Total Language Plus is an innovative language arts curriculum focused on critical thinking and communication skills.

Reluctant Reader: Importance of Narration

I am a Charlotte Mason fan. If you know anything about her, you know how much she stresses reading from “living” books and relying on narration.

What are living books?

We’ve discussed living books in previous posts. These are nonfiction books written with passion from an expert in his or her field. These are also fiction books written with passion that capture a child’s heart. My favorite way to teach history is through such living books, but that’s a different subject. Living books are not text books. They are never pedantic, never boring, never condescending.

Narration is key in helping a child both learn to read and love to read. Some reluctant readers have solved the decoding issue, but the words mean nothing. They can rattle off the sentence, but not tell you what it meant. They have no connection with the words on the page. Beginning narration at an early age can help avoid this, but it’s never too late to begin.

Why narration?

At its foundation what narration does is teach a child to observe and relate to his world. What are you seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, thinking? It’s noticing the shades of green at the park. It’s stopping to hear the creek babble. It’s paying attention to the taste of an orange, a lemon, a grape. And it’s noticing the words in the book. Rhyming words, silly words, words that paint pictures and evoke emotions.

Beginning narration with elementary-age children

Our challenge, as it relates to the reluctant reader, is to introduce this method of looking at the world, and what he is reading. I recommend beginning by looking at great works of art or listening to classical music or taking a nature walk. As you look and listen and move, talk about what you see, hear, feel. Let me rephrase that. Ask your child to tell you what he sees and hears and feels. Don’t give up if at first his observations are limited.

Definitely don’t give up if he struggles to “notice” anything. Be calm. Show no frustration. Take all the time needed. Don’t give in to the temptation to tell everything you are experiencing, but do gently prod. For example, on a nature walk, you might begin the conversation by saying something like, “Look at all those shades of green. How many shades can you see?” Then talk about how the green of the grass is different from the oak leaf, which is different from the maple which is different from the needles on the hemlock.

Reading and narration

Read aloud to your children. Stop after a paragraph or so and ask them to tell you what they heard. If there is no response, ask leading questions, but grow in the direction of them telling you what they heard without the specific question.

If after several sessions, your child isn’t able to narrate back what you read, then plan ahead. Decide what question you will ask before you read a selection. Tell him what that question will be and ask him to be listening for the answer. Give him permission to interrupt you when he hears the answer. This is a tool to improve his listening and observation skills. When he can do this well, go back to reading then pausing to ask him to narrate back what he heard.

Much later, sometimes a significant amount of time later, your child will read silently, then come independently to tell you the exciting thing he just read. For now, we take it step by step.


Gracious Father, we bow before you, our all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving creator. We ask your protection on our families. We depend on you for success in our home schools. Please keep us from discouragement. Show us what is wise as we teach your children. Thank you for walking along with us. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.


Reluctance to Reading: Identify the Issue

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We want our children to read. Much of their educational experience will depend on how well they master reading, but there is a huge difference between struggling to learn how to read, and not enjoying it.

Don’t confuse reluctance to read with struggling to learn how.

If your child struggles to learn how to read, of course he is reluctant. You may need to back off. Definitely back off if he is under seven years old. Remember how we discussed the development of eye sight and other hindrances to learning to read? Continue reading aloud to him, but stop forcing him to perform. He isn’t ready. If he is still striving unsuccessfully as a nine year old, it may be time to seek more help.

Don’t confuse reluctance to read with a rebellious attitude.

This happens too often. The child is not fighting against reading, he’s fighting against you. No new way of presenting reading is going to fix that. You can find the best books in the world, but if the problem is relational, then the solution must focus on behavior. Be careful with this one. If the difficulty truly is one of defiance, then you’ll see it in more than just his attitude toward reading. Fix the behavior, and the problems with reading will disappear. Don’t fix the behavior and the problems with reading will increase.

Don’t confuse reluctance to read with the need for movement.

This seems obvious, but it is often overlooked. What is your child’s natural rhythm? Does he wake up slowly or ready to go? Does he have an ebb and flow to his energy level? If he’s expected to sit still every day at a time when his natural make-up says, “Move, move, move,” then it isn’t reading he’s avoiding, it’s sitting still. You want to read hanging upside down from a tree branch? Go ahead. You want to read on the rocking horse or while kicking your feet in the air? Why not? It isn’t only preschoolers who have excess energy. Consider if adding or allowing movement during the reading time might help your child enjoy it more.

Gracious Father, we bow before you and praise your name for you are holy and righteous. You alone are worthy of adoration. Please forgive us our sins and lead us away from temptation. Protect us from evil. As we teach your children, grant us wisdom to discern what is best for them and how to respond to them. Open our hearts to follow only you. Thank you for leading us and loving us. We come to you because of Jesus.

Reluctant Readers: Finding the Right Book Part Two

It would be easier if we could say, “My children dislikes reading, so he doesn’t have to read,” in much the same way we can say, “My child doesn’t enjoy baseball, so he doesn’t have to play.” Unfortunately that is not the case. Reading is a life skill. (Some might say baseball is, too, but that’s another topic.) Not a day goes by that we don’t read something, if only the label on a can of green beans.

Just the facts please.

One reason children dislike reading, especially boys, is they don’t relate to fiction. Many children’s minds are focused on what is true, what are the facts, what can I learn from this, and if the reading material is about a pretend boy and his dog, the child
doesn’t “get it.” Finding the right book for this child mebooks1ans we look for biographies, travel journals, true stories of varying types. I think that is why “My Side of the Mountain” resonates with so many. The author has successfully created a work of fiction that reads like truth.

To help in your search for books your child will enjoy, look for references such as Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson. This  great resource is not just a list of books by genre, but it provides detailed information about each title to help with your decisions.

Find “living books.”

Charlotte Mason spoke a lot about basing a child’s education around “living books” rather than text books. Just because your child prefers fact to fiction does not mean he will immerse himself in a dry textbook. He won’t. Your search for books will take you to authors who write about a subject because of their passion for it, not just because they are an expert in the field. Their enthusiasm will show in how they approach their topic, in their engaging style, not in their long list of credentials.

Don’t give up.

Does the task appear daunting? Too time consuming? Too much potential for failure? Then let’s pray about it. Helping children love to read impacts their lives not just for now, but the future as well.
Gracious Father, we bow before you as you are the Great I Am. You are everything good and powerful and merciful. Jesus our savior was once your very word. Please help us as we teach your children to find the tools we need. Help us not be discouraged or impatient. Thank you for going before us as we homeschool. We are not alone, for you lead us. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.



Reluctant Readers: Finding the Right Book, Part One

This post covers working with the reluctant reader who can read,

Reluctance? Not for these two!

Reluctance? Not for these two!

but doesn’t enjoy it. Maybe even stronger than not enjoying, he really firmly dislikes reading.

Now what? Do you make him read anyway? It isn’t fun for him, so is it a battle you want to fight?

My husband never understood how I could get so wrapped up in a book. He could read just fine, but he rarely chose to. He read the Bible because we are church-goers; the newspaper because he likes sports, but to pick up a work of fiction for fun? Not happening.

Until. One day a good friend was excited about an historical fiction book he was reading and he wanted to talk about it with Terry. Out of respect and love for his friend, Terry agreed to read it. The book was thick, written in small print. I was certain he’d never finish it. But I found my husband reading the book before we went to sleep at night. Picking up the book instead of the newspaper in the morning. In the bathroom. He even brought it with him to the dinner table. When he read the last page, tears glistened. He said, “I feel like I’ve been on a journey with my best friend, and now it’s over, how will I connect again with him?”

Powerful Emotional Experience.

As a writer I’ve been taught that readers read fiction for PEE: Powerful Emotional Experience. Authors attempt to connect with their readers to make them feel something. It is possible that your reluctant reader has never had that experience, just like my husband never had. For decades he thought he didn’t like to read because he never found a book that spoke to him in such a profound way. He never sought a book that spoke to him emotionally because he didn’t know it was possible.

But you do know. You’ve had those experiences. You are motivated to help your child enjoy reading because you know he’ll be blessed by it.

What do you do? Seek the book that will open that door. We aren’t talking about six to eight year olds, but more like ten years and older that have mastered the how of reading, not the why. I know the one that did it for my reluctant reading daughter:  “My Side of the Mountain.” We offer it in our TLP program and numerous moms through the years told us that it was the first book their sons actually enjoyed. Once that happens, once that first book is found, the door remains open. How will you find that special book?

  • Talk to librarians. Which books are most often checked out by boys or girls your child’s age?
  • Talk to parents with children who love to read. What are their children’s favorite books? Chances are you will have already tried without success some of their suggestions, but listen for the title you haven’t tried.
  • Continue reading aloud. Match your book selections to your child’s interest. And don’t give him something else to do as you read. Often we recommend this to keep the attention of wiggly students, but in this search for the book that will speak to your child, we want his attention on the story. Do stop often and talk about the story. Look for that spark of interest.
  • Pray. Our Father gave us His Word as one way to connect with Him. He knows the power of the written word and can direct you and your child to experience that power.

A few titles for your reluctant reader to check out:

We’ve been dealing with children’s literature for over twenty years. Here are a few favorites:

Boys:  Where the Red Fern Grows, My Side of the Mountain, Call of the Wild, The Giver, The High King, Dragon’s Blood

Girls: Caddie Woodlawn, Anne of Green Gables, Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, Dragon’s Blood

We’ll continue on this topic in the next post.

Reluctant Readers: Not Unintelligent, Just Not Ready

What is one of the first things homeschooling moms want to teach their children? How to read! Yes! So, Mom is ready, but is Joe? A lot has to happen for a child to be ready to read, and intelligence itself is a minor factor. It’s more about development. Development and intelligence are not the same thing.

We approached teaching my grandson Connor to read with a lot of trepidation. It felt as if this was the first real test as to whether or not he was “smart.” We all want smart kids, right? I mean, we were going to keep loving him, regardless, but how much easier homeschooling would be if he didn’t have learning challenges. How validating it is for us, if our children are “smart.”

Rubbish. It’s rubbish because how quickly and how well a child learns to read is not a direct reflection of his intelligence. Genetics plays a role, but not more than environment and the child’s natural inclinations. And so what anyway? We all have different gifts bestowed on us by our Heavenly Father and super intelligence is not the end-all. Intelligent children (or adults) are not better than less intelligent people. They aren’t happier. They aren’t kinder or braver or more faithful. Sometimes the adult, for all the wrong reasons, puts so much pressure on the child learning to read, that he is set up for failure.

A5726787-A462-4FED-BB34-E1E8E2B899AEHow do I help him get ready?

Relax. Learning to read is going to be one of the most important things your child accomplishes, but he has years to master it. Don’t begin before he is ready. To help him be ready, read aloud to him often. Let him see you reading and enjoying it. Talk, talk, talk about what you are reading. Provide mazes and dot-to-dots to train his eyes to track. Have lots of different types of books throughout the house and don’t be a book gorilla. We want our child to take care of all things, but if accidentally tearing a page sends you into a conniption fit, your child will respond by not wanting to touch the books.

Part of what must happen before he is ready to read is eye development. Those little letters swim around on the page, so expose him to words in large print. He’s not going to be ready until his eyes are. Researchers tell us that eyesight is not fully developed in some children until they are around nine years old, rarely before seven. The ability for both eyes to converge on a single subject is a prerequisite to reading–and no amount of bribing, nagging or discipline will change that. Your child’s reluctance to read can simply be a matter of vision development, but we make it worse when we push for the child to do what he is not ready to do.

Children Learn at Their Own Pace.

One of the blessings of homeschooling is letting our children learn at a pace that works for them. When we wait for the child to develop physically and emotionally, we have fewer problems. It is a myth that children who learn to read “late” do poorly in school. What feeds that myth is the poor attitude children develop when pushed beyond their ability. They begin too early, fail, feel frustrated, sense their parents’ frustration and decide they don’t like to read before they have a chance to learn.

All of this is good news. None of the suggestions for getting your child ready to read are difficult or cumbersome. Remove the pressure and enjoy the journey.

But there’s more coming in the next blog:  Books for Reluctant Readers.

What if the Reluctant Reader is Mom?

You’ve heard it so many times, it has become easy to block out. All the experts say, “Read to your children.”

You nod your head in agreement and hold inside your objections. My toddlers are wriggly and don’t want to sit still while I read. I don’t want to sit still while I read. I can’t do the voices. I don’t have the time. I’ve tried, but she turns the page before I’m done. The only book he wants to listen to is “The Little Blue Truck,” and I can’t face it again. I’m not a reader, and my life isn’t so bad.

Then when your child is older, you sit through the painful experience of him sounding out every word. A five-minute reading takes twenty. You fidget, look away from the page, offer encouragement, suggest Daddy listen this time. You end up “helping” by saying the word for her because you just want it to be over.

Finally, he is in third grade and can read simple books on his own. Hurray! Your job is done. Except it isn’t because he doesn’t like to read. He’d much rather watch television or play a video game. But you know he’s supposed to read, so you push him to do it, feeling a twinge of guilt. Maybe if I were a reader, he’d be one, too.


May I offer a tip?

Listen to audio books. Not in place of reading, but to inspire the love of story. Reluctant readers usually have not connected the words on the page with the actual story. Everyone loves story! Begin by listening to part of a great story, while you follow along in the book. Run your finger along with words in the book to show the connection with the audio and the book. Or listen to the book while you’re driving, but read the next chapter from the book at home.

Give the wiggly child something to do with his hands. Paper and crayons. Clay. Legos. Read, but stop regularly, perhaps every paragraph, and say something about the story. Ask the child something. Ask the child to draw or mold or build something related to the story. Ask the child to predict what might happen next.

May I offer another tip?

He’s at the sounding-out stage and you’re ready to jump out of your skin. You’ve read silently all ten lines and he’s only on the third word. You’d rather go clean the toilets, but Daddy beat you to it. Read every other line out loud for him. Follow along with your finger and say the words slowly so he can follow you. But you read them. Feel your blood pressure lower? When it’s his turn, you have to go back to listening to him sound out each letter, but you have hope! Your turn is coming!

Gracious Father, we come before you humbly, acknowledging You are our refuge, our deliverer. We depend on your mercy and grace as we ask for wisdom. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who works within us developing patience and joy. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.




To Read Or Not To Read–Never the Question


Are you back to school now that the holidays are over? Do you feel revived and recommitted to your homeschooling journey? Perhaps you added “read more” to your New Year’s resolutions.

Reading. I know you’ve heard the importance of reading stressed over and again, but that’s because it is so very important. I mean Really Important. In the next few weeks we’re going to delve into reading more deeply. Come along with us as we share practical suggestions on how to get more out of your child’s reading time, how to encourage your reluctant reader, and ways to improve comprehension.

We can begin now:

Tip 1: Let your children see you reading–and enjoying it. Don’t enjoy fiction? Don’t have time for books? Find a magazine that caters to your hobbies or special interests. We do our young children a disservice if the only reading they see us do is on a screen. I have an iPad in which there are–dare I say it?–hundreds of books stored. But the screen is not good for developing eye sight of those younger than twelve years old. Our young children need the tactile feel of paper in their hands. When they see you reading a magazine or book, they receive the message that reading is a pleasurable activity. If nothing else pleases you, if there are no magazines, no newspapers, no nonfiction or fiction books you can force yourself to read, then I guess, there is always the Word of God.

Gracious Father, we bow before your throne, giving you honor and glory for who you are. Please see us through the blood of Jesus, our savior, forgive our sins and hear our prayer. Equip us to homeschool our children. Please grant us wisdom, patience and perseverance. Lead us. We come to you because of Jesus. Amen.

Tips for Working with Reluctant Writers

 Tip Four:  Read.

How simple is this concept?  Writing and reading go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Skilled writers are readers.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  An artist learns to draw by first looking at pictures.  An aspiring musician listens to music.  Writers read. 

How can you maximize reading to improve a child’s writing?

Become a reader yourself.  Let your children see you reading-and enjoying it.  This may be the number one thing you can do to inspire a love of reading.

Read aloud regularly.  Make it a part of your family’s lifestyle.  Let the experience evoke “warm fuzzies.”  Cuddle together on the couch.  Make popcorn.  Do whatever it takes to make reading aloud delightful for your family. 

How can you make the most from reading aloud?

  • Stop often and discuss what is going on.  Let the child narrate back the action of the story.  Stop after each major scene to talk about what is happening. Make note of a well-written description or action scene.  Listen and respond to your child’s questions or comments.
  • Don’t make sitting still mandatory.  Let children mold clay as you read.  Or draw pictures.  Or play with Legos.  Or rub your tired feet.  Or wash the dishes.  Or fold clothes.
  • Read with expression.  DO NOT mumble or run words together.
  • Choose books from high quality literature.  You can’t influence a child’s writing for the good if the story being read was poorly written. 
  • If you take turns reading, don’t break at the end of the paragraph or page.  Provide a book for each family member, then stop in the middle of a paragraph-or even better in the middle of a sentence.  This forces everyone to read along, to pay close attention because no one knows when his turn may come.

 Go ahead.  Sit down and enjoy a good book without a trace of guilt.  You’re doing it for the sake of your children!

Tip Three: Validate the Process

Tip Three:      Validate the Process.

We teach that writing is a process, then ask students to follow a five-step procedure.  They’d rather not complete those five steps.  They’d much prefer do it in one step and if all we, as teachers, are interested in is the final product, we’ve provided scarce motivation to follow the five steps (discuss and gather information, write, revise, proofread, publish).

Validate the process by having students turn in ALL the drafts of their assignment, with the “published” copy on top.  It’s a something like the math teacher who insists students “show their work,” rather than just give the answer.

Requiring each draft to be turned in does several things:  first it keeps the student on track.  If he is accountable for only the final draft, he may procrastinate writing until just before the final draft is due.  If he must “show his work” along the way, then he is more likely to follow all the important steps.

Second, it demonstrates the importance of each step.  A child needs to know that his work matters.  If something he does isn’t even looked at, then he is tempted to expend minimal effort.  Turning in the “back steps” says those steps are worth the effort.

Third, it helps the student see how his work has developed which will provide a foundation for more successful writing assignments.  He will gain confidence that the steps work.

How should the work be turned in?  There is more than one option:

  • You may prefer to see the work as it progresses and set a rigid time frame for each step. 
  • You may choose to let the student compile his work when finished with the “published” copy on top.  Underneath that should come the proofread copy, then the revised copy, the first draft, followed lastly by his notes. 
  • You may favor using a folder or binder where all work is kept and is available for you to check at any time. 
  • If a student uses a computer for his writing, then all drafts can be kept in a file.  The student would use the “save as” feature as he works through the steps.

When students understand the value of what they are doing, they are more likely to invest time, effort, and thought.  Encouraging the development of excellent writers includes not only teaching the writing steps, but understanding motivational issues as well.

 Tip Four coming soon.

Tip Two (For Reluctant Writers)



Tip Two:  Discuss first.

I remember sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of me, pen in hand, and feeling paralyzed.  There were ideas spinning in my head, but none worthy of a first sentence.  The ideas swam around, without coming close enough that I could reel them in.

This is when a discussion helps.  Hashing over a topic helps complete ideas.  One can verbally stumble-bumble through half-formed thoughts, but through dialogue see them develop into recognizable opinions or concepts.  The conversation should be give-and-take, with free exchange of thoughts and little or no censorship, as in a brainstorming session.

Start by asking who, what, where, when, why and how questions to direct what type information should be researched.  Even when an essay is opinion based, there must be facts behind the beliefs.

Discussing a topic before writing gives reluctant writers a sense that they aren’t all on their own.  It gives gifted writers a jump-start on the direction they may wish to take.  It reduces some of the re-writing.

For the youngest writers, I jot down phrases to remind them of what was discussed.  For a little older student, I’ll suggest he record any key ideas that spark his interest.  For a high school level student, I’ll focus more on an engaging, thought-provoking discussion and let him decide what, if any, notes he wants to take.

The discussion step may require more than one session.  At the onset, the student may not have enough information to participate in a helpful dialogue.  Set him in the right direction by helping him come up with questions to research.

Listen and ask for clarification rather than monopolize the conversation.  Don’t use this step to preach at your child or try to coerce him to agree with you.  The essay is his to write.  Motivate him by being interested in his thoughts.  Challenge him to explain his ideas with an example or illustration.  If his ideas are immature or illogical, don’t rush to point out what is wrong.  These are his ideas, after all, and you are there to help him put them on paper, not dictate what he should think.

Some students will be more interested in your ideas than their own.  Some may be afraid of being “wrong.”  Thinking takes a lot of energy and not every student cares enough about writing to expend much effort.  In the beginning, that’s okay.  Because you are not recording the discussion word for word, he must still write the ideas his own way.  As he matures, he will care more about his own thoughts.

After a great discussion, don’t let your student weasel out of writing the paper.  He may approach you with the idea that since you now know what he thinks, there’s no reason to write the essay, but while understanding his thoughts is a key point, it is not the only point.  Learning to put his idea on paper is as important as the idea itself.

Tip Three is coming soon!