As a child I was an avid reader. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by books; we lived in a big three storey townhouse with bookshelves in almost every room and more boxes of books in the attic. By the time I left primary school, I had finished almost all of the books in the children’s section of our local library and had moved on to the adult section. My secondary school English teacher gave me an exemption from having to keep a reading log because I would often read several long books per day!
Reading was really important to me and therefore I just assumed that my children would be early readers. When I first started considering home education, I was very much focused on the academic side of things. I even dabbled with the Doman method for a while, wanting my children to be smart and advanced. Over the years my perspective has changed and I’ve come to realise that early academics are not necessary or important. I still believe that Doman was right when he said that babies and toddlers can learn to read, because the human brain is an incredible thing, but academic skills are just a tiny part of holistic child development.
Of course, learning to read at a certain age is important in the school system because otherwise children get left behind. I remember chatting to a worried parent of a just-turned-4 year old whose reception teacher said he was behind with his reading! But there is no critical age for learning to read. In other countries children don’t even start school until they are 7 and have caught up or overtaken their British counterparts in just a couple of years. Amongst unschoolers, you will often hear of children who learnt to read much later than the norm but became proficient very quickly. There’s an interesting article here about how children can teach themselves to read.
My experience with Aaron has been somewhere between the two extremes. When Aaron was three, he learned the entire alphabet (names, sounds, upper and lower case) in less than a week from a video on his Leappad. By the time he was four and a half he could read some simple CVC words, mostly thanks to playing Reading Eggs on the computer. When he was six I bought him the Biff, Chip and Kipper reading scheme. He liked the stories and gradually worked his way through the six levels over about a year (that’s the equivalent of less than one book per week). It wasn’t until he was seven that he seemed to grasp the purpose of reading and actually want to read. This realisation came about because of road signs, shop signs and a computer game called Scribblenauts, which requires reading in order to solve problems. The leaps in Aaron’s learning have always happened when he is motivated by something that is interesting and meaningful to him.
Over the years I have read him picture books and chapter books, used Montessori materials, played I spy, sounded out words together and done many more educational activities. But in terms of regular, systematic instruction in reading, we’ve really done very little. There have been times when I’ve tried a slightly more structured approach and encouraged Aaron to do some reading every day, but whenever he became resistant I let it go. I never pushed him because I figured that being put off reading would be far worse than learning to read a bit later!
I have no idea how Aaron’s reading level would compare to that of his school peers; I suspect he would be behind some but ahead of others. There are still lots of longer words that he can’t read (but also lots that he can) and he hasn’t yet started reading chapter books by himself (although he probably could), but he does now read fluently and well. A while ago he was very much into jokes, so I bought him a joke book and he spent the entire day wandering around the house, joke book in hand, reading to us. A few weeks ago he offered to read me an entire chapter from the Bible while I was washing up. When we sing one of his favourite choruses at Sunday School, he eagerly puts his hand up to read out the first few lines.
I can honestly say that I’m not in the slightest bit worried about Aaron’s reading, or about Tabitha learning to read. They will both get there eventually in their own time. I’m really looking forward to Aaron enjoying some of the wonderful books that I loved as a child, but there’s no rush. He has plenty of years of reading ahead of him and in the meantime I will carry on reading to him!