Learning to Read: No Coercion Needed

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
– John Holt

Ever since our son was born I have made it my mission to involve books in our everyday life. Not because I wanted him to learn how to read but because I too love books.

Now, at five and a half, our son is reading just 3 months after pulling him from a private school and beginning Christian Unschooling. Before I go on I want you to know that every child learns at his or her pace and should never be forced to learn how to read. My mother, a PhD Family Therapist agrees – as she was forced to try to read by her mother and never learned to love it, which is why she (thankfully) never forced me to read either.

Most homeschoolers would agree their children learn best when they’re inspired and passionate about something, one reason we keep them home so they can focus intently on their interests. We also mainly believe children will learn to read when they’re ready – not when a teacher makes them.

This has come to be the case with our son who has his head in books many times a day.

I assumed he was at the right age to start reading when a neighbor friend, who used to teach Kindergarten, stopped by the other day, saw him reading an Elephant and Piggie book aloud (which are all hilarious, by the way) and said “he’s reading?” I responded and said he is gradually reading better each day, yes, but that he continues to work on it because it’s something he loves and wants to do.

He’s at the right age to be reading, isn’t he?

She said in most of her classes, only one or two kids read by the end of their Kindergarten year.

And although this made me a little proud, I quickly humbled myself because it all just makes sense. Had we kept him in school he simply wouldn’t have been able to focus on trying to read nearly as often as he does at home. He’d be pulled in multiple directions instead of sitting and looking through books, as he likes to do.

I recall just this last week he said “I love reading, mom, because I can go anywhere and stay right here.” This was a keen observation I felt, for a five year old.

My husband and parents credit our homeschooling, as do I, but there’s something much larger at work here. Obviously, it’s God’s driven life-purpose being fulfilled our son. How encouraging to have the opportunity to experience and see alongside him on a daily basis!

In addition to God’s bigger picture for our son, we limit screen time at home to the weekends and we visit the library at least twice per month. We all sit down and read books multiple times per day together (even our toddler likes to sit and read alone and with mom and dad, because we foster it). We have books lining many shelves at home and our kids can find mom reading books and magazines in her off-time, not staring at the TV or her phone.

All that to say, we practice what we preach. To me, reading opens your mind more than TV shows and movies do. This is why we’re working to read the Star Wars books with our son before he ever watches the movies. He’s obsessed with the Return of the Jedi audiobook right now. And we like it that way.

When we run into his five year old counterparts who all say they’ve seen each and every movie, I can only think how exciting that must be for them but how much information just flies over their heads (not to mention being a bit put-off by the frightening alien-like creatures in every scene).

For some reason our son doesn’t get discouraged that we haven’t allowed him to watch the movies yet – he understands, from reading the books, that he might not be ready to watch the movies yet.

And although he asks when he can watch them, when we reply he can watch them when he’s a bit older, he actually agrees with us that he needs to wait.

Crazy. I know.

With respect to every other parent, every child learns to do things at his or her own pace. Regardless if there’s a teacher cowering over their shoulder offering rewards…

And I’ll be honest and say our son hasn’t yet learned how to ride a bike, nor has any interest in it. And I’m OK with that. He’s our bookworm and I hope our daughter becomes a bookworm too, if she so chooses.

However, I have a feeling that although books will also be a big part of her life, she’ll be riding a unicycle by age 3 if it’s up to her. She’s a bit insane like that.

So I guess all that to say John Holt, you were right. I’ve never had to show our son how to read. He taught himself because it’s all part of God’s plan… we read often together, he has access to more books than he ever needs and parents who are willing to spend a little time with him when he has questions.

Take a look inside our last month, November in a Nutshell, to see what we’ve been up to lately.

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