On Never Being Taught to Read

Once upon a time, I was the mother of a four-year-old child who showed pretty much zero interest in learning to read. My brain, as it is wont to do, split into two opposing camps. Camp one was freaking out perpetually that I ought to be doing more, that this was my first big chance to FAIL as a homeschooler, that this crazy experiment called unschooling wouldn’t work at all. Camp two, meanwhile, was resting easy in countless studies and articles that reassured me of the importance of pre-literacy skills and the benefit of letting kids learn to read on their own time and those Scandinavians who don’t teach academics until age seven. Camp two was also trying to believe the librarians who assured me that Neko was right on track with her pre-literacy to be a strong reader, and believing whole-heartedly my unschooly friends who related that their child had not read until 6, 7, 8, even 9 and within a year was reading at or above grade level.

This is my brain on a daily basis, with all things. Yeah, I’m used to it, but it doesn’t stop the camps from debating.

So then, time passed. My mom, a kindergarten teacher, supportively lent us tons of little phonics readers, and I tried to get Neko to try them out. She staunchly resisted. I decided it wasn’t worth a fight.

When she was about five and a half, we signed up for Reading Eggs online. She used this sometimes, and it was a bit helpful.

Neko looking at a book on the hammock.

Neko looking at a book on the hammock.

But when it came down to it, she learned to read when she was ready, which turned out to be around six and a half to seven. What did we do? We provided her with tools and resources – Reading Eggs, lots of books, reading aloud to her daily, several trips to the library each week, watching Electric Company, and letting her see us read. We never did sit down and “teach” her, and I did my best to quiet the voice in my head that was freaking out about her learning to read later than some other kids. I also did my best to reassure my mother and father, who would sometimes comment that children younger than Neko, in my mom’s kindergarten class, were further ahead in their reading.

Of course, it helped to read on Facebook about the kindergarten and grade one homework my friends’ kids were being sent home with. I never wanted reading to be a chore, so it was reassuring to know that we were avoiding setting up that dynamic.

If you’ve read this far and you happen to be able to closely identify with the me-of-the-past I’m describing, specifically because you have a preschooler or primary kid who is “late” learning to read – here’s the whole point. Let me tell you about where we are today, at 8.

Though she couldn't read, she loved looking at books.

Though she couldn’t read, she loved looking at books.

Neko ended up really taking an interest in reading when she was almost 7. At that point we started to do a bit of work at home, such as BrainQuest workbook activities, more Reading Eggs, and writing projects – journals, stories, letters (though not much. Really – not much at all.).  She was interested in learning to read, so we didn’t find working on it to be a chore. Still, we spent very little time working on reading with her. We mostly answered questions as she posed them and continued to make resources and tools available.

When she started at the blended homeschool program in the fall of 2013, a young member of the grade three class, she was reading at grade level. That’s nine months of reading to catch up on two school years of instruction. Now, halfway through grade three? She’s been named one of the more advanced readers in her class and given a part in the radio play that has tons of lines. She’s also reading Wildwood, which is labelled as an age 8-12 reading level but is, I have to agree with this writer, far above that. At any rate, I’m proud of my kid who has the perseverance to keep picking up this 541-page hardcover and getting through it two pages at a time. And then coming to tell us about plot developments – yay reading comprehension!

So take heart. Try not to worry. And keep the end goal in sight. Do you want to boast that your pre-schooler can read*? Or is it more important to you to raise an adult who loves reading and does it well?

Neko learning about feminism early thanks to Bust.

Neko learning about feminism early thanks to Bust.

(*Please note: yes, I know there are plenty of pre-schoolers who learn how to read of their own accord, and love it. Just don’t sweat it if your kid is not one of them.)

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One thought on “On Never Being Taught to Read

  1. I absolutely understand and agree with the constant “war” going on in the brain. I am at that stage currently with my 7 year old. She has had basics down for years, but still has little real interest. We haven’t pushed it and I am now beginning to see a lot more of her sounding random things out and less resistance to me asking her to sound something out that she would have rather me just told her before.

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