The Nature of "Real Reading"

Children and adults both can have
a false sense of what reading really is.

Below is a beautiful story
of full-blown reading aloud.

This was an actual conversation overheard at my house yesterday while a PS friend was visiting because of a snow day (Kathrynn is my five year old daughter)...

Kathrynn: Hey what does this say?

Friend: Uhhh... I don't know. I can only read at school.

Kathrynn: I don't have a school.

Friend: I do.

Kathrynn: I just stay home with my family.

Friend: I don't have a family, just a teacher.


I kid you not! Word for word. Granted she's five and she probably didn't mean what I read into it. But still, sad.


When is reading "REAL" reading?

Sandra Dodd

Schools assert that children are reading at six, or seven, and George Bush thinks a presidential edict can assure that all children read by eight, but if they can only read at school (meaning they can read the lessons and readers their reading group is memorizing at school, or can read other materials carefully constructed to contain the same few dozen words) is it really reading?

Yes, and no.

Yes, for the school's grading purposes the child has mastered (or probably "passed") the reading lessons put forth. But for most English speakers' definition of "reading," they are not reading.

Homeschooling parents get frustrated and press their children out of fear of comparison to schooled children, but it's quite possible that the parents don't remember (stress and trauma will do that) being six or seven, and what they could and could not independently read. Parents can be intimidated (sometimes pointedly) by professional teachers and their proclamations about how reading works.

Sometimes I've been criticized for saying that I won't say my child is reading until he or she can pick something up and read it. Not something I planted and that they've practiced, but something strange and new. If I can leave a note saying "I've gone to the store and will be back by 10:30," and if the child can read that, then I consider that the child is reading.

Others want to say "My child is reading" if he can tell Burger King's logo from McDonald's. I consider that more along the lines of distinguishing horses from cows. Yes, it's important, and yes, it can be applied to reading, but it is not, itself, reading.

Schools have a term for this preparatory, related stuff: Reading Readiness. And many of their six and seven year old students are "getting good grades in reading" because they're cooperative during reading readiness drills.

If parents are unaware of this, they will waste emotion and energy worrying or pressuring young children about reading. The problem is, reading is something that can take years of slow development. It requires some maturity of mind and body, neither of which can themselves read a calendar.

My recommendation to worried parents is to smile and wait and hold your child lovingly and to do no damage to his happiness while you're waiting for the day he can really read.

I'm so Happy!

Today my son, 9, picked up a chapter book and read three chapters out loud to his sister and me. With voice fluctuations and character accents and the whole nine yards. I didn't ask him to; he out of the blue asked us if we were interested in listening to some of this book he just started.

To my knowledge he's never read a chapter book on his own. Though I never ask him to read for me or quiz him in any way about reading, I knew he could read, because he reads for information all the time (how to start that motor, how to load this computer game, stuff like that). But never out loud and never non-fictiony just for fun kind of stuff (though I think his reading for information is surely fun for him).

He sounded so confident and at ease! So this was exciting to me. And all the more exciting because, with advice from y’all, I actively refrained from "teaching" him how to read (except for an early dismal attempt at a reading curriculum before I "got" unschooling—it was awful). I've always read out loud to my kids, since before they were born. Every day, just about. I love reading out loud. And I always answer all their questions about words. Other than those things I tried my hardest to just leave him alone to read what he wants and when he wants. Even with gentle pressure from various concerned parties about reading and math instruction and dire warnings about "falling behind." And gosh! here he is, an awesome reader! I feel so proud of him! I feel so convinced! I don't always feel like what I do is working, but today I have no doubts, no doubts whatsoever.

Lori Kean, April 18, 2004

Enjoyment and Mulling, vs. Speed

Marin Holmes wrote, about Moving a Puddle:
I am loving the book and the sticks.  I really enjoy reading the essays a few at a time and mulling them over.  As a former schooled person I always read quickly and felt like it was an accomplishment to read fast.  I have really bad reading comprehension but I always thought, "At least I can read fast." This is some of the school-think that I am trying to get rid of. 
What about reading fast?
Some thoughts about speed, and information about the book Moving a Puddle

(Thinking Sticks aren't for sale these days, but some info on making your own is at SandraDodd.com/thinkingsticks.)
Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch

"Reading Comprehension"

accounts of unschooled readers and more