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© 2019 by Joyce Fetteroll

My 6 year old isn't reading yet

He is 8 and a half and can barely read at a 1st grade level. Schooling him is very difficult because he has no desire to learn how to read.

 

Which is exactly the problem schools have. When there is a requirement that children must read by a certain age, then it is a problem if they aren't reading by then.

 

The following is going to be hard for you. It is going to turn all that you think you know about what kids need in order to learn upside down.

 

If you remove the artificial requirement that he be reading now, then there is no problem. If you remove the necessity to learn only (or primarily) through reading, then there is no problem.

 

Reading is not the be all and end all of learning.

 

Other ways of learning are NOT distant seconds to reading.

 

What reading is to learning is an efficient way for one teacher to get information into a room full of kids. Schools depend on kids reading not because it's the best learning method but because it makes schools run efficiently. (Even teachers will say the best way to learn is by doing. And unschoolers would add doing what they love and are curious about. But can you imagine one teacher being able to manage a room full of kids learning by doing when she needs to demonstrate they learned x, y, and z by the end of the school year?)

 

There's no reason to try to recreate school at home when the methods schools use are meant primarily to make schools run and secondarily to show that learning is happening (happening long enough to be regurgitated for a test).

 

Unschoolers do not depend on reading for their kids to learn. And unschooled kids learn just fine. The learning that unschoolers do looks different. It looks like play. But it is not only just as effective, it's more because kids are absorbing what fascinates them in ways that are natural to their personalities.

 

When kids are allowed to read when they want to, when they find it meaningful for them, when their brains are developmentally ready, when they have pleasant associations with reading then kids do learn to read. It happens usually between 6 and 8 but can be earlier and can be later. Thirteen is not an unusual age to learn to read. (Kids who learn at 13 are not 7 years behind in skills. They quickly are reading at age level.)

 

In the mean time they are learning just fine in other ways: listening to people, talking, watching TV, listening to music, playing games, doing things hands on, analyzing, making connections and so on.

 

My son will not pick up a book and read it on his own and he complains about the reading that I make him do.

 

If you continue to make him read, continue to make the experience with books unpleasant for him, you will have the exact same problem schools do: it's very likely he will either decide there's something wrong with him and he can't read, or he will decide that reading is dumb and he never wants to read.

 

I have eight children (he's the only boy) and I have taught five of them how to read.

 

Teaching kids to read is what schools think they do too. But unschoolers don't teach their kids to read and their kids learn to read anyway. So there's something else going on.

 

What's going on is that learning to read is no more difficult than learning to speak. (I suspect it's quite a bit easier!) Learning to read happens when reading is a natural, useful (to them) and unstressful part of their environment: signs, video games and gaming guides, stories, movies based on books, books on tape and so on and so on.

 

This is just a guess but it seems to fit what unschoolers see with children. There seem to be a number of brain areas involved in reading. Not all of them mature at the same rate and those brain areas are also used for things other than reading. When a child isn't reading by 12 what makes sense is that one of those brain areas is not ready. They've been using the other brain areas involved in reading for other things so they're all up and running. And when that last brain area is mature then WHAM the kid's reading. It doesn't always happen that way, but it does for a fair number. For others it's more gradual but once they're brains are ready (and their experiences with reading have been positive) they go from not reading to reading at age level within a few months.

 

Some learned faster than others but they all had a desire to learn.

 

Girls tend to be more verbally oriented. They do on the whole tend to learn to read earlier than boys.

 

Unschoolers would say look at who he is rather than who is is not and rather than holding him against the yardstick of who you want him to become. If you can look at him as being perfect at being 8 rather than an imperfect adult you will help both of you and your relationship and his learning tremendously. If you see that each day he is learning how to be 8 years + 1 day and then 8 years + 2 days until he's 9 and he will be a perfect 9 year old, then you won't be struggling against who he is right now.

 

If you treat him as doing the best he can -- after a period of transition since he's been absorbing the message that he's not as good as you want him to be for a long time -- he will do the best he can. He will still make mistakes but they will be honest mistakes of a growing person who is trying to figure out the world.

 

I simply do not know how to teach a child who doesn't want to learn

 

You and every teacher in school! They haven't solved it yet after hundreds? thousands? of years.

 

and frankly, the struggles with my son are ruining homeschooling.

 

Not surprising. Lots of unschoolers came to unschooling because they reached the point where they realized that making a child learn is not only impossible but turns mother and child into adversaries. If you wish to hold on to the necessity of teaching a child it would be better to send him to school so at least he could have a haven to come home to.

 

 

My biggest fear as some of you heard before is that my six year old is not reading yet.

 

Many (most?) 6 yos in school aren't reading either. Most are doing something very different -- like sounding out letters -- which gets called reading in school. But it isn't pick up a book they want to read and read type of reading. What they mostly have is a skill useful only in the controlled environment of school where they won't be confused by words that they haven't studied yet.

 

I have a hard time reading out loud to any of my children for one big reason and that is because English is my second language and I have a heavy accent.

 

I assume you talk to him! So if the accent isn't a problem with conversation, it won't be a problem with reading either. He's absorbing a lot of different ways to say the same word is all.

 

He's picking up standard way of pronouncing words from siblings and friends and TV.

 

So he is not read to at all. Yesterday from shear panic I asked my two 13 year old to sit down with Thomas and read to him. This way they practice reading and Thomas is read to, but I feel like a failure.

 

I think it would help a lot not to see reading to him as some process he needs in order to read. See it as a fun thing to do together. It's bonding. It's sharing stories. Snuggle up on the couch under a blanket and read.

 

Learning to read happens as a side effect of enjoying books and using them for information.

 

My worry is, what if he will be teased if they find out that he can't read yet?

 

They won't. Most of the kids won't be able to read.

 

I think you're focusing way too much on the skill and not enough on what reading is for: pleasure and information. Reading is like being able to walk. If we got all worried that kids wouldn't walk and started in on walking exercises and turned walking into Something Important That They Must Learn To Do Regardless of Whether They Enjoy It Or Not, there would probably be a lot of late walkers!

 

Also what will other parent think of home schoolers and me if he won't read at age 6 or 7?

 

Try hard to focus on what your kids need. You're letting your fears of what others think affect how you treat your children. I know it's lots easier to say than do, but look at your kids and look at strangers and decide who is more important in your life.

 

 

I'm not sure what all the fuss is about teaching kids to read. After my kids were about 3-4 years of age they wanted to be included in the fun and wanted to know how I did it. So I told them the marks on the page are letters and these letters make sounds and these sounds make words and all of these words make stories. So that's it.

 

Ah, but you see that isn't enough for a kid who isn't developmentally ready to read.

 

It's a really important thing for anyone trying to unschool to understand that learning to read isn't a matter of what we as parents do. It's a matter of what the kids are ready for. (Though an environment where reading is fun and useful and accessible to the child does need to be there.)

 

If a child has an environment that encourages it, some will walk at 9 mos. But no amount of encouragement will make a child who won't walk until 18 mos walk earlier. (And if we could do something to get them walking earlier, what would be the benefit to the child? At 18 years will a late walker still be 9 months behind?)

 

It's the same with reading. I've been reading to my daughter since she would sit still for it. She recognized a good portion of the alphabet at 18 mos. We've played word games and talked about words. I've answered her questions. She's been writing since she was 5 or so -- well before she could read a page in an easy reader. But it's only now at 11 that she will occasionally read for pleasure. (She will listen for pleasure for hours! ;-)

 

In school late reading is cause for worry for many reasons: 1) The demoralization process starts as soon as some significant (to the child) portion of the other kids can read and the child can't. 2) The schools can't adequately continue to provide a reading environment (as poor as it is) for older children. They have a curriculum they need to adhere to and big chunks of reading time just don't fit in anymore. 3) Getting the information in the curriculum into the child depends on the child being an independent reader by 4th grade. Schools can't adequately accommodate a nonreader at that point without special services. At that point the child has both a poor environment for reading and a poor environment for learning.

 

At home a later reader is just a child learning through other methods. And, though school emphasizes reading as the far and away most important gateway to learning, other ways are just as good. (And actually better for kids who are more visual or auditory or kinesthetic or whatever learners.)

 

 

Joyfully Rejoycing