Friday, April 13, 2012

Unschooling Tools : For Reading

I remember reading when Trev was little, "Kids won't learn to read on their own.  Yes, they learned to walk.  And they learned to talk.  But reading isn't natural, isn't something they can't do without, so they must be formally taught."  (Paraphrased.)
"Huh."  I thought.  Although I was just barely learning about unschooliung, (Trev was brand-new four), I wasn't sure that I bought that.


You may have learned all about that Truth, yourself.
'Tis like saying "Kids can't imagine."  Or "Kids must be taught to be creative."  Or even "Kids will never share or be nice unless you make them."
It just isn't so.

It's true that there is illiteracy in the world, but I think that is something grown from fear and shame, not love and understanding.
Along with those two latter key elements, respect and having access to the world are among  the primary factors of unschooling.

We all know, I think, that children learn to read by being read to.
Those who choose to learn and play organically also know that children become interested in the written word as they see their parents (and siblings) reading.
They become interested in reading as they become interested in all things, making sense of things, exploring through play... finding -and making- their own way in the world.

Trevelyn started his active process with making words on the refrigerator.
He began his truest (inspired and eager) reading with one particular dinosaur encyclopedia.  With the words 'Late Jurassic', mostly, and 'Early Cretaceous'.
First was curiosity (arranging letters upon the fridge, "what does this say?")... and secondly came simply the desire to know.

'Pet Business Invented" April 7, 2012 ~ Madeleine

There are a thousand variables in between the titles of non-reader and Reader.
The way we, as individuals, learn... what we're most interested in and concentrating upon at any given time... how much we want a particular something, that we feel we don't have.
We'll just skip right over my personal (non) favorite: a Mama's fear.

So we began on the refrigerator with magnets and in the pages of The Enclopedia of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures, and today find ourselves regularly on the varied ones of Wikipedia, fact books... and still on that ever-widening shelf of prehistory encyclopedias.

And Maddie?
It's lovely how once you experience particular uncertainty and fears as a parent (and come to a certain understanding), you are then able to lay them peaceably to rest.

So Maddie wasn't -isn't- rushed.
And I could see from the beginning that hers was a different path.  She wrote letters and began drawing recognizably much earlier than Trevelyn.
She has written party invitations since she was a tot.
She has copied Scrabble arrangements (I've spelled things as she has requested, placed words upon the trays) for years.
She is brilliant in a hundred different ways.  But at four it was clear she was only guessing at identifying letters.  At five she knew (consistently) only three or four.  At newly six it was the same, and it is only now, as she nears seven, that this Learning to Read thing is visibly apparent.

But I can say absolutely that I have never experienced worry over it.

Have you been to the teacher shoppes?  Seen the "school imitates life" tools?
Growing gardens in a workbook.  Instruction to draw a line from the Mama horse to the baby horse.  Sheet after sheet of 'Which one is large?'  'Which one medium?'  'Which one small?'
Sometimes we get an idea (suggestion) in our heads that these rote rituals are the best (only) path to success.
But if we listen carefully, we're gifted with the assurance that there is a different way, if we like.  For each of us.  A way that speaks to us, personally.

  • books!  :)  All shapes and sizes.  All levels.  All genres.
  • Scrabble tiles and trays
  • letter rubber stamps
  • internet
  • software games (JumpStart, Clifford, Winnie the Pooh, Muppets, Thomas, Reader Rabbit)
  • Letter Factory videos
  • LeapPad and games
  • Leapster and games
  • Brand New Readers (readers--love this series)
  • Playful Pals (also love this series of readers.  both my children have read these with success.)
  • Letter cards (various sort of large cards with letters on them for making words)
  • Sesame street videos
  • letter dice
  • foam letters for game making
  • letter puzzles
  • large wooden letters
  • felt board with felt letter cutouts
  • Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading

In our house, learning to read is like anything else.  Living and exploring with free access to materials and resources.
There are workbooks on a shelf... ready for scribbles, circles, and finding the differences.
There are picture books, chapter books, classical literature, and dictionaries.
There are computer games.
There is curiosity.

And there is me... knowing these tools are used and a part of our lives, but appreciating that it's the whole rest of the world that really inspires my children to read.
I am amazed and so inspired by their constant discovery... loving every day the way being alive works... seeking, growing, expanding.
Always learning.
And reading is a natural and beautiful part of that.

*     *     *

This post is part of the Unschooling Tools series.
Other posts are Unschooling Tools : Games
Unschooling Tools : Math Play
Unschooling Tools : Television
Unschooling Tools : For Creativity

Next week : Unschooling Tools : Around Town


  1. I see it with my youngest already. He is 7 as well. My first one I actively taught ( first time eager homeschooler syndrome...), my middle who is 9 and has been trying to figure out reading for two years (asked to be taught) turned out to be dyslexic ( going for diagnosis on Mon, and will begin remediation, he is over the moon!), but Ev (7) is just slowly plugging along putting it all together. Fascinating to see unfold!

  2. Thanks for the post and the confirmation!

  3. Thank you so much for this post. We are unschooling our first, he is 3 1/2 and enjoying life to the fullest.

    I have not done any "formal" work with him as far as reading/letters go. I have to get my brain out of the regular schooling in schools and stop listening to parents who talk about all their child is learning and remind myself that we have made a commitment to let our little man lead is learning and to support and facilitate as needed.

    We read daily, books are accessible and he loves them. Magnet letters are on the fridge and we made a rock alphabet the other day. It is all part of our day, but sometimes I catch myself thinking I should be doing more. I have read that unschooling children don't usually show an interest in reading until much later, so I keep that in my mind when I begin second guessing myself.

    This post is awesome, it feels so great to read about what others are doing and how. Thank you!!!!

  4. This is such a timely post for me!
    I couldn't agree more with every word :)
    My little 6 year old didn't speak until she was 4. There have been no conventional reading lessons for her or her younger sister, yet now, suddenly, from simply being in a very "reader friendly" environment she has begun to read!
    It's like magic :)
    So many of my own fears have fallen away by simply watching how naturally kids will learn when pressure is replaced with passion.
    My older two girls were taught more conventionally and although they both learned to read at a younger age it was a far more stressful process for both them and I. I have now come to realise that "pushing" something like reading can be just as damaging as pushing something like walking. These things have their own time and the child will know when they are ready better than anyone else.
    Since those years I have learned so much. Discovered unschooling of course :)
    Thank you for sharing these encouraging posts Stephanie!

  5. My eldest went to school for 5 years and struggled with reading when he left he didn't read anything for a good 3 years and now reads voraciously. My middle sons have always been unschooled and have both spontaneously this year (8 +6) started playing with letters and words and love it, so different to my eldest's experience.

  6. When I have a moment, I'm going to take a closer look at this list!

    I'm in the process of re-structuring our path to reading, as I believe Benjamin is struggling due to mild dyslexia. I'm writing a new post (sharing our current path) but it isn't published yet--if I get it up in time, I'll link up!

  7. Thanks for this! I've been struggling with whether or not to "push" my 7 year old to read. Every time I sit down to do it with her it sucks for both of us. I fear letting it unfold naturally, and I fear pushing will make her not want to do it at all. What I do know about her is that she takes her time to do things well, and when she is ready she really goes for it. I want to let her read when she's ready and not worry about it. Glad to hear this way of patience and openness is your path.

  8. This is a wonderful post and exactly how I feel too!! I am going to share this with my friends on FB... :)

  9. It's wonderful how there is so much less anxiety with the 2nd (3rd, and so on...) children. I feel so relaxed with my 2nd child and really able to enjoy the slow (sllllowwww!) process of watching literacy unfold. You're right: as with anything else, that spark of curiosity needs to be there first.

    The thing that is so remarkable to me about unschooling is that it is such a discipline. A freeing discipline -- if there can be such a thing!

    And that is why I enjoy this blog, because you seem to have this down to an art. I feel like I will be continuing to get the hang of it for a long, long time. But this new(ish) role of introducing wonders, and objects, and ideas, and then hanging back and waiting for my kids to either run with it or say "Meh, maybe later" has been a fabulous learning experience for me.

    Thanks as always for the inspiration and the "tools!!!"

  10. It is so amazing to watch it unfold. My first was a very early reader. We never taught him; he just learned. My daughter has been different. She is more like your Maddie. I admit to having moments of doubt. More focused on my insecurities and worries than anything to do with her. I never spoke them, but rather relaxed and observed. Aine continues to progress in her reading showing me she knows her path and reminding me to trust.


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!