Monday, February 22, 2010
How my three unschooled daughters learned to read
It's evening and my daughter and I are walking home from her basketball practice. We've been discussing her two year old cousin and how she's learning to read. "She recognizes words," M says in excitement.
"Do you remember how you learned to read?" I ask my daughter, curious.
She was 'that kid' that takes you by surprise when you suddenly realize (and she's not even five years old!) that she's been reading, really reading for a while now.
Just like that.
Only, it wasn't 'just like that.'
She tells me,"I recall being in a room by myself with the door shut tight and sitting on the bed with a book trying to figure how the sounds go with the words."
As in the case of her cousin, my niece, the path to reading is laid out from the very start when children are around books and letters and words; when they are read to. Inexpensive materials like pencils and paper provide the child with ample opportunity to explore the written language.
From what I hear from the many people who have allowed their kids to learn at their own pace, 'cracking the reading code' and learning to write can happen anywhere between age 3 to age 15 (learning disabilities notwithstanding). Of course, some people never learn to read,schooled or not. I leave that to the psychologists to explain.
M has always liked letters. As young as age one, she would point out letters in books and trace them with her fingers.
Her older sister E, was partial to the letter W and would carry a puzzle piece of this letter around with her. "I love W," she would say.
E loved books and being read to and could memorize every single book we read to her from the age of 15 months! We still have the recording of her reciting from the Complete Mother Goose book- every single one of the rhymes!
She'd memorize abridged Shakespeare plays at age 6 and her comprehension and understanding of literature was so well developed by that tender age, I was reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy to her.
Today, at age 14 she has written a novel, she has won numerous poetry awards and is the top of her enriched English class (she now attends high school).
The thing is, she didn't learn to read until age 8.
Had she been in school, undoubtedly she would have been forced to at an earlier age.
As it is, I too am guilty of trying to 'make her' read when she turned 6, worried that the kids at school would be learning this skill and not wanting her to be left behind.
After a couple weeks of insisting she read and keep a journal with me spelling everything and she copying it all out, she told be flatly to "leave me alone" that she would have no more part in my scheme and she would learn to read when she was "good and ready."
So when she was 'good and ready' we would sit comfortably side by side on the couch and she would ask to read her one page (even if she could only figure out 4 words from the page!) before she settled down to hear me read the rest.
Today she reads about 400 books a year.
My youngest daughter learned to read from her desire to express herself through the written word. Starting from the time she could hold a pencil, be it writing a poem, a song, designing an ad, she needed me to tell her the spelling:
"How do you spell ‘beaver’ how do you spell ‘suggest’?
I would sound it out. Potato. 'Ppp.. ttt.. aay..ttt...ooo.'
In fact this is how she learned her alphabet. "What does a b look like?" (spelling ball). I would then draw a 'b' and say, "this is a b with a bbb sound."
It worked for us. She too didn't actually start really reading until about age 8.
This is her own testimony (written a few years ago):
"When I was little I saw my mother reading. When she read books to me, I thought ‘that looks so fun,’ so I wanted to read too. So I began with easy reader ones (from the library). At first it was with great difficulty, and I wished that I could hold the book in my hand and read just right away. But I couldn’t. Then I got into easy readers 2 and then easy readers 3. My mum helped me a lot with learning how to read. I’d point out words and then write them down and try to remember them. And my sister helped me. And when I was really little, my mum gave me cards with my favourite words on them. My sister helped me too. She’d point out words on a page and make me find the word on the page and read it. Or she would have me read a sentence by myself with her help. Finally, I started to read Pony Pal books which are for kids and have actual chapters in them."
For my part, I spent hours and hours and hours reading all kinds of wonderful literature to my daughters. I continue to enjoy bedtime story with my now 11 year even though she's a capable reader. Story time is a cosy time in the evening and a chance for me to read my favourites, and books that I approve of as opposed to some of the shabbier stuff (I think anyway) she picks up at the library.
It’s a wonderful time together and we can talk about the book we are reading- this happens naturally with out any kind of agenda.