The idea of teens just starting to read gives me chills
Firstly, it gives me the chills to read about teens who are just beginning to read because they weren't "ready". Not ready how? Mentally, meaning the brain development required for reading is not yet complete?
From people's stories, that's the way it sounds.
Whether it's true of all later-reading unschoolers isn't important because not reading at home until later doesn't hamper learning. Kids learn in other ways that are probably to them more natural. Had those same kids been in school they would have been made to feel stupid for not being able to read and been trapped in a situation where the only acceptable way to learn was through a way that wasn't best for them.
Why does it give you chills? What are your fears of a child not reading until later? Ask. See if your fear actually came true for families.
but isn't it common knowledge that children learn to read much more easily than older teens or adults
There are a lot of assumptions in that statement.
First you're assuming that all children can be taught to read by 8. Then why are there children in school who are struggling? Even the best schools have remedial reading programs.
It's assumed that since most children eventually read that they're reading because of instruction. But since unschooled children are reading without instruction, does that assumption make sense? Since most unschooled children learn to read between 6 and 8 -- just like in school -- and can read as early as 3 or 4 -- just like kids who eventually go to school -- or as late as 12 or 13 and do so effortlessly without instruction, doesn't the evidence point to age being the key factor?
(And while some kids in school may read as late as 12 or 13, they don't get there without damage. And there are some kids who fake their way through reading because they've decided a) they're stupid or b) reading is stupid. That doesn't happen to unschooled kids.)
Second you're assuming that older teens and adults are equivalent to older unschooled kids. Why are the older teens and adults not reading? Because they grew up in supportive rich environments? No. They have all spent years in an institution where they were made to feel stupid for not being able to do what "everyone else" could. And it isn't just reading that they're being made to feel stupid about. It's all academic subjects because after 4th grade all learning depends on kids being able to read. If they can't read, they can't learn from school so they feel even stupider.
At home, they can learn in a myriad of ways that are every bit as effective -- and actually more effective to those who learn better hands on or by watching or by listening or by talking.
Unless a child is clearly mentally handicapped, studies of cognitive development show that people's brains HAVE made all the connections for reading somewhere between the ages of 6 and 8 (or much earlier in certain cases).
Schools are good at teaching us to trust the expert-given answer, to not dig beneath and question, to treat the conclusions we draw from what we observe and experience as untrustworthy. We trust that the expert knows why there are seeming contradictions.
I know it sounds heretical, but if that's what the studies say then the studies don't match the evidence of real life. Are the studies missing connections that are important? Is there some other factor that is important that the studies are missing? Are you mistaken about your studies?
(Note that all research of school-aged kids is done on schooled kids. Research should have a control group but even their control group is schooled. School is a big huge mucking-up factor and researchers don't have a clue how much it's messing up the natural state of children.)
If it is true that all the brain connections are made, then why aren't all children in school reading by 8?
And even if all children are ready to read by 8, the fact that there are kids who graduate functionally illiterate points to instruction not being the best solution.
From the evidence of unschooled kids, later readers have often reported that something "just clicked" one day and they were suddenly reading. And they are not beginning reading at 6 yo level. They're shortly reading at age level. How do the studies explain that?
I don't suggest regularly scheduled, force-fed reading lessons, but with appropriate guidance and encouragement, it doesn't seem that any child should be unable to read fluently at such as late age (10, 11, 12, and into the teen years). Is there a flaw in this logic?
Yes. That not all children in school are reading by 8.
As far as I know unschooling has 100% literacy rate by the time kids are 18. Schools can't claim that.
And additionally unschooled kids who have natural strengths and weaknesses (perhaps they don't have a natural affinity for math or writing or science or sports or whatever) are coming through feeling like whole people. Schools can't claim the same.
"it doesn't seem" you say. So you are saying that you don't know. You don't have the experience that says every child who is instructed in the "right" way can read by 8.
That isn't an attack by the way. I'm not feeling defensive. I'm trying to point out where your thinking is flawed. What unschoolers have is real experience with what actually happens. What you're holding is belief in what you think must be true: that all kids can read by 8. But is it? Where's the evidence?
From what unschoolers report about later readers -- and some do try reading instruction before turning to unschooling -- is that their kids clearly aren't ready or have no interest in reading. How are you going to instruct a child who doesn't want instruction? You are assuming, I think, that there is a way to make something a child doesn't want to do pleasant and fun. What are you basing that assumption on?
You can ask what experience unschoolers have had with reading instruction and why they abandoned it.
The thing about instruction is that after you've tried a number of ways to see if they interest the child, the child generally picks up that this is something important to you and because you're trying so hard to get them to do it that they are imperfect in your eyes, that there is something wrong with them. That has an effect on the child and on the child's relationship with you. If, despite your telling him that such things didn't interest you, your husband kept bringing home books and videos and taping shows from TV on how to cook better, how would it make you feel? Even if it was done gently, even if he reassured you that it wasn't important? How could you not pick up a message that he thought you were inadequate or that he would like you better if you'd just fix your cooking?
Next, while I believe in allowing children to pursue their interests in depth, I would not trust them to navigate their entire education unguided; in other words, free reign. Kids with an intense interest in one area may rarely decide to abandon that pursuit for another, but this makes for a very narrow body of knowledge.
What are you basing the assumption that unschooled kids have a narrow body of knowledge? How many unschooled kids do you know? (If that feels like me being defensive it's because I'm asking you to examine thoughts that don't have a good foundation. You're assuming that we're both following paths based on our individual beliefs about learning. But I'm pursuing unschooling based on a lot of knowledge of what actually happens when kids are allowed to live and learn freely in a rich supportive environment.)
Are all unschooled kids broadly knowledgeable? No. Are all schooled kids? No.
Are all eclectic kids broadly knowledgeable? From what I have read, eclectic "works" in some homes because of the mother's personality and the kids' personalities mesh with the feeling that going through a set amount of knowledge is important and necessary. And I say "works" because eclectic kids aren't just unschooled kids with more knowledge. There are compromises. You can't convince a child that learning things they wouldn't pursue on their own is necessary without also convincing them that they can't learn those things on their own.
You are projecting schooled mentality onto unschooled kids and it's giving you a false picture. Schooled kids have a reason for avoiding learning outside their areas of interest: their experience outside their interests is of subjects that are dull and difficult.
Unschooled kids don't have the same experience. To them the world is either interesting right now or not interesting right now. They don't have years of experience that has convinced them that some huge chunk of the world like science or math is hard or boring.
You are assuming, I think, that there's always an interesting way to approach everything that would be taught in school. I made the same assumption. Frankly unschooling goes against my nature. I like knowing exactly how much I have to learn and having that physical feel of being done with something when I go through it. But my daughter taught me that if she isn't interested in something right now then getting her to do something when she'd rather do something else projected the emotions of "being made to" on to the something.
Have you asked on eclectic boards or lists what people do when their kids aren't interested in some area? What if a child isn't interested in the history the mother has chosen and isn't interested in choosing something else? What if the child chooses something and then decides they don't like it? Do they just let it go? What if the child goes a whole year without picking up a pencil to write? What if the child goes a whole year without doing enough of what the mother feels is science? How do they do math? What do they do if their kids aren't interested?
I think it would help me sort things out for someone to discuss what you see to be the advantage of radical unschooling over a loosely-followed eclectic curriculum, which would be just to make sure their world view is expanding and they don't get stuck in a rut.
The goals of unschooling are different than those of eclectic homeschoolers. The goals of unschooling is a whole person who feels they can learn and do anything they put their minds to.
For one thing, unschooled kids aren't stuck in ruts! The whole world to them is full of potential. There's no reason for them to shut themselves off permanently from parts of it. Why would they? The world is inherently interesting. Unless it's filtered through dull lectures and boring textbooks and brain-numbing homework and force-fed learning.
My daughter, for instance likes to write and draw. She always has. She's thinking she might like to go to college for creative writing but knows she doesn't need to. But, even though her passion is writing and drawing, she still learns things about science and history even if she doesn't do anything that looks like studying them. She's taking a college math course at 14 because she thinks it's fun.
I see this latter approach to be more realistic and better-suited to our family
Then that's what you should do.
The thing about unschooling is that you need to want what unschooling offers, not ask unschooling to quell the fears that you believe some other method will quell. When you see the benefits of unschooling, then you'll want to find a way to shut up the fears because you'll want what unschooling provides. No one can convince you that unschooling will provide exactly what eclectic will because it can't. Eclectic makes compromises in the child's feelings about his ability to learn on his own and in the relationship with the parents. Unschooling makes compromises in the feeling that our kids are getting "enough". We do have to let that feeling go and recognize that what they're getting is better.
How will you get your daughter to learn something she isn't interested in learning? I assumed there had to be a way but my daughter taught me that I was doing more damage by trying than by letting it go and letting her pursue what interested her. That doesn't mean I drop exposing her but we do things that she thinks are fun even if she isn't pursuing learning about them as actively as she pursues writing and drawing. We go to science museums because she enjoys them even if she isn't reading science books and doing science experiments. And if she didn't like science museums there are other exposures like walks in the woods, growing plants, building catapults, watching science shows, going to tractor pulls ...
The point isn't to do something because it's science but to do a variety of things because they're fun and science will naturally be a part of them because science is a natural part of life.
and my daughter's needs.
Or do you mean your needs for your daughter?
While it's common to project what we're certain they need onto them and say those are the child's needs, that's what unschoolers question. We say we can't know what they will need.
There are studies that show that when babies are provided a variety of foods that they sometimes take binges but will in the long run eat a balanced diet. What unschoolers do is provide access to the world in interesting ways. And we help kids explore what they reach for. They, like the babies, find it all potentially fascinating. Some is more fascinating than others at various times.
The analogy falls apart there because we don't need to learn everything. But unschoolers will sample it all if the parents are exposing them to things the kids think are fun and the parents are sharing things they honestly think are fun (and not the fake "Isn't this fun?!" just because they want the kids to learn something!). They will absorb bits and pieces here and there without the boring/hard patina that school paints it all with. Even if my daughter doesn't learn anything more about Rome than she knows at this moment before she leaves home, she leaves with the knowledge that what she has learned so far is interesting and she could learn more if she wanted to.
On the other hand, there is something about the purity and absolutely natural philosophy of unschooling that still speaks to me in some way.
One of the hard parts of getting unschooling is that learning is secondary to being whole happy people. That seems scary because most people assume that unless people are made to learn then they won't learn. Unschoolers know that learning happens as a side effect of living a full life in a rich supportive environment.
(That rich supportive environment is the important part. Many people get the mistaken idea that unschooling means letting the kids go and stumble across whatever happens to wander into their lives. But we need to be active. The activity doesn't necessarily mean go go go all the time. It can be interesting TV shows, books, books on tape, videos, conversations, cooking, classes, friends, games, video games and so on. Being interested and curious about life yourself is a huge step in the right direction :-)
How did your daughter learn to speak English? Did you make sure that language instruction was fun and interesting for her? Or did you just live life and English happened as a side effect?