Learning to Read

My daughter Bridget, age 10, is currently learning to read. To those of you more familiar with the schools’ timelines for this, that may seem rather late. But as unschoolers, who practice child-led learning and let each child’s journey of education unfold naturally, she’s right on time. Her time. And that’s because she’s the one who is motivated to learn.

Of course, she can already read many words and phrases. I’ve found, with my older child and others in our homeschool group, that self-confidence is very important in learning new skills. Because they can’t simply pick up any book of adult level and decipher it immediately, they often think they “can’t read,” when in fact they have been on the journey of learning words for many years.

Most of the kids in our group “learned to read” (as described by themselves) around age 9. Bridget is on the younger side of the group as a whole, and has been motivated off and on over the past couple of years to actively practice her reading skills. She reads easy-reader books out loud to us, figures out what’s going on in the computer games she likes to play, and reads and writes the words she knows in daily life (labelling her artwork, making and signing greeting cards, etc). She is part of our homeschool writing group, and we still read aloud to both kids on a very regular basis, as we have since their birth. She also sees all of the adults in her life reading for pleasure as well as information.

I recently went to a bookstore to run an errand, and Bridget handed me a gift card she had saved from her birthday. She said to get her a book, and to use the rest of the money to get one for myself. Instead, I picked out 5 books for her, going from “step 1” through “step 4” and including a simple chapter book as the fifth one. As her teacher/facilitator, my job as a parent is not to force her to learn, but rather to guide, encourage, and at times, offer challenges. I brought her the books, and offered her the challenge of reading them to me as a way of gaining more reading skill. I didn’t know how she’d feel about it (and wasn’t attached to the outcome), but she immediately decided it was a wonderful idea, and adopted this as her “summer reading program.” She read the Step 1 book to me easily in one sitting, and when she’s ready we’ll sit down to the second book.

What’s wonderful about this way of doing things is that she’ll be reading for her own pleasure, at her own pace, and can be proud of having mastered this skill on her own. I’m also thankful that we’re surrounded by a loving community of family and friends who haven’t pressured Bridget (or me) about her reading progress.

Maybe she’ll even end up as a total bookworm, like her Mom. :)


Learning to Read — 2 Comments

  1. I was talking with a parent a few months ago, and I described reading as kind of like what Neo does with the Matrix. One day, the “code” is just there. That’s the way I think natural reading occurs – when we’re ready, we “get it.” At least that’s the way I’ve seen it work in my experiences with my own children and others I’ve met in the homeschooling community. We’ve never forced the reading issue, either, and trust that our children will start when they are ready. In the meantime, they have a lot of exposure to “words” in their daily lives.

    The bottom line, for me, is that by allowing children to pace themselves rather than succumbing to artificial – standardized – timelines, the “lesson” sticks. My children are learning to read at their own pace with materials that they enjoy, and so, for them, reading will always be a pleasure rather than a chore.

  2. As you may remember, I’ve done both homeschooling and public-schooling for my daughter Liz (she’s 12 now, if you can believe it!), and I still consider her being homeschooled, as our philosophy in our house is that life is the lesson, and each moment builds a child’s overall confidence and skills. Anyway, our daughter LOVES reading, but she is definately very independent in her choices for reading. The public school wanted her to read 30 mins each night, but I argued the point with the school, stating that she is more likely to sit down once or twice a week and just hybernate in a corner to read for a few hours. Her teachers just told me to sign the daily reading chart each day after taking an average of her weekly reading – and said they’d “look the other way” in terms of not insisting that she actually read EACH day rather than when she feels comfortable and happy to sit down and read.

    I really had to battle a bit on this, too, and it saddens me how people put so much pressure on reading. It has to happen naturally and when the child is ready and willing! You simply cannot force a love of reading, and so if you have such rigid expectations, then the child is less likely to form a true LOVE of reading, but rather will hurry through their 30 mins a day just to get it done (in my opinion).

    I think you are definately going about it the right way! She’ll develop her own love of reading as she discovers books that she will truly enjoy and will read them when “the spirit strikes”, as it were. I think we can make suggestions for good books, but ultimately the children should have final say as to what sparks their interest.

    Because I was firm with the schools regarding when Liz would read (and I also did not allow them to dictate the books she actually read, either), she is now a very avid reader who LOVES a good book!

    ~ Val

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