Is Reading Natural?


I know people who read before age five, with very little education on how to read. My husband is one of them. Several children of friends also learned how to read at age three. These people were fluent readers before kindergarten.

I also know people who read at ages far beyond five. My father is one of them. He didn’t read until age eight or older, and today he is a fluent reader.

It is popular in unschooling circles to think about reading as something that will come to all children naturally. I see the validity in the argument, but I am not absolutely certain that this is true.

I believe that children will become interested in text as they get older, as long as they are exposed to text in their environment. It’s like being interested in tracking animals if you live in a hunting culture: it’s a skill that adults have, so children are interested in learning about the patterns around them.

If you’re unschooling, making reading come naturally is about giving your children a language-rich environment filled with stories and songs. However, I’m not sure whether all children will learn how to decode text with very little help, and I am certain that not all children will learn how to read around the school-based reading age of five to seven. My daughter has a wonderful vocabulary, but it’s only by playing word-building games, rhyming games, and pointing out text in the environment that we’re helping that wonderful vocabulary translate into actual reading.

My daughter is becoming more and more interested in text these days, and she is beginning to sound out words. This is wonderful to me, but it’s also logical. We’re practicing reading and phonics at home, and I’m pointing out text and encouraging her to work with it. Text has become something that stands out to her in her everyday life, so she’s interested. Would she be interested without such a focus on phonics? I suspect that there would be a lot less interest: although she was quite excited to write letters, she was not interested in reading them until we began focusing on reading.

What do you think? Does reading come naturally?