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Learning to Read the Natural Way

I know it is hard to trust, but trust you must. Children can and will learn to read without school. This has been proven time and time again, yet it is a difficult concept to accept in a culture that spends billions of dollars on curriculum and programs to teach children how to read and start them as early as five. Naturally, when this kind of money is being spent it makes sense to defend the stance that reading must be directly taught, in a setting by certified individuals, and started as early as kindergarten.  I am aware that there will always be outliers–those who do in fact need additional assistance and support to better understand their native language, but most children, if in an environment where books are read to them, they are spoken to regularly, they are allowed plenty of opportunities to interact with words and letters, will learn to read without coercive measures or a curriculum. As Peter Gray says:

“There is no critical period or best age to learn to read for non-schooled children.”

My son has never attended a traditional school setting yet he can read. His path to independent reading looks very different than what you might see in a classroom. In fact, if I had compared him to his school age peers, he most certainly would have been considered very far behind–several years in fact because he did not read fully independently until age nine. NINE. To some that may not be acceptable, but I challenge the common belief that reading independently should happen by an arbitrary age that works for the system and not the child. If you are interested in supporting your children’s natural progression of reading development here are 5 things you can do.

1. Read to them when they are babies and be expressive. Talk to them constantly using rich and vibrant language.

2. As they grow, continue to read stories, make up stories, read street signs, store signs, and directions out loud. Don’t dumb down your vocabulary. If they don’t know what you are saying, they will ask, but chances are they will figure it out because of the context in which you are using the words. Play games with words- Pictionary, MadLibs, Scrabble, Words with Friends, Scattergories, Boggle. Make up games.

3. Whatever they are interested in, get books and materials to support their interests. Read more together, but whatever you do, don’t try to force their reading. They live in a society where words are plastered everywhere. They aren’t going to bow out of learning to read-pinky swear. If they ask you how a word is spelled, spell it for them. Don’t do the–well, let’s sound it out game. If they could have sounded it out, they would have. Chances are, they are picking up the letter/sound correlation while you spell it for them. The more often they hear it, the more likely it is to stick.

4. Support, support, support. And don’t stress! Not every child will read at the same age–not even your own kids. Research has shown that boys tend to read later than girls, but obviously that is not always the case. When your kids ask you to read, do it. My son learned to read completely independently by age 9. At 11.5 he reads practically anything that is put in front of him. His word decoding skills are incredible and all I did were the steps above. He even says, “I like reading words.” My youngest is 7 and she gravitated towards words early on so she has been dabbling in spelling and reading for quite a while. She was also the one who wanted to reread books to us. Our son had no interest in doing that. See–totally different approach. She is not an independent reader just yet, but I know she is very close.

5. Enjoy watching their curiosity and natural development unfold.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” John Holt

For further reading on this topic check out Peter Gray’s piece, Children Teach Themselves to Read.

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