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One of the reasons we decided to homeschool was because we wanted to be able to provide an environment where our children could learn at their own pace. To give them an individualized education, tailoring it to their learning style and interests. There is lots of research on the benefits of a later school starting age and not introducing formal academics too early. So with this in mind, I was all prepared to go with the flow and let them learn in their own time. I would not pressure them to learn to read and write early, they would be given the time and space they needed! If they were not ready to learn to read at 5 years old that was ok by me. In fact, I assumed by providing this relaxed environment they would naturally learn to read later. Of course, when I assume something, a little someone usually comes along to prove me wrong. And I was unprepared again! My assumptions had clouded my vision and stopped me from following my child’s lead.
‘All I am saying… can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.’ John Holt
A few months ago my 3 year old daughter became interested in learning to read and write. She wanted to write her name so she has been practicing and practicing and it is beginning to look more like it should every day. Her 5 year old sister started reading and writing this year, and she just loves her and wants to do everything she does. She stands by her at the computer while she does reading eggs, and she sits beside her while she reads her books. She started to ask me if she could do reading eggs too. I remembered when her sister started at 4 years old and how it was difficult for her to use the mouse at first and how she was frustrated when it quickly became too hard for her. So I explained to her that she was a bit too young and that kids usually learned to read when they were 5.
Over the next couple of months she didn’t give up. She would watch her sister do reading eggs and ask her if she could do it for her, she would sit with the reading books pointing to the words and ‘reading’ what she remembered. She insisted that she would be able to learn to read! I got out our wooden alphabet abacus for her and showed her how the pictures told us what sound the letter makes, explaining that before she could learn to read she needed to know all the letter sounds. I hoped this would satisfy her for a while because I thought she was really too young to learn to read. She still didn’t give up! She would tell me ‘please Mummy! I can do it!’
I finally decided that I would let her do the 2 week trial of reading eggs, thinking that she would get bored of it after a while and stop asking. Well, as you may have guessed already, I underestimated her. A lot! The excitement when I first let her do her ‘map’, as she calls it, was beautiful. She has a smile on her face the whole time she is using it. I am asked multiple times a day ‘can I do my map now?’, and she is flying through the levels easily. Everywhere we go she is pointing out the letters she can see. To my amazement, she has now even started sounding out words.
A few days ago she asked me to write some words for her, and read them all…
The day after that she read her first book…
She was so ready to learn. She wanted to be able to read and she wanted to do it now! Why should age matter? She hadn’t read about when children are ‘supposed’ to learn to read. Holding her back when she felt she was ready only left her feeling frustrated and misunderstood. I was so aware of not pressuring them or making them learn things before they were ready, that I forgot to listen. I forgot to follow her lead.
Letting them learn on their own schedule means not only being patient and waiting until they are ready, but also being open to the idea that they may be ready to learn things that I never expected at their age.
So here I am with a 3 year old who is learning to read. Sometimes I think that I am learning more from them than they are from me. At least they are patient with me. It seems I need this lesson in trust more than once.