Much Ado About a Late Reader

readingMy oldest son is six, and will turn seven in a couple of months.  He doesn’t read well yet, and is behind his peers in class.  His teacher has expressed concern about this throughout the year, and I think she may have been hoping that I would do more work around reading and phonics at home with my son.

I am an involved parent, but I did not do this.  My son has often met milestones later than other children his age, and then he catches right up (and then some sometimes) when he is ready.  I’d call him a late bloomer, except I don’t really think of him as late for anything; he’s just on his own clock.  I have every confidence that, on his own time, he will be a wonderful reader, as reading is prized in our home.

It’s interesting, and sometimes difficult, to see your child through someone else’s eyes, but my son’s teacher is a warm, gentle and positive presence in my son’s life, so I listened to her.

Still I was surprised when she told me she had planned a meeting for us with a School Support Team, including the principal, school social worker, the school psychologist, the school librarian and resource support, and the school speech and language specialist.  This seemed like a fairly serious intervention at a fairly early stage of things.  I try not to be blind to my children’s shortcomings, but in this case I really felt that what my son needed was time.

I gave my consent to have the team meeting, but discomfort with the possibility that I was not advocating well for my son prompted me to speak with my son’s teacher again.  What follows is a series of steps for how to deal beautifully with a worried parent.

1.  The teacher granted my meeting promptly and openly.

2.  She listened to me.

3.  She clarified my misunderstandings.  I thought that my son was to be tested at this team meeting, but he wasn’t even going to be present.

4.  I wanted reassurance that I could withhold my consent to any testing that might be recommended.  She immediately affirmed that I had this power, and that I could assert it at any time regardless of her recommendations.

5.  She expressed her concerns, but had positive things to say about my child.

6.  She was honest about her own needs.  “It’s mostly for me,” she said.  And then she said that in some Waldorf schools, the teachers will come together and meditate on a child.  She said she loved this idea, and wanted to come together with other people to share ideas about my son.


Thus disarmed, I attended the meeting with my husband.  And everyone was attentive and kind and not alarmist.  We are on their radar, and we have some time.

If I were homeschooling my son, we would have all the time we’d need, and he could read on his own time, whether it be this spring, or four springs from now.  I’m not persuaded that earlier is better, and I’m not alone in that:  many European countries don’t introduce reading at school until children are seven or eight years old.

But I want to be part of a school community, and I’ve put my son in school.  While he’s there, I want him to feel good about himself and to be successful, and I was distressed to see him losing confidence at his inability to read as his peers do.  Primarily for that reason, we’re participating in an after-school reading club, where my son is able to read very simple pattern books.  They are at his level, and finally, instead of being confused, he can read books that are given to him.  They’ve boosted his self-esteem, which is what matters most now, as the rest, as I’ve said before, I’m quite sure will come with time.

What did I do to support my child’s education?  Some might say not very much.  But I think it was useful to receive without defensiveness an interpretation of my child’s ability that didn’t resonate with my own understanding, while still expressing my views.  I also didn’t attach myself to shortcomings in the classroom that may be there.  These things allowed me to recognize allies where I might not have otherwise.  I’m also happy to wait for my boy to come into a facility with reading largely on his own.  Less is more is working pretty well for us.


17 thoughts on “Much Ado About a Late Reader

  1. I was a school psychologist for 22 years and yours is a familiar story. There needs to be a better understanding of normal development and individual differences in rates of development. No child can do something they are not neurologically ready to do and all children need to feel successful at what they are doing. Waiting is hard for teachers, as they face pressure to have all their students ready for standardized testing and they are judged on the results. It sounds like yours was a good experience. I often fought against testing young children, not because it was more work for me, but because the results would often be used to diagnose learning disabilities that were not there. Keep reading to and with and in front of your child and things will probably be fine. But don’t be afraid to ask for help if problems persist into the higher grades.

    • I think teachers have an impossible task, and I think ours was being as proactive as she could, and didn’t want to feel she hadn’t done what she could to help our son, especially if he continues to have issues with reading.

      We read all the time at home – it’s a joy for me – and I’m trusting that will set us up well for when the words start to make more sense to my son. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I can’t say that I can totally sympathize with your situation because I never went through such a situation with my son. What I have seen is that some children, even very young children, can be very mean to other children when they recognize a child is ‘falling behind’ their own adeptness at a particular skill. I can imagine that if your son is still struggling with reading, it wouldn’t help his self esteem if he could possibly experience a form of ‘bullying’ from his peers. I applaud both you and the teacher as you clearly both had your son’s best interest at heart. The fact that you were able to handle this in a non-confrontational manner says a lot about you as parents.

    • This is, in fact, what happened, as my son was teased in the schoolyard for not being able to read. It’s heartbreaking, and really brings to the fore many other issues I have with school. But as I said, we’ve chosen to be there, so we’re making the best of it, and feel very good to have a community of people caring about our son.

  3. Your nephew T, was in the exact same boat! With the same results….the light switch of reading just took more time… turn on. Keep reading and reading and reading. We did hire a tutor once a week – she was a retired school teacher. She was amazing and took the angst out of the situation of frustration. She gave him the one on one and a few tricks…that he needed. She was more caring and nurturing than sylvan or the others and much cheaper. We called her t’s reading buddy.

  4. Bravo. I love that you said he’s “on his own time”… So very true. Every child is different and will reach milestones at their own pace. I only wish schools embraced these “differences” more and allowed children to move along however fast or slow they need.
    Sounds like your son’s teacher is great too 🙂

    • It would be nice if schools were able to accept a range of skills and developmental levels. As my friend said, no one is worried and intervening about the fact that her daughter can’t yet catch a ball. We’re using pretty limited categories of growth with pretty narrow timelines…

  5. Hi Carol – I can relate to your dilemma. My son and daughter were both “late readers” according to our education system in Australia. In our part of the country, the whole curriculum has recently been accelerated by one year which means that five year olds are now being expected to read. My daughter was caught up in this leap forward as a five year old (the youngest in her class) who wasn’t ready to read. The result for us was that she has ended up repeating a year of schooling as part of our family moving to a new school in a country town and she has blossomed! I agree with your stance and the approach taken in many European countries, what’s the big deal about kids reading so young?

    • I think the push for early literacy is a misguided attempt at trying to have a competitive edge. Whenever children show an early aptitude for something and enjoy it, it’s fine to nurture that, but it shouldn’t be set as a standard for everyone. When children don’t show an early aptitude, that should be nurtured too.

      I’m so glad your daughter found her way in the school system. I think a lot of apprehensions about children, including behavioural ones, are really just because they are young.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. My younger child will start kindergarten in the fall, and she’s been very much an “in my own time” child on every other milestone, and so I’m expecting that this will probably be the case for reading too–which will make for a very different experience, as my older child was a precocious reader of her own accord.

    • I hope things go well for you and your younger daughter, Kelly. For us, there was a big shift in expectations from kindergarten to grade 1, so you might have a couple of years for her to find some facility with reading. If you want some support, we are finding Sheilah Currie’s reading clubs (offered in various schools, drop-ins, etc. throughout the city) to be a great way to introduce reading, as it helps the beginners feel and be successful, even at the earliest stages (something I didn’t find in other reading supports). Best wishes.

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