How DO Unschoolers Learn to Read?

How Do Unschoolers Learn to Read

Many parents are shocked to discover that kids really don't need a lot of teacher-driven, meticulously planned out curriculum in order to learn to read.

Kids learn this skill in much the same way they learned how to walk and talk and eat: they lived in an environment that supported that skill being developed and, when their brain was ready, they did it.

Ready to find out more?

This Guide WILL Help You!

If you're worried about how your child is going to learn how to read without curriculum,
this full color 20-page mini-magazine is what you're looking for.

  • Learn about how to create a literate environment within your home.
  • Conquer your own fears about how unschooling can work with reading
  • Read the most cutting edge research about how kids actually learn how to read
  • Discover SO MANY practical tips to make learning how to read a smooth process for your child

Inspiration     |    Tips    |   Guidance

Unschoolers' Experiences

I'd love to collect stories from unschoolers about how their child learned to read without curriculum.

Here are a few stories of unschoolers and their learn-to-read journeys:

Who Will Teach My Child to Read?... Sue Patterson

Learning to Read By Backing Off! ... Rebecca Taberski

Late Readers ... Paula Sjogerman

Please share your family's story in the comments!

9 thoughts on “How DO Unschoolers Learn to Read?

  1. Lori says:

    I have a son with autism that is 11 and I never pushed reading with him. All the sudden he just reads signs and notes. Surprised us all. They just see words and learn them!!!!

    • Sue Patterson says:

      I love that! When the brain is ready, it moves forward! Thanks so much for sharing this, Lori! Lots of parents worry when their kids have special needs. Your comment will be reassuring to them, I’m sure! 💜

  2. Kathryn says:

    My oldest daughter learned how to memorize things before she learned how to read. She didn’t know her alphabet but she could repeat back paragraphs word for word. She started reading around age 9.

    Her sister was very interested in writing and would dictate stories to me to write down and then she’d illustrate each page and I would read them to her. She also liked to make name tags for animals in minecraft and would ask me how to spell various names so she could type them out, and also ask me to spell words for signs in minecraft. She was a little more private about reading in front of me, but it was around 8 or 9 when she seemed fluent and comfortable reading anything. She also enjoys writing stories now, but doesn’t need me to transcribe them anymore.

    Their younger sister was very annoyed that they could read and she couldn’t, and she would sit and try to sound out children’s books and “read” them to her younger brothers. She listened to lots of audiobooks, and we always have subtitles on when the TV is on, but I don’t really remember exactly how she started reading, just that she was shy about it around 8, but was coming and telling me about library stories we had checked out that I hadn’t read to her.

    Their brother is 6 at the moment. We read lots together and he asks me to type things into his Minecraft inventory so he can find things. He asked me to teach him how to read, casually, hoping it was a fast and easy thing, and is happy to sit and listen to me read. He likes books where the print is part of the pictures or stands out sometimes (Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty) so that he can point out phrases that catch his eye and ask me what they say.

    The other two (currently 2 and 5 months) like to listen to short stories and chew on the book still. 😉

    Learning to read has been similar for 3wch of the kids, although the specific ways they learned were based on their individual interests.

    • Sue Patterson says:

      Isn’t it fascinating how different kids approach this idea of learning to read!? Thanks so much for sharing the specifics for your own kids’ journeys to reading, Kathryn! I think it will help a lot of people break away from the one-size-fits-all approach!

  3. Lisa Meier says:

    We’ve always had loads of books around, and weekly trips to the library are still part of our rhythm. My kids have often asked me to teach them to read, but I have found the process of practicing sounding out letters to be painful! Usually I left them to their own devices letting them know what the word said if they asked etc. My oldest decided to read Farmer Boy even though I would’ve thought it was too hard for her, and she persevered a suddenly I had my first “reader.” The others read/looked at comics and graphic novels for a long time until one day they noticed they could read anything. My third child was always frustrated that she couldn’t read, until it clicked (I don’t even know when that happened) she’s now my most voracious reader going through big chapter books every few days. It’s fun to watch the reading process come to them, when their little brains are ready and they’re keen.

    • Sue Patterson says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your kids’ paths, Lisa! Isn’t it interesting how brains work? Parents (me included!) want so badly to see what’s going on and/or know what to offer that would be helpful. But we can’t peer into their little heads and know what’s going on. Another reason to stay supportive and remain trusting in their inner workings! Thanks again, for leaving a comment! 💛

  4. Christine says:

    Each of my children had a very different experience. My oldest daughter has always loved books. She was motivated to learn – everything came together for her when she was 8 yrs old and attending a Steiner school while we lived in New Zealand.
    My son attended the same school until he was 8, but he had no interest in learning how to read. At 10 yrs old he wanted to know everything he could about American football, so reading became a priority . He also realized his internet searches were mostly worthless if he couldn’t spell the names of the teams and cities, so he would have us quiz him on that.
    My next daughter was the first one to have no formal schooling, and I stressed out about finding the best curriculum for her. While I was deciding, she got tired of waiting and taught herself to read with Dr. Seuss books. That experience helped me switch from homeschooling to unschooling 🙂
    My youngest has had the most difficulty with reading. She was motivated at about 5 yrs old, but couldn’t bear to make a mistake as she learned, so she progressed very slowly. As time went on it was hard to watch her comparing herself unfavorably to neighborhood kids much younger who were already reading. It was only somewhat comforting for her to be told that everyone learns in their own time, in their own way. It took until she was 12 yrs old for her feel confident in her abilities – she started getting a lot of practice reading the subtitles on Korean-language YouTube videos.
    I really had to take a deep breath and keep my own expectations in check when it came to two of my children not sharing my love of being transported and transformed by literature. For them, reading is much more utilitarian. Being open to the idea that they are transported and transformed by other experiences has been a big part of my own education 🙂

    • Sue Patterson says:

      Thanks for sharing these descriptions of your children’s experiences with reading, Christine! Isn’t it interesting how so many of these youngest kiddos in the family have such a hard time? Mine was similar. I’m now on the lookout to see if this is happening in other families with multiple kids.
      Thanks again! 🌻

  5. Missy says:

    Hi! My daughter was 5 when we took her out of school. She was still learning phonics then.
    I read to her a lot, short books, picture books, longer books… She enjoyed playing Reading Eggs on and off for a couple of years – I had suggested it with no pressure to complete lessons or play regularly.
    I read a lot for pleasure, so she would see me engrossed in a book now and then.

    I realised that she could read when she was 7. She was perusing a magazine while lounging on the sofa! It was a real wow moment, when I realised that unschooling really does work – she had no pressure and yet still learned to read because she wanted to. If ever I have a wobble when I feel that I’m not teaching her enough, or she isn’t hitting classic milestones, I remind myself of this.
    I continued reading to her until she was 11, she particularly enjoyed Harry Potter. She reads for pleasure too now, and loves the Warrior Cats series.

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