Below is a blog post I wrote on November 10, 2011 about how my second daughter, who has always unschooled, learned to read. When I wrote it last autumn, I hadn’t yet heard of Jefferson Sudbury School but the principles of natural learning are the same. To update, Caroline celebrated her 9th birthday this month and is currently almost finished reading Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince.
I think I could have a case study for two very different learning styles in my family. My first daughter learned to read young and easily. I wrote about it on my page How Rhiannon Learned to Read. My second daughter, Caroline, has taken a much more leisurely approach to reading, and now, turning 8 this month, I’d still say she’s a fledgling reader who is just on the verge of mastering it. I’ve written a bit about reading in blog posts, which you can find by searching for “reading.” But today something is going on that makes me want to write this page.
One of my kids’ favorite things to do is play Roblox. This morning Caroline told me that Roblox has these games that include stories to read and she suggested it would be good practice for her. (So of course I said, “Okay!”) She is conscious of the fact that she is learning to read at a slower pace than some people, like her sister, but I’ve tried to be matter-of-fact about it and not push her. For one thing, I’ve read many stories of other kids who mastered reading as “late” but who quickly caught up and soon you couldn’t tell they had been late readers. They don’t miss out on anything because there are other ways to learn besides reading. Often homeschooled children who take longer to read love to read because they were not pushed, whereas children who are pushed to read end up disliking it. We focus on the joy of reading and don’t squash that by insisting on phonics lessons or daily practice reading silly stilted simplified texts. (However, we do own and the kids have chosen to read many of those silly simplified texts!)
I did all the same things I did for Rhiannon, as I listed at the page I mentioned above: talking without a lot of babytalk, word games, (almost) daily reading aloud, and so on. Early on, however, I could see that Caroline processes reading differently. She doesn’t see word parts but looks at the whole word. That’s why her process is slower. She has to see a word many many times to memorize it.
So I have just tried to read with her as often as possible. We sit side by side and she reads and I fill in words when she asks. Sometimes we take turns reading. Knowing that writing is a route to reading for some kids, we’ve also played with that. I have copied sentences out of books onto sentence strips and cut them apart for her to mix up and put back together like a puzzle. A couple of months ago she came up with the idea of playing Hangman using words from a book we had been reading. She asked to do that several times.
That’s the key with her. (Probably with everyone and everything, I think.) She works much harder on tasks she sets herself. That’s why I was happily willing to listen to her spell aloud a dozen or two words this morning while she painstakingly read her way through that Roblox story. She was working hard but she wanted to do it, and she probably cemented several new words into her reading vocabulary.
That doesn’t mean I don’t talk about phonics. I can’t help it, because it seems to me, as an expert reader, that knowing “when two vowels go walking the first one (often) does the talking” would help. So I do mention the word patterns of our language and talk about the rules. But I just mention them and I don’t become exasperated when I find myself repeating them. I’m not sure whether I internalized those rules when I was learning to read, but I did learn to read quickly like my older daughter, who did seem to understand those phonics rules. For Caroline though, I get the feeling the rules just overly complicate reading.
I give her choices all the time too. For a while she would sometimes choose to do lessons from The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading. Sometimes she chooses to practice reading with computer games. Over the years she has used Reader Rabbit, Starfall, and Reading Eggs among others. She listens to a lot of books read aloud by me, her dad, and her sister, and storytelling by Jim Weiss and some miscellaneous websites.
A few years ago, her efforts to read were few and far between and progress was harder for me to see. But in the past year her reading ability has grown more quickly. It’s still more slowly than I’d choose if it were my choice, but I remind myself it’s not, and just keep being available to her when she does want to read. There’s never any question that kids want to read. With so much great stuff in the world to read and learn, who wouldn’t want to? I wish I could have recorded in video the concentration and effort she was putting into reading this story, because I’m a photographer who also loves making videos, but that might have interfered with her work too much. So I decided to write about it.
Stay tuned! In another year or three, perhaps I’ll write “How Ian Learned to Read.” :) He seems to be in between his sisters. He loves books, at 4 years old he knows several letters, and he’s interested in talking about books and reading.