Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reading and Children

So, did this all just come about as magically as my last post would lead to believe? Yes and no. My first child was taught to read in kindergarten, true, but she was ready and wanted to learn because she had been read to her whole life and reading was something fun she wanted to be able to do herself. She was also an "older" kindergartner, turning six a couple of months into the school year. She had been in school four days a week since the age of three, and was very much formed by school type discipline and "ready" to learn what was offered.

My second had just turned five when he would have started kindergarten, and he was (and still is) a boy. It was entirely different. It was our first year homeschooling and I was so afraid he would be missing an important part of his existence by not going to kindergarten. I worried that I would fail to teach him something elemental and extraordinary that school would have provided, and he would "be behind" when this whole experiment failed. He was a little boy, and he loved being read to. He would sit for hours at a time listening to me read and playing Legos. He had, however, no interest in learning to read on his own. He was so busy with his world, and content to be read to, and...had I known, completely unready, developmentally, to learn to read or do math, or any of the "school" activities I had in mind for him. We struggled, we cried and we shouted, but, to his credit, he did not once give in and read one of those silly Bob Books that bored him to tears.

When he was good and ready, he began to read to me, books of his choice, at night before going to bed. (He had never liked going to bed either.) He and I read the whole Henry and Mudge collection over one summer, around the time he turned six, way past his bedtime, in his room, in the quiet.

He taught me to wait, he showed me the patience I did not know I possessed. Then I read Steiner, founder of the Waldorf school and his belief, that children should not be made to read until after the age of seven, older for boys. It made sense for me because the rest of this way of life was already our way of doing things. (A life connected to nature, a rhythm to daily, weekly and yearly life that includes baking, painting, music, festivals and reading of fairy tales.) I would not necessarily slow down a younger child who is reading and writing and counting, but there is a great necessity to look at where each child is and meet his needs right there. This is what is comes down to; not imposing our time frame for learning on our children. It is much more important to look at a child as a person with needs as individual as yours are from your next door neighbor's. Imagine that you had to watch the same tv shows and go to the same church and eat the same thing for dinner as they did, just because you were the same age or lived on the same street.

Until very recently (the past week or two perhaps), my seven-year old daughter would complain to every single person who would listen; "I don't know how to read." Then she would proceed to read something to that person, if they were willing to sit still long enough. What bothers her is not not knowing how to read, but not being as proficient as her siblings just yet. In a house full of readers, it really bothers her not to be counted among them. She is so full of the desire to learn that I will never need to needle and wheedle her into lessons. She just wants to be like everyone else.

And I am confident she never will be, but she will be reading just as well!

*Other proponents of "late academics": Raymond and Dorothy Moore, authors of "Better Late than Early," David Elkind, author of; "The Hurried Child," and "Miseducation, Preschoolers at Risk," who advocates the importance of play for children over early intellectualization.

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