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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Learning to Read

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile now, and currently there's discussion going around among our homeschool co-op about the subject of learning to read. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to post this.

The decision to utilize the particular homeschooling philosophy of unschooling was made when Hibi was 4 1/2. I'd been reading the great magazine Growing Without Schooling, and was really liking what I read there. Paul, however, was skeptical. Until that great momentous occasion of Hibi teaching herself to read at age 4 1/2, with minimal actual sitting down to teach her to read. Actually, none; all I'd done was, at age 2, taught her the sounds each of the letters makes. She had always loved books and way before she could read she was memorizing them. I'd read to her, then she'd "read" it back, over and over.

I often wonder where we'd be in the homeschool continuum if Zac had been the oldest! Zac also has always loved books. At a pretty young age he no longer wanted picture books, but long chapter books. Good thing I enjoyed reading them to him! Audio books were also a great find for him. Because he did *not* learn to read at age 4 1/2. Even though he really, really wanted to! He asked me to teach him to read at ages 5, 6, 7, and we'd sit down and try. I'd ask him to sound out CAT. By the time he got to the A, he'd have forgotten what sound C made. The remembering skills just were not there. It frustrated him, and it frustrated me, but I was committed to the idea that he'd learn when he was ready. We tried to focus his energy on other things, and I continued to read to him every night (plus other times).

Age 8, still not reading. I kept thinking it was going to click for him at some point. Paul started sitting with him and alternating reading with him. It was slow going! Frustrating for all involved. And we still couldn't call him a fluent reader.

And then, sometime at the end of his 10th year (when he was still 9 years old) he slowly and deliberately became a fluent reader! It never "clicked" for him. There wasn't one moment when he wasn't and then the next moment he was. It just kind of crept up quietly and finally, he was reading!

And, as I'd suspected, he quickly caught up to (surpassed?) the age-appropriate level of reading. Last summer, when the last Harry Potter book came out, we were on vacation and had a long day of driving. We bought the book in the morning and he read in the car all day long. It took him weeks to get through it, but he read it all on his own! This was the first Harry Potter book that I did not read out loud. (So I had to read it to myself!)

And here he is today, in the picture. He found a book he really liked in a bookstore on Friday, and came home and got it from the library on Saturday. It's called Revenge of the Shadow King. No pictures, and he's on page 361 of 369! He has really enjoyed this book!

I truly believe that children learn at their own pace. And when they are allowed to unfold on their own, the learning is ever so much more meaningful to them. If Zac had been expected to learn how to read at age 5 or 6, he would have been labeled, by himself and others, as slow or stupid. He just wasn't ready then.

I also believe that putting learning into categories makes it not very accessible to our children. "The basics" implies that some learning is better or more crucial than others. But I think that learning is learning, and that all learning has value. It is the openness to learning that is important, and how well we keep the channels open for learning is dependent on attitudes around us and expectations. I hope that learning is always a discovery for my children.


ElizO said...

I love this: "But I think that learning is learning, and that all learning has value. It is the openness to learning that is important, and how well we keep the channels open for learning is dependent on attitudes around us and expectations."

My children keep showing me that this is true, over and over, and I'm finally beginning to really get it. I started out as a devoted unschooler, but sometimes my 10-year-old has pushed for more structured schooling, and then I have erroneously overgeneralized and provided more structure than was needed, and provided it to the kid who WASN'T asking for it.

The thing that just recently dawned on me is that when kids are happy and feeling accepted as they are, their brains also work better, and they'll absorb important things because their brains are receptive. It may not be multiplication tables, but it will be important stuff that will help them learn about the world, make connections, understand things--all the stuff they are naturally interested in doing. And, after they've been in a big learning phase, they need some down time to integrate what they've learned into their picture of the world, and I I push ahead, then I risk driving out what they learned.

On the other hand, I do understand that sometimes kids flounder. We always have to figure out how to balance when to nudge or push a child and when to back off, and sometimes it is hard to know if you're doing the right thing. Reading home-ed has made me realize that sometimes some kids need specific kinds of help, and parents are usually best-placed for seeing that, but I bet it is a pretty rare kid who doesn't pay some kind of price when required to stay lock-step with their average age-mate.

Molly Newman said...

This is wonderful, Elizabeth; especially for a newbie unschooler like myself who's still trying to trust that Rhys will read when he's good and ready (and not a moment before). We should've learned, when Fisher announced that he would become potty-trained on his fourth birthday and then proceeded to do so, that stuffing knowledge into the reluctant learner is worse than useless.

Anyway, thanks for the good thoughts.