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Learning to read naturally

by Beverley Paine

Kylie wrote: "I have a question about Learning To Read. ... when I come to completing my weekly journal entries the Language Arts KLA seems to be very light on and I feel as though I need to be doing more in that area. ... wondering what you suggest to do for pre-reading activities (apart from lots of read alouds in both chapter and picture books of which we already do.)"

Learning naturally has as it's premise the belief that children naturally learn whatever they need or want to... This means that the sorts of activities they learn from are those that are in some way essential to *their* lives. To help our children learn I find it useful to take a good hard look at how we, as adults, learn. This is one of the methods I used to learn how to be a better mentor/teacher/learner for my children.

When you want or need to learn something how do you go about it? List the different ways on a sheet of paper. Or say them aloud. You might pay more attention to your thoughts while walking or doing the dishes (moving your body). Paying attention to what is going on in our heads (mind/body/spirit can't really be separated, but it's easy to lump them all together in this way) is probably the most important part of the learning process. I believe two key components of paying attention are observation and reflection.

You'll recognise that you have a preferred learning style among the many different methods and tools you use to help you learn something. We rarely consciously examine this process so you might find this kind of examination difficult at first. Mostly we simply get on with the learning and don't recognise it or label it as separate from the business of learning whatever it is that is buzzing us at the time. Often we are driven by immediate need. Less often we are driven by more distant goals, although if we do have goals a lot of what we do each day moves us incrementally toward achieving them.

You'll also recognise that when you are intent on learning a particular skill (or knowlege) you are actually using and practicing many other skills and using a good deal of knowledge you've already picked up. Sometimes knowledge is consolidated. At other times it's challenged, reviewed and updated. Skills are honed - slowly! Learning happens in leaps, with long periods of consolidation (or apparent hiberation) and sudden bursts of energy that often lead to an 'aha' moment or three... Learning can be quick and easy, or hard and tedious with a great deal of boring repetition. Often it falls somewhere between those extremes and much of the time moves fluidly between them.

The wonderful thing about learning naturally is that when you are learning anything at all in one area of life you can't but help to learn in all the other areas as well! Naturally learning is essentially holistic.

We don't teach our children how to walk. We hold their hands while they practice how to walk. We don't say to them, "if you don't learn to walk now you never will and you won't be successful as an adult". We hold their hands or reach out to catch or steady them when they wobble. How can you 'hold your child's hand' with reading, or 'reach out' or 'steady' him when his attempts to read start to wobble?

Reading to children is essential. If everyone around a tot crawled on all fours then that child would grow up a crawler. Example is very important. Read often, read anything, show that reading is a natural and esential part of life and a child will soon want and need to read. Recognise that it is a complicated skill and may take considerable brain power to master.

This brain power is aided by lots of physical activity and very little actual reading practice. It's an obvious fact that the body and brain are linked but few educators really understand just how important movement is to brain functioning. It's said that children under the age of five learn more than they ever will again and I suspect that one of the reasons is that children under that age are unbelievably physically active. Running, jumping, hopping, skipping, singing, and laughing are the pre-reading skills I'd be emphasising.

Add fine motor skills, like building, cutting, pasting, stacking, knocking over, modelling, molding, designing, pulling apart, etc to this regime of physical activity. These are essential pre-reading skills.

Add a whopping daily dose of attentive conversation...

And reading will occur naturally in its own time.

Everything else we do is icing on the cake. Some people prefer not to make and eat icing and huge quantities of it will do harm. But little bits now and then are okay. I enjoyed making flash cards and preparing 'work sheets' for my children. I enjoyed manipulating letters into words and playing word games like scrabble with my children. I enjoyed scribing for them on their pictures and making simple books with and for them. I liked to play 'teacher': it was a fun game and sometimes I'd think it was effective but most the time I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that I was really only providing a layer of icing and that the children were the ones making the cake. Most of the time I didn't know what the cake looked or tasted like - that was a mystery to both me and the children. Now that the kids are grown up I can see that the cake was wholesome and nutritious. While they were growing up it was my job to provide the basic ingredients and trust in their ability to shape those ingredients into the kind of cake that would best serve their individual needs.

Although this hasn't been a list of tips and has delved into the philosophy of learning naturally, I hope it helps give a general direction you can follow when considering the issue of learning to read. There is a series of articles about learning to read on my website - look under Curriculum, go down to English and then Reading. These have been taken from my Practical Homeschooling booklet series.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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