There is no squabbling so violent as that between people who accepted an idea yesterday and those who will accept the same idea tomorrow. ~Christopher Morley
To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains. ~ Mary Pettibone Poole
Teaching children to read has become a business, a career, and a specialist degree. Some parents fear that their children will not learn to read well enough and on time. Some parents fear that their children may not be capable of learning to read proficiently enough to ensure a good education. Learning to read by a specified time (age 5, 6) has become an all important benchmark for parents and for educators. Learning to read has become serious work to be accomplished in step and on time, or else one is labeled and stamped 'disabled.'
What if learning to read does not have to follow the book? What if it does not have to happen 'on time' by age 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or beyond? What if learning to read does not have to look like a series of steps from one level to another?
Learning to read doesn't have to take place in a class. It doesn't have to look like school. It can, but it doesn't have to; and for some children, it is best that it not. It can look more like a natural, free-forming process that includes phonics and/or instruction, or not. It can take its time. It can evolve in a very personal way over time.
While experts argue over the virtues of phonics instruction over whole language instruction, some children are learning to read as they come into the world of language in their own way, despite the virtues and pitfalls of either method. Methods matter little to a child engaged in her own natural process.
Below are stories and commentary in support of children who learn to read in non-traditional times and/or ways. These commentators, children and parents are showing us that how, what, and why one learns to read does not have to be tied to expectation, judgment, or fear.
These stories, commentary & vignettes offer a view into how and why we live life without school.
A few Questions we hope to address:
- How do children learn to read?
- Can children learn to read without reading programs?
- Do all children need to be instructed in reading?
- What works best, phonics or whole language instruction?
- What happens to a child who learns how to read "late"?
- How can a child learn if they can't read or read "proficiently"?
- Are there benefits to delaying reading instruction or "late" reading?
- What type of environments promote reading?
- What if learning to read does not have to look like a series of steps from one level to another?
Stories & Commentary
Posts by Guest Authors
Reading, by Beth
Forrest had just turned three when he first made the connection between a letter, the sound it makes, and a word which begins with it. It was early summer, and we were drawing with sidewalk chalk. He drew the letter “C” and excitedly said, "Look mama! C! C is for cat, right mama?"...
Word Magic: About Early Reading, by Elesheva
I am currently reading And The Skylark Sings with Me by David Albert. It has been a truly interesting read and I am much taken with the author's story of the homeschooling of his two precocious daughters and also his discussions of the problems with compulsory education....
Back to the Beginning, by Christine
From as early as I can remember, I have wanted to read. When I went to kindergarten, the reading lessons of the day were taught with small, yellow paperback books: a series of books about a monkey and his animal friends. As in many other early reading books of its time, it had lines like: “Mit and Mat...Mit sees Mat...Mat has bat.”...
I have been watching my five year old son learn to read.
My son lives in a family of autodidacts. Almost everything we know and do in this family arises from self-teaching. We unschool out kids and have been largely influenced by the work of John Holt, Joseph Chilton Pearce and John Taylor Gatto in this matter....
Learning to Read, by Terri
I've told this story countless times, on UU Homeschoolers and elsewhere, but I'm glad to enter it "officially" into the record to hopefully set at ease the minds of all those overwrought parents whose children aren't reading by the age of 1... Our now 14 year old son didn't learn to read until he was 10...
Posts by Featured Authors
Upside Down and Backwards, by Laureen
We're playing with learning to read, but Rowan's not all that interested. He's far more fascinated with learning to write. So we're doing a lot of that. I'm getting used to spelling out my entire grocery list, notes to Jason, pretty much anything I need written down. He's not interested in worksheets or any other formal writing practice; he wants to freeform....
Teaching a Child How to Read, by Jena
Reading is the number one, most important thing you can do for your child's education. Reading starts your child on the path of following his interests as far as he wants to go. That's obvious, right?...
Our "Learning Instinct", by Steph W.
My three-year-old, Trishy, is constant noise and motion. Lately, she spends much of her time "writing" and drawing. Perhaps it is because she sees so much writing and art happening in the house each day. She experiments with her hand - and the pencil or marker - as her drawings become more representational and her marks look more and more like letters....
How My Daughter Learned to Read, by Robin
I have “lesson” resistant children. It seems they were born that way....
How do Children Learn to Read, by Marsha
Children learn to read in different ways, just as children are different and unique in every other way. One young man told me he learned to read by memorizing the shape or outline of words. He didn’t focus on the letters at all. Interesting!...
An Act of Affirmation, by Laureen
Reading to my sons is one of the chiefest delights I have always associated with mothering. Snuggling up with freshly-bathed and jammied babies, winding down from the day, reading about worlds of fantasy and imagination. It just doesn't get any better....
Patience, Practice and Time, by Linda
Often in homeschooling groups a frequent conversation is about reading. When does your child read? How much does he read? What age did she start reading? What grade level reading is she doing? What if they don’t want to read? What if he reads too much? What subject matter and breadth of subjects are read? Strangely enough, I have discovered that many of my friends are addressing the same issues with their public schooled kids....
Knowing When to Push, by Stephanie
Just before Jason turned 8, I could tell that he had all the information he needed to read and was ready, but was struggling to pull it all together. I agonized over whether to try a reading program…I thought that something a bit more structured might help him connect the dots...help him see that there were patterns and rules and de-mystify the process. But he did not want me to teach him or show him. And I worried that I somehow would be taking something away from him by not letting him learn on his own time....
Learning to Read is Not Scary, by Tammy
How can parents possibly teach their own children how to read? Reading is so complicated. There are phonics and sight words and grammar rules and about a million different theories and hundreds of programs to choose from. How can a parent, without years of experience and training, wade through all of the information to know where to even start?...
Bookworms, by Cindy
So, with my first three children, I have an instructional reader, a pleasure reader, and an information reader. Each style of reading is valued, and I consider them all "bookworms" in their own right. I have to wonder if my siblings of birth, who didn't read for pleasure, may have enjoyed a different style of reading if any of their environments had valued it....
Beyond the Homeschooling Catalogs, by Celeste
A few years ago, several friends of mine discovered an amazing new reading curriculum which worked wonders with their “late readers”. It was extremely effective, transforming illiterate children into proficient readers seemingly overnight....
How Jason Learned to Read, by Stephanie
When Jason (now 9) was younger, I never really set out to "teach him to read". But he has always liked books and being read to so we did that a lot....
My son is now 9. He's never been to school. He's never been schooled at home. He learned to read by being in a literate-rich environment (and what kid in Westernized society isn't, nowadays?). The process moved pretty seamlessly from playing with letter magnets on the fridge to "Mommy what does qrwtzlkgnm say?" (made up letter combinations) through silly verbal rhyming games and "how many words can you think of that start with R?" games in the car (he'd pick the letter and ask us). Frequently seen words like Stop and Exit were swallowed whole. Books and magazines were all around - along with videogames, subtitles and closed captioning, highway signs and store displays. Just before he turned 5, he noticed a commercial for Hooked on Phonics and told us we "had to" get that so he could learn to read. What he didn't realize was that he was already beginning to read small words and short phrases. I "took advantage" of the need to get it NOW and suggested we use stuff we already had on hand rather than wait for the money and shipping time to get that product. Okay by him so I pulled out a well-known phonics program. That lasted maybe 5 minutes before we were totally frustrated. He was intimidated by the volume of printed matter (despite reassurances that the words were a 'script' for ME to read, not him). We took a break and relaxed. Before bed, I showed him the first set of Bob books and asked if maybe that would be useful. That first night, I read the whole set. Next night, he read one, I read the rest. Third night, he read one or two, I read an assortment as he picked them. Pretty much, they just convinced him that what he was already becoming able to do was indeed "reading". As best as I can figure, based on what I saw and in talking with my husband and mother-in-law (hubby seems to have learned to read the same way our son did), is that he would bite off a word and digest it, breaking it down into components. Then those components would be used to build other words as he came across them. Kind of the way food gets digested into various nutrients which are then used and combined as needed to build our bodies. When questions arose, we'd answer them straight out, without prompts to "sound it out" or whatever. At this point, he reads at will anything from videogame instructions designed for teen to adult readers to websites to books to magazine articles - anything from Captain Underpants to National Geographic to the Narnia series to gaming magazines to graphic novels.
~Deb R in CT
My story is about Emily. When she was (I think) 5 1/2 I started using 100EZ lessons. Every night before bedtime we'd do one lesson, and it worked well for several months. Then Emily started resisting the lessons, so we stopped for at least 2 months or maybe 3. I asked her if she'd like to start again and she said yes, so we continued for maybe just 2 weeks before she was ready to stop again. I gave it time and asked again if she wanted to start again, and she did, and we ended up finishing the book. That took 12 months. But, while she could read those words, she was unwilling to take any risk (as I interpreted it) in trying to read books because there might be words she just didn't know already. I didn't push it. No more reading lessons of any kind, just kept reading to her. Once in a while I'd ask her if she'd like to read a paragraph or a page of the book I was reading to her and she would. But she really resisted doing more than that. When we were doing other things, at home or out, she would point out plenty of words she could read, and they were not just the words from the 100EZ lessons. That went on for a long time. During all this time, she would love to write things down, in about 20 different notebooks and journals and diaries and small notepads, you name it! Her spelling was naturally mostly wrong, and sometimes hard to interpret, but I didn't interfere unless she asked how to spell something. Then, we spent a month in Italy, where spelling and reading is entirely predictable, and she mentioned she wished English were like that. This was when she was just 2 months from turning 9, and still refusing to attempt more than a page of a book like Magic Tree House. When we returned, my parents clipped comics for her to read, just a few, and she enjoyed reading them. Then maybe a couple days after that, she just picked up a book and started reading. She hasn't stopped since, and I was completely stunned, but of course really happy, that it just happened so naturally, when she was finally ready to deal with unknown words (at least that's my guess as to why it happened).
~Silvia (Emily (10), and Thomas (7)) http://pomoyemu.blogspot.com/
My son was almost 5 when he came bouncing into the kitchen after dinner and informed us that we needed to get Hooked on Phonics so he could learn to read. At this point, he was already recognizing common signage such as Stop and Exit, knew letters and sounds, had a very printed word environment (my husband and I are both bibliophiles). We did things like 'buddy reading" where I'd read along until I reached a specific word (such as the word "Stop" in the book Go, Dog, Go) and he'd read that word then I'd continue. I had, some 2 or 3 years earlier, picked up a well-known scripted lesson based reading program because it was heavily discounted at the time. I figured we could just stash it and pull it out when it was "time". So, I explained to my son that Hooked On Phonics would cost some money and take a while to arrive. How about using this other material I had right at hand? We could start right away! Sounded good to him, so I grabbed the book and opened to lesson 1. He physically recoiled at all the words on the page even though I told him those were for me to read. Things went downhill from there. After about 5 or 10 minutes of mutual frustration, we put that away and went to do something else entirely. At bedtime, I pulled out the first set of Bob books (yes, I got that ahead of time too). I showed them to my son and suggested we read these for our bedtime stories. He agreed and I read the whole set with him sitting beside me looking at the words and pictures. The next night, I suggested he read the first book - which he did - then I read the rest. Night 3, he read the first two, I read an assortment of the others as he chose them. Basically, they confirmed to him that he already could read and he was ready to move on. As best as I can figure, he "swallows" words whole then internally "digests" them into their components and uses those components as building blocks for figuring out new words. He's almost 9 now and reads pretty much anything he chooses, whether it's videogame instructions written for teens and adults, or magazine articles ranging from National Geographic to gaming magazines to "kid's" magazines, or actual novels of various sorts. It was very much a similar process to when he learned to walk - he went from 0 to 60 in seconds flat!
~Deb in CT
None of the kidlets were "taught" to read. It just seemed to happen. We have hundreds of books, books on tape, chalkboards, white boards, magnetic letters and fridge poetry. They all went from asking where a particular word was on a page when I read to them to reading themselves.
That is except with the youngest. I guess how she learned to read was so funny, that the memory of it has stuck with us. When folks complain about young children watching television, I always point to youngest and tell them "television taught her how to read." Youngest was an avid Wheel of Fortune watcher from about age 3. She learned the alphabet watching Wheel. Learned to read watching Wheel. Learned to spell watching Wheel. AND, she taught her Barbies to read using magnetic alphabet letters and playing Wheel in her bedroom <g>
Thank you Pat and Vanna!
Focus on early literacy is another bugaboo of the NCLB initiative. I quote: “States that establish a comprehensive reading program anchored in scientific research from kindergarten to second grade will be eligible for grants under a new Reading First initiative.” While putting reading first sounds very positive and high minded, studies have shown that many children are not ready to read at such a young age, and indeed, can be harmed by having it introduced before their eyes are developed enough. Why don’t the educators know this? Of course, we have to remember that this initiative was put together by politicians, but one would want to assume they had very well-versed educational consultants advising them, wouldn’t one? Dr. Raymond Moore and his late wife Dorothy (a reading teacher) support their contention that reading should not be pushed, with scientific studies! (3) Their book, Better Late than Early, explains their position, along with a bibliography of the studies they used to support their position. Isn’t it amazing? There are scientific studies used by NCLB to promote early reading and scientific studies used to promote later reading by a homeschooling advocate!
~Marsha, from NCLB and Me
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