Reading and Writing – a match made in linguistic heaven
Seems like I’ve had a spate (what a great word!) of emails asking about reading and writing, and the connection between these subject areas. So let’s tackle it.
Reading is the single most important part of your homeschool.
It matters not if your children read or you read to them. What matters more than anything is that they are repeatedly immersed in written language. (I’ll talk about learning to read in a moment.) Written language has its own cadence. It differs from conversation. Conversational language is stacatto, is inflected by facial movements and vocal intonations, is accompanied by body language and is contextual (often replying to words, ideas known to both speakers).
Written language can’t see your face, can’t hear your reactions. It takes nothing for granted. The whole world it seeks to share must be conjured by magic – the magic of words. Reading to your kids, ensuring that they read every day, does more to shape how they will write than any workbook, writing course, or curricula. I will repeat that because no one believes it on the first pass:
Reading every day is the best writing program you can “buy.”
So now we can talk about how and why it works. Language acquisition is largely intuitive. It comes from “hearing” and “mimicking.” When your kids learn to speak their native tongue, they are incorporating sounds, movements, intonations and facial expressions into their spoken words. We crack up as much at their surprising use of volume, deadpan humor, commands and sophistication at ages 2-3 as we do at their word choices. They combine so many different aspects of communication into their words that we hardly notice (they are hitting all the right intuitive strokes, and even risking a few that are beyond their maturity or grasp).
Written language functions in a similar way. The more you read, the more you become conditioned to detailed description, to housing your dialog in attributive tags, to building suspense, to attaching meaning to an idea through the use of metaphor. These “habits” are the intonation patterns of written language. They are as natural to natural writers as raising an eyebrow to convey suspicion is to native speakers.
However, you don’t see all the fruit of that reading in year one. Just like speaking takes at least five years to master sufficiently to be considered “fluent,” writing requires at least that long and then some, due to its unique delivery method (learning to manage a pencil and all the mechanics of writing is more challenging than syncing your tongue, teeth and vocal chords). So I say: give it ten years instead. Signs of mimicry will erupt sooner than that (and for those, be grateful!). Still, to become a fluent, competent writer takes ten years. Reading is essential for shaping the intuitive inner ear that tells the writer that he or she is speaking the right language.
So what if your child isn’t reading? We have three kids who read late: 8 1/2, nearly 9, and 10+. We had two early readers: 6 1/2 and 7. All five of them are avid, fluent readers now. In fact, I noticed that the reading of lengthy chapter books started at around age 11 with all five kids, no matter when they began reading. Our youngest read latest! Go figure.
Regardless of when they began reading for themselves, though, I have always read aloud to them. We’ve read novels, non-fiction books, the Bible, poetry, Shakespeare, comic books and picture books, websites, and instruction manuals. I used to read about an hour a day to them from a variety of sources. It’s the one thing we never failed to do.
So today, carve out that time. Put aside writing, spelling, even that essential math book. Read aloud today and every day.
Tell yourself that if you read to your children, you did homeschool them today.