know if it was the same in the movie.

On her own schedule, at her own pace, with the books she chose, she is now an avid reader. 

Some of her favorites:
  • Sarah Plain and Tall and the rest of the series, these were the first chapter books she really got into and she still talks about them. Our library had two sets, one set was larger print and these worked well for her. These she would actually read to me, usually while I cooked dinner, because she liked them so much and wanted me to hear them :)
  • The Amulet series of graphic novels. She still loves to read graphic novels and makes sure to grab a couple on every trip to the library. I have a hard time reading them myself, but Daddy started reading these to her at first. Then, when she got tired of waiting for him to be home and ready to read, she started reading them herself.
  • The Ivy and Bean series. Large print, nicely spaced lines, but really great and interesting stories.
  • Emily Winsnap
  • The Thea Stilton books. I didn't enjoy reading these (most of these I'd start and she'd finish, then continue the series) but she loved the funky text and colorful pictures.

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