At some point, most homeschooling parents experience a sort of “anxiety spike” when their child hits 12 or 13 years of age. With the onset of “ninth grade” or “high school” just a year or so away, things seem to suddenly become more serious; heavy words such as transcript and ready for college slip into conversations. Concerns about the student being “at grade-level,” particularly in areas he or she may have struggled with in the past, such as writing or math, seem to grow. And it is especially easy to worry even more about boys, who we imagine will some day need to support a family and who also tend to mature a bit more slowly than girls.

Overall, I have been pleased to hold a rather relaxed attitude about grade levels and age-ability expectations; my wife and I have striven to embrace an individualized, flexible, holistic approach to education in our home, recognizing that each child is very different, will have a different mission in life, and will need skills and a course of study different from that of his or her siblings. However, even I have suffered the aforementioned anxiety spike about my son who, as one of the most dyslexic people I have ever met, literally could not read a book until he was almost 12 years old.

To say that schoolwork was hard for a boy who couldn’t read would be an understatement; some days it seemed like he made zero progress. But he always had plenty of energy. He wanted to draw, to build, to fight, to run and jump, to explore, to argue—in short, to play...all the time!

Once, when he was around 10 years old, I asked him, “Son, don’t you want to read?”

 “No.”

“Why not?” I queried, not containing my exasperation.

 “Because you don’t do anything when you read.”

Ugh! That was one of those bad moments when an evil thought such as “I’m failing him...maybe I really should send him to school,” creeps into one’s mind. Quickly, common sense returned, and the truth outshone this dark thought: “If he’s not learning to read here, at home, with one-on-one help, how in the world would a school ever do better?” We pursued every sort of method, program, system, or training that could be had, but with frustratingly little progress.

Fortunately, I was certain about a few things, and this knowledge sustained me through the most doubtful of days. One thing I knew and often reflected on was this: The salvation of his soul did not depend on his reading ability. A second thing I knew for sure was that there are many successful men who didn’t read much at all until their late teens. I personally know a man with several advanced degrees who didn’t read a book until he was 20 years old—and now he runs a publishing company! The third thing of which I was certain was that the most important component of nurturing an excellent speaking and writing ability is to build the language database in the brain through auditory input (by being read to out loud in huge quantity) and memorizing English verse and prose.1

Therefore, for many years, my son’s “school” time seemed to be mostly just basic math fact drill, copywork, and being read to out loud. And most of the rest of his day appeared to be play, though frequently accompanied by audiobooks on an iPod. He listened to hundreds of books, many of them classics by authors such as Dickens, Twain, Melville, Tolkien—authors whose work he never would have been able to read even if he had been reading “at grade level” and way more books than his parents could have read to him.

We persevered with faith that God had a plan for his life, that some day he would be able to read, and that even if he didn’t ever read well, he wouldn’t be doomed to failure in life. Meanwhile, he would sit in on my writing classes.