Friday, June 26, 2009

Teaching *Oneself* to Read

I have a little bit to add about Ezra teaching himself to read this winter, through Tintin comics and Captain Underpants books. Some things I have observed are that he has hardly ever struggled to sound out a word and has asked few questions as he has gone along. This got me to thinking as I was chatting with a friend about it, that maybe with no pressure, no shame, and no degrading reading materials (as in "see Dick run"!) kids can just smoothly glide into reading, which means that all reading programs, curriculums, etc. are a bunch of "hooey" as some of my elders like to say.

What is the point of "see Dick run" anyway, except to convince you you can't read anything *real*?

My sister listened to Ezra reading Captain Underpants aloud to his cousin at a family reunion two weeks ago, and she came by and said, "He reads as well as *you*!" This was obviously a slight exaggeration, but it made me realize that he hasn't struggled at all. He just devours these cartoon books. He can figure out the "hard" words because of the context. Also, I read some of the books to him before he reread them on his own. I have heard of many, many unschooler kids starting to read voraciously through comic-book reading (mostly boys) and sometimes they don't start until they are teenagers, but when they do start they learn extremely quickly, usually without anyone realizing it, as Ezra did.

It all gets me to wondering about "learning disabilities" with reading. I am "lucky" by most people's standards, in that Ezra is an "early reader." (My husband and I were also reading before kindergarten, and we spend much of the day reading as adults, too, so I think it is hardwired into him). However, I was totally prepared for him to start reading at 11 (as Joseph Chilton Pearce recommends) or even later. (I suppose Ottar could be a late reader, though I am guessing he will read early, too, as everyone in our families has always seemed to.) In any case, I wonder if "learning disabilities" are not only just a result of trying to force all kids to read by age 8 (as many unschoolers/homeschoolers have asserted) but are also a result of pressuring kids to the point that they believe they are stupid, which makes reading seem harder than it really is. I can definitely see how this could happen, because I developed the belief that I was "stupid" about math when I was in eighth grade. I'd always been an "advanced" math student, but that year I had an uninspirational teacher, and was introduced to algebraic concepts that I could not connect with real life. I lost interest, and after that I never cared about, or was good at, math again. In high school I dropped out of precalculus after getting a "D" (even though I was a B+/A- student). Even now when people discuss most kinds of math, or algebraic concepts, my entire brain shuts down. I literally can *not* do the work.

So, my unsolicited advice to all unschooler/homeschooler parents is to never try to teach your kids to read, period. Just read things to them and leave all the books available to them, and eventually they will latch onto something that interests them enough that they will "have" to read in order to know more. For more inspiration on this subject, I often refer people to the book The Call to Brilliance, which is a book about an unschooler family with three kids all in their twenties at the time of the book's publication. All the kids are "successful" by U.S. standards, and none learned to read until 11 or 12 at the earliest. They were all in college by the time they were 15, if I remember correctly.


  1. I found this post really inspiring! I love stories of how people teach themselves to read--or do anything, for that matter. But with reading so valued in our culture, what an empowering thing it is for a kid to find his or her own way when it comes to literacy--to be able to say "I figured out for myself."

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Interestingly, I did just read a book, "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" where they claim to have identified one actual scientific reading disability, but they say it is almost always overcome by using a program called FastForWord. Sounded pretty convincing. Can't remember the details, unfortunately, and I had to return the book to the library. . . but it was excellent, and I think I posted on it a couple of times.