Learning without Reading

Cally Brown wrote, in 2012:
Back in the olden days when #1 son was 6 (he's 31 now) homeschoolers used to be 'inspected' in New Zealand. The inspector asked Greg to show him his favourite book and Greg ran off and returned with a large volume of a 20-something-volume encyclopaedia. The inspector looked amazed and said, "Goodness! You can read that?" and Greg replied, "Of course not! I'm only six! I just love looking at all the pictures," and proceeded to show the man all sorts of interesting things, clearly displaying an amazing amount of knowledge he had garnered from pictures alone. :)

Clare Kirkpatrick wrote (December 2014):
In general, in my experience, unschooled children's overall loveliness and maturity begins to eclipse the importance of their reading ability in the eyes of naysayers, especially if you're open and honest about what you're doing and why with those who are concerned. I'm continually talking about why I'm not worried about reading age with some concerned relatives and, as they come to spend more time with the children and see the 'evidence' of what we're doing and what we value, they nearly always soften and start to see things differently.

Advantages Discovered from Later Reading

Holly Dodd read late, and though it was frustrating a time or two, she read when she read. Before then, there were instances when it showed an advantageous side.

When Holly was nine she was in a play, and she wasn't reading yet. She was afraid she would not know her lines, so every day she got me to read through her scene, and she paid careful attention at rehearsals, and rehearsed with another family's kids. As it turned out, her inability to read along during rehearsals ended up being a boon. The following was posted on [email protected] in April 2003:

If the homeschooler's theater has its performance set for May 10, and first rehearsal is April 1, an unschooler can see that it would be best to know their lines by then.
Oh right! That's an example I forgot to give. Holly was in a play, put on by the city's theatre, but an all-homeschoolers' session with daytime rehearsals.

Holly learned all her lines early, since she couldn't read and needed help. As rehearsals went on, she learned everyone else's lines too. Since they were leaning on being able to read from scripts during rehearsals, they weren't memorizing their lines.

When the performance came two of the three main characters were Holly and her best friend, who knew their lines. The third didn't know his. A couple of times when it didn't matter, one of them said his line, and left the response to him. If he didn't catch it, the other of the girls would say the response. (Most of what they were doing was exposition or dialog that wasn't at all character specific.) If it made him mad, he didn't dare say so, because he didn't know his part.

But Holly was so disgusted with the others, she had no interest in the next play they offered.

That's too bad. Somehow she met deadlines TOO well?

Sandra Dodd

Someone wrote:
"Having them learn to read was always a big one for me, since from there they can learn anything."

Someone else:
"People have always said that, and at one time it was probably more true than it is now."

Julie wrote:

I wanted to underscore this idea. Three of my five kids are late readers. My youngest still isn't a fluent reader at 9. She can sound words out painstakingly but often misses them. However, she is an amazingly observant person (because she doesn't read). Just yesterday we were working our way through an Arthur book that she wanted to try. She got tired and asked me to read it to her so I did. The first page said that the kids in school should line up alphabetically. I was reading the words, oblivious to the pictures. In fact, I almost never look at pictures when reading kids' books because the "real" meaning is in words, isn't it?

She stops me to say: Mom the artist didn't put the kids in alphabetical order. See? She started listing their names and sure enough, they were nowhere near alphabetical. She has handwritten the alphabet so often that she knows the order inside out. I got such a kick out of her making that correlation.

She figures stuff out all the time without knowing how to read based on visual cues that I routinely miss.

Also, she loves to write. She has notebooks filled with scrawl, then letters and now her own invented spelling. She writes! But can't read.

And another ironic bit. She has learned the entire Greek alphabet -both upper and lower case. Because she is not bound by English in the way fluent readers are, she is at ease with the Greek alphabet and writes all her friends' names in Greek phonetics.

The whole process of letting her learn to read without a program and without my worry or fear has been fascinating! She's a very aware, self-educated little missie and she hasn't read an entire book yet.

Btw, she also plays games on websites and figures out how to login, play the games and beat them without reading. I have NO idea how she manages. But I have a hunch her skill set will be much more diverse when she finally does read because of these years of patient observation and detective work.


Learning without Reading

I didn't know how much children could learn without reading, until I immersed myself in unschooling and my children's lives.

As their reading ability unfolded and grew, I learned things I never knew as a teacher, and that I wouldn't have learned as an unschooling mom had they happened to have read "early." Reading isn't a prerequisite for learning. Maps can be read without knowing many words. Movies, music, museums and TV can fill a person with visions, knowledge, experiences and connections regardless of whether the person reads. Animals respond to people the same way whether the person can read or not. People can draw and paint whether they can read or not. Non-readers can recite poetry, act in plays, learn lyrics, rhyme, play with words, and talk about any topic in the world at length.

The second paragraph above is on the page
"Unforeseen Benefits of Unschooling," SandraDodd.com/unexpected
photo by Holly Dodd

Anonymous responded, January 15, 2011:
Thank you for eloquently describing what my third child and I are learning together!

Some thoughts about later reading

Other Reading Stories

Help for New Unschoolers