By Vachi Spivey
Community Conversations is a series of blog posts written and published exclusively by SSA parents, it is a space whey they share their stories, experiences & opinions about their experiences in self-directed education.
But how will they learn to read? I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard this question! As I write this, my 7 year old is sitting on the couch taking a break from Harry Potter to start Gulliver's Travels, but I can't take credit for that. I didn't teach him to read, and the "secret" of his success is really just freedom. Most of us, and more of our parents & grandparents, learned to read with repetition, reinforcement, maybe phonics. Drills and flash cards may well have played a role too. When a person has had this much "teaching" involved in learning something, it can be hard to accept that it wasn't actually necessary. But it's really not. In fact, I'd venture to say that teaching a child to read is counter-productive. They'll still learn it, but it will take more time out of their day, and sap more love out of the process than if they're allowed to learn it in their own time. The thing is that barring unusual obstacles (vision problems, learning "disabilities", etc.), kids will learn to read the same way they learned to talk. If they see people reading and writing, and see print in meaningful ways around them, they'll learn the written language just as they learned the spoken language. There's a wide range of ages when this can happen, and it's important to remember that it's not a race. (Of my own four, two learned at 3, one at 8, and one at 9), but it will happen. As hard as it can be to accept, it's generally not necessary to teach kids how to read at all - and by trying, we can remove the joy from the experience. That doesn't mean there isn't anything you can do to help encourage their progress though, so if you really want to feel like you're helping, here are some things you can do without hindering your child's creative and self-directed milestones. None of these are intended to “teach” your child to read. Just to empower them on that journey. 1. Books Keep tons of books around. You can visit the library, or you can buy new or used books. Thrift stores are a great place to pick up used "coffee table books", and the pictures in those can be really interesting for young kids. Put some of them at her level, where she can get them, and let her play with books and magazines. Even an 8month old can love turning the pages of a catalog you don't want anymore. 2. Read, Read, Read!! If she brings you a book, and you can stop what you're doing to read, then read. Read often, and with passion. Do the goofy voices. You might try following the words on the page with your finger - not "pointedly", but just as if you're keeping track for your own reference. If like most little ones they want the same book over and over, you might find them wanting to “read” the phrases they remember. 3. Materials Have lots of pencils, crayons, and paper available. Let him see you write by hand (always in print). If you're reading, read aloud, so he can make the connection between written and spoken language. Let him draw, and paint, and color freely. 4. Don't use your smartphone for lists, use paper. 5. [CC]: Not just for the hearing impaired If the TV is on, you can have closed captioning on, always. They don't even have to look at the words. Just KNOWING that the words are there tells them that the written words are connected to what they're hearing. It helps make the connection in their brain. 6. Labels If you really want something “active” to do, you can put labels on EVERYTHING and leave them there. He'll see the wall and the word wall with it. See the door and the word door with it, etc. You don't need to point them out, or read them to him, just having them there is more than enough. He doesn't need to try to 'learn' the words, they'll just be absorbed along with his other language development. * This is something I only do for very young ones (2-3) - if they're old enough to feel like you're trying to teach them, it loses some value. 7. Games Screen time is a hotly contested topic in the mommy wars, but games can have real value. Our kids are going to be living in a world where technology is interconnected in every aspect of daily life, and being comfortable with tech is going to be important for them - far more than it is for us. Games are great for learning reading, writing, typing, math skills, interpersonal relationship skills, and so much more. There's a lot to be learned while gaming, from Minecraft & Roblox to all the countless MMORPG's out there. Even if screen time limits are a deal breaker, you might be surprised at the inherent value in some of these "idle pastimes". 8. Finally, and most importantly, SIT ON YOUR HANDS Sometimes it will be hard to have faith, and not push, or try to teach. But emergent literacy is one of the most amazing things you will ever witness. There's nothing quite like seeing a 5 year old pick up a book and read it to a doll with spontaneity and joy (vs a child at any age stumbling over "phonics" to try to decipher words), or a 10 year old who masters reading late, but with a sense of joy and achievement , and excitement at all the worlds waiting for discovery - rather than failure at the time it took to get there.