Before I was a homeschooler, before I even had kids, my friend, Lisa Nielsen was running literacy programs in the New York City public schools. The first time I can remember thinking that schools were really messed up was when she told me that teaching reading in school is controversial among reading specialists.
I did not teach my youngest son to read. He has been picking it up himself, often from video game instructions. Here are the arguments against teaching reading that give me the confidence to let him learn to read on his own:
1. Neurotypical kids can teach themselves to read.
My first son had minor dyslexia, and I hired a tutor to help him overcome that barrier. My second son entered kindergarten and brought home a list of words they needed to know by the end of kindergarten. He knew half of them. I don’t know how. But I knew, right then, that he did not need someone to teach him to read.
Some kids have learning disabilities and cannot learn to read without help. This is not true of most kids. Most kids are like my younger son. Some kids are not interested in reading when they are 5, or 6 or 7 or even 8. Educator Linda Dobson has declared that in a home environment where parents value reading and writing, “children will learn to read and write as naturally as they learn to walk and talk.”
2. Your kid is not going to be illiterate at age 17.
My younger brother didn’t learn to read until second grade, which was the first time he got tested. Then it was all hands on deck to get him “up to grade level.”
The thing is, my brother got a PhD in economics from University of Chicago. So it’s hard for me to believe that he would never have learned to read if no one had taught him. Eventually he would have asked, “I want to read this, can you help me?”
Education professor Peter Gray, writes about how all kids will learn to read eventually, and that by age fifteen, one cannot discern who was a very early reader and who was a very late reader.
3. Reading class is a scam.
Nielsen says “The reason that kids need to learn to read so early in school is because in school kids read about doing stuff instead of doing stuff. When kids live life outside of school they actually get to do stuff, so it’s not as important to read about it in order to learn.”
Nielsen sends me over to the video Caine’s Arcade. It’s about a boy who build an amazing working arcade out of cardboard while he was hanging out at his dad’s work all day. Nielsen says, “That video is amazing because the kid is not spending his days reading and writing. He’s spending his days doing stuff.”
4. Reading extra early is a danger sign.
In my son’s special education class, all the kids were age three, all the kids had Asperger’s Syndrome, and most of the kids could read basic words. It is not normal to learn to read early, and it’s often a sign of hyperlexia, which is often paired with compromised social skills.
And it is certain that social skills are more important to a successful life than early reading is.
The teachers met separately with each parent and explained how dangerous hyperlexia is to a developing brain. A child’s social skills are developing at a rapid rate at age three, and if the brain starts focusing on words instead of social skills, the brain loses the chance to develop those social skills. The teachers told the parents to discourage early reading.
5. Reading out loud is a joy.
If your kid can’t read to himself then he will love it when you read to him. And that’s a treat. You get that intimate reading time for only a short span of your life with your kid. Why cut it short?
I learned from working in my family’s bookstore for ten years that as soon as kids can read themselves, they don’t want their parents to read to them. You never know when your kid will say no.
So instead of pushing reading lessons, just keep reading out loud. It’s the best possible lesson in why reading is important and fun. And the more tantalizing you make the story, the more your child will want to access the story for himself.