Helping Hand

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that parents can tailor the curriculum and teaching methods towards the individual child’s needs.  In our case, we improved Son&Heir’s reading level, for instance, by imposing a strict three-hours-per-day reading regimen — topic or authors of his own choice, of course — and inside two years he went from a three-grades-below-average level to twelfth grade level, at age 15. (His favorite authors were Daphne du Maurier and E.L. Salvatore, and by age 17 he’d read their entire works respectively — an enormous feat in the case of Salvatore, whose works are prodigious).

For #2 Son, who was high-functioning autistic, we improved his reading ability by letting him watch any TV show he wanted, as long as sub-titles were turned on.  This was prompted by the fact that being autistic, he dreaded loud noises — he’d clap his hands over his ears and become near-catatonic — which meant that he would have to turn the TV sound way down to avoid being startled by dramatic increases in the soundtrack volume, but which resulted in him not being able to follow the dialogue and plot.  The sub-titles enabled him to follow the story, and it improved his reading level by a similar degree to Son&Heir’s.  (At age 17, he was yelling at the TV adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo  for being a travesty of the original plot;  I wasn’t even aware that he’d read the thing, but he had.)

So when I saw this, I nodded with approval:

…simply because I’d proven it to be true in my own experience as a homeschooler.

If you decide to do this, though, be aware that while comprehension and reading skills will improve, you have to work really hard on correct pronunciation, if like in #2 Son’s case you also turn down the TV volume (the spoken word teaches that, of course, so you have to be patient, thorough and non-judgmental in your constant correction).   I and the other family members still have to work on this when we talk to him, even though he’s now in his 30s.  (For those who’ve known him, you may suddenly feel very old;  sorry.)

But to improve reading skills at pretty much any age, closed captions can be your friend.


  1. Kinda tangential, but the episode has stuck with me for decades. I was on the air in radio for a long time. At one of my early gigs, we did a proforma public service program wherein I’d interview the school district supe, and/or someone he’d invite to spotlight the district’s goings on. One week the supe was accompanied by a parent whose youngster had benefited from the district’s literacy initiative.

    Mom was thrilled with Jr’s progress, but allowed as how it remained somewhat of a struggle. I related an experience of my own. As a yewt, I had a devil of a time learning to read. My parental units took that bull by the horns & procured flash cards with simple words on them. Every morning before breakfast, the cards were arrayed on the kitchen table, laid out in simple combinations/phrases. Mom or dad would be there to help me sound it out, but I had to do the work. Within a month, the dam had burst & it was water downhill from there.

    I suggested to Jr’s mom that she give it a whirl. She was offended. “That’s what I send him to SCHOOL for!”

    This woulda been early 90s. Nanny-state sheeple. They’re always around, kinda like the clap.

  2. I started reading at four, eager to drink from the font of knowledge books represented. My brother resisted reading, he saw no benefit from it.
    My frustrated parents voluntold me to get him going, and out of the special education class he’d been placed in. So, I started reading to him. Had a couple of false starts, then got him interested in LOTR. Read through the Hobbit, most of the way through the Fellowship, stopped in Moria and told him to read the rest himself. He finished the trilogy and asked for more books to read. Success!

  3. Like tweel, I started reading sometime in my preschool days. (I don’t think it was as early as four, but maybe at five.) Anyway, like a lot of things it was slow going at first and then something just clicked and I got it. (A lot of musicians say the same thing about learning to play an instrument.)

    Once I “got it”, I really took off. By the time I was a teenager, I was reading more than I watched movies or TV. Indeed, even to this day, I would rather have a good book than a good movie. When I was in the Navy, on one deployment, I read out the entire ships library. I now have a home library of well over 1000 volumes.

    I thank my mother for my love of books. Even today at 90yo, and with failing eyesight, she can go through a book a day. Unfortunately, covid has closed the public libraries in our area (…thank you Democrats) so my siblings and I are having to resupply her via our home libraries and the used bookstore.

  4. I remember reading somewhere that authors these days are deliberately dumbing down their books, so gone are the subtleties and wordplays of Swift, Austen and the like – never mind the complexities of Hayek, Plato, and their ilk – and we just have the mass-market drek that requires only a minimum of reading ability.

    1. Heck, even the stories of Victor Appleton II and Franklin W. Dixon are dumbed down from 70 years ago. I expect that in 75 years even Swift, Austen and Twain will only be read in graphic novel format.

  5. Turning on the subtitles to television programs is a great idea. I Hope that helps many people to read.

    The book that broke the ice for me was a Hardy Boy’s book when I was about 7.

    Reading isn’t a perishable skill but reading challenging books sure is. It took me a while to get back into classics that can be challenging to read.


  6. A couple points:

    I grew-up on a farm, my four grandparents lived next door.

    Us kids were constantly surrounded by and interacted with self-educated folks… family, extended ‘family’, neighbors.
    Everybody was constantly reading something, recommending some book, and comparing some book to some other book.
    Curiosity reigned!

    Everybody was interested in our home-based education, so each of us kids received a ‘Saturday’ book — subject was varied… engineering, geography/travel, fiction — then gave a book review while standing in front of everybody during our next every-Saturday family re-unions.

    For my eighth birthday, instead of a BB-gun, I received a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
    Based on other readings, I discovered some of their information was inaccurate!
    Finger marking the place, I marched next door to the grandparents!
    Granpa Jack (surname ‘Russell’, born in 1865 in Ireland) and Uncle Jesse (middle name ‘James’, born in 1899) were intrigued as I furiously pointed to the erroneous entry… then chuckled after they discovered the copyright date — my 1960 birthday gift was printed in 1932!

    Yes, words have meaning… and need to be in context.
    This’s one reason I discourage folks from using some random Bible quote to rationalize some act they choose to encourage/discourage.


    After decades of helicopter and small aircraft racket plus too much fun with machine-guns during an awkward phase in my youth, I am protective of my remaining hearing.

    I visit elderly shut-ins.
    We use the ‘captions’ option during movies and televisionprogramming… but I quickly realized ‘reading the scroll’ diverted my attention from facial cues and gestures.
    I lose a lot of the story impact.

    That ‘captions’ crutch changed my entertainment participation from from casual ‘enjoyment’ to the dreaded ‘frustrated editor’…. and I lost part of the sense of humanity/community I spectate at movies and televisionprogramming for in the first place.

    Last evening, we started AMONG RAVENS with the always adorable Amy Smart.
    No captioning, the music over-powered the dialogue.
    We quit after a couple-three minutes… our ‘frustrated editors’ asking each other “Did you get that line?” and “What did she say?”.

    Sadly, while caption writers are mostly pretty good, they often swap common spellings for words/phrases utterly out-of-context with the story.
    At that point, our frustrated editors engage our ‘verbal auto-correct’ to holler at the screen “That don’t make a lick-o-sense!”, and offer encouragements such as “Oh, for crying out loud, you can do better than that!”.

    On the ‘plus side’, many of our interpretation attempts culminate in a story far more entertaining than the script-writers intended…

  7. Yesterday’s newsprogramming discussed the failure(s) of the Baltimore government school agents to provide an adequate education to a seventeen year old.

    According to the story, while reading at the level of a freshly-weaned infant, the youngster missed 272 days of attendance, yet was promoted to higher-level instruction.
    As I recall from the newsprogramming, his ‘Grade Point Average’ is 0.13…. and he was in the top-half of his class.
    (Astute readers might notice this is below a passing grade in the range of ‘1’.
    An average student would achieve a ‘2’, an attentive student could easily earn a ‘3’, an exceptional student probably gets a ‘4’ without much trying, and grades exceeding the perfect ‘4’ are awarded to students engaging in self-education and furnishing reports on self-initiated projects outside the required curriculum.)

    According to the newsprogramming, the mother was employed at multiple places of employment, so had little time to participate in the raising of her multiple offspring.
    While decrying the Obvious! Failures! of the school government agents, the newsprogramming conspicuously avoided mentioning the presence of any of the mother’s male “life-partners”.


    I think folks such as Kim and New Wife are the only hope for our species…

  8. I use subtitles a lot because my hearing is mostly gone, and quite bad even with hearing aids. Too much shooting without ear protection back in the day when men were men and stupid.

    The best thing about subtitles is that they reveal the stupidity, ignorance, laziness and contempt for their customers of the entertainment industry. The subtitles often do not match the actual spoken words and/or appear many seconds early or late, making them useless and irritating.

    That’s when I yell at the screen and turn the thing off, lest I get dysphoric rage syndrome and smash the thing.

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