Never too late to learn to read

Never too late to learn to read

Graham Tumai, 59, read his first book this month.

BIG STEP: Graham Tumai, 59, read his first book this month. It was a book about the humble sausage, but it was a big step for the Hellers sausage-maker.

It was a book about the humble sausage, but it was a big step for the Hellers sausage-maker.

The Christchurch man joined his company’s work-based literacy scheme just five months ago, unable to read or write even the most basic words.

After an hour a week of class, and plenty of dedication to his homework, he can now read and write, and is learning maths.

“To me, it’s done me the world of good. I feel I have achieved out of it,” the grandfather of six said.

As a child, Tumai missed a lot of school.

“I was always thinking about what would happen when I got home, rather than doing schoolwork. I never realised it was that important,” he said.

“I was expelled at nine or 10 and, from then on, I never really bothered with anything.”

That lack of education meant Tumai could not sign his name until he was 25. Being illiterate was embarrassing, he said.

“For me, anything that anybody gave me I was embarrassed, like, give me a pen and fill this out.”

Tumai believed he was the only one with a problem until the literacy programme opened his eyes to how many other adults were also struggling.

“I used to tell people ‘I’m not good on reading’ and catch their eye to see what they think.”

Tumai used to avoid helping his grandchildren with homework, but now likes to be involved.

He and his eight-year-old granddaughter worked on his reading together, and the whole family joined in dice games to help him practise maths.

“I’m achieving one thing at a time and I’m getting there,” Tumai said.

Hagley Adult Literacy Centre head tutor workplace Sue Vallance said working with people such as Tumai was “humbling”.

His was a case of missed opportunities, as he was a quick learner and enthusiastic student, she said.

“It’s people like him we need more of in the world, because they will go out and say `I have a difficulty’, and the stigma is going, because they all think they are alone.”

Yesterday was International Literacy Day. Research from 2006 found that about 1.1 million New Zealanders 43 per cent of adults aged 16 to 65 have literacy skills below those needed to participate fully in a knowledge society.

Craig’s response as a Letter to the Editor:


Manawatu Standard

Palmerston North

How heartwarming that Graham Tumai of Christchurch has learned to read at age 59. But how disgraceful that the compulsory school system not only failed in its stated mission toward Mr Tumai, but that even today, “1.1 million New Zealanders, 43 per cent of adults aged 16 to 65, have literacy skills below those needed to participate fully in a knowledge society.” The compulsory, secular state schooling system has been going for 130 years. That seems long enough to figure out how to teach reading. And yet the system, despite the many fully dedicated teachers within it, now produces masses of near-illiterates. And that is on top of record levels of bullying, drug abuse and pornography.

The school system is a fraud. Although the law requires children to attend schools, neither the Ministry of Education nor the schools nor the teachers are held responsible when the system produces illiterates. This fraudulent system has deceived most parents into thinking their children’s education is in good hands when in fact it is unsafe educationally, physically, toxicologically and morally. Get out of it. Teach your children yourself at home.

Craig S. Smith

National Director

Home Education Foundation

How do you motivate a nearly 6-year-old boy to want to learn to read?

How do you motivate a nearly 6-year-old boy to want to learn to read?

Posted in Tough Questions

Boys are often a year or a year and a half behind girls developmentally at that age. My first reaction to the question was, “Relax, don’t worry about it”. Resist the temptation to compare him to others, any others, for he is a unique individual with his own developmental timetable. It will almost certainly not match the one the schools use: it is based on some sort of mystical “average” the experts have dreamed up somewhere and is some kind of guide to a teacher with 25 kids in a classroom. But you are just one-to-one. This has tremendous educational and social advantages over a classroom. You can spend most of your time interacting with your son and he with you…..rather than he with a book or an assignment sheet of work to do, set by the teacher who is far too busy trying to maintain order and get through the subjects in the time available to spend more than a moment with any one child.

Read to him. Read books at his “level” of interest and understanding and at a level you would think is way above. Read stuff like Treasure Island, Pilgrims Progress, Gullivers Travels and other classical literature rich in vocabulary, character development and an honesty in grappling with human issues. Read at least two hours a day. Honest. This will improve his vocabulary amazingly. It will also provide you with countless opportunies to answer the questions he is sure to have about words, characters, the setting, the action, etc. This is all excellent instructional time, the best you could possibly hope for. Why? Because he is asking the questions!!! That means his mind is engaged with the material and his cognitive skills are being worked and his imagination is operational and his powers of enquiry and inquisitiveness are being fanned into flames. Each question constitutes what the experts call a “teachable moment”, which in the classroom occurs only when there is a fortuitous coincidence of teacher availability, subject interest and enough curiosity by a child to overcome both inertia and the possibility of negative peer reaction for the child to actually ask a question. But with one-to-one tutoring, you can have dozens of such teachable moments throughout the day!

Reading to him also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about things you want him to be clear on. And the reading material, if it is any of the rich literature and biographies around rather than the dry Dick and Jane calibre of stuff they often get in schools, will provide many launching pads for you to tell stories from your own background experience: your extended family, tales from when you were a child (always a favourite with children), life lessons you’ve learned, your perspective on significant moments in history you’ve lived through, etc. You will be forming his world view, his attitudes, values, standards, concepts of right & wrong, good & bad, wise & unwise. These are the things which are used to build up his frame of reference through which he eventually filters everything he hears, sees and experiences externally, and through which he will filter his own conscious thinking and evaluation processes. This is vitally important. And the sad thing is, most children have this frame of reference formed with large measures of the attitudes, values and standards they picked up from school and playmates and TV.

If you are enthusiastic about reading, if you get excited about the reading material yourself, your excitement will almost guarantee your son’s excitement and anticipation of the reading sessions. It is great if you two are curled up together in an easy chair, but it is not necessary. Read to him while he is drawing or playing with Lego. Read while he is playing in the sandbox, or washing the dishes, or tidying up his room, or massaging your feet or folding the laundry.

At some point he will be begging you to teach him how to read, because you can’t read as much to him as he would like, and he sees you buried from time to time in a book indulging your own passion to read. And of course, you will have told him plenty of times about the treasures of excitement and fun just waiting for him to discover between the covers of those books sitting on your shelves.

We’ve all heard it said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. Maybe so, but you can put salt in his feed!! The salt is your thoroughly positive attitude toward reading, your enthusiasm for it and your obvious passion for indulging in the activity yourself! Yes, your example is fundamental to your son’s learning anything. We are here face to face with one of those profound gems of wisdom, marvellous in its simplicity: monkey see, monkey do. This is a bit too simplistic, actually, for we humans are a lot more complex than that.

To summarize, meditate on two very sobering passages of Scripture, the implications of which are easy to see, yet frightening in how they will be manifested down the track. Luke 6:40 says a student will be just like his teacher once fully taught. And Galatians 6:7 can be taken as a glorious promise or as a scary threat: God is not mocked: we will reap what we sow.

From Keystone Magazine
September 2001 , Vol. VII No. 5
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig