My daughter Bridget, age 10, is currently learning to read. To those of you more familiar with the schools' timelines for this, that may seem rather late. But as unschoolers, who practice child-led learning and let each child's journey of education unfold naturally, she's right on time. Her time. And that's because she's the one who is motivated to learn.
Of course, she can already read many words and phrases. I've found, with my older child and others in our homeschool group, that self-confidence is very important in learning new skills. Because they can't simply pick up any book of adult level and decipher it immediately, they often think they "can't read," when in fact they have been on the journey of learning words for many years.
Most of the kids in our group "learned to read" (as described by themselves) around age 9. Bridget is on the younger side of the group as a whole, and has been motivated off and on over the past couple of years to actively practice her reading skills. She reads easy-reader books out loud to us, figures out what's going on in the computer games she likes to play, and reads and writes the words she knows in daily life (labelling her artwork, making and signing greeting cards, etc). She is part of our homeschool writing group, and we still read aloud to both kids on a very regular basis, as we have since their birth. She also sees all of the adults in her life reading for pleasure as well as information.
I recently went to a bookstore to run an errand, and Bridget handed me a gift card she had saved from her birthday. She said to get her a book, and to use the rest of the money to get one for myself. Instead, I picked out 5 books for her, going from "step 1" through "step 4" and including a simple chapter book as the fifth one. As her teacher/facilitator, my job as a parent is not to force her to learn, but rather to guide, encourage, and at times, offer challenges. I brought her the books, and offered her the challenge of reading them to me as a way of gaining more reading skill. I didn't know how she'd feel about it (and wasn't attached to the outcome), but she immediately decided it was a wonderful idea, and adopted this as her "summer reading program." She read the Step 1 book to me easily in one sitting, and when she's ready we'll sit down to the second book.
What's wonderful about this way of doing things is that she'll be reading for her own pleasure, at her own pace, and can be proud of having mastered this skill on her own. I'm also thankful that we're surrounded by a loving community of family and friends who haven't pressured Bridget (or me) about her reading progress.
Maybe she'll even end up as a total bookworm, like her Mom. :)