Letting Nature Take Its Course

I have recently come across a couple of Sudbury perspectives on how and when children start reading. This got me thinking about the difference between a child discovering they can read and a child being taught to read. This may seem like a subtle difference, but like the following Sudbury alum, I think a reading curriculum and learning on your own are worlds apart.

I don’t recall thinking of reading as something you learned. I never saw a kid in a reading class, but one by one my friends would be reading. I’m not sure reading is a significantly different process from learning how to talk. You don’t have talking lessons for babies, and they learn how to talk.

When my son was around 8 years old and attending Alpine Valley School, he was very engaged with computer games, along with many other students. He was not a proficient reader at the time and would often ask his older sister and, occasionally, the adults around him for help when there were messages or instructions related to his game. Eventually his sister, engaged in activities of her own, told him he needed to learn to read.

Several weeks later, my son asked me to watch a computer game he was playing. As I stood next to him, I saw several text boxes pop up and noticed that he seemed to be reading and had not asked for my help. When I asked him if he was reading the messages, he casually replied that he was. I then asked him when he had “learned” to read. His reply? “I don’t know, it just happened.” He had never had any formal reading instruction or been exposed to phonics. He just picked it up because it was useful to him and the timing was right.

I had not been concerned that my son was not reading by a particular time, but was quite excited to know he had become an excellent reader in his own way and on his own time. It is a story I share with other parents who are considering enrolling their children at Alpine Valley School, to help them trust in the process of self-education. My son is now pursuing a degree in business, works full-time at Target, and is living a full and happy life.

In his blog post “Children Teach Themselves to Read,” Dr. Peter Gray tells a similar story:

Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly. In some cases unschooled children progress from non-reading to reading in what seems to observers to be a flash. For example, Lisa W. wrote: “Our second child, who is a visual thinker, didn’t learn to read until he was 7. For years, he could either figure out what he needed to know from pictorial cues, or if stuck, would get his older brother to read to him. I remember the day he started reading. He had asked his older brother to read something to him on the computer and his brother replied, ‘I have better things to do than to read to you all day,’ and walked away. Within days he was reading quite well.”

It can be hard to wait for this sort of natural learning to take its course, but you can also trust that it will be unstoppable. The Sudbury parent I mentioned above has an excellent perspective on how learning happens in an environment like Alpine Valley School.

Three years of Sudbury schools have shown me that the learning process is like a drip of water against a rock. At a glance, it appears fragile and delicate, but uninterrupted over time, it is an unstoppable force of nature. The challenge of the Sudbury parent, then, is to leave the water alone and allow nature to take its course.

Contact us to learn more about Alpine Valley School, where children thrive while pursuing activities that interest and intrigue them—where we let nature take its course.

Connie Cook