Rethinking Learning to Read:

The Challenge from Children Educated at Home

by Harriet Pattison £9.99 (inc UK pp) 212 pp

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Learning to read is considered to be a crucial step in any child’s education, and literacy is a central concern, not just for educators and parents but for politicians and wider society as well. Rethinking Learning to Read offers a unique contribution to the subject by investigating in depth, for the first time, how home educated children learn to read.

Based on an international sample of 311 families with a total of 400 children this book explores, the experiences of those who learn to read away from the mainstream school agenda. The results constitute a unique resource and insight into how children learn to read when not constrained by school methods.

A wide range of views and pedagogical attitudes are presented and considered from philosophical, psychological and practical points of view. The result is a provocative discussion of literacy built around the words of home educating parents as they describe their children’s experiences and deliberate themselves on how we understand learning to read. 

In so doing many normative assumptions are challenged including the necessity for age related achievement targets, the pursuit of a universal “best method” approach to reading instruction, a “building block” progressive approach, and the contention that children need to be professionally and actively taught to read. 

Through the analysis of parents’ experiences and reflections the authors begin work on the construction of alternative representations of what happens when a child learns to read.   

This book also has wider implications in understanding how learning takes place in the home, the relationship between teaching and learning and gives real insight to the phenomena that is home education.


Rethinking Learning to Read opens up new conversations about learning to read, inviting us to think about reading in different ways and challenging some of the normative assumptions we may have come to hold about reading and learning more generally. It has been fascinating to read the rich and diverse range of accounts of home educating children learning to read presented in the book along with the author’s philosophical reflections on the implications of these experiences.'

Emma Marie Forde, Rethinking Parenting Blogg Full review (PDF)

'The overriding impression left by this book is of how many ways there are to learn to read, how quickly it can happen once a child needs and wants to learn and how the age at which a child learns is of little or no consequence.'

by Hazel Clawley, CPE trustee, home educator and Adult Education Tutor (full review pdf).

"Pattison questions the fundamental nature of ‘teaching’ reading, providing a clear and accessible overview of the concept, acquisition and participation in learning. It is noted that within the system the acquisition of reading has become a ‘method’, a formulaic approach ‘one size fits all approach’ that sees a child failure to read as: the failure being with the child and not the method."

By Fé Mukwamba-Sendall, EO trustee, home educator and lecturer in Social work. (Full review PDF).

"What's most exciting about it is that by researching how home educated children learn she challenges many of our long held assumptions about children's learning in general, not just about their reading. And argues against formal instruction, citing examples of home educating families who actually found it detrimental to their child's learning.

The book explores different approaches throughout, giving examples of practicing home educating families and how their children learned to read. That in itself makes for fascinating reading.

However, the over riding message I've come away with is that there are many routes to reading success and these are rarely based in formal, graded instruction, but rather in the provision of an encouraging and and conducive climate, through strong relationships both between the learner and the people facilitating that learning, and between the learner and their own reading.

It also emphasizes the importance of recognising the individual. Each individual has their own idiosyncratic relationships with their own reading and this should be acknowledged and allowed, along with the relationships they have with learning in general. Just because everyone learns differently, does not mean either success or failure - just different!

In fact, it is the very diversity of experiences and individuals which demonstrated that, contrary to what we tend to think, children do not necessarily need a schematic, structured approach to learning to read.

Ironically in a book about reading, this research also upholds the idea that many home educating families already have discovered, that learning itself does not need to depend on the written word - there are so many other ways to learn.

There are far more elements to it than I've space for here. So do have a read of it. But I've been so excited by an academic book which actually contradicts much of what we thought was academically necessary for both learning to read and learning in general.

And that this research into home educating families approaches shows that education happens equally effectively without schools and without teaching in some instances.

I always said that homeschoolers were providing the proof that other approaches to education works just as well, along with challenging whether much of what children are subjected to in schools is necessary at all!

Ross Mountney

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