This is a guest post by Lehla Eldridge. Her blog is Unschooling the Kids. Lehla’s family lives in Italy.

“I will read when I can read,” were my sons words. At age ten he is on the edge of flying into the world of words. The ‘not being able’ to read phase will soon be a sweet memory. I sit with him as he speaks the words out, I see a big complex word on the page and part of me hopes he will stumble, which is a funny thing to admit, since it is counter to how I was a few years ago around reading. You see the tipping point is coming, he is on the edge of it and it is a delicious honor to witness a child learning to read at their own pace. Like that moment when they learn to walk, or swim—it feels magical to me.

There was a point where words and I were like a team, we would corner the kids and attack. “You see that word?” I would say. “What does it say?” The kids would sometimes respond or sometimes they would ignore me. I was trying to speed up the process. I thought they needed to read when I wanted them to.

One day my daughter quite honestly said to me, “Mum, can you just leave me alone around reading because I don’t think you are helping me.” ‘

“Oh,” I said. And inside “but aren’t I meant to teach them? This is crazy! How on earth can they learn if I don’t teach them?”

She, in that moment was my greatest teacher. I saw her then go on to flourish, without me. Over time she cracked it. She didn’t want my help. So my son got the benefits of me stepping away around reading. Both our twin daughters are now avid readers; it is hard to get their noses out of books.

I imagined there would come a time when I would nostalgically want my son to slow down with his learning. For us within this process our kids have learned to read at their own pace as we have trusted them to do so. For our son it has always been him that has lead the process, not me. It is the same for spelling. He is learning it, as he wants to and I am not making him.

I think in a school situation, reading and my son would have had a hard time together. When he was in school he simply was not interested in reading, especially when everybody told him he had to.  I am not sure that words would have been his friends. But in this way the door to reading is now opening and he is calmly walking through it at his own pace, leaving his mother outside. He is stepping into a world to which he holds the key.

11 replies
  1. JML
    JML says:

    I love this!

    My son just learnt to swim. On his own. My husband and I are avid swimmers and for years we would go to the pool with him and just sit there, in the water, as our son splashed and flopped and dunked as he slowly, but surely figured it out. In deep water we would make him wear a lifejacket And then last week he asked if he could jump in without his life jacket. Sure! And he just took off. Just like that. It was incredible! Watching him swim, he looks as skilled and as confident as any big kid. And I had felt so guilty for not putting him in swimming lessons.

    And reading is in the back of my mind. My husband and I are also avid readers. We are either reading or reading to our kids. My son has been sitting through chapter books since he’s been three. And then he started school. They were sending home these silly little sentence per page book. I knew what they were doing. And we would read them and sort of laugh at how silly they were. Once I had finished filling out the form, we went back to our chapter books.

    I had to resist showing him how to swim (although at times I would try to push and he would just ignore me) as I have to resist showing him the words on the page. Sometimes I run my finger along the bottom until he asks me to stop. Which he always does. I just can’t imagine that being exposed to so many words would not lead to learning.

    I struggle with school. Because of their insistence that things happen by a certain time. I already feel guilty because we didn’t practice the french alphabet during summer (as instructed by his kindergarten teacher). I tried a few times, but it felt rote and he didn’t enjoy it. The last thing I want is for him to hate French. And that’s exactly what pushing it on him will lead to. I just speak French to him instead. I feel that I can tolerate school, because I have seen some benefits, until it becomes too intrusive. But I fear my time is running out.

  2. Kirstin Campbell
    Kirstin Campbell says:

    Lovely thank you. I am patiently waiting for my son to figure it out and hiding my anxiety (I hope). I love to hear about others who did get there in their own time.

    • Lehla
      Lehla says:

      It is so interesting how we are conditioned to think a child is a ‘late’ reader or an ‘early’ reader, they read when they read I think and it is a wonderful thing to watch them develop in their own time. I was given the gift of being told to step away, by my daughter and this has made me not worry about my son’s ability to read. It was such a gift. I cannot believe that I ever worried about my daughters learning to read, as now it all seems such a waste of effort. They do get there. It is society that puts the clock on us all, I think it is wonderful that you are giving your child the honor of stepping back.

    • Lehla
      Lehla says:

      I really believe that children do get there at different speeds. For me it was one of the biggest learning pieces, I had to learn to let go of everything that I had learned about learning to read if that makes sense…

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