Friday, 4 April 2008

M is for Misery. M is for Mad

Reading. There is nothing good to say about this. Unless you are one of those fortunate home educators whose child leaps from the womb reading passages aloud from Dr Seuss. No doubt some do.

For the Grit family, learning to read is torture. It is so much torture I have torn out my hair and stabbed myself in the thigh with a fork. Today, both at the same time. These are pain displacement strategies, designed to transfer the focus of my whole mind towards the sharp burning sensation in my right leg, and away from my mouth blurting out: The word is MAD! It is MAD! MAD!!! MAD!!!

So you school-choosers may wonder why we do it. Why don't we package up the little darlings in black and white and post them out the door every morning at 7.54 into a cosy 4x4 to drive the fifty yards to the school gates?

Well, the reasons are complex. And we are too poor and mean to go private.

Perhaps it has something to do with the thousands of kids who fail to fulfil themselves in the school system, who turn out of the gates disaffected, illiterate, miserable, dangerous. Hey, we can achieve that at home, we don't need a school to do that for us.

Maybe then we are bolshy trendy gits who are naturally inclined to be anti authoritarian, even though we are the first to call the police at the first whiff of trouble.

Perhaps it is because I bear the battle scars of a shortened teaching career in a secondary classroom. The words Never Again are tattooed on the inside of my forehead in my own blood. Shall I write about the kid with an air rifle pellet in the eye, forever blinded by a classmate? Or the street philosophy of Luke who carried a hammer? Or the economics education provided by druggie James who was good for a fiver's worth of heroin wrap before school? If not, perhaps Sheila, pregnant twice before age 17. But perhaps not here.

I could select, as fair reason, our local school under special measures. I would probably end up stabbing myself in the thigh out of rage, despair and frustration when Squirrel, Shark and Tiger arrived home from there too.

Perhaps we do this home education thing because of Dig, who was shovelled off to boarding school at a life-time most children are learning to wipe their own bottoms, which is reason enough to be put off school for life. That would be good, because then all of this would be his fault.

Anyway, all that reasoning is academic here. And so is the reading. At age 8, Shark is more or less going under her own steam, and can read stories with long words, so long as the print is not too small. She is easing herself into small print with Herge and Tin Tin and can nearly sound out Iconoclast! and Bashi bazooks! so she is mostly excluded from Grit's lament here.

Squirrel, by contrast, is not reading well. She is reluctant to pick up books because they are No Fun. She cannot sit still long enough. She has an urgent need to jump up and down and be a horse.

Tiger is trailing, significantly. She stares at words with confusion, and confounds us. We thought there are two ways it could go. She will learn to read, or she won't learn to read. We reassure ourselves: the latter is impossible, because we won't let her not read. It is inevitable, we say, as if night follows day. Dig, with unjustified optimism, exclaims Look on the bright side! I answer, There isn't one.

We're working through it. Slowly. But we never assumed Tiger would be able to read some days and not others; read My Mum is Mad fluently on Tuesday and then stare at the word MAD on Friday in bafflement and impatience while her mother stabs herself in the thigh with a fork in perfect reason.

Well, we know we will get there.

But today we are exposed, thrown into the public gaze from our protective covers and left adrift at a museum workshop on Crime and Punishment. It seems all the little schoolies can read, Dostoevsky probably. I tell myself it is a self-selected group; the top-of-the-class primaries, and druggie James and uptheduff Sheila aren't here. We are. The non-reading, sulky book refusers who, when faced with a workshop script of crime and punishment, stare straight ahead while everyone waits, like they're thinking the best way to be a horse is lift the back legs first.

I have no answer to the misery and pain involved in teaching a child to read at home, except that it is all exhausting stuff for which you need nerves of steel, teeth you can grind and thighs which do not feel pain.

And of course, unlike you fortunate school choosers, home educators have no-one else to blame.


Jonny's Mommy said...

Sounds to me like you are being a little too hard on yourself.

You have checked them for things like dycslexia? Which I can't spell for the life of me!

Hang in there. They will catch on. Over here, home schoolers are some of the brightest kids around. I agree with some of your sentiments about formal education. Not always the best of environments at all!

the mother of this lot said...

Try this:

All kids love it!

And have a look here: (it's a big site now so it might take you a while to get round it. I used to use this when I was teaching).

Jan said...

Teaching children to read is my least favourite bit of this too. C, my eldest, suddenly just 'got it' around her fifth birthday, but M, at 6 1/2 still has quite a lot of days when she can't read at all - usually Mondays if we've had a busy weekend. Actually now, it's not even the not reading that's the problem, it's the screaming and squirming and whining that go with the whole process - I imagine you're familiar with those too...

Potty Mummy said...

Grit, I'm cheering you on. But for god's sake, find blunt cutlery to leave around for those stab-in-the-thing moments...

Elizabeth said...

Hazel taught herself to read on her own just after she turned 5, but Kieran I fear will never read. Whenever he wants something read to him, his sister does it for him.

Instead of stabbing herself, my mom used to bash her head on the brickwall--might be a more effective way to deal with it--it'll help you forget what's going on!!

HelenHaricot said...

ours enjoyed starfall, but actually we decided to not teach her to read, but instead do explode the code workbooks and halfway through book 4 she was astounded to be told she was reading. [yep, it took 3 1/2 books for her to notice that was what we were doing] we got them from sonlight. nothing else worked for us. then didn't have to teach her to read, as she kind of just did it herself from that point. [book 4 seemed to be about oxford reading tree 7 could pick up and have a go]
but you've probably got every reading scheme in the world. the red nose readers are ok

Kelly Jene said...

OK. Ouch. That had to hurt.

I am so happy to hear I am not the only mom with a reluctant reader! My Darik was pulled out of school cuz the reading teacher kept saying "He'll get it eventually". But kept making him feel like a failure. That was why I originally started home education. Reading is probably our biggest hurdle. Darik finally found a book series he likes and is improving slow but steady. Alex is lazy about it, but when it comes down to it, he's only a tad bit behind "grade" level.

I know you're frustrated, but I'm feeling better knowing I'm not alone! And I second My boys love it.

Kitty said...

Hi ... Firstly, thanks for visiting my blog. Secondly, wow! You are a brave woman - to mother triplets, and then to take the decision to home educate. I take my hat off to you.

Interesting blog you have here ... I'll be back if that's ok?


Grit said...

hi jonny's mother! tiger is pretty smart in many ways, but is not that interested in reading; some days we feel we are treading a fine line between encouraging and becoming completely despairing (well that's me anyway, dig does not do the 'it is all a disaster' line).

hi motl, we have spent a couple of hours with starfall today, so thanks for these links. tiger has been able to march straight through most of the earlier stuff, which gives me hope ... the starfall is well laid out, which seems fairly unusual for some of these reading pages, so for that i am grateful.

hi jan, yes, the squirming drives me nuts!

you are right, potty mummy. a spoon would be better.

hi elizabeth! we have this sibling problem here too - squirrel has total command of the clock system, so no one else now bothers to learn the time at all!

hi helen, i've found the best books are those that i can read too. some of the stuff out there is dire, isn't it?

hi kelly jean! and i'm glad to know i'm not alone either! (and we are making slow but steady progress on our letters!)

hi kitty, i should be delighted if you could drop round for a jam sandwich and a bottle of beer. i shall be off to your site regularly to ogle at your craft and wonder why can't we do that...

Pig in the Kitchen said...

oh, bad day. My son is just starting to read, he would far rather be running around the garden shooting bushes, or watching tv. I don't have much advice...a washing line with words you can peg on each day? that they can peg on each day? words cut up into single letters so that they can order them to make the words? A rap, which ends in MAD! this is driving me MAD! I didn't say bad, I said MAD!
yeh, i've run out of ideas.