In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting on this blog answers to frequently asked questions I receive from parents interested in having their child attend ALC Mosaic. I’m inviting feedback to help make the responses to these questions clear & concise, yet also thorough enough to feel adequately answered. If you have additional links or information that you think would be valuable to include in the response, I welcome your replies so I can make this FAQ page awesome!
The intent of the FAQ page is to send to parents before they attend a Parent Interest Night at our school so we spend less time discussing these answers in person and more time answering questions about Agile Learning Centers and ALC Mosaic specifically.
So here goes the first question I tackled:
How Will My Child Learn to Read?
For most children, they will learn to read just as they learned to walk and talk – through living around people who walk and talk. Most normally developing children are extremely motivated to walk because they see adults getting places faster than they are. They are also very motivated to learn language skills because it helps them get what they want and need more effectively.
In our school, a child who reads is much more independent than a child who does not read. The same goes for the world, and our school likes to model what is currently important in today’s world – literacy being one of those things.
What we observe with the children at Mosaic is that they all want to read because it increases their ability to do things on their own. If they can read the schedule board on their own, they are able to figure out what’s going on, and when and where the activity is taking place, without getting someone to help them. They will able to play many more complex games because they are able to read.
We have not encountered one child yet that simply does not want to read here. We do encounter children who simply teach themselves to read in a way that works for them. This can look like a child suddenly showing up and just reading one day all at once, or like a child really interested in reading and sounding out words for months, dropping it for few months, and then coming back to intensely until they are fluent. You can think back to how your child learned to speak – first sounds, playing with sounds, repeating sounds, saying the few words they know over and over again. It looks like that, but with the words they can read and write. They write the words they know repeatedly and acquire more and more.
If they want extra support to speed up the reading process, we provide it. Otherwise, we see them teach themselves. Humans are incredibly intelligent – especially when they are motivated they pay very close attention to what it is that they want to learn. A child learning to read will be carefully studying letters as someone read to them aloud.
Through his research, Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Research Science at Boston College created these principles of how children learn to read without schooling:
Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling
1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
3) Attempts to push reading can backfire.
4) Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
5) Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
6) Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
7) There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.
In this article, Gray expands on these principles in much detail and also describes how they came from a study of Sudbury students – students who were never told to learn to read or forced to go to any class or course. From this study he also writes, “What they found defied every attempt at generalization. Students began their first real reading at a remarkably wide range of ages–from as young as age 4 to as old as age 14. Some students learned very quickly, going from apparently complete non-reading to fluent reading in a matter of weeks; others learned much more slowly. A few learned in a conscious manner, systematically working on phonics and asking for help along the way. Others just “picked it up.” They realized, one day, that they could read, but they had no idea how they had learned to do so. There was no systematic relationship between the age at which students had first learned to read and their involvement with reading at the time of the interview. Some of the most voracious readers had learned early and others had learned late.”
Extra Reading on Reading
Rudolf Steiner, who created the Waldorf educational model, felt it was an injustice to a child’s imagination to teach them to read before the age of 7. Schools in Finland (these schools have gotten US press for their excellent school systems, read about that here and here) do not have children start school until 7. In addition, one can really begin to learn to read at any age. There is also a need for ones eye muscles to build during normal play as a child before they are ready to read, and this development can widely vary.
The point is that a child’s time to be ready to read will occur at many different ages, and it’s ridiculous to try to make all children be on a particular level at one age. Still, all traditional schools are expecting every child to begin some type of literacy instruction by Kindergarten or 1st grade. Many children are not ready at this time and then develop anxieties over why they are not good enough, smart enough, etc. This becomes a labored pattern that, for many, keeps them in the low reading group or self-identifying as a non-reader. We don’t believe in doing that to children here.
John Taylor Gatto has done extensive research on the effectiveness of public schools throughout his 30 year career as a teacher. He is also a public speaker and author on the topic. In this interview (as well as in many of his other essays and books) he debunks the myth that children need school to learn to read:
“By 1940, literacy as a national number stood at 96 percent for whites and 80 percent for blacks. Four of five blacks were literate in spite of all disadvantages. Yet, six decades later, the Adult Literacy Survey and National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a 40 percent illiteracy rate for blacks – doubling the earlier deficiency – and a 17 percent rate for whites, more than quadrupling it. Yet, the money spent on schooling in real terms had grown 350 percent.”
If you would like to read more on this topic, Lisa Nielson compiles a very comprehensive list of links here to help you learn more about how children learn to read without teachers.