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When/if to push the reluctant reader (4.5 yo)

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Just curious if there are others like this. First of all, I have to say that I in no way think a 4 year old has to read. I only ask because my daughter is *able* to read but doesn't want to, and I'm trying to find the balance between nudging her out of her comfort zone and backing off to let her get there on her own. For background, she knew all letters (uppercase and lower case) and sounds before 2,totally out of nowhere, it seemed, and could definitely recognize her name, at least, in print soon after 18 months as well. She is a perfectionist in that if she isn't 100% confident in something, she won't even try. Examples include learning to walk, a long period early on where she would barely pick up a crayon but would instead dictate drawings until she suddenly started drawing with great detail, and now reading. We suspected she could read long ago, but couldn't tell how well. She's done some online games here and there like abc mouse and Starfall, and I've yet to see her attempt something she couldn't master. I can sometimes get her to read books with me, but if she can't read absolutely fluidly, she either guesses at random or refuses and just wants to be read to. Sometimes I can get her to slow down and she's pretty good at sounding out words. Mostly I try to get her to read parts of books I'm reading to her, such as the dialog, but it really annoys her. I tried pointing out that it's an "I can read" book that means it's for kids learning to read. The other day she pointed out that daddy and grandma don't make her read and said she only wants "I can't read" books. When she is in the right frame of mind and reads something new she is very proud and excited so it's not torture. She tells me she doesn't like to read because she's not good at it. So basically, it's not so much about the reading as it is about helping her to be comfortable with struggling a little bit and trying things that might be hard at first. On the other hand, I'm sure if I didn't push at all in it will happen any way, but I think learning to try things that seem difficult at first is a skill she needs to build. Anyone else have a reluctant reader (or other skill) because they can't stand to fail or struggle? How do you know when to push and when to back off?
post #2 of 14

I say don't push. While I think it's worth helping kids learn to work through struggles, I don't think reading at age 4 is the place for that. First, they develop the maturity necessary for pushing through struggles only gradually. Four is still so very young when it comes to the emotional resourcefulness necessary for healthy persistent through struggle. If she's 8 or 10 and she's never had to work hard at something, then go out and see if you can find a situation to encourage that, but not at 4. Second, reading (unlike, say, learning to tie shoelaces) is something you ultimately want your child to love for its own sake. Pushing her when she's not wanting to be pushed may very well leave her with negativity about the whole thing. Thirdly, IME it's relatively pointless to push a young bright kid towards fluency, because it seems to just "click" at some point, and I don't think practicing hard for weeks or months before the click comes does much to change the endpoint. 


My eldest seemed to have all her decoding skills in a row by age 3 years 3 months, and was able to sound out words with various blends. She made it clear she did not want to be coached towards improving her reading. Very, very clear. Suddenly at 4.5 she became fluent. She could read anything: proper children's novels like Little House and Harry Potter. Now, I'm sure that seems very impressive and very precocious, but the thing is that for 15 long months she seemed just on the verge of reading, and there was almost no apparent improvement. Did it matter in the long run? Was there any reason why she would have benefitted from slogging through Frog and Toad with me every day at newly-four? Nope. 


My only caution would be to make sure she doesn't have any visual problems that could be creating an obstacle. Not because she needs to be reading at 4, but because she needs to be seeing! My youngest followed exactly the course that my eldest did, except that she still wasn't interested in book-reading by age 5. It turned out she was so far-sighted that without glasses she met the criteria for legal blindness. Three weeks after she got glasses, she picked up Harry Potter and never looked back.



Edited by moominmamma - 9/23/13 at 10:12pm
post #3 of 14
Hi Rachel,
I agree with Miranda on this.
In fact, I wouldn't even use the term 'reluctant' at 4.5 years old.

That said, I'm in a very similar boat with my 4.75yo, and I can admit that t it's hard to see my child resist something that is so utterly awesome, in my opinion. I don't push her at all, but she does want to read, and absolutely can. I've made a rule for myself that I will always say yes when she wants me to read something, and that I'll just sit in the knowledge that she can do it and for whatever reason (perfectionist roadblocks, in my opinion) doesn't want to. She often reads on her own, or to her little brother.

She gets very frustrated in not being able to read chapter books as well as I can yet, and seems to denounce reading in general until she can do it fluently. For now, I read those to her, and she'll often pipe up about something ahead of where we're at, having read it on the page before I got to it ("They KILLED Aslan?"). I just engage in her observation and move on.
I do ask her to read things in real life, when it makes sense. ie. "Can you read that recipe to me so I know how much flour to put it?" or "What do the instructions say?"or "Can you find the Post Office so that I know where to park?"
In those cases, she doesn't flinch. She just reads it and we keep doing what we're doing.

We also have a 'you read to me' and 'I read to you' part of the day when her little brother is napping. I choose really easy books that she can whip through, and in exchange I'll read a story to her. 1:1 ration. She has zero connection to this being any 'lesson' of any kind, but it works to get her reading in a zero pressure environment, where the books being 'too easy' is excusable because it gets us to me reading to her faster. Does that make sense?

The last thing I want to do is alienate her from reading, so I'm trying to be super easy-going and low key about it. My daughter doesn't like a lot of praise or attention focused on her, so it's a bit of a balancing act when it comes to celebrating her awesomeness.

I'd love to hear how it's going in your house?

Take care!
post #4 of 14
Forgot that I wanted to mention that my dd is similar to yours in that she doesn't like to do anything unless it's perfect either.
She didn't budge until she got up and walked. No crawling, no scooting.
She didn't sit on a potty at all until she was ready to never wear diapers again.
She wouldn't draw until she could make the shapes she was aiming for. (We knew enough not to offer colouring books! That would've sent her over the edge if she was too little to stay in the lines. We still don't have any in the house.)
She wouldn't touch a balance bike until she was sure she'd studied her friends on theirs enough to ace it from the get go.
And so on.
She is exceptionally anxious, with some OCD tendencies and ticks that worsen when she has a goal that she hasn't quite reached yet. Her imperfections weigh heavily on her mind, and she comments on them a lot, despite our best intentions to minimize any expectations. We are the last parents who would push, but still she frets. So, it seems to be intrinsic, to some degree. This runs in her genes, too, as it happens.
post #5 of 14

My 4 1/2 year old sounds just like your DD.  He started reading at 2 and can now read nearly anything put in front of him, but mostly he won't. He is also a perfectionist, but not a determined perfectionist.  He gives up at the first sign of difficulty or failure. His eyes don't have the stamina for much sustained reading yet, and at night when we do most of our reading, he is just too tired to focus.  He will read any signs around him, things on the tv, and computer willingly.  He will also read any note or joke I put in his lunchbox, and I'm pretty sure he reads silently along with me when I read aloud to him (he corrects me if I mess up).


Very recently he got a hamster.  I told him that it was important that the hamster learn his voice so he would become friendly and tame.  Now he reads out loud to his hamster :)  but not if I'm watching.  Maybe your DD has a pet she'd like to read to, or a friend or sibling?


Definitely check on her vision, but I think most kids just need some time for their eyes to mature.  I bet she reads many things in her environment without realizing it.  I think this is probably enough practice for a 4 year old to keep her reading skills sharp till her eyes catch up.


Also, she might like the "We Both Read" books.  There's one page for the parent, and the next page has bigger print and less text for the child.  Our library has some of these that DS likes.  http://www.webothread.com/server/TreasureBay/website/main/scripts/default.asp

post #6 of 14
Originally Posted by starling&diesel View Post

Forgot that I wanted to mention that my dd is similar to yours in that she doesn't like to do anything unless it's perfect either.


Yes, I wanted to say a bit more about temperament. My eldest dd was like this too, and at a young age her persistence and determination could definitely be self-defeating traits. She would easily get herself anxious and frustrated if something wasn't easy, wanting mastery so badly but very much aware that she wasn't capable yet, and those anxious feelings very much got in the way of accessing her intelligence and problem-solving skills. So even the gentlest of expectations from me, or even just the knowledge that I was observing her, could escalate her anxiety, and interfere with accessing whatever skills and knowledge she did have. Privately, internally, she wanted to read very very badly indeed. But being less-than-capable in public (i.e. in front of mom) was such an awful situation emotionally for her that she was overwhelmed and her brain would just shut down. What she needed was time, privacy, and confidence, not practice-in-public. 


As hard as it can be, what kids like this need is just trust and privacy, and occasional expressions of casual confidence by the parent that the skills will come, and are coming, in good time -- fast or slow, who's to know. The easy-going low-key approach that s&d described is perfect, I think.



post #7 of 14

I wouldn't push at all and just read her stories, and let her read on her own. She doesn't need to perform or demonstrate anything. If she has the ability, then it is there whether she shares it or not. Respect her ability and that it is her ability to decide what to do with it.

post #8 of 14
My 4.5 yo DD is similar except even more resistant to attempting to read. I don't think she has much interest at all at this point. She memorizes stories after 1-2 exposures and chooses these to 'read' on her own or to her sister. She has known her letters and sounds for years and will gladly play all different types of phonemic awareness 'games' (verbally - not on any tupe of electronic device). On the rare occasion that she has been in the mood she has shown the ability to easily sound out or spell CVC words but usually she just flat out refuses to try - immediately. Her preschool has an after-school 'reading class' that I momentarily thought about having her try but - I'm sticking with the 'she'll learn when she's ready' plan for now.
post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 

Wow, thanks everyone for the replies!  It is just so helpful to hear that there are other kids like my daughter.  I've yet to come across another like her in real life and the idea of "pushing" a 4.5 year old to read seems so foreign to friends with similar-aged kids.  Now by "pushing" I really do mean very gentle encouragement, so I truly appreciate that you all seem to understand that and that it's more because she can and not because she should, if that makes sense.  Miranda - your daughter sounds very similar.  I wouldn't expect her to do it except that she mastered all of the first steps for reading so long ago and so effortlessly that it seems like she could have been reading long ago.  I'm sure one day she'll feel confident enough and will never look back.

starling&diesel - The strategies you described are a lot like what I've been doing - lots of negotiating for "I'll read this part, you read this page," etc.  I really like what you said about reading to her when she asks.  I think that's something I need to do more willingly, too, to respect her requests to be read to even when I know she could do it.  The personality traits you mentioned in your daughter are very similar, too.  She's very hard on herself when she can't do something, of course not realizing how far she is past where she needs to be.  It sometimes, though, translates into being behind on things, like potty training, because she just won't do it if she has any doubts.  It's such a balancing act of trying to encourage, build her confidence, and also just let her work through things.  Also makes explaining her to others very difficult (i.e. she struggles because she is gifted) because it just doesn't make sense to those who don't get her.  

pranava - I love the way you described your son "a perfectionist, but not a determined perfectionist."  That's my daughter exactly.  If she can't do something perfectly, she gives up right away and won't try.  Recently she wanted to learn how to whistle, and little by little she's starting to get it.  It's such a little thing but I've been so proud of her for continuing to try even when she couldn't do it.  I will definitely check out the We Both Read books.  Sounds perfect for us!

A-time-to-live - That actually sounds just like my daughter.  Very capable at demonstrating all of the necessary skills for reading, but really doesn't want to read.  However, it kind of "leaks out" here and there that she can, but it does require more effort than she is comfortable with.  

Thanks again for letting me know this isn't so unusual!  I wrote the original post after Parent Orientation for the (very non-academic) nursery school she just started a few weeks ago.  So far she loves it because it's just about playing, crafts, social time, and that's what she really needs right now.  However, they were talking about the curriculum, focused more on social and emotional skills, but mixed in counting 1-10 and the alphabet.  They were reassuring parents not to worry if their kids didn't know all their letters before kindergarten as long as they were ready to learn and socially/emotionally ready.  I lose sight of what is "normal" for kids so it was jarring to me that it was so far away from what we worry about with her and it's really nice to hear there are other kids like her around!  I have many worries for her around school, but not knowing enough is so far from the concern...

post #10 of 14

Just to add, another option that falls between waiting and pushing is gently offering pieces of information, but making no demands or requests for what she does with it--input without concern for output.


So very much is happening during that outwardly silent waiting time in reading. I've come to think, at least with my two children, that perfectionism (and all its negative connotations) is not the best way to frame it. Intelligently waiting for competence was more how it felt in my house. Both of mine, it became apparent, were doing enormous amounts of processing and sorting and accumulating information, and would periodically kind of test out their skills. Do I have a critical mass yet? Has the picture come together? Only when they did in fact have a critical mass was it suddenly fluent. I have come to think that it's really not unreasonable for a child to want more time to sort the pieces out privately, inwardly--it seems in my observation that reading aloud before the pieces come together feels like a struggle, whereas working piecemeal on interesting words here and there feels more like competent problem-solving.


In a classroom setting--and this is likely my homeschooler's perspective speaking--it may not be possible to let the pieces come together organically, but the beauty of mama and daughter cozied up on the sofa together is that you can just gently float out one word or one sound here and there as part of you reading, giving her the phonic scaffolding but without overwhelming or focusing on output so much.


Just my experience--


post #11 of 14

and personally I wouldn't even focus on reading, but do a lot of other activities that support reading. Where's Waldo, I spy books, are great for visual scanning and decoding. Puzzles, are also awesome for developing reading skills.


It is pretty common for bright children to know all the letters, etc. for awhile, and not have reading click. Your child knew when to sit up, crawl, and walk when she was ready--that same internal motivation will also allow her to read at just the right time.

post #12 of 14
Originally Posted by domesticidyll View Post

Intelligently waiting for competence was more how it felt in my house. 


This is such a great way of framing it. That's how I think of it, but I have still been using the old 'perfectionism' catch-word. Intelligently awaiting competence: brilliant!



post #13 of 14
I had one child very much like yours.

I think you need to separate reading from reading aloud.

It sounds like your child likes and is capable of reading, but may not like reading aloud.

Some suggestions:

1. Don't make the reading aloud uncomfortable.
2. If you must make her read aloud, how about she reads just the chapter titles and you read the rest of the text?

3. Write her notes where she can answer by checking a box or showing comprehension by doing.
4. Have lots of things around for her to read.

5. Play games with her that require some reading, like on cards or game board squares. Here there is more turn-taking and she won't be on for extended chunks of time.

You have time, but her likes and dislikes may not change. Dd at 9 still does not like to read aloud. She does read to me every night and is very capable, but she doesn't like it. She LOVES to read and reads countless books a week. Like so many we drive the librarians crazy.

So keep in mind that the two are distinct.
post #14 of 14
DD will be 5 in Dec, and recently started reading easy books. She's still pretty reluctant to try unless its very easy. She has 2 or 3 books that she loves and will read them over and over - I'm pretty sure she has them memorized by now. Anyway, we work on phonics games in the car- think of words that start with 't'. She likes that. She's also recently decided that she likes writing. She's written several letters to Santa and has made a weekly grocery list for the last few weeks. Although she needs a lot of help with spelling, she's started sounding out the words she wants to write and has been guessing the letters/phonetic spelling. Yesterday she even wrote a book (2 sentences, but all her idea!). I'm not too worried about pushing her. She'll definately be reading well when she starts kindergarten next year. The only thing I 'push', is reading every night. I always read to her, and sometimes, she will offer to read to me. smile.gif
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