Babies learn to crawl, walk, talk & manage the toilet in their own time. Though we may have a rough idea as to when this 'should' happen, it varies from child to child. Though pressure from others might cause us to be concerned if these things happen more slowly than we think they 'should', we have a confidence that our child will get there and we delight in watching their development and growing independence.
I wonder why at age 3, we are led to believe this natural learning process will cease to happen without nursery? Why do we hand our children over to the care of strangers believing they will be better able to meet the needs of our child than we will? And why does it then become the task of professional teachers to hand out the required learning? Who decides what this required learning will be? Can we not have the same attitude towards reading, writing, mathematical skills, science as we have towards an infant's developmental milestones?
People say to me 'You are taking a huge risk with your children'. I am. But it was also a risk to leave them in school when I could see their natural curiosity and creativity ebbing away before my eyes. Reading had become a struggle. The school reading book had to be read aloud to me, and a comment written for the school. Getting the boys to read became something else to nag them about. They weren't always keen. The books were simple and repetitive, they weren't changed often enough, and how often are you made to read aloud to anyone? Reading is usually a silent, personal activity.
I have tried to read to my children every day since they were tiny. I still do. But when we began home educating, I decided to back off on forcing them to read, and just to let them come to it in their own time, with the confidence that they will. They enjoy listening to stories and discussing them every day. They engage with the adventures, comment intelligently, have a wide vocabulary, can express themselves confidently, and can't wait to hear what will happen next!
Sometimes I catch them reading ....
Reading 'The Beano' in bed before they go to sleep, reading a book that has caught their fancy, reading a recipe to see what ingredients are required, reading for information they need, reading some instructions to help with some task, reading whilst they are on the computer or playing on the Wii. Who is to say all this is any less valuable than progressing through a reading scheme? More importantly there is real value in being able to read because the text is in context, it gives access to real and useful information. And sometimes the words they are reading are quite difficult. This poses no hindrance; they just figure them out.
In the last couple of weeks, my eldest son (who will be 9 in a couple of months) has begun reading every road sign as we drive along. We went to the safari park and he read out every sign and insisted we did exactly as instructed as we drove around. To me this shows an increased awareness of text in his environment. I would say this is evidence of reading readiness. For my middle son, who is younger, this happened earlier. For some children, it happens much earlier. The point is, all are different. The question is, will pushing children to read before they are ready make them into better readers? Will it encourage a lifelong love of literature or a desire to read for pleasure? Or will the opposite occur? For some children, is the struggle to read an obstacle to enjoying a fantastic story? Isn't it better to get children enjoying fantastic stories and to trust that the desire to read will then come? This is the risk I am taking.
I was disappointed when I went to a parents' evening at my son's school and asked how his reading was coming along. I meant his love of books and literature, his desire to engage with a story .... The teacher's answer was that comprehension was important because comprehension was what he would to be tested on. And this was Year 3, as far from a SATs test in the primary system as he could be! It was the same for handwriting. We asked if he had to write in cursive script as this was proving difficult for him and causing him frustration. The response? 2 marks on the SATs test for cursive! Has our system really become so results driven that these are the things that matter? Or might there just be a better way?
Well, let's take a risk and find out.