Trust and Comfort Make Eager Readers
Updated: Oct 17
The new school year is about to begin and you are out there looking for this year's curriculum that is going to teach your children how to read.
STOP—DON'T DO IT! YOU'RE WASTING YOUR MONEY!
Here is your 2015–2016 reading curriculum
Read to your children
Be available for your children
Relax and enjoy your children
"It will also demonstrate that 'ordinary' people, without special training and often without large amounts of schooling themselves, can give their children whatever slight assistance may be needed to help them in their exploration of the world, and that to do this task requires no more than a little tact, patience, attention, and readily available information"
John Holt, about his book How Children Learn
John Holt is an educator who became a researcher in how children learn in the early 80's. He observed that small children, ages 1–2-years old were curious about the world around them and explored with almost no hesitation. This was very different from the 10-year olds in his 5th grade classroom who were more timid, self conscious, and worried about what others thought. After 11 years of observing children in the classroom he determined that fear was the force that held children back from learning. They were afraid to give the wrong answer, being made fun of, singled out for not performing to a certain level. Reflecting back on life, we can all think of times that we have chosen not to raise our hands or speak up beacuse of fear.
Reflecting back on my own fifth grade experience I can remember each class member being called on to stand up in front of the teacher's, beautifully carved, wooden USA map. We were all expected to name every state while pointing them out. Now, memorization was never a strength for mine unless it was put to music. So when it came to my turn, I would point out the 10 states I did know and then throw my hands up in the air and say, “thats it!” and go back to my seat with a big smile on my face. I had learned, through experience, that it was better to admit defeat and give up rather than risk pointing out a wrongly named state and be laughed at by the majority of the class.
In Holt's book Learning All The Time he talks about children learning how to read and the need to feel trust and security. “In any case, whether you are a 'gifted' five year old or a terrified, illiterate twelve year old, trying to read something new is a dangerous adventure. You may make mistakes, or fail, and so feel disappointment or shame, or anger, or disgust. Just in order to get started on this adventure, most people need as much comfort, reassurance, security, as they can find. The typical classroom, with other children ready to point out, correct, and even laugh at every mistake, and the teacher all to often (wittingly and unwittingly) helping and urging them to do this, is the worst possible place for a child to begin.” Holt visited the Ny Lillte Skole (New Little School) near Copenhagen to observe
their practices. (The video to the right is of the Ny Lillte Skole.) They had no formal reading program at all. Children were not pulled aside for reading class, instruction, phonics or reading groups. They are aloud to read what they want, when they want, with whom they want and for as long as they want. It is not planned , announced, reminded, or pushed. Children just figure it out as they attend the school.
SO HOW DO THEY LEARN TO READ???
Children ask a teacher if they will read with them. The teacher says yes and then they go to a cozy, private place with the teacher and read aloud to them. The teacher says nothing but an occasional, “Ja, ja,” to let the child know that they are doing well. The teacher will almost never point out a mistake and when the child asks what a word is the teacher simply tells the child what it is. This may go on for about 20 minutes, at which point the child will choose to stop and head off to another activity.
This may sound crazy and you may be thinking to yourself, “There is no way this works,” but in this little school it worked and it has worked in my home too. Within Holt's study he had learned that it only takes about 30 hours of this kind of reading until a child feels ready to read on his or her own. Rasmus Hansen from the Ny Lillte Skole; an illiteracy program in Cleveland, Ohio; and Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and reformer (the former and the latter being for illiterate adults), all reported that 30 hours was all that was needed to lay a foundation of reading. Holt points out that the total time is equal to a single week in school. “That is the true size of the task,” states Holt.
So there you go. Sit down and let your kids hash it out for themselves. No hours of drill and kill. No fighting about reading lessons. No flash cards with letter sounds just because you want them to read NOW! Children want to be like their parents. If you read they will want to read. If they see you learning new words then they won't mind learning new words either.
Now don’t get me wrong. I see nothing wrong with having a few things to encourage reading, like place mats at dinner with letters and numbers on them, or even pictures of the solar system, maps, presidents or math problems. One of my kids loves flashcards. But the trick is, I let him bring them to me. I never coax him over to drill through flash cards. He thinks they are fun and now the next child also believes flashcards are fun. Having those resources around is one of my focuses, but I will have to share about that some other time.
So keep reading to your kids as much as you can. Pick good classic literature that they will enjoy with wonderful pictures. Toddlers can listen to Beatrix Potter, Eric Carl, Aesop’s Fables, and other great children’s stories like the Three Little Pigs, and The Billy Goats Gruff. Reading to your children is the first step to literacy. If they love books they will want to read them to themselves some day.
How do I know this all to be true? Well, to keep this post from getting any longer I will keep this short. At eight-years-old my oldest could not read. At nine-years-old he started to show interest. By ten-years-old he was reading small chapter books and had finished the first three Harry Potter books. Coming from a mother who was a painfully slow reader (and didn’t read a whole book until the age of 23) this is a major victory in my eyes.