Children Teaching Themselves to Read: Psychology Today Post Goes Up

26 02 2010

Remember the Psychology Today “Freedom to Learn” call for unschooling stories? Peter Gray’s first post reporting some of what was sent in about the first question he posed — “learning to read” — showed up this week, good stuff getting a lot of eyeballs around the ‘Net.

I just added a story under it:

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Learning to read, then learning from reading

Submitted by JJ Ross on February 26, 2010 – 6:36am.

Learning to read isn’t necessarily a mechanical or academic process, any more than learning to sing, dance and play.

Our now 14-year-old was completely unschooled from birth. He loved stories and books and took his first reading steps very early and seamlessly along with his first actual steps, toddling into both with joy in his own idiosyncratic style. He became a computer kid and read all the colorful PC game manuals (Spiderman, the Incredibles, Lego Star Wars) taking them to bed at night to read ahead but after he knew them by heart, still wanting them open in his lap as he played the game. They got dog-eared, then raggedy and pages start falling out but he still loves and keeps these books as part of the play.

Over the years he found some boys’ series in paperback that he enjoyed but thinking all the way back to Thomas the Tank Engine, his favorites had playful color graphics, either illustrations or right in the text like Chet Gekko, and real-life tie-ins rounding them out, like action figures, cartoons, movies, fan sites online. He’s always preferred audio books to reading text and grew up listening to his favorites over and over, falling asleep to them in bed (Jim Dale’s Grammy-winning performance of the Harry Potter books e.g. and unabridged Tolkien.)

Then last summer, he performed the title role in a Shakespeare camp reading/acting Richard the Third. His interest in reading ambitious (particularly anglophile) texts with sound and action (from the video game conditioning?) just exploded. He read several Shakespeare plays and read about the history behind the plays, and then he discovered the 10th anniversary music video of Les Miserables. Great period costumes and war action, strong male characters plus it’s a “sung-through” show which means few spoken lines; the whole story is in the singing. Out of the blue he decided he wanted to read the original Victor Hugo novel, to compare it to the musical. Off to the library we went. He took it to his room and reads it late at night or sometimes on a quiet afternoon. (We’ve renewed it several times.) He gives me occasional offhand commentary about how he’s experiencing this tome I’ve never attempted. It’s 1400 pages and he is now on about page 950.

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving him somewhere, he mentioned that the reading was slow at this point because the author incorporated a 70-page narrative within the story where he’s talking directly to the reader in defense of “argot.” Argot, I wondered — never heard of it. Maybe he misunderstood something and the text is just too difficult?

Nope. He proceeded to give me quite a lively education and when I got home, I found this. Apparently learning to read (and learning through reading) is a lifelong process and this student has become my master! 😀

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