Thursday, 27 October 2016

Joseph reads

Joseph has started to read. A few months ago he couldn't and yet in these past few weeks, seemingly quite suddenly, he can! 

Only a few months back I found myself wishing the whole reading thing would take off for him. Even though he was growing and learning and expanding in all sorts of wonderful ways, I found a part of me that was impatient for him to read and in doing so, found yet another layer of schooled fears that I needed to peel away and dispose of.  Because even though we have been Unschooling for over 4 years, and even though we have seen evidence in our own home time and time again of how effectively children can learn through their own interests and motivation, I'm aware that we live in a culture where reading is equated with intelligence, and where ways of learning that involve reading books are considered superior to those that do not. 

I don't know much about what goes on in school these days, but I do know that A LOT of it in the early years has to do with teaching children to read. I know that whole programmes and strategies are dedicated towards this end.  I know that there are reading books and that going 'up a level' is often a great source of pride and celebration (at least for the parents, and if Facebook is anything to go by!) I know that even by the time you are 5, it is something you can be classed as 'behind' in. This is why I had that moment of doubt this year, because whilst most of the nation's young children are being taught to read, we have chosen to allow our children to learn in their own time, by the means that most makes sense for them, when they are ready, and without being 'taught'.

I didn't pass on my fleeting doubts to Joseph. I did what I always do when a 'wobble' about the processes of natural learning occurs; I told myself to wait 6 months and see how I felt then. Afterall I've done my research. I've read enough about learning without schooling and Radical Unschooling to know that many, many children have learned to read and write without being taught, and that it's not uncommon for perfectly intelligent children to learn anytime up to the age of 14.  So I said thanks but no thanks to the doubt and the fear, and got on with helping Joseph explore all the things he loves. Mostly those things have included but are not restricted to; meeting up with friends, going to forest school, playing role-play games with his brothers, going to sports club, watching his favourite YouTubers, exploring the limits of his body and Gaming with a capital G! This year Joseph has particularly enjoyed online gaming and I think it's here that he found a massive incentive to read because he wants to communicate with other players. We've supported Joseph by reading all the messages he asks us to read, and by writing messages to other players in his words when he wants us to.  Very quickly I noticed that he could read basic messages and write basic responses, but in a fairly limited way.  A few months down the line, and he's reading.

I knew because he came to me with a book and said "I just read this whole book!"  

The following day he said he'd like to read to me, and he read me a book. Fluently!  None of that robotic the. cat. sat. on. the. mat. reading. Just reading! Something has clicked. Whatever it was that needed to fall into place has done so, and its all making sense for him.

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.


1 comment:

  1. Fascinating article. I believe we are pushing our children to perform too soon and all to fit in with the system and expectations, not the child. They are already grappling with cognitive development (boys more than girls) so we should pace learning to fit the child. Children should enjoy the whole experience of learning. Diana