What About Reading?
A series on the common questions that arise when first exploring unschooling…my thoughts and the expert advice that’s helped me work through these questions.
But how will they learn to read?
Next to math, this is the next pressing “subject” that seemingly can’t be learned without instruction and curriculum.
The first idea I had to dispel in my mind is that children “should” be reading by a certain age. 4 or 5 (6 the latest) seems to be the norm nowadays. And if they aren’t, there must be something wrong. That simply isn’t true. There is no set age where a kid has to be reading. It’s when we pressure them to do something they aren’t mentally ready for, that we can do more harm than good. Create a kid who hates reading.
So, it doesn’t have to be at a certain age; but how does it happen naturally?
I love reading about the accounts of natural reading among unschoolers. They are all so different. Some at 3 or 4 years old, some as pre-teens or even teens. Some as a slow process, some almost like a light switch. Some through books, some through video games. Some learn because friends are, some have self-interest as the motivator. But the one thing that remains constant in these stories is that the kids were raised in a literate rich environment. They see adults reading, adults read to them, and they have access to interesting reading materials.
DinoGirl4 is turning 5 in 1 month and she isn’t reading, but I’m not worried at all. She sees me read books or magazines, cookbooks, instructions, and articles on the Internet. She sees that these letters strung together are meaningful to me. I read to my kids aloud often. We go to the library once a week for story time and they can pick out any and as many books they’d like which we read at home together. We have books of our own at home. We have story reading apps and video games. We watch reading shows like Reading Rainbow and Super Why. I’ve always put the closed captioning on the tv (mainly so I can read what’s going on if others are being noisy). They are surrounded by words and literacy. It’ll happen when they’re ready.
The reason why I don’t want to force reading instruction, is I want to preserve that love and passion for reading. I don’t want it to be a begrudging chore. And I don’t want it to be an area of shame.
I don’t really remember learning to read. It must have been some time in first grade (so six years old). But what I do vividly remember was being broken up into reading level groups in second grade. I understand the theory behind this, that the higher level readers could read with little help and the teacher could focus on the lower level readers. My Dad was an actor and he read to me before bed as long as I could remember. He read stories as if they were plays, very expressively. I used his expression and cadence. In fact to this day, I can’t read things without almost acting them out in my head. Therefore I was a slow reader. Therefore I was always placed in the lowest reading group. I remember the ridicule of our little group because our books were the first grade curriculum and therefore had a different color binding then everyone else. Everyone knew we were the “slow readers”. I remember longingly looking at the advanced group that by the end of the year had moved on to the third grade books. I remember that they got to read Pilgrim’s Progress and I was stuck on a book about a puppy. I just wanted to read Pilgrim’s Progress, but I wasn’t allowed to because I read too slowly. I remember feeling devastated and defeated.
My reading eventually got better, but then I went to a school that used the “Accelerated Reader”points and quiz system. Each book was assigned a number of points based on it’s level. We would set a goal of point, read books and then go to the computer lab and take a comprehension quiz. If we passed, we got the points to go toward our goal. If we missed too many questions, we got no points and had to read another book. I remember picking books solely for their point value. I didn’t care what they were about. All I cared about was understanding enough to pass the quiz, get the points, and get the prize at the end of the quarter. How sad. In those formative years, I was learning to do whatever it took to win at the system, far from learning a love of reading.
I’m just now starting to rekindle my love of leisure reading. Because, like a sad number of adults, I could count on my hands the number of books I’ve read for fun since leaving high school.
I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling the same way, and I think allowing them to learn to read on their own schedule, in their own way, is the way to accomplish that. Learning to read naturally isn’t a guarantee that they’ll love reading, but it won’t give them the stress and anxiety associated with being forced to learn something before their brains are ready.
Resources to Explore:
Children Teach Themselves to Read by Peter Gray in Psychology Today
Learning to Read Naturally on Sandra Dodd’s website
Reading episode on The Unschooling Life Podcast
August 3, 2015 / TaraMcDonough / 0