Learning to read….falling into child led learning

When my oldest child was born 14 1/2 years ago, I never imagined that I would homeschool him.  Once I began to homeschool, I told everyone that I would continue to homeschool as long as it was working for him.  So here I am all these years later homeschooling with 3 children and my oldest would be entering high school in the fall- had we taken the traditional public school route.

When I began to homeschool, my focus was on:

  • continuing to nurture his love of learning
  • engaging him by following his interests and at his pace
  • using free and low-cost resources
  • going to the library weekly
  • reading to him and with him
  • spending time with him
  • learning about values (virtues)
  • getting physical exercise and being outside

I went to the library often and checked out as many books on homeschooling as I could find including books on Montessori Education and Relaxed Homeschooling which really resonated with me.  I don’t know that I had heard the term child-led learning when I first began and did not identify myself as an unschooler in fact, I recall saying about unschooling that “I could never do that”.

It was only over time and meeting other homeschoolers including joining a group of relaxed homeschoolers, that I saw that we were taking a child-led approach and how well it was working.  I also saw how I had been doing this since my son was born, following his interests, from his early love of stop sings and then all road signs, to his interest in electricity when an electrician did work on our new to us home and on to an interest in cars as well as other things.

Thinking back to the early days when he was 5, I remember reading Magic Tree House books to him.  My aunt had recommended them, her son was only 10 months older than mine and also an early reader.  Harrison was reluctant at first (typical of his personality) but once I started reading, he was hooked.   At some point, he began reading with me.  First, he would read maybe a page at a time and slowly, I encouraged him to read 2 pages and on to an entire chapter. We had no set schedule with reading, and his interest in reading was fueled by his interest in the stories.

I believe no matter what age your child is ready to begin reading, and this can vary greatly from about age 4 to age 11 or sometimes later, he needs to be interested in what he is reading.  This also will vary for each child.  Some kids may be interested in how things work and want to read instruction manual like for a game he wants to play or maybe comic books.  It really doesn’t matter because its all reading.  My son was an early reader and most likely because of his visual memory.  He would ask us the name of a sign or a word and would remember it the next time he saw it.  He wasn’t good at sounding out words and so I never put much emphasis on that.  We had read Charlotte’s Web to him often when he was young and to help him fall asleep for a long time.  We read it so much, we could recite passages without even looking at the page.  So when it was clear that he was ready for more reading, he told us he wanted to read Charlotte’s Web.  Some kids learn better with complex ideas first rather than breaking things down into simple or smaller steps.  And so we sat together and he read Charlotte’s Web with help and he missed some words but it was all ok.  It did not have to be perfect reading.  He was 4 and he wanted to read Charlotte’s Web and so we did.

My second child was not reading until about age 6.  She could read simple words but being a perfectionist, felt like she could not read.  She saw her brother reading and writing from the time she was born (he is 4+ years older) and was frustrated by that.   She loved princesses and so I bought many beginner reader princess books and we read often. She was slower with progressing with reading from level 1 books and on up.  Yet by the time she was about 7 or 8, she was reading at the same level her brother was reading at that age.

I know many people with children who were not ready to read until a much later age, 8 or 9 and even as late as 11 or 12.  Most of these kids could read some words but reading books on their own.  I really believe that children need time to develop at their own pace and just like some learn to walk by age 10 months, like my youngest child, others don’t begin walking until they are 16 months old, like my oldest child; and they are ready to read at different ages too.