Saturday, June 14, 2008


After the last post, I find it necessary to post a disclaimer. When I said that the books on my booklist were suitable for 9-18 year olds in terms of readability and content, I didn't mean that every 9-18 year old would be able to read the books or that every 9-18 year old would be able to benefit from or enjoy the content of them. By readability, I meant that they were written simply and unpretentiously. Regardless of how well one reads, it is never easy to wade through wordy, twisting sentences that never seem to say anything. By being of appropriate topics, I meant that there was nothing that the majority would find overly adult. There is no graphic sexuality, and although violence is sometimes portrayed, it is within the context of events in the lives of children, and it is not written about in an unnecessarily graphic way.

I realize that kids learn to read at different ages and at different rates. My daughter Lia, who is 10, would not be able to read any of the books on the list with complete understanding although she might enjoy listening to some of them. Right now her reading consists mostly of Amber Brown books and books from the Cobblestreet Cousins series. She also enjoys long picture books on a variety of topics (although she sometimes asks an older sibling to read them to her) and nonfiction on topics of interest to her (preferably with plenty of excellent photographs or illustrations.) As an unschooler, I do not teach my children to read. I answer their questions and provide them with help and books when they ask for them (and sometimes strew things when they don't), but I don't force anything on them.

My kids learned to read a very diverse ages. Emma never had a time when she couldn't read...she just seemed to naturally learn while she was learning to speak. Antonio wasn't a fluent reader until he was about 12. Esme learned at the age of four, but took a few years to go from reading easy readers to adult literature, becoming fluent at about the age of 8. JoAnn just learned to read overnight at about the age of 10. One day she was struggling to read the simplest of things, and the next thing I knew she could read absolutely anything sometimes better than me! I had heard previously of unschoolers just learning how to read with no help nearly overnight, but JoAnn was the first time it happened to me! Lia is the youngest and has always had people available to read for her so reading hasn't been something she had needed much in her life. She just recently caught onto reading (about the last six months) and is progressing through various reading stages (which I can observe by noticing what she checks out from the library and chooses to read at home) at a fairly quick rate. I assume she also will be able to read anything before another year is up.

Probably Antonio and JoAnn presented best the two extremes of learning to read the natural way. Antonio has had speech and language problems most of his life, and he struggled as he learned to read bit by bit following his own instincts and asking lots of questions! As a four year old, he had an idea of how language was put together. To a certain extent, he knew "how" to read, but he wasn't very verbal and it was another 8 years before he could really read. Antonio can now read anything, but reading is definitely not his preferred method of receiving new information. Oddly enough, JoAnn is my other child with language and speech problems. (It runs in the family.) She is very quiet and shy though. I had no idea that she was even really interested in reading yet. She listened to books, and sometimes did "pre-reading" sorts of things like making up stories to go with picture books and memorizing easy readers and reading them to herself, but she never asked for help or for me to explain how it all worked. Obviously she was observing and learning quietly within herself in her own way. One day, when she was about 10, we were walking along, and she said to me, "Mom, before I went by signs, and I had no idea what they said. Now I know what they all say, and I don't have to try to read them, I just know!" I was so surprised at her observation. Not long after that, she was picking up absolutely everything to read including the adult books I had checked out for myself from the library.

So don't feel bad if your 9 year old can't read the books on my list! Always follow your child's lead. Pretty much every free, normally abled child learns to read as long as they have access to print, readers available to answer questions, and an honest need or desire. The reason school children so often don't learn to read well is because they are made to feel dumb and given the impression that reading is something terribly difficult to do. The same goes for topic. Each child is different in what he or she is willing and able to understand and handle. If you have a sensitive child, be available to discuss difficult things that they have read about with them. Support them and allow them to experience all the emotions that the literature leads too. You will not only be helping your child learn to read better and to grow in their worldview, but you will also be building your relationship which is the most important thing that you can do!

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