I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve been asked about this topic so I thought it was about time that I put together a blog post for you all. How did I teach my children to read if we unschool them? I think there is a misconception that if we unschool our children it means we don’t do anything that resembles school at all, not even supporting learning. This simply isn’t true. Each day we cover all of the regular school subjects like English, maths, science, history and so much more. It simply isn’t taught in the same way as it is at school. We encourage learning through everyday life, support their passions and answer all of their questions. (There are so many questions!)
So, how did I teach them to read in a gentle and unconventional way? Well, the truth is I have taught both of my children to learn in two completely different ways. A style that suited each of their personalities but both ended in the same result. A love of words, books and imagination.
When we taught Pops to read we weren’t hardcore unschoolers but we were home educating. We still adopted a learning through play approach, however, as we were new to the whole homeschool thing we felt like we needed to prove a point to our families, the authorities and our selves and probably put a lot more pressure on her than was necessary. At times Pop would withdraw her interest (as I’m sure you can imagine) and that is why I think it has been an easier and more enjoyable process with Fin as there hasn’t been any hidden agenda to getting him up to speed.
It took Pops no time at all to learn to read but we did schedule practising each day and as I previously mentioned not all of those practices ended productively. You see, that’s the thing with unschooling, you can go at your child’s pace and not the pace set by this curriculum. I think if we had of slowed things down a little with Pops it would have meant a much happier path to reading.
We are still in the process of teaching Fin to read. He has read his first few books and surprises me every day by reading aloud the signposts and labels whilst out on our walks. We never set a specific time to start teaching him, however, his curiosity kicked in at about the same age as it did for Pops and he is well on his way to being a fully competent reader just like his big sis. I would say it has taken a few months longer teaching in this way but he is absorbing everything in a much more natural way.
I feel that because We have taught to read in two very different ways that this somewhat qualifies us to share our views. I will say, however, that every child is different, each one has their own passions and learning challenges to be mindful of. These top 5 tips have helped me engage both of our children on their path to reading and I truly believe that they will help most families have a less stressful approach to teaching this life skill.
So, without further ado, I give you my top 5 tips to helping your child learn to read the unschooling way…
1) Read, read and read some more.
The first lesson in teaching to read is to read to your little ones. Make it a regular thing. A treasured moment to have together. That quiet time before bed, that firm favourite on the bus into town or a made up spectacular as a dinnertime treat. Let your children feel special and take them away to a world of wonders by reading to them as often as you can. As your child grows you can get them to join in on their favourite parts whilst you run your finger along the sentence. Make keywords on the story obvious by pointing out the bold text on the page and maybe even encourage them to decode a word by sounding out each letter and letting them say the word afterwards.
2) Treat time = book time.
Make a reading fort, join a library club or treat them at the charity shop but make books a treat in the same way you would a sweet treat or a visit to the park. Have a bookshelf especially for their stories. Ask them to pick their faves and set aside an hour to snuggle in your bed or on the cushions on the floor and give them your full attention. Visit the library as a reward to a good deed or suggest that you are going to catch a bus into town to visit all of the charity shops to collect them some new adventures to read about. Make books the way to relax, the way to explore and the way to research. I have a fond place in my heart for Google and its help at answering so many questions but you can’t beat that tangible feel of a book in your lap answering all of your questions and asking so many more in the process. Lead by example and read a book yourself! There is a whole world out there waiting for you to get your teeth into.
3) ABC let me say what I see!
Ok, so you’ve achieved their love of story time and of books in general. How do we take that leap with getting them to start reading to you? First of all, you need to wait for them to show interest. “What does that say, mummy?” “What sound does that letter make?” And so many more questions besides will be a good indicator that they are keen and ready to learn more. So onto the alphabet. We taught both of our children phonetically. That means instead of teaching them A (ay) B (bee) C (see) we taught them A (ah) B (buh) C (cuh.) We did this by nursery rhymes, puzzles, colouring sheets and alphabet books. As they grasped this we would then elaborate and say that the letter A (ay) makes the sound A (ah) (This YouTube video was a great song to help with this concept.)
4) Flash ah ahhhhhh!
Next, my friends, it is all about the flashcards. We found that if we sat down and tried to get the kids to learn the phonetic sounds of double letters then they would lose interest very fast and get frustrated. We found these flash cards and started to blu tac them up around the house in various different places. We didn’t make a fuss of them we simply pointed at them and made the letter sounds every time we walked past. Then every few days I would change their location so they learnt the sound relevant to the card and not to the location of its placement. It was a great way of them casually learning the sounds without any pressure from me. On the odd occasion, I would say the wrong sound and they would correct me. I then knew that they had absorbed the information and it was time to move onto the next step. Quite often they would start to point out these sounds in the stories we would read and start to write down words phonetically too. Fins favourite was writing the word poo! (I’m eye rolling.) When we were confident that this had been learnt and exhausted we replaced the phonics cards with these tricky sight word cards (included in the same pack) and started the process all over again. When they had got the hang of the words they would then start to mix them up themselves to create funny sentences!
5) Practice makes perfect.
Let them set the pace of reading to you. Don’t start throwing reader books at them straight away. It may be too daunting for them and confidence is key. We found that both of our two preferred to read parts of longer stories to begin with. Certain words here and there and short sentences too. We then moved onto this set of Biff and Chip books which are much more inspiring than some of the other lacklustre books we have come across for early readers. It needs to be fun so make sure they are reading from books that are interesting. Read road names, shop billboards, menus, magazines, you name it. Don’t stop reading to them just because they can read to themselves and never discourage them from reading books that you think are too young for them. It doesn’t matter what they are reading so long as they are enjoying it. Pops still loves picture books and she is nearly 9. We never stop her reading anything that takes her fancy. One day she will read a huge chapter book, the next she may read a baby book to her doll or even an early reader just because she loves the story so much.
The most important thing to take away from this no matter what age or stage your child is at on their reading journey, is that teaching the love of reading should far outweigh any of the other lessons. Phonics, sounds, sentences and sight words will all come but a true love of reading is the most important part of it all. For if your child loves to read then they will be able to teach themselves anything. What a gift that is to give.
Let us know how you have taught your little ones. I think it would be great to fill up the comment section with helpful tips and tricks to support all of our readers and mini jelly journeys on their path to educational freedom.
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