Hot Topic: Reading

For some reason, there has lately been a buzz about teaching/learning reading. My unschooling Yahoo group had a long discussion about it (i.e. “don’t worry – they all learn to read”), Peter Gray wrote an insightful blog post about it, Idzie blogged about her journey into reading, and, on the other side of the issue, Parenting magazine ran an article about our kids “falling behind” because they don’t learn to read early enough, I have been bombarded by people selling reading programs, friends worrying about teaching their young children to enjoy reading, and more.

With all of this buzz about this topic, I just wanted to add my two cents.  I whole-heartedly embrace the unschooling philosophy that children will learn to read when they are ready – whether it is at 3 or 13 years old.  Many won’t even know how they learned, it will just be organic in the same way the speaking and walking are organically learned. We don’t have daily speaking lessons for 12 month olds, so why must we force 3 year olds to sit through daily reading lessons? And how interesting do you think “Ann and Dan ran” really is?

But, those on the other side must say, “There are plenty of people who were never taught to read, and they remain illiterate! How do you know that your child will learn if you never teach them?” Easy. Unschooling parents do not let their children run around in rags, fending for themselves. They are not uninterested in their child’s environment. Much the opposite. And unschooling parent is very aware of the child’s environment, because what that child takes interest in will lead his or her education. And, so, we surround our kids with resources – books, magazine, videos, computers, toys, games, etc. We play along with them and watch what they gravitate towards. We read to them constantly, and re-read the books they love over and over.

Unschooled children learn to read because they can’t not learn to read. They are surrounded by it, just as all children are surrounded by food.  Offer a child food, and they will consume it and will show their preferences. The same is true for books.

I forsee a day in the future when someone in my life expresses concern over the age at which my children read. To be honest, I’m a little terrified of this day.  I fear the disapproving looks from family members and the looks of pity from friends. But, I will not sacrifice my child’s love of reading because of peer pressure. We must have a long view on reading. A child may be able to say, “A is for alligator,” at 3  years old, but will that same child have a passion for words as a teenager?  Not likely if they are forced to read (as all school children are).  But unschooled children discover the joy of reading as if they were the first. And that joy doesn’t diminish.

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2 Comments on "Hot Topic: Reading"

  1. connie johnson
    16/05/2010 at 8:48 am Permalink

    I have unschooled my kids from day one but a few years ago stopped reading to them because they were not interested in me reading to them anymore – they were more interested in playing games on the computer than listening to me read to them – so i didnt push it – now my daughter is 15 – she knows how to read but is not interested in readiing at all and my son 13 is just beginning to read on his own – i’m not sure what to do at this point – i don’t want to push reading – i would love to read to them again but they are not interested – some where along the way it feels like i must have goofed up – because neither love or even like reading and – what can i do at this point?

  2. Cassi
    16/05/2010 at 8:37 pm Permalink


    I am by no means an expert, but I have one question: do you enjoy reading? Do your kids see you and your husband reading something that you enjoy on a regular basis? At this age, I’m sure they don’t want mom to read to them, but perhaps they’d be more interested in picking up a book on their own if they saw you immersed in something great.

    If you are already doing this and they are still uninterested, please don’t worry. Loving reading is not a requirement for intelligent, thoughtful people. There are numerous ways to obtain information today and to exercise creativity and imagination. We have been programed to believe that a child who loves to read is inherently more intelligent or ahead of other children. Ask yourself if you really believe this is true. I know lots of incredibly smart and talented adults (engineers, computer programers, artists, etc) who don’t read unless they have to for work or they’ve stumbled on something that really peaks their interest. Don’t judge your kids by a false standard of loving to read. Relax. They may grow to like it more and they may not. Either way, if you force it, they will certainly be more and more frustrated and rebellious.


    PS Would your daughter be interested in teen magazines? Would your son be interested in comic books? Reading comes in all forms. Make sure you’re not discriminating.

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