Adventures in Tutoring – Opening Up the World of Reading to Ones Who are Struggling


I’m a homeschool mom of 10 kids. I’ve been teaching my own kids almost exclusively for 27 years. I loved teaching my own children and helping them to discover new interests and develop skills they’ll need for life. I’ve introduced topics and ideas to them, read good books to them, and encouraged them to develop their talents. I have loved walking alongside them in their learning journeys and watching them grow far beyond my abilities and knowledge in their chosen areas.

But now my kids are mostly grown. I only have two left who are under 18. Everyone else has graduated, and these youngest two don’t need much from me.

So what was I to do with all of my maternal and teaching instinct that was no longer needed or appreciated by my own kids? I joined Varsity Tutors and started teaching other kids!

One of my first students was a boy named Miles* who was really struggling with reading. He was actually homeschooled by his dad, but they knew they needed extra help because he was already in third grade and still not able to read. He was very bright, a good baseball player, and a genuinely nice kid. At first, he was kind of shy, but I knew that part of that was his insecurity, especially about his inability to read. I had to do most of the talking, which isn’t my usual MO, but I kept probing until I found out what he was most interested in. Not surprisingly, it was baseball. So I started looking for books that he could at least read parts of that had good stories centered around baseball. I found books in a series called Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly. The first story we read together was called Astro Outlaw. We started slowly – very slowly. I had Miles read a few sentences, helping him with every other word, then I read 2 or 3 pages, then I would have him read a few sentences, again helping him with most of the words. We did that until I felt that he was getting tired of it, then we would pick out words from the story to write on the board (there was a white board on our Zoom page that Varsity uses). I would write the words and have him read them.

Sometimes I would write a list of words that were related to baseball. I found that he was more likely to figure out words if he knew that they had something to do with something he was interested in. Likewise, he was able to figure out the words in the story when they pertained to baseball because he was so familiar with baseball and how it works. He knew the terms, the plays, and he could predict what the next word would be, so that helped him to sound out the words. He constantly had to sound out words at that point. Phonics wasn’t working for him. But he was not able to remember sight words, either! So I helped him read most of the words, and then I would give him a break and read to him. I told him to look at the words and try to follow along with me. I wanted him to get the benefit of enjoying the story and moving along in it without the hard (impossible) task of reading it himself. But I wanted him to get some practice in trying to sound out or get familiar with words as he saw them over and over again. Many children learn to read by reading. And being read to helps them, too. They hear how it is supposed to sound. And they are watching as you model reading with enjoyment.

I tried different activities with him that involved reading and writing words. We did several crossword puzzles. We did Word Searches. And we wrote words from the story and words that were significant to his life.

We met twice a week for several weeks with gradual progress. I could see him starting to recognize some words. He could read more sentences without getting exhausted or frustrated. Sometimes he would ask me to take over reading, which I was happy to do. But the length of passages increased, and he started to need less and less help with the words.

I asked him who his favorite baseball players were and found books about them written at a reading level that he could handle. We read about Babe Ruth. We read about Ty Cobb. We read some stories that had characters who dealt with relationship problems and learned and grew through the situations in the story. One such story was The Baseball Turnaround by Matt Christopher.

We even played an online game called blooket.com that we played against each other. We could choose the subject, so sometimes we would do a vocabulary game, but most often, we would play a game that involved the game of baseball or the teams in baseball. He loved to win, and he did a lot of it since he knew all of the teams and players, and I knew very few of them. It was so good for his confidence to win so many times. And he was reading in order to play the game.

After about 3 months of reading good stories that he liked (mostly about baseball), doing puzzles, playing games, reading word lists, and working on Phonics, Miles started reading!!! I was so excited when he started reading every word without needing any help. He grinned and nodded while I hooted and hollered.

A week later, his mom sent me a note thanking me for sticking with him and helping him to really grasp the concept of reading. She was noticing the difference and was so happy. She told me that he would no longer be embarrassed to read in front of his peers in the homeschool co-op that he went to and that he would be able to take the writing class that he had been wanting to take with his friends.

Unfortunately, that meant that my time with him was over, because that class would be occurring at the time that I had been tutoring him. His mom didn’t want to keep him too busy. After all, he needed a lot of time for baseball!

I felt very gratified by this experience with Miles. It gave me confidence in my ability to teach children who have some kind of block that is keeping them from learning how to read. I used the methods that made sense to me and ideas that came to me when I was praying about the situation. And they were very effective.

I’m still tutoring with Varsity Tutors. If you feel that your child could benefit from tutoring in Elementary Reading or Math, give Varsity Tutors a call and ask for Penney Douglas. You can use my referral link, and they’ll know I sent you.

I’m also set up to tutor on Outschool.com. If you would prefer that platform, join me there.

*not his real name

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