How unschoolers learn to read according to Dr. Peter Gray.

I am a big fan of Dr. Peter Gray.  He is a research professor whose educational philosophies align perfectly with mine:  let the kids play and they will learn.  In my circle of influence, he is wildly popular and with good reason – he trusts kids are designed to learn everything they need to know without constant explicit instruction.

A local unschool friend shared recently shared this article with me, Children Teach Themselves to Read published on Psychology Today.  I read this article several years ago but rereading it with fresh eyes was very interesting to me.  In this article he creates 7 generalizations about how unschool kids learn to read.  These generalization match perfectly with my experiences of my children learning to read…and with my friend’s experience of her children learning to read….and I suspect this article strongly resonates with most unschool families.

Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling

1. For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.  This has always been my stance.  Government school guidelines hold no bearing in real-life learning.  Research showing students who aren’t reading fluently by the end of 3rd grade have a greater chance of becoming at-risk students do not apply to homeschool and unschool children because 3rd grade doesn’t exist outside of traditional school settings.  You can’t be at risk if you are don’t participate in that educational paradigm.

2. Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.  This is a foundation of my reading beliefs….although we are still waiting to see this truth in my house.

3. Attempts to push reading can backfire.  Mr.8 has been our guinea pig and unfortunately we’ve seen this principle in action, time and time again.

4. Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.  Again, still waiting to see this become reality in my house.  But, when motivation and needing to read to succeed in personal endeavors are present, of course, kids will read!

5. Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.  Within my family, we see this as Mr.8 and Ms.6 explore literacy together.  While I don’t make reading library books on the couch a competition, I clearly see the social aspect of learning to read as a shared experienced between these two.

6. Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.  Ms.6 is a perfect example.  She appreciates the physical act of forming letters into words and forming those words into meaning sentences.   Her invented spelling is phenomenal and she prefers to figure out the words on her own rather than rely on me for perfect spelling.

7. There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.  And, why should there be?  Every child is unique and their educational path is unique.  Although it is inevitable, learning to read is not the end all and be all of childhood.  The freedom to play, explore personal interests and take part in family life is just as important.  Life does not follow a predictable course, learning to read doesn’t have to follow a predictable course and neither does our unschool day.



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