This is something I seem to see parents worrying about sooo often... Parents of four and five year olds (both in and out of school) wring their hands and tear their hair out over the fact their children can't read. When I see this, I just shake my head, and feel bad for those poor kids!
There is such an industry built up around teaching kids how to read. So many programs, flash cards, DVD's, computer programs... I can't help but think that an awful lot of money must be wasted annually on something that really doesn't need any "teaching" at all, something that children will learn simply by spending time with literate adults.
I suppose my own family bought into this at first, as well. When I was first pulled out of kindergarten (my only experience with traditional schooling), my mother bought a program called Sing, Spell, Read and Write, and, though my memories of that are pretty foggy, I know I did it for a while, and managed to sound out words, but never finished the program. I don't remember ever being *forced* to do it (and my mothers memories match up with mine), no tears were ever shed over it, and it was simply forgotten about.
Now, I should point out at this point that my family is VERY big on reading. Bookshelves line every free wall in our house, filled with everything from sci-fi and fantasy novels, to cookbooks, to locomotive repair books, to encyclopedias, to natural health books, and a thousand other things. From the time I was tiny, the people around me, my parents, were regular readers. And from the time I was tiny, they read aloud to me. Poetry, the newspaper, picture books, you name it. Words were something I appreciated from a young age.
But I had no interest in reading myself for several years.
I don't remember precisely what age I was when I started to read, although I do remember feeling embarrassed in Brownies when I couldn't read. I also remember (or at least I think I remember-as I said before, a lot of these memories are rather cloudy) my mother calmly assuring some other mothers that I would read when I was ready to.
And, sure enough, she was right! When I was something like age eight or nine, my mother was reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my sister and I. But, well, she had things to do other than read, and if she read too long, her voice would get hoarse. So, being quite frustrated at how slow a process this was, and really wanting to know what happened next, I picked it up and began to read.
I haven't looked back since!
After that first Harry Potter book, I became a truly voracious reader. I went through countless novels, often two or three of them in the same day, just soaking up all the stories, characters, places. I truly fell in love with fiction. I also simply loved poetry, and memorized several fairly long poems in their entirety (most notably The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. After seeing the movie Anne of Green Gables, where part of that poem was recited, I just fell in love with it).
As for writing, well, since before I could read I'd been dictating simple poems for my mother to transcribe. And after I learned to read, I simply wrote more poems myself!
How I actually learned to write, the mechanics of it, grammar and sentence structure and all that, I have no real memories. I simply knew, I suppose, from reading so very many novels and poems! I've never been *taught* how to write in my life. Not one lesson from my mother. Yet I obviously learned...
I do remember playing spelling games with my sister, where my mother would say a word and both of us would try and spell it properly. This was always great fun to me!
So now, years later, I just get so frustrated when I see parents worrying and fussing over when their children will learn to read. So many teens, so many adults for that matter, hate reading. I firmly believe this is because it was forced. Things aren't fun when you *have* to do them. Reading, and writing, come so naturally, so organically, if only you're brave enough to take a deep breath, and let things unfold. I can see so many ways that things could have gone wrong, had reading or writing been made into Schoolwork (I know so many homeschooling families who make their children write a book report when they finish a book... Who would want to read a novel when you have that tedium waiting at the end of it??), that I'm forever grateful to my parents for fostering such a great love of words in both me and my sister. We love reading and writing precisely because those things have never been anything but joyful, even when it was hard (sometimes I have to push myself to write something I want to get written, but it's always worth it), because something you do entirely because you want to do it is inherently joyful.
So, I want to say to all those parents of younger kids, that you really, truly, don't need to worry about reading and writing. Read to your kids, enjoy reading yourself, and the rest will come! Your kids may or may not develop a passion for language, as that depends in large part on personality, as well, but I can't help but feel that they're so much more likely to come to love words, love the beauty of language, if they approach it in freedom!