Before I had children I heard the arguments for not pushing children to read early (under 7ish) and it made a lot of sense to me. It was then that I began to familiarize myself with alternative schooling methods and since having children, I've read more and more on education. I definitely resonate most strongly with Waldorf methods. Ithat it is so rhythmic but unstructured, creative, and based in the seasonal year and celebratory stories. I love that imagination is always the primary source for the child's work (after all, it is from imagination that compassion springs and that is our ultimate goal for our children - that they are compassionate and courageous.) For me, the Waldorf method of education echoes what it means to be part of the kingdom of God. In other words, what it honors lines up with my understaning of righteous, which is to be in right relationship to God, others, self and creation.
But, this doesn't mean that I will do everything that is Waldorf (i.e. we have and will use books with text from birth) or that I don't admire and use methods and materials from other educational philosophies (Classical and Montessori mostly). This is the beauty of doing these early years at home, we can mesh together what works for each child and our family as we strive toward our educational goals and, more importantly, right relationships (which, I believe, are really what education is all about.)
I say all that to say to preface what I am about to share about early reading. I am forever coaching myself that I'm not parenting to my ideals, but to my child. I'm also not educating to any philosophy, but to my child. So while I think that it is fine and perhaps even preferable that children read later. Jonah is unique (just as every child is). He has slept with his current favorite book since he was eight months old. He spoke extremely early and has always been very focused on the cognitive and not as focused on other forms of development. When he was two he began to point out words in books and I did a few simple activities from the book Montessori Read and Write to help him learn letter sounds. It was just after two that he was given a couple workbooks and I haven't been able to keep him from them ever since. (I often set up an art project to have him come down from rest saying "oh, that's nice, but I really wanted to do my math workbook together.") Just after he turned three he said he didn't want to do reading activities, and as the activities were always child driven, we stopped (oh, I did make these gift words for story telling and he loved that). I had been reading more on Waldorf and thought "oh, maybe he will slow down and wait till later to learn to read." So while I knew he could read a few simple words and also knew that he 'read' in bed each nap and night on his own, I was still rather surprised when the day after his fourth birthday he began to read one of the new books he had been given (Frog and Toad).
Now, six months later he is reading lots and we've done very little in the learning process so far. How he reads is unique; I think it is based on both memorization of certain words, knowing some combinations of letters and then guessing. He reads very quickly because of this, but if he comes across a word that he can't read and isn't able to get enough context clues to guess, he can't sound it out very well. As he is most interested in reading encyclopedias, Eyewitness books, and the atlas (oh yes, he is so different from his mum) there are some mighty big words he is coming across and while he gets most of them (don't ask me how) I thought some intermediate phonics skills (letter blends) might help to curb frustration (he does want to read those words!) We've been backtracking and reviewing some more basic phonics to help with these 'mystery' words. I've been using the book Games for Reading, which I really like. It is very child led and playful and Jonah is devouring the activities, asking to play over and over and over. I'm having a new reading game available each week and if he is interested we play. Yesterday he wanted to throw a frisbee instead and that was great, but I'm letting him lead in his education right now and sometimes that means that he doesn't fit into schedules. But, that doesn't take away from the magic of these early years, it adds to the magic. I am watching my little boy unfold; not in the way I think he should, or the way any educational philosophy says he should, but in the way he, Jonah, should. And, to watch him unfolding is the greatest privilege.
The following photos are the game Chickens and Whales from Games for Reading. We were playing so much that I decided that contact paper and a storage envelope were in order... and then while Jim and I watched Star Trek one night I whipped up some little playing pieces too.