All Children Learn to Read Without Direct Instruction

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Worried that your child is not reading yet?  Tried phonics? Tried Whole language? Tried APPs?  It is not your child’s fault or your fault. It is because your child’s brain needs time to mature.

Learning to “crack the code” in reading, is a developmental task that all children accomplish on their own, much like toilet training, learning to walk, and learning to talk, without direct instruction, when their brain is ready and coordinated to work in conjunction with other parts of the brain to accomplish the task. The parts of the brain involved in language processing are the Occipital Lobe (seeing), the Parietal Lobe, and the Temporal Lobe, which begin working together to decipher sight words and sounds at the beginning of what is traditionally called Kindergarten in school. Because this happens from ages 4-12, which is a normal range, when most children are in school, most people think children learn to read in school because their developmental mastery happens to take place during the same time as the school grades of 1-6. Most people assume it is a skill that is taught, by teachers, rather than a developmental leap of brain connections that occurs naturally in a stimulating environment.

Our world today is so full of words, whether from street signs, screen advertising, to radio and media and printed material. One can’t escape the printed word!

The bottom line is that reading will happen when it happens. We know now that no baby walker is going to help a child walk before they are developmentally ready, (and thus, they are now banned in Canada due to their danger), and we also know that no amount of direct instruction is going to help a child’s occipital lobe, temporal lobe, parietal lobe, and frontal cortex work together to read words before it’s time.

Your job is to cultivate a love of reading and enjoyment of the written word and all children will learn to read eventually! Have an environment rich in the printed word such as a variety of board, picture books, novels, graphic novels, non-fiction, reference books, story books and cartoons for your child. These can be digital or paper-based or even auditory (great for vocabulary). Curl up on the sofa with your child cuddled near and read to them or have them sound out words if they want. Let the child lead! It will come!

Why are some adults illiterate? It could be an undiagnosed learning challenge or sight problem. It could be a lack of books in the home for the child to enjoy. For evidence of a child’s brain ability to crack the code, look at the hundreds of thousands of kids that self-direct their learning and all have learned to read by age 12. Without a teacher. Perhaps someday…someone will do a research project on this!


About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
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11 Responses to All Children Learn to Read Without Direct Instruction

  1. Callie Finley says:

    I’m very curious how this thought process can work with a child who is dyslexic. From my understanding a dyslexic person will not just learn to read on their own. They must have some specific intervention and instruction. I am willing to hear information to the contrary though.


    • Not sure about children who are dyslexic. My experience is with neuro-typical child development. Again, we need more research as more and more children are learning outside the classroom.


    • Jennifer L. says:

      One of my grandfather’s brothers had dyslexia and he made it through 10th grade before giving up on school and instead got a job in the restaurant business. Because he could not read and could not write well, he had developed an amazing memory to avoid “looking stupid.” He would not be challenged on his intellect because he could not perform the same way as other kids. However, he developed a system of survival and memorized orders, and used tally marks for math. He basically invented his own system. At 78, he still cannot read and does not desire to. He listens to all kinds of podcasts and is interested in all kinds of things. While that may not work for everyone, kids with dyslexia will find a way (if we adults do not stand in their way and call them stupid for not jumping through hoops). There is a thoughtful Indian movie about a boy with dyslexia (Aamir Khan is in it, but I do not know the name of the movie).


    • The post is more about neuro-typical kids.


  2. Fiona says:

    Lol, my toddler taught himself to read – at 2 years of age – from pointing to car rego plates everywhere we went and asking, “what does that letter say?”


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