John Holt on Learning to Read

From Learning All the Time:

There are two diametrically opposite ways of opening to children the world of books. One was is to start them with the names and sounds of individual letters, then with small words, then with small groups of these words joined to make small sentences, then with small reading books, and then other books, each a little harder than the one before, until the children supposedly have enough reading skills to read any book they want. The trouble is that by this time most of them wouldn’t care if they never saw another book in their lives. Gaining entry into the world of books this way boils down to surmounting a long row of obstacles, each a little larger than the one before, or going through a series of locked doors that open only when you say the correct password, only to lead you, of course, to still another locked door.

The other way of opening the world of books to children is the way it has been done for Anna. The world of books was first opened to her, she became a citizen of it, when for the first time she clutched a book in her hand and thought, “This book is mine!” Instead of beginning with a tiny idea, the sound of a letter, she began with a big and important one, that books belong to people and could belong to her. In time she filled in this big idea with smaller but still large ideas: that books have stories locked in them, that they have written words in them, and that the stories are somehow contained in the words, so that somehow figuring out the words is the key to unlocking and taking possession of the stories, and that these stories can be shared with, given to, other people.

4 thoughts on “John Holt on Learning to Read”

  1. I love that. I learned how to read by having a mother who read to me- every day. Now doing the same with my daughter.

  2. My mother got me reading though a very effective—and simple—means: she read to me, got me addicted to stories, and then, in the middle of a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ book (no, she didn’t worry too much about starting with ‘little kids” books and the like once I could read), told me that if I wanted to know how the story ended, I’d have to read it myself.

    I haven’t stopped reading since.

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