Learning to read #1

These learning-to-read posts are really for any parents out there struggling with the idea that children can learn to read by themselves, or looking for some reassurance. When D was just two, I read a book called ‘How children learn at home’. That book probably sowed the seeds for our future. I was inspired and excited to hear parents say they didn’t know how their children learned to read, it just happened. It was the first time my assumptions about learning were challenged, but it felt intuitively right to me. Some years later we lived through this experience with D and E, and which I describe here.

Right now though, I’m enjoying watching this amazing process play out with C who is 7. For a couple of years she’s had some interest in letters. She could read and write a handful of words at least a year ago. Then she had some frustration with being the only person in the family who couldn’t read. I offered to help but she didn’t want that. She said she didn’t want to learn, she just wanted to do it.

I think how she might be learning at school. I guess it would be with phonetics, and starting with simple words and building up. There would be a logical structure she would follow, no doubt going up through different levels. It certainly wouldn’t look like what’s she’s doing now. There’s something magical at work, and like all their learning it doesn’t follow a straight path.

Something that seems to get forgotten in the quest to get children learning as early as possible, is the enormous confidence boost a child experiences when they learn at their own pace. Reading is like a huge and complex adult code that the child finally cracks. The ability to do what at first seemed impossible!

As C learns to crack the code, her satisfaction is palpable. Every day she is gaining confidence and trying out a few more things. In the last few weeks, she has jumped from recognising those same words and letters to really starting to experiment with them. Yesterday she told Mariano how to spell ‘zoom’, and that if you take away the ‘m’, you get ‘zoo’. Inspired, I think, by E’s list making, she started a list in a Google Doc of animals she would like to have as pets. The first on the list is a sugar glider (a creature I had never heard of before). To write it on her list, she copied it from a website onto a piece of paper, then copied that back to the list. How cool is it when they follow their own path – dog, cat, horse, sugar glider…

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