Learning to Read: How My Late Reader Taught His Brother to Read

– I have four children who have always been homeschooled. They learned to read in four very different ways, though there are some important similarities too (all four have me for a mother, after all). This is the third in a series of posts examining how each of my children learned to read. –

Hmm, I think I said it all in the title and am left with very little story to tell! Oh well, I’ll fill you in on a few more details of how Kyler learned to read anyway.

Bedtime Stories

Once Colter began reading at age nine, the primary way he perfected his skills was reading

comic strip book collections such as Calvin and HobbesBaby Blues, and FoxTrot. His younger brother and sister were drawn to these books as well, and shortly after he began reading, I found myself out of a job as the bedtime reader of books. Colter read aloud to his younger brother and sister at bedtime most evenings, out of our collection of comic strip books.

Colter was barely reading himself, of course, so the short bits of text with the accompanying graphics were a perfect medium for him. (Though, as any fan of Calvin and Hobbes will attest, there is no guarantee of simple words!) Needless to say, as he puzzled through the text and honed his reading skills, Colter was not taking pains to teach his younger siblings the finer points of phonics or to encourage them to read themselves.

And yet, when I sat down with Kyler near his sixth birthday to see what he knew and didn’t know regarding reading, he gave me a mostly tolerant look and proceeded to read perfectly whatever text it was I had placed in front of him.

Why So Surprised?

Now, Noa had picked up reading on her own at an earlier age, and Colter had picked it up at a much later age, so that wasn’t what surprised me. It was that I had had so little to do with it! And I really have no idea how long he had been able to read.

I read constantly to Noa, who insisted on being read to as often as possible. I read constantly to Colter, for reinforcement as he slowly made his was toward attaining readership. But as anyone who has more than a couple of kids knows, the younger kids get the short end of the parental attention stick.

Kyro learns to red

I did still read aloud to my children, of course, but not as much; and it was as likely to be a story to appeal more to the older kids and less to the youngers.

(I will read anything to anyone, but quite honestly Kyler and Mica were just not interested when I read The Hobbit aloud to the older two.)

Too, Kyler had evinced less interest in general in picture books and stories. He didn’t dislike it, he just didn’t love it as his older brother and sister did.

But lying there night after night with his older brother reading aloud to him from books with simple text and clear pictures, short bursts of text easily followed by listening to the reader and watching accompanying illustrations, without my pointer finger helping him follow each word or pausing to ask him to fill in a blank, Kyler had sussed out the puzzle of reading completely on his own.

Spelling Champ

And not only reading! As soon as he could read, he could spell. If he were writing and asked me how to spell a word, I only ever had to spell it once. Colter, four years older, began asking Kyler how to spell words. I clearly recall an occasion when the boys were seven and eleven, and Colter asked, “Kyler, how do you spell Thursday?” Now, I was right there in the room, so aside from a slight feeling of indignation at being passed over, I was amused that Colter thought a seven-year-old who had never needed to write the word before would be able to spell Thursday off the top of his head.

Of course, he spelled it.

Lock taught Kyro to readNeither Colter nor Kyler particularly noticed the discrepancy in their ages and spelling abilities for a year or two. One day Kyler woke up to the fact that his big brother was asking him how to spell, and he started to get sassy with it. I stopped him right away and reminded him that their grandfather (my dad) couldn’t spell, and one of their favorite teenage cousins had been known to spell her own name wrong in a fit of abstraction. I reminded him of the things that Colter could do well that Kyler could not, told him that certain people found spelling very easy and natural and others did not, and while it was a good thing that he could spell well, it was not anything whatsoever to feel lordly about. Neither of them ever mentioned it again.

Finding the Right Stories

Kyler’s ability and fluidity in reading was amazing. His desire to read was less so. He showed the most interest in science books and trivia collections, so I thought he might just be one of those kids who doesn’t ever get into fiction too much.

I suggested all sorts of high-interest boy books for his age, things Colter had enjoyed once he started reading: Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty RobotsMarvin RedpostMaximum Boy, and a favorite from my own childhood, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. Marginal interest at best, though he did enjoy a brief love affair with Geronimo Stilton – which ended abruptly just after I had ordered a half dozen more of them from PaperbackSwap.

Kyro the ReaderKyler the Raider Reader

Then he picked up Fablehaven. Old habits die hard and my first thought was that he couldn’t possibly be far enough along to handle a fairly elaborate five-book series written at a fourth-grade level. Thankfully, he proved me wrong (again), and has been an eager reader ever since.

Kyler is ten now. Fablehaven is still a favorite, along with Gregor the Overlander and Hunger Games. He is currently reading Harry Potter. And he can still spell just about anything.


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