9 minute read

This is my article I have written over the last few months, about my reflections and remembrance of my experience living and learning to read. As I am an unschooler who has learnt this skill outside of the mainstream schooling system, I understand that my situation may not be the most common. So I hope my story can be interesting or helpful to those who hear it. 

My Perspective Toward Reading As I Was Growing Up? 

From a young age I understood the sounds of every letter, but it would take me a lot of time to read a word, and I could often sound out the letters but I wasn’t able to easily understand how the sounds made words. I am, and have always been a very visual person, and so I would always prefer experiencing, and seeing. Watching something happen, pictures over words, listening over reading, acting over rather than just imagining. My mother always encouraged reading and my older sister is and has always been a bookworm since I could remember. From when I was little I always loved to make up stories in my head, I would imagine myself as a superhero, and give myself my own made up powers. I’d create countless stories in my mind, where some I lived in places that could never exist, and others I knew secrets about the world no one did. 

I always visualize the things I do, I play things out in my mind before I do them, I see myself doing what I’m about to do, or picture the things I am thinking about. I love to create my own fictional things, and bring them to life, whether that means drawing them, writing about them, or physically acting them out. When I was younger, the thought of staring at the pages of a book sounded dreadful. I would’ve preferred to stare at a plain colour and make up something in my mind based off of that colour, rather than read a book, especially not one that had no pictures, no visuals or colours. I never minded not being able to read books, especially the books that had pictures, it meant I could use the pictures to make up my own story, and imagine it as what I would have liked it to be. 

This may not all seem directly linked to reading, but these things for me, are the reasons I didn’t feel the need to read. Or why I thought reading was unnecessary for the longest time.

Age I Started Reading? 

As I explained earlier, ‘I could sound out letters’ from an early age, but to answer the actual question I’d say at  around age 10-11 I started reading a lot more. When I was suddenly able to fluently message my friends, I was overjoyed, and super motivated to write to them and to read their responses. Because of that, being able to just have a simple conversation over text, really helped me improve my reading and writing/spelling. Talking to my friends over WhatsApp was the most helpful thing not just to help me read but also to help me learn to write/spell. It was very motivational as well. Before that, if I was going on with my day and I found a word I couldn’t read or something I was only partly interested in, I would give up pretty quickly, because it was never that important. But, if my friend sent a message with a word I couldn’t understand,  I would try in so many ways to figure out what the word was. And if I couldn’t figure it out using  my tactics (I had created many), I would often go up to my mom or older sister and ask, “What is this word?”. Similarly, when I was writing a message, I would ask how to spell words I was unsure about. The more I read, the more words I picked up, and the more I picked up words the more I was able to write and articulate myself better. Technically I was reading from about 6, but those were very simple words, and I never got very invested in reading then. 

What Was My Process? 

The process in my mind was simple, I just read, and I wasn’t good at it, but overtime “Practice made perfect” that’s just what I thought. But when I try to think about it from the ‘outside’ I guess it was just literally jumping into it and continuously trying and trying. And then slowly slowly, it became easier and easier. But me being able to talk to my friends was such a strong motivation for me, as I value them so much, even though they live far away. Being able to talk to them was one of the things that made me super happy, and kept me motivated to keep reading or trying to read the words in their messages that I couldn’t understand. And they were the motivation that actually got me into reading and were enough motivation not to move away when it felt hard. There were times in the past when I tried reading for many other reasons, whether that was just wanting to be able to read, or feeling pressured into needing to read, but those times, I never had the right type of motivation for me to actually persist. 

What Do I Think Helped Me Learn To Read? 

I can’t tell you that, I don’t exactly remember. I believe there probably were small things that helped, but nothing stood out to me when it comes to reading. I believe my friends being my motivation was the most helpful thing, because the times I tried with motivation that came from others and not myself I didn’t get far, but when I had my own motivation, in my case: reading meant being able to speak to my friends, I went far. I am also not saying I didn’t have setbacks or periods where I felt uninspired. When there were strong reasons I wanted to read but sometimes there were just periods I didn’t feel like it. Over time my reasons to read have changed, and the things I have read and know of inspire me to continue.

Did I Feel Any Anxiety Before I Started Reading – External Pressure 

Simple answer: Yes. I did. The fact that since I was 6 everyone around me was learning to read if not already reading. From things like sports and other activities I did when I was younger, I always felt some pressure. It came from the other kids asking how I would learn to read or how I literally live without being able to read, because it’s a basic thing every human ‘hasʼ to be able to do right? It came from other parents looking almost concerned when they heard that I couldn’t read and being shocked that a person of my age couldn’t do a “simple thing” like reading. 

And yes, my family sometimes made me feel like there was pressure to learn to read. Intended or not, it existed. There were times when my mom would take us to the library and we got to choose three books which was a nice way to get to read different books besides the ones at home. But sometimes it felt like I was being pressured into reading through it. Like I was being forced into reading when I really didn’t want to. Although I do understand that was also quite in my head, I also know it came from the general pressure I felt was always there. 

I often felt like I needed to read, for all the other reasons that didn’t come from me. The fact that my mom and sister both spent a lot of time reading and encouraged me to read, was pressure in it’s own way. But don’t get me wrong, my mom also read to my siblings and I a lot. I remember a time when I was younger, when my mom would read every night to my older sister and I a chapter from a book we had chosen.  

Did I Feel Any Pressure From Myself To Start Reading? 

Coming back to my older sister, she was a bookworm, and I remember details like, when she was in Grade 1 of school, she was reading books for the Grade 3 and 4 students because she enjoyed it and was so good at reading. She was constantly reading. Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t have her head stuck in a book 24/7, but she would read a lot in my eyes and sometimes go through a large book series in a very short amount of time. Which always wowed me. And partly made me feel like I needed to one day have the ability to do the same if I wanted to. That caused a lot of self imposed pressure, as there was this older sibling who was the opposite of me and was so good at reading. This together with the reasons I stated previously are how I would sometimes pressure myself into reading.  

I felt pressure constantly to learn to read. I had my ups and downs. Sometimes the pressure felt very compelling and became motivation for a while. But it was never enough for me to actually read because the desire did not come from myself but from others opinions or actions that made me feel I needed to. There were also times where it just didn’t bother me at all because my requirements didn’t feel limited by the fact that I couldn’t read, therefore I felt no need to learn something that was irrelevant at that time.

How Do I Engage With Reading Now? 

I also feel like if I learnt to read earlier in life or read because I was forced to, it could’ve ruined the amazing relationship I have with reading now.

KhadeeJa AsVat

I read a lot in my everyday life. I can’t say what I specifically read everyday, as I am someone who goes through a lot of phases with reading. I always enjoy reading fiction or realistic stories. I also usually end up reading a lot of random articles, whether they are about things I find intriguing, discoveries that are being made or just things I am passionate about and love. I love reading poetry! Some things never change though, and even though I love reading poetry, I personally prefer Slam Poetry as hearing someone speak is more meaningful to me. I read a lot today, and I find it so weird if I had to imagine a day today without reading as it is such an important thing to me now. But I also feel like if I learnt to read earlier in life or read because I was forced to, it could’ve ruined the amazing relationship I have with reading now.

Advice To Parents With Young Children? 

Everyone is different. Everyone has a different pace. And everyone, if given the freedom, will learn what they need to, in the time they need to. You need to trust your children. Trust that they will naturally come to learn the skills that will be important in their lives, when it is important. I know you value reading so much and understand the ‘importance’ of it. I have stated as well how much reading can bring, but I also went years of my life without it, and I don’t regret anything. 

You can try to encourage your child to read, as sometimes they do need it, but listen to their reaction? Were they interested? Were they rejective? Did they just not care at all? Did they care a lot? And then choose how to move forward from there. Read to your child if they enjoy it, share with them the wonderful things you’ve found and do it in a way where you are merely just sharing with them. Remember that learning to read is not the same for everyone, and you could be surprised by the different ways or way your child ends up learning to read. And if they do want your help, give it! 

Respect their process. They will lose interest sometimes, or go through phases of having no interest at all. Know that ‘taking a break’ doesn’t mean giving up, and that it’s okay. And remember that you can learn together with them. You don’t have to be a teacher. You can be a partner. 

Personally I felt a lot of pressure at points in my journey. And in those moments where I really wanted to read but couldn’t, that pressure wasn’t helpful, and often made me feel bad about the fact that I couldn’t read. Although it is a worry about if or how long it will take till your child learns to read, remember that your words and actions even if indirect, can affect them. But just as you can affect someone in a negative way, you can also affect them in a positive way, by doing things like reading for your child when they want to know something or just to be read to. It can support them and make them feel they’re allowed to take their time. Because they are allowed to take their time. And it’ll let them know that you’ll be there to read for them until they learn to read themselves. So be aware of your actions. 

Three last words. 

Trust: Trust your child to find their way. 

Observe: Observe that your child may be learning in ways you may not expect. 

And lastly, Support: Support them through their process, whether that means needing your help or it means they want space to figure things out by themselves.

Advice To Young Children Not Yet Reading? 

I hope my story has been helpful to you in some way or another. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed it or found it interesting. Trust yourself. I don’t believe you need advice, I know you’ll figure it out if you need to! Don’t be scared to ask for help, or say when you’re not interested or uncomfortable. Just live your life and if things need to happen trust that they will in their time. But you should take initiative if you want them to happen. Don’t compare yourself to others and remember everyone is different. Sometimes it feels crappy not being able to do something that so many others can do. But you are you. You are normal. It’s okay if you sometimes feel crappy. You’ll get to learning whatever you need in your own time, which will be the right time for you. Because everyone learns at their own pace. 

So one of the most important things when I started this, was that when this article was published there would also be a vocal recording of me reading it out loud. Because I always prefer to be able to listen to things rather than read them. So I am doing exactly that. I hope that if you listened to this you found it helpful, reassuring or just interesting. 

Anyways, thank you for reading or listening if you are. Peace. 

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