Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reading begins at 6? What have home educators to say?

A predictable government response to the Cambridge Primary Review prompts me to ask: what are home educators' experiences on when a child is ready to read?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading is an individual ability. Our children have all wanted to read because they saw Mum and Dad reading, this is what decides when a child is ready to read. As a home educator we were able to respond to the children as individuals.
As a school governor I am faced with the difficulty that part of our cachement covers a deprived estate, and a survey of year 7 (11 yrs old) children revealed 33% did not have a single book at home.
This is the problem with Labour's approach to education (and health) individuals stubbornly refuse to conform to statistics, they do not seem to be able to understand this.


1:39 pm  
Anonymous Jax said...

It depends on the child. I would never withhold reading resources from a child who wanted to read, and I would never force them down the throat of a child who isn't interested. Neither approach will work.

My daughter wanted to learn to read from the age of 3. It was not a pleasant process as although I followed her lead, she really wasn't ready. She was just desperate to do it. By the age of 6 she was reading fluently.

My son showed no interest, and although he was exposed to the Montessori techniques for reading from age 3-4 it was occasional and low pressure. At 5 1/4 he still didn't know all his letters. Then, suddenly, he decided he did want to know and by 5 1/2 he was reading Harry Potter.

I would advocate the Montessori system in which resources are available for children to use as and when they are ready, and there should be trained staff who can guide children through acquisition of knowledge appropriately. I think it works extraordinarly well and leads children to develop independence skills and doesn't mandate that all children will do the same things in the same order, or at the same stage/ age.

(We were flexi-schooling using a small montessori school 3 days a week up until the end of last year and are now full time home educators.)

2:19 pm  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Simply put--a child is ready to read when the child is ready.

This is not dependent on anything other than the child. It is not age based. It is not intelligence based. It is based on when it becomes something they want to do. As you will find with many things throughout your life, when you have a need or a desire to learn something-you will stop at nothing to do it.

This is also the beauty of home education: the children are facilitated in their learning by people who wait till they are ready for the next stage. There is no point what so ever in forcing anyone to learn something if they are not ready—this current report and countless teachers around the world, if honest, will say it is best to wait till they are ready. Unfortunately, they can’t let each child in a class of 20-30 children work at their own pace. And considering doctors and scientist around the world are learning more and more about a child’s physical development—why shouldn’t we wait till their brains are ready? It was proven a long time ago, that in the 1st five years of your life you will learn more than the rest of your life combined.

Yes, as you get older you will learn new facts and skills—but nothing as challenging as learning to engage with others, to sit, to crawl, to walk, to clap hands, to learn about taste and texture, to eat, to feed one’s self, to learn to talk, to sing, to learn to go to the toilet and to bathe yourself, to dress yourself and the list will go on and on. This, and so much more, is almost accomplished by the time most children are five, though not for all of them. And if anyone thinks these aren’t worth talking about and that they just ‘come’ to everyone: ask anyone who has ever recovered from a stroke just how hard it was to reach these milestones. It will take most stroke patients years to get back to the independent level they were at five.

But we must all remember, when there is a desire to learn there will be a positive outcome. And no one will be left feeling like a miserable failure.

We followed our children’s leads. Neither child has any learning complications and started to make out words at about 4 ½ and were both reading independently by about 5 ½. When I say ‘reading’ I do not mean a reading scheme type of book. We never used any. They were just reading anything and everything, practically all the time.

Is this the same for all children? Of course not—or else we’d all be clones. There are children who are willing and desire this knowledge, but for some reason or another they can’t process the ‘technique’ used to teach them to read. As any good teacher will tell you-not all systems work for all children. This is another beauty of home education: the parents can try many methods. They are not pigeonholed by the system saying they can only use a certain method. I’m not saying this makes it a simpler process for the parent, as they need to explore so many avenues—but generally through the home ed networks and the research available on different reading techniques—the method will be found.

But during this time, the children are progressing at their own pace, and aren’t made to feel inferior to others, and most importantly, they are not left behind. They will continue to thrive in all sorts of areas, and one day it will click. And this can be done without undermining their confidence, and without destroying their desire to learn.

Does all this mean not to prepare them for reading? Of course not—this is exactly what we should be doing from birth. From birth? Yes. It is never too early to prepare them for the world of reading. From birth we should be talking to them, singing to them and reading to them. By engaging verbally with our children we expose them to the wonderful world of words, and enhance their innate desire to learn.

4:04 pm  
Blogger Merry said...

I have 4 daughters who have all come to reading in their own way. My eldest, now 11, was resistant to every attempt i made to "teach" her to read and wasn't interested in the slightest. With minimal skills, she found her way through enough words to do some other things but would not pick up a book. Then, at almost 8 and with no more than Peter and Jane level reading, she took several "Rainbow Fairy" books on holiday with us and to our astonishment, erupted into reading. She never looked back and when she recently spent 1 term in school, her teacher commented on her reading maturity and confidence. Now 11, she has a reading age of 13/14.

My second learned more gently but has only become a strong reader since being 8. Now 9, she spends a lot of time with her nose in a book and can read whatever she wants. She still has to gain confidence in spelling but it is coming - but read any word, even if she can't yet spell it back to me.

My third taught herself at 6, mainly due to me not expecting early readers in the family any more. I think she got bored waiting. She learned phonetically, unlike the others who learned via a whole word approach and at 7 is now a confident and excited reader.

My 4th is about to turn 5. She appears to be going for the "grab mummy's iphone and play games" approach but has no fear of words or letters. She gets support, not coaching, which i now know works. We follow, we don't lead.

When children can learn so effortlessly when ready, it staggers me that so many children leave school with low literacy. What on earth do schools do to children to squash and destroy this apparently natural skill acquisition?

4:22 pm  
Blogger poakley said...

Our eldest daughter showed an interest in learning to read very early on. I believed then I had to 'teach' her this skill and she was quite a competent reader by four. I assumed our second daughter would follow suit. She turned out to be very different (as 2nd children are) and was not at all interested. Besides, she had an older sister who could read things for her! They played 'shops', 'restaurants', 'schools', 'vets' writing out shopping lists, menus, reports, etc. but she was still not reading or writing at all by 6. When she was nearly 7, almost overnight, everything seemed to 'click' and she could suddenly read and write. Having skipped all the early stuff, within a month she had caught up with her sister. This taught me valuable lessons which I enjoy relaxing in with regards our 3rd child, a boy, who at nearly 8, is just beginning to show an interest in this particular subject. He has been so busy simply being delighted in the natural world around him and letting his imagination and thought life grow and develop that I am so pleased he was our 3rd child and therefore escaped the concerns that we would have been experiencing had he been our 1st! Our 4th child, another boy, is showing the same early interest his oldest sister had!

Every child is an individual and therefore ready at different stages. I believe it is incredibly damaging to 'force' a child to do anything before he/she is ready. I want my children to love and appreciate the written word... and they do, as they have no reason not to. They recognise the usefulness and potential that the skills of reading and writing provide and therefore WANT to learn those skills when they are ready to.

The following excerpt by Roland Meighan sums it up for me...

..'George Trevelyan observed that “education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.” His point is supported by the finding that the best-selling newspapers are tabloids with a reading age of about 11 years. Surveys have shown that this even holds for a majority of teachers.

The time and effort spent on teaching reading also flies in the face of the facts that it usually takes about 30 hours to learn, provided that it takes place in a learner-friendly environment. This figure comes from Paulo Freire’s work with illiterate peasants in South America where he logged the progress of cohort after cohort of reading classes. Those home-schoolers who have also logged progress, report similar results. If it takes longer it can be because inhibitions have been built in by the learning situation.'...

The government are wrong to ignore the recent Cambridge Review which backs up what Home Educators have learned via their children's experiences and their own instincts. They are wrong to present themselves to us as 'experts' in how our children should best learn. The government need to start listening to the adults who have ceaselessly been watching, learning, monitoring, discussing, researching, reviewing, loving and caring for... their offspring. Namely, this country's home educators. I would humbly suggest that we are the experts in 'how children learn'.

4:55 pm  
Blogger T-bird Anni said...

I can't speak for all home edders (obviously!) but my experience is that children are ready when they are ready and not a moment before! My dd grasped the main phonic sounds very early on but didn't start reading until age 8, her friend down the road still has no idea on phonics but was reading at age 5 by whole word recongition.

As for the disregard for a thoroughly researched, peer reviewed document because it doesn't say what the government wants it to say, is anyone surprised?

10:15 pm  
Blogger Annelies said...

Most home educators seem to understand that a child will read with ease when it is ready to, and that this can happen at any time between the ages of 2 and 10. My daughter read effortlessly, with no teaching of any sort by the age of 3, one of her friends didn't start to read until she was 9. By the age of 10 they were both reading the same material. The important thing for home educators, and why it suits so many children, is that there is such a wide range of ways to engage in the learning process. A child who is relatively late reading, can learn through conversation, audiovisuals, art, etc. None of the "late" readers I have come across in the Home Ed community have any less to say than the readers - because all of them who had parents who read to them and talked to them. When they do come to reading, they are unstressed by it, and tend to become avid readers.

One of the saddest things I ever heard about the Key Stage 1 approach to reading is that the literacy hour did get children reading earlier, but with the side-effect that the children found it such a chore that far fewer read for pleasure.

10:18 pm  
Anonymous Becky F said...

I think it's a bit like learning to walk - different children are ready at different times, & in most cases it really doesn't matter in the fulness of time. Of course, if a child cannot walk by the age of about 2 or 2.5, it is sensible to check out if there is any medical problem underlying this - and I think it's similar with reading.

Some children are ready to read at 2 or 3, others not until they are 10 or 11. In school, the early readers might be labelled "gifted" & get very big headed, whilst those who learn later might be put in all sorts of remedial groups & lose any self-esteem they had.

I guess the schools might find it easier not to start with reading until the age of 6 - simply because more of the children will be "ready" at that age.

I would imagine that when they try to teach every child to read at the age of 4 or 5 this would cause all sorts of problems, simply due to the fact that many "normal" children are not ready to read at these tender ages.

Obviously with home ed it is all much more flexible & we can teach our children to read when they are ready to learn. It is also easier for us to spend individual time with a child helping them to get going - again, this must be so difficult to manage in school.

With my eldest child I was really keen to teach him to read, & tried to get him started before he was really ready. Didn't have much sucess - but when he WAS ready to go, it all happened very quickly.

My 2nd child was an early reader, she had obviously been listening to my attempts to teach her older brother, one day I just realised she could read!!

My 3rd child's reading has recently been assessed & is apparently "average" for her age (even though she is suspected of being dyslexic & her speech & language is 3 years "behind" her chronological age - what an advert for home education that is!!!!).

And my 4th is another early reader - she is only 3, but SO keen to get going.

4:50 pm  
Anonymous frees said...

We have four children.

The Upper Boy, (9 years old), has always enjoyed reading, could read well at age 4, and will happily spend an entire afternoon reading by himself.

The Lower Boy (6) always considered it a chore and tried to avoid it at all costs. We never tried to force him to read but recently he realised that being able to read will help him to learn more about his interests. Now he demands reading practice!

Home education has allowed them to develop skills at very different ages but at the times that were appropriate for them.

8:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My oldest son loved books, reading and the printed page from a very early age and pestered me to explain how reading worked from the age of 4. By 6 he was fluent in technical car magazines [his choice not mine!] As an adult, he can still identify a car from their headlights in the dark - he read because he wanted to. My middle son found reading quite a chore, despite being in school for 3 years by the age of 7 he was still struggling. Some intensive work during the summer hols prepared him to start his Junior school as a hesitant reader, but reading nonetheless. As an adult he now reads more books than the rest of us. My youngest daughter didn't want to learn to read, she wanted us to read to her, which we did. She was exclusively home educated and by 7 decided she wanted to learn to read herself. As all of my children had been read to from an early age, had access to books, had seen us, as their parents, read for pleaseure, she already had all the pre-reading skills. She started by reading Enid Blyton's Fairy Stories and within a month was reading Famous Five books.
As long as you read to your babies, toddlers and young children, have books available, teach by example, then children will learn to read. You can MAKE them read by memorising words in a tin as they do in school at 4+ years but these children then fail to CHOOSE to read by the time they are 10+. Which is why we have so many alliterate teens leaving school, able to read but choosing not to read. As long as the process goes at the pace of each individual child, 6 is a good average age by which time, most children will have grasped the basics, even if they are not reading fluently, at least you haven't put them off reading for life!

3:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a home ed mum I'd say it varies with each child although 6 seems to be the age when reading really takes off. Obviously a child needs to have acquired language before reading can start so these ideas of pushing it on toddlers is counter productive.
I think there are a number of reasons children in school are not learning to read properly. Age is only one of them.
The Cambridge report is pretty well known basic stuff. Even Charlotte Mason writing in 1920 knew this-and warns against pushing children before the age of 6/7.

10:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally I think that children learning to read at school is often coincidental rather than causational. Learning to read starts in infancy, and the impact of the home environment matters more to any child's experience of learning to read than any set of phonics lessons. The books used for teaching reading in school are often absolutely dire, whereas if you home educate you can choose some absolutely fantastic books you will both enjoy. Read Maryanne Wolf's 'Proust and the Squid' for some of the science of learning to read; reading involves hugely complex cognitive skills in a cultural context and is a fascinating subject. With regards to the science, research indicates that myelination of brain-reading regions (hence efficiency of brain connections) is often not complete until 5-7 years old, and may be later in boys than girls. This implies that trying to 'teach' children to read before this may be not only ineffective but counterproductive and frustrating for everyone involved. Children are often keen to learn to read, but need to be biologically ready and to have the right experiences behind them in order to do so. There are certain skills you can impart, most usefully by playing games and demonstrating patterns and sounds, but best of all is a desire within the child to learn to read and to engage with books and stories. Parents are best-placed to help their children to learn to read by providing resources, time and attention in a manner which is sensitive to the child's needs and abilities without being overly pushy or turning their kids off reading entirely (something which many schools manage). Home educators are in the unique position of being able to do this, as well as often appreciating that learning can happen perfectly well without reading in a non-school environment.

1:10 pm  
Blogger GoodWife said...

My son learned to read at 8 and a half. We had given him some basic phonics years before but he was more interested in science and maths. When he started to read it was through pokemon on the gameboy. Within months he progressed through comic books (in both German and English) to almost teen fiction. At not yet 13 he now reads shakespeare, adult adventure novels and lots of computer stuff.

4:34 pm  
Blogger The Midwife said...

Thank you for asking! As usual all children are different and to expect them all to conform is silly. My daughter learned to read at about 5 and my son is nearly 7 and is just starting to get interested. To attempt to push him earlier is stressful to him, stressful to me and a waste of time.

5:04 pm  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

A child is ready to read when they start to do it. It's different for different children. The steiner idea of not letting them till 7 is just as bad as the state education practice of starting at 4.

I'm a speech and langauge therapist and a HE mum.

Most children learn to talk because they are surrounded by a talking society.

If we let it be the same would happen with reading, children can be surrounded with a literacy rich world.

This is just what is happening with my 6 and 4 year old. They are interested in letters as they were once interested in sounds. They read some words as they understood only some when they were babies. They strive to read that which they wish to understand. They strive to write that which they wish to communicate, letters to friends far away, forms the want to fill out, crosswords because they are fun! etc

In my work I have come across many children who have been turned off reading by the coercive teaching that happens in schools, some genuinely dyslexic kids, many who will simply not drink the water they are forced to drink. Some children respond well to that method of education but clearly many don't.

What about those with potential difficulty in reading, well ideally we could do as we do for those with real problems in speech and language, see a specialist. Such a specialist might often say "provide a richer literacy environment, read more to the child, play more computer games, get them to help you with the shopping...see if things improve come see me agin in 6 weeks to discuss it" or they might assess and find an underlying reason like a visual or auditory difficuly that could be treated or compensated for.

6:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I pushed my daughter to try and read, age 4 and half... weren't everyone else's kids reading by then? so surely my child had to as well. It's then that I learnt that each and every child is different, and that's the wonderful thing about them! Some kids DO take to reading really quickly, some don't! Mine haven't... I pushed my daughter to tears... I thought that was what I had to do... but when I realised I didn't have to do that (surely the only reason they push kids to learn to read so early in school is so that they can read the workbooks given to them or the instructions they have to follow when the teacher is not able to see them personally? Home Ed doesn't require that), I backed off completely. Then about a year later as she took an interest in the look of words, we started again, working together, taking things slowly and gently. It's been a process for her, a slow one. She's 9 now, but only really started to actually WANT to read and be able to read fluently when she was a little over 8. It hasn't done her any harm being a late starter! My son... he has learning difficulties... and since we've been so entwined in trying to work on his speech (wow, it's like trying to get blood out of a stone to actually get the help he needs here) we haven't worked much on his reading at all. He's 7 and a half... he'd be lost in the classroom. But we pick at it, and it will come, when HE's ready. I think the most important thing is to try and read the signs that tell you that a child is ready to read. Some are ready quite young, others not! That's the uniqueness of humankind!

8:53 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, I haven't read the report, but our family's experience is that children learn to read in different ways and at different ages. Two of mine didn't really start reading until after 6. Hard to stop them now.... One of my children read her first word very early. It was Asda. She was actually just recognising the logo, but doing so out of context (reading it from a truck, recognising it from the shop front). The start of reading.

So, all you need to learn to read is a handy local Asda.

Seriously though children are all different - a concept government can't cope with.

9:26 pm  
Anonymous June said...

Two of mine have naturally started to read at around 8 - 9 years old, although my 4 year old is also starting to do the same thing so there's clearly no magic age at which it should happen. I really think that if my 12 year old had been forced to read earlier than when she chose to start doing so at 8 she would never have read for pleasure like she does now. Within a few months of starting to read at 8 she was pretty much up to the same reading level, if not beyond, that of her peers in school. Because she wanted, and was ready, to learn to read she did so with enthusiasm. Before that age she had shown no interest whatsoever, and the rest of the family had read things for her when needed.

9:27 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

Well, I haven't read the report, but our family's experience is that children learn to read in different ways and at different ages. Two of mine didn't really start reading until after 6. Hard to stop them now.... One of my children read her first word very early. It was Asda. She was actually just recognising the logo, but doing so out of context (reading it from a truck, recognising it from the shop front). The start of reading.

So, all you need to learn to read is a handy local Asda.

Seriously though children are all different - a concept government can't cope with.

9:27 pm  
Anonymous David Hough said...

My son was exposed to phonics at playgroup at age 4. He totally rejected the concept, and actively refused to take part. At age 5 he still didn't want to know. At age 6 he started showing an interest, aided and abetted by various computer games that needed text stuff. We alternately assisted him and pointed out that we were too busy to stop and read instructions every couple of minutes to help him learn the words and maximise his inconvenience factor to give him an incentive to learn it. Now he's 8 and has pretty much taught himself to read. He still baulks at any attempt to encourage him to sound out a word, but must be doing it at some level because of the number of words he does know that we never taught him.

At one stage of his development it was interesting to see what mistakes he was making, because he was obviously doing some sort of pattern matching, most often by substituting a word he did know that had the same first and last letters.

9:28 pm  
Anonymous tabbykhat said...

The difficulty with this question is that all children are different and some are not ready even at 6!
My eldest son started reading fairly early 4 / 5, he now hates books and rarely reads anything. My youngest was slower, he didn't start to read till he was nearly 7, hes 12 now and loves Terry Brookes etc. He has always got his nose in a book..
I think the younger one was less stressed as I didn't push it as the older one had been in Nursery then reception. (older one schooled, younger home edded)

I actually think that the report makes a lot of sense. Children do learn more if its through play and not pushed onto them. Children and stress should never mix :-)

9:34 pm  
Blogger Cathy Koetsier said...

Hi Lord Lucas
In my family (5 children), I have had children reading with a degree of fluency by the following ages:
7, 6, 12, 12, and 8.
The children were never forced to read, although my husband and I love reading, and we have a lot of books (about 3000) in our home. The children who read late (age 12) both loved being read to, but struggled with the mechanics of reading for themselves. We did not pressurise, them, but gave support and encouragement as needed. One of those children, now 14, has just begun studying with the Open University and now reads adult level books. The other child, still 12, is, I suspect, dyslexic, and struggles, but is progressing at a good rate.
The child who read at six taught herself to read - she was very resistant to assistance from me as she wanted to do it herself.
The other 2 have read at an appropriate age for their development.
I wonder what would have happened if we had not read so much to our children - my husband and I have both read a lot of books to the children over the years. Possibly this delayed their own reading, because we were always willing to read things to them. On the other hand, they have been so very busy developing other skills, and maybe reading just wasn't as important as it would have been had they been in school.
I think that there is an opportune time for each child to read, rather than an opportune time for all children to read. I think that this time is different for each person, depending on a multiplicity of factors. And I do think that some children will learn to read very early - I myself was reading chapter books long before I went to school at the age of five. Why was this? For starters, I was an only child, and somewhat lonely. Secondly, I had a vivid imagination, and this imagination was fed and satisfied on a rich literary diet. Thirdly, my mother was an avid reader, and she always encouraged me to read.
I feel very strongly that forcing reading upon children has the great potential of robbing them of the pleasure of reading, possibly forever. This risk seems to me too great a one to take.
I would rather have a child who does not read much, but who enjoys what reading he does do, than one who reads a lot, under duress and without enjoyment.

9:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Children read when they want to read. My Son started to read at four, because he needed to in order to play a computer game. I know of other children who didn't start untill much later, 9+, because that is when they needed it. Suffice to say, all the home educated children I know far surpass their supposed 'reading ages' once they have started.

9:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord Lucas.
In reply to your question.
Some children grasp the phonics breakdown of a word, breaking it down by sylables and building on the word and others do it by word reconition.
I have found my self in all my children, that the fluent reader who has a natural flair for reading is the child who breaks it down first. They generally can read fluently by around 5 yrs. But the other ones that need the other method,due to not naturally being able to reconise the sounding values take longer. They do it in their own time, it's one of them area's of learning that comes again from different angles and approaches adaptable around the childs abilities and needs.
Children are not all programmed the same in thinking and when it is right for them to understand the concept they pick it up very quickly.
I have had quick readers and slow readers but this has not impaired their abilities in later years.
Some children actually acquire the word processing quicker. I have one child who can't break the word down to spell it, but can read it and reconise it is the word they wish to express. It's one of them things that part of the brain does slower then the other but in the end they both come together.
Hope that helps.


9:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord Lucas.
Actually it is very nice of you to consider our thoughts on this matter. Thank you.


9:42 pm  
Blogger In His Service said...

Every child is different. One of mine taught herself at age 3 - 4 from a Scooby Doo LeapPad electronic book on a wet camping holiday! I was amazed when I realised she could read. The other didn't really read till 7 and struggled at school because everyone else could.

Every child is different and it is hard, at the moment, for those who learn later.

9:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are an autonomous home educator, the answer to that has to be when they are ready. I have one son who read at 4, was reading fluently and was on Harry Potter at 7. My other son is now nearly 10 and is has just started to pick it up, but it's quite an amazing process to watch how he is teaching himself. If he was in school, he would be rushed to do it the prescribed way and I just know that he'd be one of the 1 in 6 that leaves school unable to read or write. I've never met a home educated child that cannot read or write so I have every confidence my son will be able to.

9:48 pm  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Reading is a complex cognitive skill dependent on the ability to make fine-grained distinctions between visual symbols and the speech sounds they represent. These sensory abilities mature at different rates in different children and also a range of subtle visual and auditory processing abnormalities has been found in young children. These are not tested for in standard visual or hearing tests. Putting pressure on young children into acquiring reading skills before the necessary sensory sub-skills have developed is counterproductive. Play-centred learning allows the children to develop sub-skills at their own pace. Children should learn to read when they show they are ready to do so, and if a child shows signs of being actively averse to reading in the absence of coercion, it would be worth getting them to see an orthoptist or specialist audiologist. If of course you can find one.

10:00 pm  
Anonymous Jill said...

My son started at 8 and a half, and 2 years later is an avid reader that has already caught up with his peers.
My daughter is 7 and not particularly interested yet.
No doubt if we were being "monitored" as the government would like, my education provision would not be considered "suitable", and yet there is no reason to believe that she won't catch up just as quickly once she is ready. Once they can read, they can read, regardless of when they started, and until then we just don't rely on the written word for learning opportunities.
I would much rather have enthusiastic late starters, than children who had been force-fed books regardless of choice, ability and aptitude.

10:09 pm  
Blogger S. Cloud said...

I started to home educate my children when they were 7 and 9 because of bullying problems. Both were behind at reading and school teachers were worried. I wasn't - why?

This was because every male in my husband's family ie his father and brothers was unable to read until they reached the age of nine. All are highly intelligent and have followed successful careers.

Similarly home education inspectors worried ( being from the state school system they too believed the 'age 6 model').

My eldest son reached nine and suddenly reading clicked and he hasn't looked back since. My youngest has just celebrated his ninth birthday - I'm expecting reading to follow any time now!

The good thing is, while waiting for his natural reading ability to kick in, my youngest child's education hasn't fallen behind because, unlike his brother, he wasn't in a reading dominated school system. He didn't have to be labelled as 'behind' and bullied for being 'stupid'. He didn't have to fall behind in all the other subject's simply because he couldn't read the books, the board or the questions.Thank goodness for home education where children can develop at their own natural speed.

10:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jan Fortune Wood wrote a really fantastic article about this called 'Never too late'. You can download it as a pdf from here:

Someone once said to me
"Is it going to matter a jot, if at the age of 65, I have the reading age of a 63 year old?"
The only reason reading is prized over every other skill in school is because so much of school based learning is based on textbooks and other written media. Home educated children are free to become clever with their hands, skilled in all manner of tasks, knowledgeable about a very wide number of subjects without necessarily being too bothered just yet about learning by reading only. Many parents trust that if they read to their children, encourage a love of drama, stories and other forms of wordsmithery, reading will happen very naturally and most importantly - with great pleasure. Whether this happens at age 3 or even 8 or 10 is not so important as to whether they develop a long-term love of it. Pleasure in reading is vital to enjoyment in learning. Forcing this too early sets many young children up for feeling like failures - especially boys who are very fidgety and prefer to move about and be active than read passively at such a young age.
If my children are still reading books and enjoying stories well into old age, I will have done my job properly. That's the thing though - the inspectors simply don't care about the bigger picture, they only want to measure learning success in narrowly defined terms,with the goal of reading being central to everything. Home Educators see things differently and look at the lifelong development of the whole child.No inspector will come when my child is 90.

10:19 pm  
Blogger Shena Deuchars said...

It depends on the child. My DD (now 17) started reading activities at 2 but my DS (now 15) did not start until 8. Neither of them had formal lessons and both are reading at university level now. If more emphasis was put on learning and doing interesting things, rather than on slogging at NC literacy and numeracy, perhaps schools would not have 1 in 6 leaving unable to read, write and do simple arithmetic.

Neither of my DC were held back because EHE allowed us to do interesting things without worrying about children "exhibiting" progress in literacy and numeracy.

10:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan Thomas studied 100 families and 210 children for his book, Educating Children at Home. He found that about 1 in 5 (19 out of 108 children aged 8 and over) were late readers and he says:

"In light of this [the usual effects of late reading, the child does not catch up, the deficit in reading age widens as they get older, progress in other areas dependent on literacy equally poor, low self-worth, etc], a wholly unexpected finding was the number of children who learned to read 'late', even as late as 10 or 11 years of age. Even more surprising was that starting to read late had, as far as could be ascertained, no adverse effect on intellectual development, self-worth, or even subsequent attainment in literacy. In general these 'late' readers soon caught up with and passed the reading level commensurate with their ages and, in common with most other home educated children, went on to thoroughly enjoy reading."

This matches my experience of home education. My son learnt to read at 13 and has since gained GCSEs (including English) and is now following a course at college. My daughter learnt to read at around age 3. If you listen to them read now, it's impossible to tell who has been reading longest. If you can learn without being able to read (as you can at home) there's no reason why late reading should hold you back, so why is it a problem?


12:37 am  
Blogger jenny said...

I have 9 children and 8 are being home educated. They are all different. My eldest learnt to read at 3, yet my second child learned to read much later, maybe 8 years and was not fluent until 10. It is sometimes best to leave it later rather than frustrate them.
Nuber 7 and 8 are llearning to read at the minute and I have put them on the same level. (one is 4 and the other is 6) You cannot be dogmatic on this!

1:08 am  
Blogger Mirjam said...

That is an interesting question.

My eldest son was ready to read when he was just 7 years old. He taught himself to read at that age. It took him two months.

My middle one is 5.5 now and not ready to read yet.

I really think it depends on the child. Some children are ready to read when they are 4 and others later or even earlier.

Best wishes,
Mirjam ~ homeschooling in the Netherlands

7:53 am  
Blogger Louise said...

I should imagine it's a bit like puberty - your body changes when you're ready. Assuming a child is in an environment where books are in plentiful supply and they see those around them reading they will be motivated to learn to read *when* they are ready. Unfortunately, the 'reading-friendly' atmosphere I have just described is not always available in school.

8:13 am  
Blogger Carlotta said...

DS didn't start reading till he was 8 when he progressed very, very rapidly from "Sam I Am," (all praise to Dr Seuss), through Runescape to adult reading level in such rapid succession that it felt as if you'd blinked you'd have missed it. Now, aged 12, he reads chunky novels for fun all the time, and is not put off when his school friends can't go there, since his HE friends form spontaneous book clubs of their own.

DD started to read earlier, learning whole words whilst writing letters to friends. She would have been annoyed to have had to wait to get the basics. Unlike son who did things phonetically, she started out with whole word recognition, and then only later used phonics to push herself on.

It strikes me that no centrally co-ordinated policy or classroom learning situation could possibly cope with the massive variety of propensities and behaviour that children display when it comes to acquiring literacy skills.

11:05 am  
Blogger Vera said...

Reading begns when reading begins. The problem with statements like this is that all children are forced into this neat little cubicle that serves no other purpose than to make the lifes of box tickers easier. I was 3 when I thaught myself to read so was my husband but our now 5 y/o is not really interested in reading. though he knows certain words he won't pick up a book and read it. Why does the age a child is ready to read matter?
I guess it only matters if you intend to "teach" reading in a factory type setting like schools....

11:49 am  
Blogger Christina said...

I taught my children to read. My daughter read fluently by age three which surprised me. My sons were fluent at four. When I say fluent I mean reading Enid Blyton story books for instance unaided and unbidden. The problem (if that is the right word) comes with writing and spelling. Children cannot begin learning to read phonically at very young ages only by look and say. Although you can teach the alphabet and its sounds, very young children cannot build up words in my experience. Also if you teach reading at a very young age writing has to come later separately. Many people prefer to teach writing and reading together. My suspicion about government and reading is that people who can read fluently and in depth are a nuisance to governments of the type we now have since they are less easily manipulated. Whatever they tell me I am convinced that the government prefers that children do not learn to read and reqad well. This is another good reason why governments should not be involved in education.

11:54 am  
Anonymous Mamma_Soft said...

My (then) 5 yr old wanted to learn to read, but required a great deal of support (mostly emotional, because she doesn't like to get it wrong, but also just to have the time and space to practise without people watching). And so we have begun teaching her in spare moments that just appear, and when she wants to learn. She does her own practice when she plays. She is now 6 and still going through the different phonic blends.
At the age of 3, my second knew all her letters (because she was ready to learn, I presume, as I was doing alphabet games with her sister). And she also began putting letters together to make words at the age of 4. Her progress has slowed down now - partly personality,a bit of a dreamer; partly change of environment, we moved to France, so her learning is directed more towards French!

Teaching languages at secondary level, I kept coming across children who had the skills to read, but had labelled themselves as 'dumb' and so never seemed to get further. Now that I'm home-edding, I wonder how much that had to do with these children not being ready to progress quickly when everyone else was learning to read, and developing a coping mechanism of being the 'dummy' in the class.

Watching my eldest, I could see the same thing happening to her if she was in school, along with a few behaviourial issues thrown in as she copes with her frustration and anger at being slow... just a thought.

Thanks for asking.

1:04 pm  
Anonymous katherine said...

My home educated daughter is now 6 1/2. She is in the process of learning to read.
We have never 'taught' her. Rather we share books - we read to her and she has been surrounded by books. Any pressure turns her off - and has the opposite result to that intended. She has learnt using whole words, with a smattering of phonics thrown in from websites.
Basically she has learnt to read, in the same way that the learnt to walk and talk - by doing it herself, with support from us.
The child has to be ready and then they can do it themselves. All they need is to have books available and see people reading.

10:56 am  
Anonymous Barbara Stark said...

My four home educated children achieved some reading fluency at ages 4, 9, 10 and 9 years.

In each case it was absolutely an expression of their own personality and needs from the one who learned "Co-op, Bus Stop, Chip Shop, Post Office, Walk," first (followed by how to write letters inviting the street to a party in her house without telling me,) to the one who decided that reference books contained the information he wanted to access to follow his interests quietly for days at a time and his younger brother who learned so that he could speak to friends on instant messaging!

The one who learned earliest took longer to reach adult reading level, which might be to be expected, with the later readers taking, typically, six to eight weeks.

One of my daughters described to me a thrilling revelation after she decided to become a reader. Having recently swapped the best branch in the tree outside for a quiet room inside as a good day-dreaming spot, she found words and phrases coming into her head that she had not produced herself, a curious experience, and realised that they were book titles and bits of text that she could see as she looked around her room. It seems she realised that she could read and that she needed to recognise that some ideas are externally introduced into her thinking at the same time and has become an intelligent and sensitive reader.

All children want to learn and should be supported in their learning endeavors but never pushed. While those who feel they know best force their learning objectives and outcomes on innocent and more or less defenseless children, who is to say what good thing they have displaced in that process, and what damage they do to the child and to society through the loss they may have caused?

Children who are functionally illiterate and inummerate after ten years of forced instruction, children pushed through the goalposts of learning to read but who never enjoy reading for pleasure therafter, children whose self motivation and creativity is damaged or lost in order to ensure narrow targets and school league table positions ... what a great damage is being done to our people!

3:45 pm  
Blogger Ralph Lucas said...

Thankyou all - a great resource for me in my arguments with government, and totally fascinating in its variety.

Is there any school system that can cope?

6:15 am  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

RE: Can any school system cope? Yes, home education can cope, as the children are given one-to-one education. The smaller the class, the more tailor made the education will be. You cannot even let 15 children work at their own pace in a class that has to meet certain targets.

Please don't forget--home education is not always about 'the failing school systems'. It is a choice of life for many of us, not totally based on the 'educational' outcomes of our children. It is about their general well-being and offering them the best possible start to life.

9:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord Lucas asks.
Is there any school system that can cope?

Virtually I would say No!. Because if a child relies on listening/watching skills to absorb information in, until they are able to interpret putting a meaning to what they are reading, then the schools will be letting the child down in some area during the course of their daytime learning.
This aspects in technical terms is usually referred to us visual learning, I like to refer to it as a natural ability. As it is unique to some children the same as gifted reading skills are to a child at an early age.
That itself can be different with the gifted ones, they may acquire the skills to read fluently, but not the skills of fluent spelling.
No teachers or a mixed input from different teaching skills alday can possibly aid towards this, the child in all circumstances needs the focus of one parent or both to continually help build on their reconised skills as they develop.
Hope this helps in some way.

5:32 am  
Blogger annette said...

"Late reading" is an issue where LA officials with no command of the legislative framework and Guidance have expectations that children will read, write and demonstrate skills on "inspections".

I don't have a relationship with my LA and am happy to be below the radar on an individual basis.

My dyslexic and dysgraphic son was spared the humiliation and frustration which many similarly abled children endure in school.

At 12 he suddenly progressed in a few short months.

HE allowed him security to develop self esteem and time to develop at a pace suitable to him.

We must save this right for children to grow at pace suitable to them and free from ridicule and humiliation

11:06 pm  
Blogger Ralph Lucas said...


when you say 'progressed', how far? What you say - and some earlier comments - reminds me of the theories that some aspects of the dys- spectrum are due to developmental delays, and can dissapear when development takes place. In HE you are seeing this undisturbed (well, less than most) by interventions.

8:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting question, if the report suggests leaving school children to learn through play until they are at least six years old then it is a small step in the right direction. This in essence is a Montessori approach. unfortunately then forcing the subject on chidren at a set age in a set way - currently phonics - at school is not a good thing.

I have twins both nearly six, both learning to read. One child is learing very well phonetically, one child, a high functioning autistic child, is learning whole word recognition and guessing text from pictures - not currently an approved method in school. The boys are roughly at the same level because I support their different approach to the subject. They are slightly behind their peers at school but enjoy reading unlike the battles I hear from the parents of school children.

We have two piles of books, if they want me to read them a story or look up some information they bring books from one pile, if they want to read to me they bring books from the other pile. I would not say that my methods are perfect or should be adopted by anyone else, but they work really well for us.

What I would say is one size does not and could not fit all. My phonetic reader had little or no interest at first in reading but loved to hear stories, the sight reader was desperate to read early on and really had to slog at it, he constantly bought books from 'pile 2'- but it was always his decision to try and his decision when to stop - there is no set 'hour' for literacy, sometimes they will only read a few words sometimes four books, not something that can fit a nationwide curriculum.

If children must be introduced to reading at 6 then they must be introduced to all forms of learning not just phonetic reading. There are several methods to learn to read. Each child should have the opportunity to develop their own method not pushed into trying to grasp something that does not work for them. We no longer force left handed children to use their right hand why force children to learn to read by a method which does not suit at a time which is not right for the individual?

Maria Montessori advocated introducing a child to a subject and if they were ready for it then the child would happily pick up and run with that subject - at that point the work of the 'adult' is done and they should leave the child to explore the subject to their own satisfaction. If the child was not ready then the subject was withdrawn and re-introduced at a later date. If schools were prepared to introduce reading at 6 and backing off if the children are not ready and perhaps re-introducing at 7 and 8 and so on then perhaps they would be onto a good thing? Perhaps also if the subject is presented to children as a possibility and they do not pursue at that time schools should be more open to letting the child come to them and say can we try again? Sadly I can't see this happening.

1:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is one really obvious thing schools could do in order to be more flexible and support children to enjoy and learn various subjects in their own time, thus building confidence along with ability.

STOP forcing kids of the same age group to study together for every subject.

Allowing all subject classes to be of mixed age groups according to standard of ability reached would solve so many problems in schools, including damaging childrens confidence by pushing them too fast, damaging their interest by holding them back and slowing them down, and the social skills stunting and peer pressure problems that happen when you force them to mix only in one age group and to any developmental timetable.

Seriously - the first thing that needs to be reformed in schools is this dividing by age practice. Its so simple but its beyond most peoples imaginations.

Look at the way the Open Uni works as a good example of this. People of all ages, including children, work through the subjects that interest them at their own rate and level. Although there may be less subjects offered in a school, the OU model would still be an improvement.

6:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both my children enjoyed listening to stories on a 'more-than-daily' basis from the earliest years. We have lots of books, I love reading, we were always visiting the library during their early years. I have always read aloud to them anything as and when requested.

My first child wanted to read from about the age of 7, but wanted it to be instant so she never really became truly motivated until the age of 12. At 17, she is a good reader, spells well and has a good grasp of grammar, better than most of the schooled children she knows.
My son learnt to read in a few months during his 9th year - at 13, he is a very good and fast reader, who can pick out a given word in a page of text remarkably quickly, and also spells well and composes short stories.

I cannot say that I taught either of them in the way that would be recognised in schools, but I did a lot of helping and answering questions!

If they had been at school I don't know what would have happened, I suspect my daughter would have ended up hating it, as did my husband who also was not an early reader.

Thank you for your interest Lord Lucas.

11:37 am  
Blogger Snuffyisabear said...

I know children who began reading in their 2's spontaneously. There are others who are not ready to read until they are 8 or 9.
My own daughter got intensely frustrated at 3 and a half, throwing books and yelling it wasn't fair she couldn't read and we could. This came out of the blue as until she was 3 she refused to listen to a book, closing it and walking off if we tried reading to her. She had had no exposure to letters really either. However, it was clear quickly that she wasn't ready to learn and while it came up again at regular intervals and I introduced various materials and tried different ways of helping her each time, it wasn't until she was nearly 5 that she was really ready to read, in that she started to pay attention to words and letters around her in their own right. At 5 and a half, she can read a little, but not phonetically - we learnt that she really does not have the ability to hear the separate sounds within words, so asking her to put the sounds together or say what sound a word starts with is an alien language to her and she stares blankly, not knowing what to respond. When she does learn new words it is as whole words because that is how she hears them. Ultimately, phonics is only a tool to help learn the whole words (no fluent reader breaks down every single word they read sound by sound, it is merely one tool they might use to work out an unfamiliar one)and my daughter may never use it, or she may learn it later depending on her needs and interest. Were she in school however, where the current trend is phonics all the way, she would not have made the progress she has done in our sporadic 'do it as the mood takes you' fashion but would instead probably be classed as a poor reader by both the teachers and herself, and unless she suddenly discovered a knack for phonics within herself before the age of 7, when reading instruction in schools currently reduces to almost nothing, she would likely be amongst those who are left behind by the system, unable to read properly because the methods and timing do not suit her and unable to complete other schoolwork properly as so much of it relies on being able to read and write. Being home educated from the start however, she will never suffer this. I as her parent will find materials that suit her learning style and discarding those that are no use, take it at her pace stopping when she wants to for months at a time sometimes or zooming ahead at others, and never placing her in a position where other areas of learning are compromised by an inability to read on her part. She has years to learn this skill, there should not be a rush to force it on children at 5 and neither should there be a reluctance to accept that some are already fluent readers by that age. Each child and it's own abilities should be catered for. Schools teaching children en masse within the tight restrictions of the National Curriculm are hobbled, prevented from doing this properly even where the teachers are willing and able to try. Home education has no such problems - however, the Badman Review seeks to force them on us. It does not state explicitly that the National Curriculm will be used as a benchmark by which to judge the progress of Home Educating families, but when those doing the judging are trained in school-style education and have little to no experience of home education in practice, how could it be expected that they not judge us by the only criteria they know?

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Thanks for asking! and thanks to all the other commenters - very interesting.

I've written about this on my blog - not so much the age angle but more about all the different motivations for reading.

It's here: Diversity of children reading.

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd agree with everyone that it depends upon the child and the usual range seems to be 4 - 10 ish. Pushing is usually unhelpful and reading comes, just like speech, when you are immersed in a literate environment.

However, I'd like to know the parameters of the question! What constitutes 'starts reading' and 'is a reader' etc?

My baby has just had her second birthday and has been having books read to her from an early age, on demand (and demand is the right word!). She has become print aware just as she is turning two. She seems to have learned the sounds of some letters from her favourite Letterland books and has begun to independently point them out in words (especially where the letters occur in her name). It has just happened. We are unschoolers and don't attempt to 'teach'.

Some may say she started to read at 2. Others would not class letter recognition as reading.

My 9 year old began to read in this way below the age of 2 (was using complete spoken sentences at 18 months old) and was able to read simple words shortly after she recognized her alphabet. However, she decided the rest of us had been born reading because she never saw us learn. She decided she couldn't learn to read. Later, she got pushed a bit, in times of stress, because whether your child reads or not is the lay person's universal measure of whether home education of your child is successful (concerned co-parents, grandparents, community members, etc). At 9, she is just beginning to read for her own purposes, rather than always opting for asking someone to do it for her. (It just got to the point where it was easier to read than to wait for help). Occasionally she will find herself reading for pleasure, for a short while.

Despite choosing not to read and avoiding it like the plague, she can't help picking up the words around her, and each time she does read her reading has miraculously improved in the interim. She can't help it, however hard she tries, it just creeps up on her!

Would you say she learned to read at 20 months old or age 9, or would you class her hesitant reading as not 'reading' at this stage? Maybe you would class her as reading when she is fluent (by age 11?)

Reading is a long term, complex process. When we refer to 'when' a child 'learns to read' we need to clarify what this means.
When we propose to 'teach' children to read in schools at 4 does it mean learning the alphabet or to sound out words, or to recognize whole words ... all of these, some of these? None of these? Maybe it refers to the very beginning where the child learns to orient the book upright and turn pages from the left to the right and is encouraged to do activities that practice left to right tracking? These are all elements of learning to read.

When we refer to a child who 'is reading' we need to clarify what this means too. Especially where this is used to compare the success or failure of a system of education. This is a particular concern where Graham Badman said he wanted all home educated children to be reading by age 8, and yet doesn't define reading.

It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation about reading therein.

1:25 am  
Blogger Ralph Lucas said...

Thankyou for your continuing comments.

It strikes me that if the Conservatives come to power and there's freedom to set up schools, we should make sure that an unschool would qualify.

12:12 pm  
Anonymous z said...

Every healthy child can learn to read at one or two - and will do, with great joy and enthusiasm, if given the opportunity.

And it's easy to give them the opportunity. Any parent can do it, so long as:

- they know how to read
- they're in the habit of paying attention to their child.

When a child's 6 or 7, you're already talking about remedial education, because they should have learnt to read much earlier. By 'should', I mean 'when they're ready to grasp the opportunity when offered'.

Those people who say some children are ready at 4 and others are ready at 7 just don't know how to give children the opportunity. I don't mean to sound nasty here. Of course, if your child is 6 and doesn't know how to read, and you teach them to do so, you're doing something very worthwhile and commendable.

But you can't make a toddler learn something if they don't want to.

Start by making big signs saying "table", "door", "chair", "window", etc., and hanging them on the objects. Use big letters, preferably in a nice colour like red or cyan.

Have a laugh. Hang a sign on yourself saying "Mummy" or "Daddy". Point out the window at a car, hold up a sign saying "Car", and make an engine noise.

It's fun - get it?

If the truth came out about this, so many people would start wondering what on earth schools are for, and more and more people's opinions of "experts" would hit rock bottom.


12:36 pm  
Blogger Moira said...

Both of my children were able to read before they were three. This was not taught formally using a "system" but the children both loved books from being babies and I believe that they had seen so many words that they learnt by word recognition.
They are now 11 (a boy) and 6 (a girl) and both read for pleasure.

3:31 pm  
Anonymous Deborah said...

My older son taught himself to read at not quite 7. Though I had tried to help him learn he had resisted, and then seemingly overnight he could read, not simple stuff, but really complex things. By the age of 8 he had read "The Lord of the Rings" - with real understanding, though leaving out the boring bits (conversations) and really enjoying the battles. He is now 15 and doing 10 GCSE's and a real bookworm. He says now that his motivation was that he wanted to read LOTR because it sounded interesting.
My younger son is 8; I have been teaching him on and off since he was 4 - he showed a real facility with the alphabet and sounds but then went off the boil for about 3 years. He is now steaming ahead with reading because he really wants to - he told me yesterday that he loves reading, to which I replied, "That's good, so do I." I often see him puzzling out words, working out rules. I help him for about half an hour two or three times a week, and I see astonishing progess which I am not responsible for.
Like others, I believe a child is ready when he or she is ready. Sometimes it is the motivation that is the key thing. We are a family of readers - there are at least 2,000 books in our house, and that must not be underestimated - it counts for a huge amount.

10:13 pm  
Blogger Lady Portia said...

Age is just a number.

As a society we have been programmed to believe that at age 6, all children should be able to read, at age 65 to retire, and so we follow like sheep, unless we realise the fact that age is just a number and children read when they are ready and not before.

All this comparing of children is ridiculous and unhelpful.

6:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My two eldest children (now 9) went to school Foundation, Y1 and Y2. My son learned easily enough but disliked the reading scheme preferring non fiction to Biff, Chip and Floppy! Now home educated he always has his head in a book and reads everything and anything he fancies. My daughter struggled with reading in school. Since home-educating and confirming our concerns with Dyslexia she gets the right support she needs and her reading is improving. I would like to point out that her literacy skills are actually excellent just not with reading the black words on white background. She communicates effectively, can write well (ok spelling is hit and miss but she is dyslexic and there are spell checkers so not really an issue in the real world) and her comprehension is very good. I also have four year old twin girls and they're not that interested in reading themselves although they love books and we read to them every day. They are starting to recognise letters and words but there will be no pressure. We take regular trips to the library and have magazine subscriptions and plenty of computer usage so our world is full of reading possibilities. I firmly believe that when children have the desire to learn something they do it quickly and easily. If they are pushed into something it will be a struggle.

11:02 am  

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