Today I’ll continue answering common questions people have about Unschooling. Keep in mind that I’m not an expert, just a parent who likes to research and who is eager and willing to share what I’ve found. Also keep in mind that I’m not trying to persuade anyone to Unschool. The purpose of this blog is to encourage others like me who already want to Unschool or who are new to Unschooling. I hope that as you read through the research and resources you gain confidence in the educational path you have chosen.
Question #4 – What About Reading?
I have the advantage of two readers on my hands, and this makes homeschooling/unschooling SO MUCH easier. I want to go ahead and clarify that right now.
As a disclaimer, this post is based solely on my research and is not necessarily rooted in first hand experience. My oldest daughter learned to read (more or less) on her own around age 5, so although we didn’t plan on “Unschooling” during the formal school years, this is what she was doing as a preschooler and obviously it worked out. I taught her letter sounds, and she put them together and taught herself to read by flipping through BOB books. I sat by her and helped her with the difficult words, of course. We were lucky. My younger daughter learned how to read at public school Kindergarten. She came home with sight word flashcards. She learned in the “traditional” way. This year, the word “books” was at the top of her Christmas list. Both girls are avid readers. I don’t really have anything bad to say about either method in our personal experience.
I knew this would be a difficult topic to cover. As I spoke with my husband about it, he encouraged me to present the information I do have and the research I have done, because the point of this blog is to share our journey as new homeschoolers–not to prove we have all the answers. I don’t know everything. But I am a crazy researcher. Everything in our house–from rugs to appliances–is backed by ridiculous amounts of research. As I immerse myself in learning everything I can about something I am interested in I am reminded that it is this same curiosity that drives my kids to learn. Adults “unschool” all the time.
Back to reading. Here are a few challenges involving reading and Unschooling.
- Learning to read is like anything else: it takes time, children do not all develop at the same time, and there is a wide range of “normal”
- If your goal is for your student to be on par with traditional school standards and on time with everybody else, learning to read “naturally” through Unschooling may not be for you
- It may (or may not) be more difficult to Unschool if the student can’t read on his or her own
SO much of our “Unschooling” involves the girls reading to themselves. If I have more children and they are unschooled (or homeschooled, or some form of hybrid), I will most likely come beside them like I did with Sera. If they have difficulties, I might invest in a tutor or some sort of curriculum or guide. Or maybe not. I’m not sure yet, because we’re not there, and every child is different.
I will, however, reiterate here what I wrote in a recent blog post about math. When Sera had a hard time with long division, it wasn’t necessarily the material that overwhelmed her, but the timeline. In school, there was pressure to learn it RIGHT THEN. I reminded her that not everyone learns to walk, use the bathroom, or talk at the same time. But here we all are–walking, pooping, and talking (parenting tip: diffusing the tension with potty humor is always successful). I think reading and math are much the same.
I liked this encouraging paragraph from Sally Dodd’s article on Encouragement and Confidence About Reading:
We’ve used this “someday you will” or “you just don’t yet” about all kinds of things, from reading to caring about the opposite sex to foods. Holly doesn’t like green chile yet. She figures she will (“When my taste buds die” she jokes), because her brothers didn’t used to and now they do. Kirby lately started liking mushrooms. Marty still doesn’t like spinach yet, but we haven’t branded him “a spinach hater,” and I don’t think anyone should consider a child “a non-reader,” just one who “doesn’t read yet.”
The following article gives examples of four children from the same family who learned to read in different ways. One child did not learn to read until she is nine. This might be outside of your comfort zone. It might be outside of MY comfort zone. I’m still processing and researching–But the closing paragraph provides a compelling reason for giving children the space to learn in their own time:
Had she been in school she’d have been remediated and tested and special grouped for the last three years. It’s unlikely she’d have been able to keep thinking of herself as a reader long enough for her brain to catch up to her desire. She would probably have learned to read about the same time, possibly even later, but she wouldn’t have cared about it anymore. She’d have been convinced of her stupidity long before that.
Providing an environment where the student feels safe enough to fail and to try is so much more important than any arbitrary “competency” timeline. However, I don’t there’s anything wrong with encouraging the skill and helping children work through the struggle. These are just a few ideas for fostering reading that I am “shelving” in my brain for the future:
- Create a reading culture: Read to your kids. Always. As much as they want it–and more! Play audiobooks, take trips to the library and the used bookstore. Give them books for Christmas. This might not provide a detailed phonics lesson, but in our experience, it has created a longing to read in our girls before they could even recite the alphabet.
- Play games: We play Upwords, Scrabble, Quiddler, Apples to Apples, and Scattergories. You can make a scavenger hunt with words or phrases on pieces of paper around the house. My 9 year old loves making scavenger hunts for her littler friends.
- Creative Memorization: Memorization can be fun and “unschooly” with a little modification. when my kids were little they had heard some of the same books read to them so much, that they had memorized the paragraphs. Later, they brought home sight word flashcards to memorize in Kindergarten and 1st grade. This sparked an idea: Why not create our own interesting paragraph or poem full of words to memorize? Rather than study flashcards containing isolated sight words, the children benefit from the context of a full paragraph or story full of short/easy words.
In Psychology Today, Peter Gray discusses the Sudbury School (a school where kids go to “unschool”) and the outcome of its students in terms of reading. His thoughts echo my own, particularly regarding the arbitrary nature of an academic timeline. Gray presents “Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling,” which includes my favorite:
1. For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read. But the story is entirely different for unschooled children. They may learn to read at any time, with no apparent negative consequences. The stories sent to me by readers of this blog include 21 separate cases of children learning to read in which the age of first real reading (reading and understanding of novel passages of text) was mentioned. Of these, two learned at age 4, seven learned at age 5 or 6, six learned at age 7 or 8, five learned at age 9 or 10, and one learned at age 11.
You can read all of the 7 principles in his article, “Children Teach Themselves to Read.”
That’s all for today, and we’ll be taking a break from the series for the Christmas Holiday next week.
Thanks for reading! FPO