Natural Learning Has No Age Limit
It still astounds me that people are skeptical of a child’s ability to teach themselves.
“They need to be taught how to read and write!”
“We have to teach them maths“
“How will they ever learn if we don’t teach them?”
“At some point you’re going to have to sit them down for some formal learning.”
There is this idea that ‘natural learning’ is all well and good for young children but at some point you’re going to have to teach them the all important curriculum! They absolutely can not teach themselves to read and write. Not possible!
This is a myth.
What do children do before they start school? They teach themselves. In fact, they learn one of the most complicated things of all! They learn, all on their own, to decipher the complexities of a language! They learn to make sense of what people around them are saying, they learn to interpret body language and facial expressions, and they learn how to communicate through speech. They do this without any explicit instruction! They do it by observation and a desire to be involved in life. They don’t need to be pushed or motivated or shown how ‘fun’ talking can be. They are motivated by their own desire to learn because it is meaningful and relevant to them.
Children who grow up in bilingual households even learn two languages. TWO!! Does that not amaze you? How do they do it? I have no idea. Do we need to know? Is it only meaningful if we know how it works? No. It just does. We just need to accept it. Children learn to communicate on their own. We don’t need to interfere with the process.
Society tells us that this amazing learning doesn’t continue past age 5. But, having seen what they can do up until now, how can you believe that? How is that possible? Suddenly a switch is flicked and children stop being able to learn themselves? No, nothing about this self-learning process changes when a child turns five. They don’t suddenly lose the ability to teach themselves. The only difference is that we stop trusting them. How very insulting! We send them to school to ‘get educated’ thinking that if we didn’t they couldn’t possibly learn everything they need to know. But one look at all that children have accomplished on their own prior to this point should tell you that this is wrong. Children are perfectly capable of teaching themselves anything. Yes, even how to read and write!
Give them a chance to show you.
If you have any doubt in the ability of children to teach themselves then this video is for you.
I don’t agree. The acquisition of language and learning to read and write are two very distinct things.
The following excerpt from http://www.montessoriforeveryone.com/Children-Reading_ep_46-1.html explains the difference well:
“The skill of reading is special – and often difficult to acquire.
The human brain is wired for language (Chomsky, Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory, 1955, 75), but language acquisition does not happen without models, the way motor development does. It must be nurtured through contact with human language models. Children who do not receive models of language in early childhood will have varying deficiencies of language later in life.
Spoken language develops both spontaneously and subconsciously. Reading is different. It must be actively taught and consciously learned. If it’s not actively taught, then even a life spent surrounded by the printed word will not teach someone who is illiterate how to read.
When a middle aged person finally admits that they don’t know how to read, they must start at the beginning just like a child does, learning sounds and sounding out words. Imagine how many printed words – street signs, store names, words on TV – they have seen in a lifetime. But they were never able to simply “pick up” the skill of reading the way a child learns to speak.
Reading is a difficult, multi-step task that must be actively taught and learned. Recent technological breakthroughs have helped to open up what was previously unknown to researchers in terms of how the brain learns to process reading. Beginning readers use one section of the brain to link the phonetic sounds to the appropriate letter, and a second section to turn them into words. It’s a process that takes some time, which is why children learning to read often read very slowly. But then something interesting starts to happen: a third section of the brain begins to take over.
This section helps the child build a permanent registry of familiar words that can be recognized on sight. This enables them to read by seeing the whole word instead of stopping to sound it out every time they see it. Reading eventually becomes effortless. Children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities are unable to make a smooth transition between seeing words as individual sounds and seeing them as a complete word. The different sections of the brain – the one that recognize phonetic sounds, the one that sees them as words, and the one that remembers the words – do not work together fluidly.”
This has certainly been my experience both as a school teacher and homeschooling my own children. My daughter at seven is now a very proficient reader but it certainly didn’t just happen without instruction. It happened exactly how it was pointed out above. I taught her using phonetics: the sounds of the letters, joining the sounds of letters together, different helpful rules such as ‘when e appears on the end of the word it makes the vowel say its name,’ often when two vowels are in the same word the first vowel makes the long sound and the second vowel is silent and so on.
Through a lot of practice, her reading aloud to me, lots of me reading aloud to her, lots of audio books it all slowly came together and she was off and running and now reads avidly. While it wasn’t always easy we both enjoyed the process and we both marvel at how far she has come. She can’t get enough of it, reading chapter books by the dozen and we are constantly at the library on the hunt for new books. It certainly wouldn’t have happened if I had just left her to figure it out on her own. Maybe there is the occasional child who manages to teach themselves to read or write but I have yet to see it.
Acquistion of language and reading is not the same. Just look back in history. The general masses could all speak but it was only the elite that could read or write. Why? Because they were taught and they didn’t want the lower classes to be able to read and write because it kept them subservient.
Yes that’s how you learn to read if you are taught. I know it’s hard to believe but yes unschooled children who are surrounded by the written word DO just learn on their own. This is a good explanation: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201311/the-reading-wars-why-natural-learning-fails-in-classrooms
I agree Lydia. Writing and reading are a human invention…wheras comunication and walking are hardwired. Even language must be learnt somewhere…children who are not spiken too do not learn to talk. Some children do appear to teach themselves to read. My son taught himself at 4… Or did he overhear all the lessons I was giving his 5 year old sister at the time…who knows but I never had to give him lessons. Most children need some help…it varies how much as to how quick they catch on.
I loved this piece.
You may like reading this post I wrote a few weeks ago and it goes along more or less the same lines.
Thank you again. I will come back here and read (I just discovered your wonderful blog!)
I love your page. I have to say though this article is advocating a whole language approach where kids just pick it up from being emerced in a literary environment. This is fine for most kids but those kids with dyslexia and other learning difficulties don’t just pick it up this way and need to be explicitly taught the rules of our english language for writing, spelling and reading. Explicit teaching of phonics is currently researched to be most effective for kids to learn how to read spell and write. Most of the kids will get away with learning from a whole language approach but not all. Something to keep in mind. ✌️?