Part of what drew me to homeschooling was the freedom to let my kids learn at a pace that made sense to them. I wanted to give them the space they needed to develop on their own timetable. In doing so, I found that I had to re-examine some basic beliefs that I held about learning.
When I started homeschooling, I read about homeschoolers whose children did not start reading until they were 8, 9 or even 10 years old. I have to admit to being a bit surprised. After all, we hear all the time about how reading is “the key to learning” and how important early reading is. These “late readers” must surely be at a disadvantage. Many schools nowadays are pushing reading so that if kids are not reading by the end of kindergarten it is recommended that they take summer classes to “catch up” (this happened to my son’s best friend). The idea of a child of 8 or 9 or 10 not reading seems like it must be the kiss of death. And probably in school it would be. But for a homeschooled child, it does not have to be and in actuality can be what saves the love of reading for that child.
Reading is like walking (or any other developmental area such as crawling and speaking) which has a “normal” range where some kids walk early and some kids walk later. Just as you can not make a child walk before they are ready, you can not make a child read before they are ready. You can however make a child think they are dumb or learn to hate reading if you push them before they are capable.
It seems like many people (educators and the general public alike) think that learning to read is just a matter of being taught. If you “get them early” you can give them a “head start”. But some kids (especially right-brained kids) need more time to develop then others. They just are not ready. And no amount of teaching can change that.
My oldest son Jason started reading a little bit before he turned 8. He honestly was not ready before then and I am glad that I resisted the urge to push him. I did however work on cultivating a love of reading and books. Jason has always had a passion for good books and good stories (what fellow LWOS author Cindy calls a “relationship with reading”) from a very young age. A fondness for stories and books however does not always translate to early reading.
Sure you can start teaching them early, but if reading has not “clicked” with them, it really is like throwing those proverbial marshmallows. Why push, why make reading something “hard”, why risk having a child start thinking that they are dumb when waiting can bring out the same (or better) result?
Which brings us to the question: “How do you learn if you can’t read?”
Easy. The same way kids learn when they are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or… By being read to, by doing interesting things and by playing. This is one of the great things about homeschooling. Not being able to read is not a hindrance.
In the years before he learned to read, Jason learned in all sorts of different manners. I read books to him, he listened to audio books, he watched lots of videos and tv shows, he played computer/video games, we performed science experiments, we played games, we talked (a lot!). Now that he is reading we still do all of the above. Reading is just one additional way that he learns. (Don’t get me wrong – I do feel that reading is very important and makes a lot of things easier. But it still is only one way out of many in which kids learn).
Not reading did not hold him back. Now obviously, this would not work as well with a teacher who has 30+ kids. The teacher would not be able to spend that much individual time with each child. Reading is critical for learning in school given a typical school model. But learning can and does happen with or without reading at home because we are free to change this model. We can and do spend that much individual time with our children.
For me, the most important thing is that even though Jason learned “late”, he still absolutely loves books and does not hate reading. And I can hear the sense of pride in his voice when he talks about his reading ability these days.
Now I am also not saying that you should always wait until kids are older…some kids wind up figuring it out for themselves at an earlier date. For other kids it becomes clear that they are ready earlier.
And I am not saying that you sit back and do nothing for kids who do not seem to be ready. There are tons of things (such as reading and talking about letters and sounds and so forth) we did before it clicked for Jason. But his not reading was not the focus of our homeschooling. I did not try program after program to figure out what the “problem” was. I had faith (thanks to listening to other seasoned homeschoolers who had gone through the same thing) that when he was ready it would click and I would know what he needed. And that is exactly what happened.
Waiting for a child to be ready also works for kids who are ready on a more “typical” timeframe. When Kyle was 5, he became very interested in learning to read. He is much more of a sequential/typical learner, so I figured that we would give it a shot. After doing some lessons in 100 Easy Lessons it became apparent to me that he really was not ready. He loved the lessons but they were not sticking and I could see that he just was not totally getting it. So I stopped suggesting that we “do reading”. Kyle did not notice or remind me. We continued doing what we normally do…read and talk about reading and letters.
This past fall, he again became interested in learning to read so I decided to give 100 Easy Lessons another try. The difference was incredible! It was obvious that he was much more ready after taking some time off.
Now I could have spent the past year or so slogging through the lessons even when it was apparent that he was not ready. But why risk him possibly learning that “reading is hard”? By waiting until he is ready, he is learning that “reading is easy” and reinforcing the belief that “reading is fun”.
And that, for me, is the best possible outcome…a child who enjoys reading and loves books.
Stephanie is constantly trying to find that elusive state of balance in her life while enjoying her two energetic yet vastly different boys. You can read about their ongoing exploits on her blog, Throwing Marshmallows