reading · slice of life

The Worst Words You Can Say to Me

Isabelle gave me a gut-punch on Saturday without ever laying a hand on me. We were in the middle of practicing the binder pages her tutor gave her. She was growing increasingly frustrated. That’s when she finally exclaimed, “I hate reading!” It took everything in me not to break down in tears.

About an hour later, I talked to her about books being wonderful things that teach us things and take us to new places. I acknowledged that I know reading is hard for her right now. I discussed having a different mindset.  I encouraged her to say “Reading is hard for me right now,” rather than “I hate reading!”

While I haven’t heard the words “I hate reading!” since Saturday morning, Isabelle’s declaration has continued to nauseate me every time I’ve thought of her making that declaration.  Of course, she detests reading practice. She mixes up words — possibly because she’s not seeing them correctly. On Sunday, which was a slightly better practice session, she saw the word Look and couldn’t figure out what it was (despite reading the word look several times that morning) and declared, “This word is trying to trick me!”

This morning, we snuggled under a blanket on the couch for our practice session. She brought her beloved teddy bear, aptly named Teddy, who read some of the words for her. We set a timer and discovered she could get through her three binder pages and two books in under 16 minutes. She was pretty pleased with herself when she realized it didn’t take that long to practice.

The first of three practice pages.
Reading a just-right book.
I use a stopwatch (and graphs) to help Isabelle see how long it takes to practice reading. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively short amount of time.
The reading specialist from Isabelle’s school provided her with a bag of books and activities to do over the summer. While I’m not a fan of the activities that correspond with the books, Isabelle liked the idea of filling in the names of the books she has been able to read on her own. Seeing we’re less than two weeks into summer vacation, I have a feeling I’m going to need to create additional sheets like this so she can track the books she’s read independently over the summer.

I’ve been turning to educators like Deb Frazier and Tammy Mulligan for advice on how to get through this rough patch in Isabelle’s reading life. Therefore, I wanted to publicly thank them for their support. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share them in the comments below. I want my daughter to love reading on her own as much as she loves being read to. (And thank goodness she still loves to be read to every day!)

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25 thoughts on “The Worst Words You Can Say to Me

  1. A lot of parents that use our library have had a lot of success with audiobooks paired with the text, that way she can follow along with the book as it’s being read to her. And it sounds like she likes books (especially being read to her), so I’m sure she’ll like reading when it’s not so difficult for her! Good luck!

  2. You did the very best thing, not overreact. She really didn’t mean that she hated reading. She just hates that it is difficult and it seems tedious. I am not a huge fan of work that comes along with books as well, but in the summer, it can give readers a chance to linger in the story and think about it more. I am a big fan of the linger. Making rainbow words of that vocabulary practice or a rhyme or a poem might make it more fun. Honestly, I think the timer and 15 minutes of quick work might be the best thing for both of you right now. Just a routine, like brushing teeth.

  3. I feel your pain! Last summer, my Emma, screamed at me “I just don’t love reading like you do, I hate it!” While we were battling about her independently reading. It was very hard for her, and she hadn’t felt the joy yet. I feared the summer slide. But last summer I decided to take a step back and I didn’t force her to read. Did she regress with her reading? Absolutely. But I continued to read and read and read to her – she loves that the most. And her comprehension continued to grow. Then this year, she got reading support in school, now feels better about reading, and is picking out books to read this summer. She’s asked to go to the library multiple times. I know we aren’t “out of the woods” yet, but I think she’s found a little joy with reading and that’s what’s motivating her. Isabelle will get there! Celebrate the joy!

  4. It’s so hard to hear words like “I hate…” I love how you had her rephrased it to “Reading is hard for me right now,” something as teachers we need to remember when students struggle. When I’ve had students tell me they are not good at something, I always encourage them to add “yet” to the end. We all have struggles. I love how you timed her practice, that helps to put time into perspective and that it doesn’t take “forever” to accomplish hard tasks.

  5. Sounds like your current strategies are the right ones. I know that helping her learn to love reading by having shared stories and snuggle while reading time will protect her from how she feels right now. Kieran went through a similar phase because of his lack of phonics versus memorization of words strategy. He’s back through support and patience, and seeing our family as readers/meeting authors and having me just be crazy about all things literacy. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  6. Ok, so I’m right there with you. Alex said the same thing to me just a few days ago. Tears and frustration and “It’s just so hard for me!” It broke my heart. He is very hard on himself and if something doesn’t come easy and he feels like he’s not good at it, he avoids it. He feels like all his classmates are better at reading than him. Part of me hates that we put such high expectations for reading on kindergarten children when other countries don’t start formal reading instruction until 7. Maybe their brains just aren’t all wired to learn 100 sight words at this age. Alex’s teacher was worried he would regress over the summer without practice, and I know that would be the case. I just got him a Vivofit jr because he wanted a fitbit like me. Part of it includes “chores” they can earn stars for which can lead to a reward of your choice. We made practicing sight words and reading a book daily something he can earn stars for and that has helped a bit. I also hired a friend who works with first grade striving readers to tutor Alex once a week and that will start soon. I feel you pain, Stacey. Isabelle and Alex are kids who have parents who live and breathe literacy and they will, too. I know they will.

  7. As a teacher, I think we put too much pressure on our kids to read too early. Kids used to learn the alphabet in Kindergarten, and played. Then in first, they learned some sight words, then in second they started phonics. And by third they were readers. Not all kids need to do this, but it did work. And the stress was reduced. Perhaps this is the route for you. I died inside when my son did not “take to” reading, and asked me if I could just be his mom, not his teacher.
    One thing I did do with him over the summer that got him caught up between third grade and fourth, and would work really at any level, was having him read aloud into a recorder, so I could listen later. Nowadays it could be even better – reading to the computer camera or phone and capture video – so she could listen and watch later… make a “show” for Teddy or you to watch and listen to. It is the practice that is key, and if she could make a “stage” and wear a princess dress…? The “Isabelle Tells Us a Story” show! Could grandparents get a copy of the show? I know recording it made it special for my son. AND he got a prize for reading some allotted amount of time. Isabelle could get another “prop” for her show! I found it to be cheaper and more effective than a tutor! Best of all, he ended the summer ON grade level instead of a year behind!

    1. These are some great ideas, Donna. I’ll talk to Isabelle about it later.
      The good news is that she’s been practicing some Leslie Patricelli books, which she reads to Ari. He isn’t the best audience (baby + board book = chew time), but I think it makes her feel good that she can read to him.

      1. The feeling of accomplishment – the “feels good” feeling – is what you are going for! I never thought of it as a “bribe” and made sure it was never worded to sound like one. But a “reward” for getting done what needed to be done was always okay! He used to read for stickers on a chart where he listed the book he’d read, like Isabelle’s. Every sticker meant he’d read for 15 minutes, and after 10 stickers (or maybe it was 7?), he got a reward. It just seemed to bridge the gap from hard work to fun challenge. And the act of reading, made him a better reader, and I could back off as the “teacher”! Win-win!

  8. Although my own 3 children are grown, I recall 2 of them saying those words a few times over the years, so glad you didn’t panic-it’s a natural thing. The one constant I maintained was to read aloud to them, and also, read with them. I remember reading chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird aloud to my daughter in high school. I remember reading The Awakening with my son when he was a senior, and couldn’t understand that book at all! Needless to say, we had some interesting conversations…My oldest has been a lover of all words since the day he was born, so he reads snippets to me!
    For now, you may try posting sight words, such as “look” around the house–on her bedroom door, the refrigerator, etc. that she can read as she walks by. Reading in the grocery store is fun, and billboards along the road can provide times to decode/encode. I have a wonderful keepsake from the summer after kindergarten when my oldest and I created a journal, because, as you know, writing links to reading too!
    Above all else, smile and know that this too shall pass…and just swim in these days when your children are little. My summer days are now sometimes melancholy times of rembrance.

    1. I was thinking about putting up some of the sight words she mastered in K, but is “forgetting” now. I wasn’t sure if that would make home feel too school-y. How did your kids respond to that?

  9. You are doing a lot already. Growing the love of reading through read aloud is one big element. You are resourceful in trying different approaches. I wish you patience.

  10. These are such wise words, Stacey: I encouraged her to say “Reading is hard for me right now,” rather than “I hate reading!” Sometimes children need the gift of time. I know from reading your blog that you are doing all the right things for Isabelle. As an educator it’s difficult when readers are behind or lack progress but most of all I can tell in my heart that someday it will click. When that day will be and waiting for it is a challenge but just keep plugging away!

    1. I think Isabelle is one of those kids who will benefit from time. She will read once she’s ready. (Granted, she *is* reading. She ended the year on a DRA level of 3.) However, by reading, I mean taking off independently and soaring!

  11. I know it is hard to see your own child struggle- especially with something that is such a big part of your life. It sounds like time is what she needs the most and you are doing everything just right. xox

  12. I’ve thought about this a lot. Sounds like she doesn’t hate books, or stories, or actually reading. She just isn’t enjoying the sight word practice. Does she need to spend some time at an “easy” level for a while and just enjoy the reading? I don’t know what DRA level 3 means…I looked up the equivalency to Fountas & Pinnell and it seems she is reading “on grade level” for a child who has just finished kindergarten. I think you are wise to say she will benefit from time. 🙂

    If you really want her doing the sight words, our speech therapist and our OT use a trick that I think is clever. Spencer has a game on the table next to him while he does his work. So he might have to say 5 words 5 times each, then he gets to have a turn at the game. It’s sometimes a matching game, or a game like “The Honey Bee Tree” game. The tried and true reward from him is blowing bubbles. Same for the OT. He might have to cut a shape out with the scissors and then he can have a turn at the game (and a turn would be “turn over 4 cards and try to find a match”. They have some iPad games too that are relatively pointless, but he enjoys them.

    Or maybe it’s really the time of day that this work is taking place that she is objecting to. Snuggling on the couch first thing in the morning sounds lovely to me, and maybe she’s been loving it too, but now in the mornings she is thinking about starting her day a different way.

    It’s all so different for the kids who have to work a bit harder, isn’t it? I’ve never worried about this with Claire, but Spencer is going to struggle more because his difficulties are different. I’ve bought all sorts of stuff for us to do over the summer and am starting to sort out what our “summer home school” schedule is going to be so I can give him…well, I don’t really know if I am giving him a boost ahead, or catching him up. But he is making slow progress on his OT goals and I want to make sure we are doing some fun things at home to maintain his skills and strengthen his muscles while he is on a therapy break.

  13. Changes in life’s ebb and flow feel unsettling. That said, they’re part of the ride. You’ve got this and, more importantly, Isabelle will get this. Worthy ideas/perspectives for you to sift through in these comments, too.

  14. we did a book tasting at the library with my 3rd graders and they had all these books laid out on the chairs and the kids were to rate them and they saw the covers and got to read a bit of it. they loved it! it helped get even non readers excited.

  15. I just Sliced about my Li’l T and his reading. He just didn’t read for the longest time, even though he could. We went through a phase of “I’m stupid and can’t do anything.” We’ve really monitored that anxiety and we still read to him. I think as parents, we have to embrace what is best for our Littles. Keep up the great work, Mama!

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