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Learning to read: full sentences and whole books

It’s one thing to hear stories about kids who learn to read by themselves, without use of any particular method. Observing it in your own house is something else.

Anna could read simple words in Dutch and Russian about a year ago. Don’t ask me how it happened.  I guess it was a magic mix of personal drive and having right resources around. She made words with magnetic letters, looked at the alphabet posters around, sang ABC song and played iPad apps making words puzzles and tracing letter outlines.

Full sentencesOnce we saw that she got the trick of making a word from letters, we tried to go further with beginners’ books, those with three word sentences, short words and no capitals. No way – she just didn’t find it interesting.

Then was a new phase, “reading” along the books that she practically knew by heart. While reading Russian version of Gruffalo I had to stop in specific places, so she could read. With other books she would often ask where I was reading and I had to follow the words with my finger.

In autumn she could read a few of the books she knew well. The sweetest one was reading for Emily her favorite, Olifantje Olaf:

Het olifantje Olaf
zat puffend in de zon
ik wou dat ik nu heel snel
de koude sneeuw in kon.

Toen pakte hij zijn spullen
en ging meteen op reis
naar verre, koude oorden
op zoek naar sneeuw en ijs.

And then, in January, we found out that Anna could read (and write) full sentences – not those in familiar books, but new ones. I guess writing back and forth with papa on Skype while we were in Russia, as well as reading instructions in her drawing books, helped to make this leap.

Reading AVI-3 level bookThen she would practice – reading funny combinations from cut-up sentence books, a few sentences here and there, things written on street signs and papers laying around in the house, or those that I would type on the computer. Until one day a couple of weeks ago I found her reading AVI-3 level story (this is Dutch reading level after about 12 months of formal reading instruction).

So I guess now we can celebrate that she reads. I wouldn’t say that it all came out of nowhere – we read together, we use written language, we have books and other reading materials at home, we give reading attention and we facilitate the process. But we don’t have reading targets, we don’t use specific method and we don’t have formal reading instruction…

Learning to read is a big milestone in our society. Witnessing how reading can come without formal instructions is magical. In a sense it’s a way more magical then witnessing first steps of a child – because it shows that learning that comes from within can go way beyond our expectations. Especially if we let expectations go and let it unfold while holding the space and giving a hand when needed.

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