Matthew, 5yrs, learned to read around his 4th birthday. I'm not sure exactly when the lightbulb went on because, as unschoolers, we don't do drills or worksheets or insist that the kids "read aloud" to us or do phonics, etc. So somewhere around his 4th bday, he started reading. And he picked it up very fast. He is an excellent reader now and I'm still amazed at how quickly he can pick up the context of new words based on the sentence structure. I'm sure it would be nice to be a school-at-homer and take credit for the hard work but all we did was this:
1. Leisure read in front of the kids a lot
2. Read to the kids a lot (I'm talking two stories a day, at the very least)
3. Always read to them a step above where the 'experts' say they should be read to. For instance, I read him Charlotte's Web at 3 years old. A full-on "chapter book" with few illustrations. And he loved it.
4. Provide quality books for his current reading level.
5. Don't push.
This is what we did. I have read many unschooler stories about kids (especially boys) who don't start reading until they're quite older...well into the teenage years. I was prepared for that, though I hoped he'd read earlier. What I wasn't expecting was that he would pick it up so fast! So life changed quickly for us. No longer could my husband and I spell to each other...
DH (talking to me): "So do you want to go for i-c-e c-r-e-a-m tonight?"
Matthew (interjecting): "YES!!!"
However, if I were going to compare him to his schooled (or school-at-home) counterparts, I would also have to say that just because he reads very well for his age does not mean that he writes as well as he "should".
Matthew has hated drawing utensils of any kind all his life. I remember a very young baby well-checkup when the pediatrician asked if he could grip a crayon and scribble, I had no answer for him. Matthew would flat refuse crayons, pencils, pens, paints...you name it, I tried it several times. He had no interest in any of them. Until...(again, just around his 4th bday), Rose became interested in our MagnaDoodle. She was only 18 months old but loved to scribble on it and would ask various members of the family to draw things for her and eventually, they would write out her name.
(Hang in there, the point is coming)
Soon, Matthew asked me to show him how to write his name. I wrote it out for him and he took it off and came back at the end of the week with his name scrawled on a piece of paper. It wasn't one of those illegible first attempts at writing that most parents have in the ol' scrapbook. It was very easy to tell what he'd written and I was exceedingly proud of his ambition to do it himself.
With that little bit of encouragement, I decided that he would pick up on writing as fast as he had done reading. Once again, I was wrong. Why don't I just stop ever assuming anything ever again? It seems my assumptions are always wrong anyway! ;)
He will be 6 years old in September. He is still a very avid reader and blows through chapter books in less than a day. But has no interest in writing. I've seen him write his name and 'mom' and 'dad' and that's about it (and I've only seen 'mom' and 'dad' a handful of times at that). Of course that nagging voice in my head (who is that? Oh yes, my ever-teacher-mom, who has taught pre-K for 20+ years. teehee) says, "He's never going to write unless you force him - what's fun about writing??" And I argue with that voice, "No, we were content to wait for him to read for a long time and we will give him longer on writing as well. It's only a matter of time before it clicks". We try to encourage him with, "If I write you a note, will you respond to me?" but he's clearly not interested.
(Yes, I promise I'm going somewhere with all of this)
This past weekend, I was in his room and he was talking about drawing a map. He hopes to be an astronaut and "the first REAL Indiana Jones" when he grows up (nah, I'm not gonna burst that bubble - maybe he will! Who am I to say that he won't?) so we've been discussing all things archeology for a while. (Side note: he's really ecstatic that the VBS theme this year is archeology!) I casually mention that he has that journal that I bought him last year somewhere that would be a great place to draw. "You know, you don't have to write only words in journals - you can draw and put stickers in them too," I tried to encourage. I dug around and found the journal, still totally untouched. And I left his room for naptime. [No, he doesn't still take naps at this age but we all have a quiet afternoon in our rooms because the girls still nap and he and I need our alone/down time too.]
After nap on Monday, he showed me that he'd written his name and 'mom' and 'dad' and a new one - 'x-pod' (one of his favorite toys). I gushed a little on what a great writing job he'd done and left it at that.
(Yes, now is the point)
Yesterday as I tucked him in, I saw the journal sitting on his bed. He showed me his new page. On it was written:
I lv u.
~The sweetest words I've ever read in all my life.~
But aside from my motherly sentiments about it, it was such a big step! And very legible. I was equally impressed with his letter composition - the "dear", the comma, the separate lines. I asked him if he looked at something to help him. He showed me his recent Bunnicula books. On the back of each book is a letter written to show the synopsis and he followed the format that was there.
I have to admit that I find myself wondering if I would have seen those words if I'd pushed him into writing a year ago when he wasn't the least bit interested in them. I don't know. But I do know that I'm glad I waited. After all, the best things in life really are worth waiting for, eh? ;)