I have read several accounts of parents whose kids have learned how to read on their own. Some of these children began reading slowly while others took off quickly. As impressive as it may seem, I don’t believe that reading truly came as a natural ability for them. I absolutely believe that these parents feel that their kids learned how to read naturally, however, I don’t think they realize how much of a role they played in their children’s learning. While they may not have explicitly taught their kids to read, they certainly taught them implicitly. What I mean is that everything these parents did for their kids (some from the time they were born) helped to build a foundation that would later translate into them becoming literate. Many of these parents share how they would read books to their kids daily, track words while reading, discuss books, provide books and experiences with literature at home, model reading, take them to the library, and many other wonderful activities that expose children to the world of reading. Just because these parents didn’t sit down and provide their kids with formal lessons on reading doesn’t mean that they didn’t teach them how to read. These parents did amazing things for their children even if they don’t realize it! It is this type of parent that is often found behind a child that has learned how to read “naturally”. These kids are one extreme.
Let me give you an example of the other extreme, because some kids aren’t as lucky. I had the opportunity to work with a little girl that convinced me that reading does not occur naturally for everyone. She was an eleven year old girl that was raised by her illiterate grandmother in a small Central American country. Having never attended school, she came to me knowing nothing academically, and had absolutely no knowledge of the alphabet or numbers. Other than that, she was of average intelligence – she just lacked education. She never had anyone that read to her and had never even seen a book until moving to the US. She didn’t even grasp the concept that writing was a representation of the words we speak – she had no idea what those “black and white scribbles” were. Needless to say, she was a very challenging case.
Now most kids fall somewhere in between these two extremes. They probably have parents who read to them occasionally, are exposed to literature, and are aware of why the ability to read is important. Yet their daily modeling of reading may only include functional reading – such as reading menus, tv guides, signs, or other things that simply get people through the day. They may not have someone who emphasizes the importance of learning new things or who encourages them to read nonfiction just to learn about things that interest them. In my opinion, these kids would probably not be able to learn to read if left to their own devices.
I’ll assume that if you’ve made it this far in this article then you’re someone who enjoys reading for the sake of learning. If your kids are in the room while you read this, you are modeling for them right now. Congratulations! You are already taking steps to ensure that your children learn to read and will later read to learn!