My youngest daughter learned the basic phonograms at age five. We reviewed them almost every day; we practiced writing them; we took one step at a time. In spite of all that, she didn’t learn to read well until age 8.5.
I could have been utterly panicked and afraid, but as I know now, this is how my children are. You see, the first child I taught to read was my middle son. He also took years to learn. Then when he hit about age nine, he took off and soon was asking to read books like Gulliver’s Travels.
It’s like they have some imaginary switch. One day it gets flicked on and there’s no stopping them. However, up until that time, we go very slowly. I can’t push them too hard or their frustration turns to tears, and then they hate the very idea of learning to read.
What I have always done, though, is read to them. Every day all of my children, no matter how old, get read to. Fun books, hard books, short books, long books. The Wind in the Willows, The Water-Babies, Smith of Major Wooton, The Reluctant Dragon, Macbeth. We’ve read a lot of books together.
Why the constant reading? Well, for one I like the idea that we have shared stories. We can talk about what we loved, character decisions, and we have a family culture that revolves around the books we’ve read together. But also, it gets the non-readers used to difficult clauses, hard words, sentence pacing and cadence, so that when they do finally start reading, they can pick up whatever book they want and not stumble over ideas and they’ve heard those difficult words before.
I don’t have early readers; I have my kids. I would love to have the child that is writing sentences by age six and learning how to style paragraphs at seven, but I don’t. I have to teach the children I have, not the ones I wish I had. I use very gentle grammar instruction, and I keep my eyes on my own children so that I’m making sure they are living up to their own potential, not what the grade on the book cover says they should be doing. This is why I’ve always loved Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons. My children are ready for harder grammar books by grade 6, but if I push too hard before then, it’s never worked and usually blows up in my face. Besides, is it really that awful if they don’t learn what a gerund is until 7th or 8th grade?
So for us, slow and steady wins the race.