Children Teach Themselves to Read

In a blog post titled Children Teach Themselves to Read for the respected journal Psychology Today, author Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology, explains the various approaches to teaching children to read. He revisits the age-old “reading wars” between phonics and whole-language camps, and then writes;

“In marked contrast to all this frenzy about teaching reading stands the view of people involved in the ‘unschooling’ movement and the Sudbury ‘non-school’ school movement, who claim that reading need not be taught at all! As long as kids grow up in a literate society, surrounded by people who read, they will learn to read. They may ask some questions along the way and get a few pointers from others who already know how to read, but they will take the initiative in all of this and orchestrate the entire process themselves. This is individualized learning, but it does not require brain imaging or cognitive scientists, and it requires little effort on the part of anyone other than the child who is learning. Each child knows exactly what his or her own learning style is, knows exactly what he or she is ready for, and will learn to read in his or her own unique way, at his or her unique schedule.”

Just so. Gray’s post is subtitled ‘Unschoolers’ accounts of how their children taught themselves to read,’ and it brings the whole unschooling approach to an academic audience which has largely pooh-poohed the idea for decades. Gray himself, however, is no stranger to the concept. Last fall he was exploring what he termed ‘trustful parenting,’ and his August 26 post was actually titled Trustful Parenting May Require an Alternative to Conventional Schooling, and subtitled: ‘Trustful parenting may be incompatible with conventional schooling.’ He noted:

“In recent decades, as schools have become increasingly intrusive in families’ lives, the number of families choosing homeschooling has risen sharply–to over a million in the United States today.”

Peter Gray’s articles are thoughtful and encouraging to parents, and in the title article for this post he shares what he learned when he asked unschooling parents to share their stories about their children learning to read without formal instruction; what seem to him to be seven principles that may cast some general understanding on the process of learning to read without schooling.

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One Response to Children Teach Themselves to Read

  1. grandmalinda on February 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    A while back, Peter Gray put out a call for stories that I shared on Parent at the Helm. So glad to see he’s following through – what a partner to have in our endeavors!