I was talking to someone today about Home Education in general, outcomes in particular and we ended up discussing reading. I must admit I am very interested in how children learn to read. The person I was talking to today had been told that children will just pick up the ability to read in the same way they pick up the ability to speak. I was surprised that such a view as I have never seen anything that would support it.
Language in young children is not learned, it is acquired through the relationship with the adults in the child’s life, primarily the mother. Research shows the importance of eye contact, tone of voice and use of “motherease” in how children acquire language. It has been shown that acquisition of language ends around the age of two and half and from then on a child must learn language.
In reading, all children must learn to read, as the process of acquisition is not the same as learning. I personally believe that reading is the most important skill a child can learn, alongside critical thinking. Once a child can read. there is a whole world of opportunities out there for him. Encouraging the reading of good, well written books will expand his vocabulary and ability to communicate as well as expand his world of ideas.
I believe that children will want to learn to read if they are offered good books and encouragement to see the words as exciting decodable windows into a world of stories and information.
I am more than aware that the way reading is taught in far too many schools today actually puts children off the whole business of reading and teaches them that reading is boring and repetitive, or just too difficult to do, but surely home educated children have better opportunities to read and love reading.
We read to our children every day. From there, at an early age they began to understand that the black shapes on the page were the words that their dad and I spoke to them. By pointing to each word as we read we reiterated that those were the words we were speaking. Simple.
Then I introduced them to letters – we have a set of wooden movable letters but there are all sorts of ways od introducing letters and letter sounds to children. if it is done gently and as a fun activity such as making letters with pens, play doh or in a sand tray and so on, children will not resist it. If for some reason they do, then we can go back to reading aloud to them.
After a while the children have all asked to learn to read properly and so now I have a fluent reading 8yr old, a pretty good reader in my 6 yr old, even though she has to overcome some dyslexic tendencies and a 4 yr old who is playing with letters and small words.
Children need to have some basis of language before they can learn to read so it is a rare child indeed who can read before language acquisition has completed around the age of two and half. Then reading can build vocabulary as the child learns new words within the context of the passage or book they are reading.
As children grow older we offer more challenging books for them to read. Charlotte Mason warns over and over against allowing children to read “twaddle” which is the poorly written, patronising and lazy books that sadly so many children read all the time.
Being able to read is the core opening door to a world of interest, knowledge and even discernment. Research shows (Cunningham et al) that those who are strong readers will (obviously) read more and are able to tackle more difficult texts. For hose who have not been taught, and cannot decode words they tend to stick with less print, easy reading or avoiding reading altogether. There is even research suggesting that reading as a skill effects cognitive development.
But, you might ask, what about the “better late than early” view of reading? It has been found that teaching a toddler to read is not a good idea. Some toddlers will indeed learn to read at the age of 2 to 3 but all the research shows that by the time the child is 5 or 6 they are no further ahead than children of that age who start reading at that age. With the added danger that pushing reading on a very young child will impede their reading, rather than help it, then it is better to wait until the child has developed an interest in learning to read. For boys this can be as late as age 7 to 8, though girls tend to be more interested earlier. I am not sure if this is directly linked with language acquisition. Girls begin language acquisition before birth – some studies have found language centres of the brain being active at six weeks before birth in girls. Boys on the other hand tend to show active language centres a couple of weeks (I can’t remember the exact timeframe) after birth. It has also been found that on average women use 25% more words than men and often have a wider vocabulary.
If there is a link between language acquisition and learning to read, then I wonder if home educated children are, over all, stronger and more fluent readers than the average schooled child? The conversation I was having with my visitor bounced off a sad situation of a 15 year old who could not read. I also remember all that research that showed Deaf youngsters were leaving school aged 16 unable to read. There is also a shocking amount of research showing functional illiteracy in a huge number of school leavers these days.
At home, a child learns to read while being cuddled up with a parent. They are relaxed and quiet together. We play with movable letters and older children read with and to younger children. All the learning to read activity is based within family relationships. In a classroom there is a desk and a lot of noise and no lap to cuddle up into. So, this is my question- does cuddling up assist a child as they learn to read, and does it make them more fluent readers? Has anyone ever researched this?