The ‘private worlds of independent reading’

Allie, who comments here fairly regularly, used the above phrase during a recent discussion on the desirability or not of getting children to read earlier rather than later. I found this very interesting. Much of the debate among home educators when it comes to reading, seems to centre around the academic advantages or not of reading at the same age as children generally do at school. I remember the owner of one of the major home educating lists remarking that he could not think why a child of seven would ‘need’ to be able to read. Alan Thomas evidently has the same attitude, talking in his books of the way that reading is necessary in schools to engage with the primary curriculum, but that this is not needed at home. He goes on to say, using a particularly ghastly piece of jargon:

Children may not perceive a need to read if they are busy with other things and have adults or children around who are willing to fulfil their literacy needs’

I have not the remotest idea what is meant by fulfilling ‘literacy needs’, unless he means people reading to a child. The very use of the expression ’literacy needs’ makes the thing sound like something tiresome which can be done of somebody else’s behalf to save them the trouble.

The fact of the matter is that listening to somebody read a story is a completely different experience from being immersed in a book yourself. One only has to watch a child who is deep in a book and then compare him with a child having a story read to him to see the difference. And both are vastly different from watching television or going to the cinema. These are not slightly altered versions of the same thing; they are completely different activities. The main reason that I got my daughter to read as early as possible was not so that she could engage with a primary curriculum! It was so that she could share in what is to me the greatest pleasure in my life. Reading is for me not a means to an end, although it is of course a very useful skill if you wish to get on in life. It is an end in itself; an activity, pastime or passion for which there is simply no substitute. I love the film of Gone With the Wind, but watching it is altogether separate from reading the book.

There is also a great difference between mechanical reading of the kind that we use when looking at the instructions on a can of soup and the sustained reading that we use when losing ourselves in a novel. It is rather like those three dimensional pictures which were popular a few years ago, which initially look like a random collection of dots. If you stare in the right way, they resolve themselves into solid images. This is what true reading is like. One stares at the page of little black squiggles and after a while they too resolve themselves into images and pictures. This experience is for me, far more gripping than gawping at the television or listening to somebody reading a story on the wireless. It was this that I wished my daughters to share and it was for this that I wished reading to become second nature to them from a very early age.

Talking of somebody fulfilling ‘literacy needs’ is so completely beside the point, that it makes me wonder whether or not people like Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison are even thinking about the same thing as me when they write about children reading!


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