One of the Inevitable Questions you'll get as an unschooling parent is "But how will your child EVER learn to read, if you're not teaching them?".
The answer is actually quite simple: a child in a written culture will learn to read - and write - just as he or she learned to walk and talk. By being exposed, we soak up and integrate that this is an essential skill.
But often, this answer proves to be quite unsatisfactory. We've all been so indoctrinated to think that reading and writing needs to be taught. Heck, we've all been taught reading and writing ourselves, when we were little? Or haven't we?
First of all, I want to address teaching reading to children. Many of us who have been taught to read in school, could actually read before this skill was introduced. I could read when I was four, in several languages by the time I was a little over five. I - and children who can read before teaching occurs in the regular curriculum - was an early reader.
Natural reading, as it occurs with children who are unschooled, happens between the age of 4 and 14.
With reading being taught at about 6 (but earlier and earlier nowadays, called reading readiness *sigh*), you can quickly see that this does not come at the right time for most kids. Hence, lots of kids having to "catch up", getting extra lessons and what not. And the early readers, being bored and frustrated, because they're ahead and don't understand why there's so much emphasis on a skill they already master. SO already at this early age, you get division and people falling out of the boat - either way.
But back to the question: "How do kids learn to read".
As I described in an earlier article, learning isn't linear. As an unschooling parent, you won't know where exactly your child is in the learning curve of reading. It doesn't easily build up one block on top of the next. You might at times think your kid is nearly there, and then the next week, they don't seem to remember anything or aren't the slightest bit interested. That's ok, that's how natural learning occurs.
Children have very diverse approaches to learning, and the same goes for reading.
My daughter is now close to 8 and can't read. Not in the way we intend with mastering the skill of reading. She does recognise letters, she can spell out words, she can write some letters. But her interest rises and wanes...
She's also highly perfectionist, and prefers to hide her learning as long as she doesn't really master it. She'll get frustrated at doing writing or reading related exercises, even though she's interested, but because in doing so, she shows she isn't there yet.
Another child might actually like reading exercises and follow a more comprehensible path. And yet other kids just pick up a book and begin reading.