My unschooled 7 year old has most definitely taught himself to read over the last year. Leaps and bounds have been made just over the last 4 months! I take no credit. It was all him. I was as hands off as possible for this process as I wanted to prove my well researched position (there is much scientific evidence) that at around 7 years old kids’ brain development just makes it more natural to read. I realize there is a bell curve in regards to learning anything, reading included. I began to read books when I was four. Others may need specialized instruction because of brain wiring and may develop later than average bell curve kids.
There were a few times along the way that myself or my husband would get antsy about whether this was going to work out exactly the way I thought it would (again, as evidenced by real science regarding child development) only because we were pressured by certain family members about why he wasn’t reading by age 5 or 6. But as a gentle parenting type anarchist I stuck to my guns about not using force or coercion to get him to read.
Nailed it. Of course, he would ask questions about letter combos and strange spellings. He would try to spell or pronounce something with strange English spelling rules which I would point out to him along the way. He didn’t need a bunch of hours memorizing rules or practicing in busy work to remember.
He’s known the alphabet since he was 3 and understood letter sounds since he was 4. Certain kid’s shows such as Wallykazam and The Electric Company, which emphasize reading basics, did indeed help along the way. From this came the understanding of how certain letter combinations produce certain sounds. Beginning with “ow”, “th” and how silent “e” affected the way a vowel would sound.
The reading came in small spurts and wasn’t really a necessity for him to learn until he wanted to communicate with his online Minecraft friends. His need to be able to read and write signs as well as independently read his PS3 messages and invites was the motivating factor. I remember the day he was looking at a very long list of message titles which had been sent to him and he asked me to read them to him. There were about 100 of them. Most had recurring titles. I read them all in fast succession as he requested. When I was done he went back to the top of the list and attempted to read them himself. He did a great job and would continue to ask how to spell or pronounce certain things.
As of now, he is learning how hard and soft “c” and “g” work, and understands that “ph” sounds like “f”. He can read the questions and answers in a joke book his grandmother gave him a couple years ago. My kid despises beginner “learn to read” books. I can tell he finds them patronizing to his sensibilities. He is definitely not interested in picking up a book to read at this point, but I’m pretty confident that this will change over the next year as I begin to incorporate reading aloud to him the epic book series’ my older kids were read as bedtime ritual when they were similar ages. Series titles include: A Wrinkle In Time and The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Yes, I read all these books out loud to my older children. We even read the Narnia series together twice! Two chapters per night.
I’m pretty amazed at the same time I that am all too smug about my kid’s growing ability to decipher written language. Every time we are out and about he will read all the words. Street signs, business signs, all the signs. And it’s not just easy-peasy words as people with other ideas about how the litany of classroom reading progression may think. He reads big words correctly like; boulevard, favorite, probably, authority, insurance, and so on. He’s already well ahead of typical 1st and 2nd grade spelling lists.
The most important aspect of this journey in my opinion is that no one else can take credit for his natural ability to read. He taught himself how to read. He has the experience of being responsible for his own life learning. He has the confidence of knowing that he can accomplish the learning of necessary life skills on his own and is not dependent upon another person (or group, or organization) for accomplishing such. It is HIS accomplishment, and he radiates it!
I hope that if you are a homeschooler or unschooler dealing with the projected fears of friends, family or even complete strangers, my sharing of our personal unschooling journey helps ease your mind. Even I have been nervous or antsy in succumbing to the pressure of modern mainstream beliefs that kids cannot learn outside of school or school-like curriculum. But this is simply untrue. Human’s brains are wired for language and reading. It’s an innate ability, not necessarily a taught ability.