In this country, a great deal of emphasis is put on learning to read very young and within the school setting there's a valid reason for this: its efficient time wise. Its easier for teachers with 30 children in a class to teach if those children can read their way through a worksheet. Outside of school there was no such need for us to rush the process. For the past 8 years Joseph hasn't been waiting until he could read, he has been playing and thinking and solving real problems, and using numbers and creating stories and building and doing all sorts of other awesome things. He has never been behind at reading, he just wasn't doing it yet. His body and mind have been busy for 8 years doing all the things they were ready for, and then somewhere in the process of all that, he started reading too!
I've heard that often when kids learn to read without instruction, they don't start with the absolute basics but tend to read in accordance with their verbal skills. This would seem to be true for Joseph; I have heard him read words that he can only read because he uses and understands them, in other words, they are not words you could sound out or even easily guess. He laughs as he reads along, so I know he is engaged with and understands what he is reading. I've seen him correct the tone of his voice according to punctuation, even though he has never had a lesson in what punctuation is. It seems to me that giving him the time and space to develop really great verbal skills has been a very good thing for his reading.
I had been led to believe that certain basic literacy skills are required in order for others to be built on top of them, although I had chosen to disregard this in allowing my children to find their own path to reading. For example you first need to know the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make, and then you need to know the sounds that certain letters make when they are together, and then you can put these sounds together to make words. Joseph can read without having mastered these basics. He can read words in a book that he would not be able to identify the component sounds of. There are letters of the alphabet that he would struggle to name. None of this has stopped him from reading. Something goes on between him and the words that I can't really describe or understand, but that hasn't stopped him reading either ;-)
Of course its not like Ollie and I have done nothing to encourage him to read. We've read to him ever since he was tiny, we've talked and chatted (Ollie probably more than me :-D) we've sung and played silly word games, we've chanted the words poo and bum over and over into amazing poo-bum poems! We've enjoyed language and words in all the forms that the boys access them. We've watched tons of films and TV and talked about and replayed stories. We've played lots of video games, and talked about video games, and dressed-up and pretended to be characters from video games and allowed it all to capture our imagination. We have seen all learning as equal. We did not see Joseph as 'waiting' to read. We have never believed that reading would define his intelligence or that it is any better than any other way of learning, and I think that has helped him to read too. We created a space where reading could happen, and when he was ready, it did.
When Joseph first learnt to ride his bike, hang upside-down from the doorframe and do the monkey bars at the park he was really excited to show us, and he has been really excited to show me he can read too! He has read to me a lot as he enjoys using this new skill, and I have loved seeing the whole thing happen and will watch with interest as it develops. I'm writing this because finding stories of other kids who learned to read without instruction inspired me to give my children the time and space to do this amidst a culture that pushes reading on young children regardless of their readiness. It felt important to add my voice to all those saying that children CAN do this for themselves if given a rich environment and allowed to develop the motivation. Also, I have three more children who will all find their own way to reading, and at some point I might get nervous and doubt it can happen. I can read this and remind myself to take a deep breath, because it already has!
If you fancy reading a Psychology Today article about other Unschooled kids who have learned to read without instruction you can do that here.