We were struggling in our homeschool when I found The Book Whisperer.
I had bought expensive reading curriculum for every grade level, from kindergarten all the way up to middle school. But my kids didn’t love it. The stories didn’t captivate them. It was a chore, just another subject. I worried too much about filling out book reviews or answering comprehension questions.
Why was reading such a boring subject? This was not how I had imagined homeschooling at all.
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Finding The Book Whisperer was like breathing fresh air. It gave us permission to love reading again.
Donalyn Miller is a classroom teacher, but her book applies to us all – especially to homeschool parents.
The premise of The Book Whisperer is simple:
Every child can read. We just need to foster their love of reading.
If every child can read, why doesn’t every child read in their free time? Why do they complain about reading assignments?
The problem lies in the traditional classroom model, which is what we sometimes default to in homeschooling.
- the whole class reads the same novel at a slow pace
- kids write book reports
- fill out comprehension worksheets
Would you like to be quizzed after reading a book or tested after enjoying your favorite TV show? Then why do we treat reading like a chore or a subject to slog through?
Our goal should be to raise life-long readers, not to complete the reading curriculum.
But how do we reach this goal?
Most of this boils down to mindset. Does your child think that he is not a reader? Then he won’t act like one. Don’t let that identity creep into your homeschool.
I must believe that my students are readers – or will be readers – so that they can believe it. The idea that they can’t read or don’t like to read is not on the table. The Book Whisperer, page 23
By middle school, most students have already categorized themselves as a reader or non-reader. We’ve got to reach them early.
There are three types of readers (and you might have all three in your homeschool!)
First, there are “struggling readers” or more precisely “developing readers.”
These are the kids that have struggled and failed in the past with reading. They just don’t feel successful, so they don’t read as much as their peers, and then they become weaker readers. What’s the solution?
Time and time again, I have seen a heavy dose of independent reading, paired with explicit instruction in reading strategies, transform nonreaders into readers. The Book Whisperer, page 25
Next, on the other side of the spectrum are the “underground readers” or advanced readers.
The underground readers are usually far ahead of what a grade-level classroom setting can provide. These kids are generally bored with the long drawn-out instruction of a whole class novel unit. They love to read what they love to read. Their love of reading is disconnected from what is done in class.
For these kids (and the rest) homeschool is a great fit!
Finally, there are “reluctant readers” which Donalyn Miller refers to as “dormant readers.”
This is the largest group. These kids know how to read well and are probably reading at or above grade level. But they are unmotivated readers, the ones that only read to get by and complete assignments. These kids don’t love to read in their free time. Is there hope for them? Check this out:
I believe that all dormant readers have a reader insider themselves, somewhere. They simply need the right conditions in order to let that reader loose – the same conditions that developing readers need: hours and hours of time spent reading, the freedom to make their own reading choices, and a classroom environment that values independent reading. The Book Whisperer, page 28
Sounds to me just like the environment that homeschool can provide!
Donalyn Miller goes on to explain how we can help our dormant readers self-identify as a reader.
Children love stories, which offer the escape of falling into unknown worlds and vicariously experiencing the lives of the characters. Children’s attachment to the story arcs in video games and television programs bears this out.
What students lack are experiences that show them that books have the same magic. They have never been given the chance to discover the worlds that books can contain. Because so many students’ reading choices are dictated by their teachers, they never learn how to choose books for themselves. The Book Whisperer, page 28
So how do we encourage our kids to see themselves as readers and love to read?
Here are three steps to take:
Encourage individual choice in choosing reading selections
Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. Richard McKenna (The Book Whisperer, page 69)
Having the freedom to choose books and learn what genre they love to read is important for all our kids, but especially for the dormant readers. They need to see reading as an enjoyable pursuit, not just a task to finish for school.
This is the point that really helped me ditch the scripted reading units that we were using in our homeschool. My kids were completing them and reading the stories out of duty. But they didn’t love to read.
Lots of Independent reading
Now we have loads of time for independent reading in our homeschool. This freedom and flexibility has revolutionized the way we do school.
Donalyn Miller lays out a summary of ideal conditions for learning. Remember, she is a public school teacher. As I read through her list, I was so happy to see that most of these are easily accomplished in a homeschool setting. See what you think.
- Immersion: conversations about reading, access to books, and encouragment
- Demonstrations: helping kids learn to read from a wide variety of materials
- Expectations: kids will do what you expect of them – do you communicate that they will read daily and read a lot of books?
- Responsibility: you can certainly set parameters, but when students can choose some of their own books, they will more easily develop a love of reading
- Employment: students need TIME and lots of it to practice reading
- Approximations: allow students to read at their level, even if it differs from their grade level
- Response: discuss with your kids about what the are reading
And the most important condition for raising life-long readers? Engagement.
- it has personal value to your kids and they enjoy it (it’s not just a school assignment)
- students feel capable of reading
- reading is modeled by someone they like and trust
- reading is free from anxiety! Check out this truth bomb:
Is reading weighted down with so many requirements for performance that reading is connected in students’ minds with an obstacle course of work and therefore, with stress? The Book Whisperer, page 36
Model reading books as the parent
What kind of reading role model are you? Check out these 30 books that every homeschool mom should read. But you don’t just have to read about homeschooling. What genre do you enjoy? Give yourself the time and freedom to get lost in a good book. Your kids will notice.
What about using read-alouds with the whole family to introduce new authors?
So if you’re feeling discouraged because your kids don’t love to read, try these three strategies and watch the inner reader emerge. But it might not happen overnight!
Just know that every child is a reader and it’s your job to clear the way for that inner reader to shine.
Grab a colorful free reading list for your child to record the titles of 40 books they will read in the next year. Say what? Is 40 books realistic? Yes! Once they find the magic in books, it’s hard to stop them. Expect your child to be a reader and they just might surprise you. Download your free printable below with the amounts from each genre suggested by The Book Whisperer.