Reading is a big reason homeschoolers do so well academically. They have more time to read since they do not spend hours on classroom busywork and riding school buses. They read real books, not committee-written textbooks.
A real book is written by a real person with passion for his subject. Some of that passion and interest communicates to a child reading the book. He reads with high interest, forms images in his mind, agrees, or disagrees. In general, his mind is working and growing as the author communicates with him.
Using real books, children can read a biography in which a man is such a hero that he does nothing wrong. Then he could read a different biography that tells some faults and mistakes in the man’s life. With that, the child learns to think. He has more stories and interesting information to think about.
By contrast, a textbook is a non-book. Committees, possibly a range of committees in teachers’ organizations, choose content. Then, after they plan or even write the text, various pressure groups push for their ideologies: “You can’t say that; it sounds like creationism.” “You need some homosexual people in the stories.” Committees preselect views. The idea is that students should come away believing what the committees want them to believe.
Some homeschoolers like to use textbooks for what they call a “spine.” They see, for instance, that a textbook covers the westward movement in U.S. history. They see that this includes information about Indians, farming, gold mining, pony express, and other topics. Then they can find real books on those topics. Sometimes they read the textbook afterwards to provide a quick summary of the topics.
Learning To Read
Probably the scariest thing for first-time homeschoolers is teaching children how to read. Some parents buy expensive phonics kits with games and bells and whistles, and they spend years trying to get their money’s worth from them. Others find that their children learn to read while they read picture books to them, and they teach letter sounds from the books now and then in haphazard order.
Almost anything works when the time is right. An average age for boys to begin reading is seven and a half and about a year earlier for girls. Any child, of course, could be earlier or later than these ages, so if you’re trying to teach your child to read and you’re not getting anywhere, maybe it’s too early for him. It would be better to wait awhile rather than frustrate the child and make him feel like a failure. It is also better to wait because the too-early start wastes time. Children could use that time to learn from real life and grow a wider vocabulary. This increased knowledge and vocabulary help their later reading more than early phonics does.
Some children have physical or neurological problems that interfere with reading. Their eyes may not track together and focus as they should. They may be cross dominant, such as right-handed but left-eyed. If a child is not reading by age eight, you should try to find his problem and get it treated, if possible.
If a child sits and reads for a time, maybe chuckling now and then, you know he is getting meaning from the book. So you don’t need to test him by asking questions. Especially don’t ask the “literature” kinds of questions found in some lessons. (Who is the protagonist? How did the antagonist trouble him? What is the climax of the story?) That kind of analyzing is for writers or for college courses on writing, but schools have pushed it down to the early grades, and it spoils stories for children.
Let children enjoy mentally living in the stories they read. That’s what stories are for. Talk naturally about them sometimes—about what happened, what people did, what you think you would have done, and so on. No literary analysis.
Better than TV
Time spent reading is far better than time spent watching television. The fast pace of cartoons and other features scrambles the brain’s mode of thinking. Commercials and other features flash by rapidly, and that trains children to have short attention spans. TV mixes music and wild sound effects with the talking, and that misteaches concentration. Since children cannot listen to the three things at once, they tend to turn off concentration and genuine thinking and just let the mixture surf across their brains.
Some TV images are scary. You can read that the lion roared, and the child makes his own mental image that he can handle. However, a full-screen roaring lion’s head may give him nightmares.
The Major Academic Skill
Colleges these days are happy to enroll homeschool students because they can read and think, and they are motivated to learn. Through reading, students can learn about the world past and the world present, even about the future world from the Bible and theological writings. They can learn about science far beyond the experiments they have time to do. They learn information about anything and everything by reading.
Students not only learn information but they also gain skill with language through reading. They broaden their vocabulary. They see good and elegant sentences that professionals write. They see beautiful descriptions and strong arguments. Reading provides models for students’ own thinking and writing.
Reading is why homeschoolers excel academically.
Dr. Ruth Beechick, a long time teacher and education writer, spent 10 years operating a reading clinic. From that experience, she estimates about 10 percent of children need extra reading help.
This article was originally published in Homeschooling Today Magazine. Get great articles like this, plus lots of homeschool resources with your subscription to Homeschooling Today Magazine!