Anna turned 6 at the end of April, and I should make it very clear that she is not reading. But she is definitely learning how to read, and since I am not teaching her (and neither is anyone else) I have the unique opportunity to observe how a bright, curious child learns to read without outside influence, overt coercion or adult interference.
To begin, Anna has been able to print her name and Holly's and recognize them in print since she was 3 years old. She can recognize them spelled either 'Anna' or 'ANNA', 'Holly' or 'HOLLY', although she typically prints using all upper case letters. She also consistently recognizes the words Jasmine, Mommy, Daddy, Earl, STOP, Barbie, Maya and love. She sometimes recognizes 'and' and 'the'.
When we are reading together (I read aloud to the children for 1-2 hours everyday) she has begun to ask me to point to the names of the characters. After I point to the words a few times, on subsequent pages she recognizes them by herself, and as I say that word she will point to it on the page and ask "Are you here?" She also always asks me to point to words that I have emphasized or read with added expression, and she is particularly interested in words that are onomatopoeia, such as tweet, bang, whack, thump, ding-dong, etc. And she always notices words that are spelled all in upper case and wants to know why they are written that way.
We are currently reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, the 4th book in the 'Little House' series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is our second reading of this novel, having already read the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th books during the winter. Each chapter begins with a single word in larger font in upper case letters, which Anna is very interested in. She asks me to tell her the word before I begin to read the chapter and then she says each letter and points to them. Now that we are at Chapter 10 (out of about 30) she recognizes the words Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and Carrie and if I use my finger to follow the words as I read aloud, when I pause she can read the familiar word at my finger tip.
I've also noticed that Anna has figured out that spaces separate words, not syllables. This is significant, since she used to mimic reading by using her finger and pointing to a new word for every syllable. She also knows that words always go from left to right across the page, and that we read from the top to the bottom before starting a new page and she has observed that each chapter begins on a new page.
Another interesting thing I've observed about Anna is that about a year ago she was very interested in printing words on pictures or cards or crafts that she had completed. She would frequently ask me to 'tell her the letters' or I would write them for her and she would copy them onto her paper. Lately though, she rarely prints any words (although she draws and colours for at least 2 hours every day and her fine motor skills are extraordinary). This indicates to me that her brain is really focused on reading at this time. So although reading and writing are considered to be two sides of the same coin, they are not necessarily learned naturally at the same time.
I am finding this process to be fascinating. I answer all her questions and I don't teach or try to push her beyond where she is in the many steps towards learning to read. I have embraced the philosophy that children who are raised in a literate culture will learn to read and write, much as children who are raised in an ambulant culture will learn how to walk. But this is the first concrete evidence I have seen that it is entirely appropriate to trust children to learn. I feel entirely affirmed by my observations of Anna's developing literacy, and I will continue to document her progress.