Happy Cheetah Reading

How Finally Taking Out the Trash Will Remind You of the Best Way of Learning to Read

One of my sons is the all-time trash taker-outer. He swapped with his brother, who is the all-time compost taker-outer. I think they both think they got the best deal.

But the thing about taking out the trash is that our gravel driveway is about 300 feet long, and it’s a steep hill. We’ve had delivery trucks (and the occasional unlucky friend) get stuck.

And this last week, due to a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with my son, the trash can stayed at the top of the driveway.

So by the time the week had rolled around, he faced an uphill task. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I might have split the trash into two bags, but he chose the other possibility: putting it into the red wagon and wheeling the bag up the hill.

And I saw that his brother put down the shovel from the hole he was digging and ran over to help.

Oh, how sweet! I thought. My own thoughts at that age would probably have run more like: Have you ever smelled the compost I have to take out? Why didn’t you take the bag up earlier this week? I’m digging my own hole here! Don’t bother me!

But I watched as, all the way up the drive, he helped give a boost and kept the wagon from tipping. The brothers laughed and chatted as they moved along.

I was thinking about this moment later, and it reminded me of how I thought I was supposed to teach my child to read. I would give him a task. He needed to do the task.

It might be super hard for him — even harder than trying to pull a fully laden cart up a steep gravel driveway — but that’s his job, and he needed to do it.

And I might say, “Good job!” as he went, but I wouldn’t give a tricky word. He needed to sound those out or bring them up from the deep recesses of his memory. After all, how else would he learn?

I’m not sure where this “do better, try harder” mentality came from. (Maybe from my own internal gracelessness, dating back to my childhood?!)

But it was a shocking, almost scandalous change of mindset when I started using the Happy Cheetah Reading System. The rule is: do not let your child struggle. Not even a little bit.

I get to help stabilize the reading process, by saying things like, “Get your mouth ready for the first sound,” which almost always prompts the right word. Or, for my son, who suffered through five years of incorrect training on how to recognize b and d, I supply it the correct sound before he has the chance to guess wrong.

At some point, maybe he’ll say, “Mom! Stop! I know!”

And if not, I’m reinforcing in his brain the correct sounds, trying to reconstruct those twisted and broken pathways.

And I also get to give him a boost. He’s reading a book right now about sharks that includes the sentence, “It has six slits on each side.” He paused when he came to the final two words, and I knew he hadn’t seen those words before. So I simply read them for him. He’ll know them next time. Or maybe it will take two or three more tries, but he’ll get there.

My role as tutor shifted from that of a half-heartedly cheering (but still a bit impatient) bystander, to an engaged participant. I get to stabilize, I get to give a boost. And mostly I get to talk and laugh through our lessons.

Today my son wondered why the word know has that k.

“Because otherwise it says now.”

“Well, maybe we could change the spelling and put an e on the end.”

“That’s an interesting idea. But, sadly, we’re not in charge of spelling. . . . Wait! Are you purposefully distracting me from your reading?”

<chuckle, chuckle>

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