Is there anybody else out there whose favorite Little House book is The Long Winter? I love it for many reasons. One is the amazing determination of a mother to keep a cheerful spirit in the face of both starvation and freezing, and another is the personal way it speaks to me. For I have had other kinds of long winters, and if that pioneer family could persevere through their unbelievable hardship, then I, too, can surely be patient. The winter I am remembering today is the one before the glorious spring of my child’s clicking into recreational reading. If your child is eight, nine or ten and is not an eager, confident reader, then you are in the throes of this long winter. I can describe what you are feeling for I have been there, and I know all too well.
Most likely, you feel it is your fault. Perhaps you didn’t stimulate the child enough as a baby, or you didn’t read aloud enough during the preschool years (as if you could have). Probably you didn’t drill the vowel sounds enough at age five, six and seven, or somehow you messed up the phonics program you used. You feel like a failure. You also worry. Maybe there is something wrong with this child and extensive testing needs to be done. But he or she is so smart! She only reverses some letters, so how can it be dyslexia? You feel that you’re spinning your wheels in the curriculum you are using because you and your child both hate to face the reading and writing required for the current grade level. The child has an advanced interest level and few easy reading materials to match his level of reasoning. And—you grieve—because you sense your child may be feeling “dumb” and comparing himself to others his age.
Now, just to make it a bit easier for those who are reading all these “yous” and feeling a bit exposed, let me switch to “me.” I was a classroom teacher. I taught first grade and had started a Master’s program in (what else?) reading. Halfway through it “life” interrupted, and I got married. I continued to teach school until my own children came, and I found out about homeschooling. Even though modern homeschooling was a rare and new thing, I knew this was what the Lord had for us. But, when my bright, and I mean bright, seven-year-old was not reading well, I felt let down and betrayed by my profession. The following year I thought surely this will be the year it will click in. We worked hard. Sorry. Age nine? Eleven months passed. The four hand-wringing years between our child’s sixth and tenth birthdays were the longest of my life. Pioneering in the homeschool movement was hard enough. We were weird. Add to that, reading problems, and I was also a wreck. When, oh when, would this be over?
My long winter did come to an end. Reading, in all its sweet beauty did finally click in—and don’t ask me how! I don’t know if it was the action-packed novel that a friend gave to us, or whether we both relaxed a bit. With puzzled relief I looked back and thought, “What good was all that? What did I learn? Could I go through this again any closer to the way Ma Ingalls handled her long winter?” And without answers, I was given my chance to find out!
Yes, about the time our two older children were enjoying their hundredth book, God gave us two more babies. The older children grew up as seven more years passed.
“Surely, you won’t ask that of me again, will you, Lord?”
“Lord?” (Deep breath)
“Okay, Father, walk with me. Help me do it better this time. Take away my fretting. Show me how to smile into the face of my struggling child and tell her how smart she is, and how these written words are very confusing to figure out. Let me refuse to show frustration and impatience. Help me remember how successful my adult children are. (Adult children? Me?) Father, you know why you are letting me walk this path again. I must thank you and encourage others to be patient. You are faithful. You are faithful!”
Moms, there are more reading theories out there than you can shake a stick at, but no one really knows why one child reads young and another later. Do use a good phonics program, but the curriculum is not the answer and may not factor in much at all. The timetable for your child’s “click-in” is not necessarily yours to choose. In this whole business of parenting, we do our part, but God does the bigger part. Our kids are His work in us. And His work is a good work. So don’t lose heart. The homeschool path is now more traveled, so ask a friend to hold you accountable to a patient, quiet spirit with your academic program and your reluctant or undeveloped reader. Spring will come.
Sandi and Walt Goforth now live in San Antonio, TX. They have two homeschool graduates and two at home that they are schooling. Walt and Sandi were a pioneer family with NCHE and Walt is a former president. This article was first printed in the Greenhouse Report, November/December, 1999.
Note from Sandi written Jan. 5, 2013:
That was a lo-o-ng time ago, and it is with much pleasure that I update you on our family, especially my two reluctant readers, our girls. The elder, the one with whom we endured our first long winter regarding reading, is now the mother of 5, married to a doctor whom she supported while homeschooling through every year of medical school. She is gifted with many talents, and ironically, right at the top is her ability to write–expressing her thoughts on many blogs and social media. We are proud. Over the years she has posited various explanations for her late reading, but as grandchildren continue to arrive, our family observes that children learn at a huge variety of rates. Studying each child and accepting him or her are job one for us all.
Our second reluctant reader was providentially given to us as our second reluctant reader! Her issues in regards to learning/reading were in a different developmental realm. She was not as verbal as our first, and we decided to go through a local university to get her thoroughly tested. That was a good idea. Then with tutoring and patience, she learned to read well at 14! In her junior year we put her in a Christian high school, the first to attend “school” of our 4. She held her own very well, being admitted into the Honor Society in her senior year. Right now she is in college preparing for a technical degree in radiology. We are proud. God is good. Hang in there with your reluctant readers and learners. Get testing if you think that would be helpful. Love them. Trust God for their development. He gives patience, hope, and eventual pride—though for a time, the winter does seem long.