Friday, March 03, 2006

How to Teach Your Child to Read in Zero Easy Lessons
(but hundreds of real life interactions)

My son (9) was reading an Asterix and Obelix book at the breakfast table today and remarked that when he first read these books, he only looked at the pictures. Then he sometimes read the big actions words like "whoosh". Then eventually he read many of the words. He realized that at some point, he could read all of the words. And this week he discovered that he can read all of the words and understand most of the Latin phrases too. He said this with a kind of wonderment in his voice, much like a toddler might if they were given to self-evaluation and could realize that just a few months before, they could barely say a few words and now they were speaking in full sentences.

How does reading "just happen" without the ubiquitous 100 Easy Lessons, phonics pathways, reading aloud, or hours of daily instruction in schools or homeschools? It happens in dozens of daily interactions that are no bigger or smaller than any other interaction we might have: "Mom, what letters make the "sh" sound?", and "Mom, where did you put the peanut butter?" would both be a part of some moment at some point in our time together.

Reading doesn't happen in a vacuum though - just as children raised without speech do not learn to talk, children raised without books and reading find it much harder or impossible to read. But reading is such a wonderful part of life - from bedtime chapter books, favorite special holiday books, the Sunday funnies, National Geographic magazines, video games, subtitling on movies, computer software - it's part of everyday life in our house and understanding how to do it is something that kids in such an environment are highly motivated to do.

It's very cool to get to observe the unfolding of reading. Like the year they were adding new words to their spoken vocabulary every day, it's an exciting thing. For each of my kids it has happened differently. M (9) has learned to sound things out, very gradually over time, but then at a certain point he just started picking words up by sight. He never wanted to read out loud until just recently. A (6) has always seemed to see a word once and memorize it whole. Once she's learned a word, she has it locked away for good. She loves to sit and read to me. At first, it was her favorite story books, memorized. Now it's books she hasn't read before. For each of them, it happened very naturally, in their own time and way. The things that motivated them at any given moment weren't always the conventional items that a school might use. The summer my son was six, all his older friends played Pokemon cards, and that created a burst in reading and math (all those points, names, attacks, and so forth.) Getting Animal Crossing for the Gamecube triggered another burst, especially in writing because we all sent letters to each other. At another point, they checked out every Garfield comic book in our library and poured over them until they exhausted the supply. At no point did they feel they were officially "learning to read", they were just doing what they loved and I was there to help them with anything they didn't know yet. The same way I deciphered "Mama want shooshy" to mean "Mom, I would like some juice" when they were younger.


Karen said...

Love, love, love the title on this post, Robin! We're using the "Gamecube method" around here LOL ("mom, how do you spell 'Mario Party 7'??") Like you, I've noticed a real "burst" of reading and writing connections happening since we got Animal Crossing a few weeks ago. Cool stuff!
Karen M (from the Shine List)

Liz said...

Loved this post, Robin. It's really cool to see how different kids learn in such individual ways.

While watching TV or movie credits, my daughter (8) has for a while been asking, "What is 'cats' with the 's' and the 't' round the other way?" Each time, we've answered "Cast", and left it at that. Then, just the other day, she yelled out "Cast! It says 'cast'!" *g* She uses this technique a lot - using words she already knows as a pattern. Interesting... (and really awesome to watch!).

Liz (also from the Shine list)

Laurie said...

I came across your blog while thumbing through the Unschooling Blog ring. Your posts are thoughtful and very well written. I'd love to see them compiled in a book! :) Whenever I get that nagging, "Maybe we should be doing more", I remember to tell myself that DS taught himself to read at 4 without one worksheet or phonics lesson. He, now 5.5y, read me a chapter book yesterday to help me feel better (I have pneumonia). I'll have to check out Animal Crossing. ;)