Kai is reading. He’s still learning (but aren’t we all – I still see new words I’ve never read before – most days!), but I wanted to write this while it’s still fresh and I remember all the details….(and I edited this to add a time-scale – he started ‘getting it’ around October. It’s now December and he’s reading almost all things, albeit slowly..)
Since Kai was around 4 or 5, I’ve been reading accounts of how and when unschooled kids learnt to read. On the whole, those accounts have helped me relax and chill when I’ve started to get stressed about it. But some of them also gave me some funny ideas about what his learning to read might look like….It hasn’t looked how I imagined it was going to, based on a large sample of those accounts!
So, I wanted to summarise what it has looked like for us….
Until he was nearly 8.5 years old, Kai couldn’t read jack squat!
I thought he was reading words he commonly came across, in gaming (like ‘Play’, ‘Exit’, etc…) but he tells me now he wasn’t. He figured things out in different visual ways (which is super cool all by itself!) – like by colour – the ‘play’ button is often green, etc. He also couldn’t remember most of the letters of the alphabet, didn’t write and couldn’t spell.
There has been/is an ‘awkward’ sounding out phase
A lot of accounts of unschoolers learning to read describe kids going from no reading to reading Harry Potter in the blink of an eye. As Kai has never ‘got’ phonics, I kind of expected him to learn as a whole word reader, and just ‘do it’. Lots of unschoolers say their kids didn’t have an awkward sounding out phase. But that’s not what happened for us.
It was more like he suddenly got letter sounds overnight, and so then he started sounding out words. And that’s what he’s still doing, though he is getting so fast at it doesn’t sound so slow or awkward any more. Once he ‘got’ phonics, he seemed to remember all the letters of the alphabet, and is already able to spell most things he needs to. I don’t know when he’ll be up to tackling a whole book. I’ll let you know though!
However, this ‘sounding out’ phase, might be because of this next point….
All Kai’s learning to read was done ‘out loud’
A lot of unschooling accounts say their kids kind of kept their reading progress to themselves until they were confident to come out and say they could read. That didn’t happen here! But Kai is a very ‘out loud’ kind of kid in many ways. ALL of his reading has been done out loud – all the sounding out – pretty much all of his reading is like that. Right now when he’s playing Skyrim, he’s reading the instructions out loud. When he’s in the car anytime at the moment, you can hear him sounding out passing words on shops and signs under his breath – it’s pretty cute!
Kai didn’t learn to read ‘by playing video games’
That might seem a surprising thing for me to say, for anyone who has read any more of this blog, as you’ll know I’m passionate about the learning involved in video gaming and we have never limited video games, and Kai games all the time – but, bear with me (I promise I’m still the worlds biggest proponent of video gaming!)!
On LOTS of unschooling discussion, you’ll see variations on that sentence – ‘My child learnt to read from video games’, ‘my child learnt to read because he needed/wanted to get to the next level in his video game’….etc…
Oooh, that makes me cross! No-one’s kid learnt to read ‘because’ of video games! That’s like saying ‘my kid learnt to read by looking at flash cards’! It’s on a par with the annoying ‘My child learnt to read because they wanted to’!! Grrr!! Children learn to read when their brains are ready. Not before. I’ve seen parents write frustratedly that they ‘let’ their kids play video games and ‘expected’ they would learn to read because they’d need to get to another level….Brain. Ready. Period!
PLEASE, if your child isn’t reading yet and needs help in their video game, for the love of all things good – help them and read for them!! Kai happily gamed for more than 3 years before he learnt to read, and I read out any instructions he needed me to – he was still learning all the time – video games have plots, stories, characters, numbers, design….
Once Kai was ready to read, video gaming meant his progress was very fast, and he was exposed to far more complex words than your average ‘Let’s go to the Park’ book!
Once Kai’s brain was ready to decode words, gaming means he’s reading almost ALL day (currently that is in Skyrim) and the words he’s reading are far more sophisticated and complex than anything you’d find in a ‘grade level’ reader! For example ‘Alchemy’, ‘Arcane’, and yesterday ‘Shellbug Chitin’ (we discussed how Chitin is a weird word because the CH is pronounced as a ‘K’ not the usual ‘CHU’ sound! We also discussed what chitin is – I’m pretty sure I never had heard of the word chitin till 2nd year undergrad zoology – I was 28!!).
And it’s also definitely true that, once a kid is reading, gaming offers a lot of motivation to read and understand instructions– you read an instruction, you do it, you immediately get to a new level, or get a new achievement. There is also a lot of literature around gaming – manuals, fan fiction, etc – though Kai hasn’t gotten into any of that…yet!
On a related note, so I’ll add it here – there has never been any distinction here between ‘learning to read’ and ‘reading to learn’. ALL of Kai’s reading is to learn – mostly about his games – his reading and his reading comprehension aren’t separate entities.
So. That’s how it was here….Now some advice, which you can obviously choose to take or ignore!
Keep calm, and keep reading (you, not your kid!)!
The thing that helped me relax the most about reading, and really, truly believe it would happen, was reading about how other unschoolers learnt to read. Also, we have unschooled friends older than Kai who I also watched learn to read – that really helped too! That’s not to say I didn’t have periodic panics…but when I did, I went and read some more and distracted myself! Kai also has never liked to be read out loud to, only on very rare occasions – so I’m here to tell you that doesn’t matter either, if your kid doesn’t like to be read to!
Don’t set your kid a deadline based on other peoples stories or experiences!
I’m only including this because I kinda did that! When we first found unschooling, and had friends with older kids, I said (jokingly, back then!) that I’d keep calm about reading until Kai was 9, then I might freak out! Lucky for me, Kai’s brain kept nicely aligned with my randomly imposed schedule! But I realise now that that ‘joke’ really was important in my head…..and I think if Kai hadn’t have been reading by 9, I would have freaked out more than I would had I not set that deadline. Kids learn to read anywhere between 3 and 13, and sometimes older….
Don’t expect your kid will learn to read from video games because they ‘have to’.
Let them play video games because video games are awesome, not because of some deluded idea that they will learn to read ‘because’ of them or ‘from’ them. They will learn to read ‘with’ them (and only when their brains are ready!)!
Don’t expect your kid learning to read will look the same as any of the stories you have read about other unschooled kids learning to read!
I did. And it didn’t! Though it might! Read more stories about unschooled kids learning to read here!
Lo and Behold, this turned up in my email this evening, so I edited to add a link :)