Will He Ever Learn to Read?

When my children were young and we were unschooling, year after year would pass and my son was still not reading. To keep myself from worrying, I clung to a story of a boy who didn’t learn to read until he was thirteen. This boy (about whom I had read) spent his days fishing. Eventually he did learn to read and later became an engineer as an adult. Sometimes we need stories like that to remember when doubts and worry creep up on us. These stories help us hold our tongue when we feel like coercing our children into learning something they’re not yet ready to learn.

I’m writing this article for any parent who is interested in unschooling or anyone in the midst of experiencing child led education in their home… or for anyone who is worried about their child not learning some skill at the age in which the school system expects him or her to learn it.  I know some of you have your doubts or perhaps you’ve have in-laws or parents who are asking you when or how your children are going to learn to read. I want to tell you about my son in his journey to reading so you too will have a story on which to cling.

All three of my children taught themselves to read when they wanted to learn to read. They also taught themselves math… and I will definitely write those stories later.

Hopefully your child has better things to do than learn to read right now. I am SO thankful that my son did not read until he was eleven. He was doing things that are much more valuable than reading during his early years. He was creating all the time.

And I am convinced that there is a correlation between early reading and lack of creativity. I came to this conclusion from watching my kids and several other children. I don’t know which comes first. I am sure that the less creative kids get more attracted to books, so they are more motivated to learn to read early. But I also believe that they end up reading so much that their minds have less time for imagination.

Anyway, if you have a child who is not yet reading, savor this time. Once they start reading they lose some of their gift of creativity… their connection with their inner guidance is weakened. Not that they can’t get that back, but they’ll have to work at that and they might not do so for another 50 or 60 years. So cherish this time.

When my son was young, he was drawing, building things with his Legos and using his imagination all day long. And he was listening to really beautiful literature, not the kind they were promoting in schools and the library, but books with rich vocabulary and complex sentences with subtle meanings. We borrowed books on tape from some company that would send us the cassette tapes. We would return them by mailing them back. He would be in his room sometimes for several hours, listening to books on tape while building with his Legos. He also spent a great deal of time outside. And he had a good friend with whom he would play for long hours.

Often I skip an important part of this story. But with shame and embarrassment, I’ll tell you it now. I did what I will encourage you not to do. I buckled under the pressure of my kids’ grandparents who were afraid my son would never learn to read and, at some point during the years when other kids his age were reading, I tried to teach him to read. I am sorry about that now. I think the damage done was a little more than I can explain. But think of it this way: if you could teach yourself something, wouldn’t you rather learn by yourself? No one taught you to walk or talk.  Reading can (and I think should) be learned the same way.

I used to say that you cannot keep your child from learning to read, if you read. Now days, less people are actually reading, but almost everyone reads enough for their children to pick up the habit.

Fortunately, my son did not learn to read when I was teaching him. I didn’t know at the time that he had dyslexia and dysgraphia. We didn’t learn that until he was seventeen. I’m glad we didn’t know. I think it’s unhealthy to label children. Anyway, since I was getting nowhere trying to teach him, I just gave up, and he went back to using his imagination all day long.

Sometime during my son’s eleventh year, we bought our first computer, and pretty soon after that, he wanted to build a website. So the very first book he ever read, and the book that he used to teach himself to read, was on HTML. It was a very thick book, and he took it into his room, closed the door, and somehow taught himself to read it. Basically he was learning a different language (HTML) while he was learning to read. Then he built a website which was quite advanced; it did some of the things I didn’t see until years later on professional websites. And when he was thirteen, he built himself a computer out of scratch (not from a kit).

Also when he was thirteen, I kind of tested him (without him knowing it) and found out that he was reading at “college level”… I know, shoot me! You should never test your child. But he didn’t know he was being tested, and (because I did test him) you now know how quickly children can advance their reading ability when they are older. Keep in mind, that he had been listening to books on tape that were way above his “grade level”. So he was used to listening to a rich, mature vocabulary. And he wasn’t watching television (except for Bill Nigh the Science Guy) or playing video games.

My son now has a masters’ degree in International Business and a marketing job in Hong Kong. He earned two undergraduate degrees in four years, graduating with students his age. So don’t think learning later will keep your child “behind”. My son’s creativity (which was strengthened BECAUSE he didn’t read until “late”) and his social skills (which are outstanding BECAUSE he did not go to school) are what got him a good job in a very competitive job market.

I hope my son’s story helps you relax if you were worrying about your child or children learning to read. Some people say, “But, your son seems really smart”.  Well, he just wasn’t “dumbed down” by school or television. And let me ask you this: doesn’t your child or children seem really smart too? And don’t they seem really resourceful?  Remember you didn’t have to teach them to walk or talk. They can also learn reading without being taught …. unless they are often watching television or playing video games… In that case, they may not have the incentive to learn to read. Someday, in the not too distant future, no one will need to read. That may be the case when your children are grown. I don’t know.

I mentioned that all three of my children taught themselves to read. I actually taught myself to read too. I know this was very common historically. One of my daughters was reading chapter books by the time she was five years old, and my other daughter taught herself to read when she was almost nine. The one who learned to read later, just graduated (in four years with students her age) from a university ranked 27th by U.S. News Best Colleges. I think it’s better, for many reasons, for kids to learn later, but you can’t stop them from teaching themselves to read when they are ready, just as you couldn’t stop your child from learning to walk and talk. It’s just going to happen. And you wouldn’t want to deprive your children the opportunity to teach themselves.

Claire Timberlake, M.Ed.


How to Protect Your Child’s Brain

You are doing the best you can with your children’s health, but there is so much information out there! For the last 40 years, I’ve been studying from the most cutting edge leaders in health and wellness, and I keep learning more every day. I know you want to protect your child’s brain, but you are too busy to read everything there is on the subject. I’ll get right to the bullet points to make it easy for you. Click the links below if you want to learn more.

What’s UNhealthy for Your Child’s Brain:

Stress  (including too much exercise, too much work, worrying, depression, too much homework, pain, and inflammation)

Sugar  (including juice, corn, white potatoes, pasta, grains, tortillas, high glycemic fruits,…even too much protein and root vegetables turn into sugar)

Junk  (fast food, soda, chips, candy, most packaged foods, etc)


Endocrine Disruptors

Vegetable Oils 

Canola oil  It is everywhere, so read labels.


Early Exposure to Television 

Video Games




Cell Phones

Wi-Fi so turn off your router at night!

Tap Water

Bathing in unfiltered Tap Water

Bottled Water and other plastic containers

Toothpaste with Fluoride

Antibacterial Soap

Hand Sanitizers and Whipes

DDT (listen to this if you think your child has no exposure to it)


Unnecessary Antibiotics

Toxic Chemicals


Vaccine booster shots?

What’s Healthy for Your Child’s Brain:

Vitamin D  plus K2 (cod liver oil and grass fed butter)

Playing Outdoors


Being Read To by Parents

Sleep in a completely dark room

Fun, rest, love, hugs, physical exercise, mental exercise, thankfulness, appreciation, relaxation…

Fish Oil

Avocados and Coconut Oil

Grass-fed  Butter (Kerrygold)

Organic Food

Seeds and berries

Walnuts (raw and soaked)

Walnut Oil

Cruciferous and Green Leafy Vegetables

Fermented Vegetables

Good carbs (in small amounts):                                                             Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, yams, and Ezekial Bread

Plain Goat Kefir (sweetened with stevia)

Organic Goat Cheese


Raw Local Honey in moderation on special occasions



Claire Timberlake                                                                                   Holistic Health Coach


What Parents Can Learn from Muhammad Ali

In the 60’s and 70’s, Muhammad Ali seemed anomalous to me. I never saw Ali (or anyone else) box, but I saw glimpses of him on the news. Ali stood out in my mind because I had never heard anyone boast like that. Later, in the 90’s, when I was learning how to attract and manifest what I wanted in life, I learned how important it is to stay positive about myself. Ali was a master at that. And yesterday as I watched Remembering Mohammed Ali on PBS, I realized that he used a technique that I, and other life coaches, teach clients. Probably the first I heard of this technique was in Florence Scovel Shinn’s book, The Game of Life and How to Play It (published in 1925).

The technique I’m referring to is using rhyming to create the life you want. When you make an affirmation rhyme, especially if you are rapping it or singing it to a tune you enjoy, it’s amazing how powerful it becomes. You feel it more when you are having fun saying it over and over, enjoying how it resonates with you. And pretty soon, just as we saw in Ali’s life, your rhyme will come to pass… if you put actions behind your words.
I encourage parents to sing and rap positive rhymes in front of their children. Children learn from what you do, not from what you tell them to do, so I suggest parents create rhymes for themselves, not for their children.

But to allow your kids to get into the habit with you:

  1. Write out your rhyme at the kitchen table while your kids can see you in the process.
  2. Be where they can notice you when you are working to memorize your rhyme.
  3. Once you’ve got it memorized, sing it while you are doing the dishes or washing the car. Do this for yourself, but let them witness the process and hear you singing, rapping, or reciting your rhyme.

If you have young children and you keep singing a rhyme or two every day, until what you want manifests, your kids will follow suit. And they will begin a very productive habit. If your kids are teenagers, they’ll probably think you’re foolish but years later they might adopt the technique.

Ali’s rhymes were confrontational and probably more braggadocios than you care to sound. You might be more comfortable saying something like “I can do this” rather than “I’m the greatest” …. And I would suggest you keep the rhymes, your kids hear you sing, non-materialistic. To attract anything, you want, you need to raise your vibration. So I suggest you focus on being calm, thankful, happy, patient, and productive.

Here’s a simple sample for you to use or improve:
I am patient, productive, and kind.
I always take care of my mind.
I’m happy with all I do.
I’m thankful for my friends and family too.

Remember that affirmations are always positive and in the present tense. And they should make you feel good. If you don’t feel anything when you recite or sing your rhyme, change the wording.

I like to use tunes I know well and change the words. To the tune of “Our House” (by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) I might sing:

My life is a very, very, very fine life.
I’ve got flowers in the yard.
Oh how I love my yard.
And everything is easy cuz I’m true… to….my… heart.

What works for me, might not work for you. But what works for you, might sound good to your young child. The simpler the better. And remember, it’s not about teaching your child a rhyme. It’s about you using Muhammad Ali’s technique of rhyming to boost your confidence and make yourself feel calm and at peace. Confidence and a sense of peace will help you attract what’s best for you in life.

The other practice, at which Ali was a master, was following his heart and doing what his conscience led him to do, no matter what. Isn’t that what we want for ourselves and our children?

This little ditty might get you thinking of your own personal rhyme to help you, like the great Ali, be brave enough to heed your inner wisdom:

I follow my heart every day.
I don’t care what others say.
I do what is right for me.
That’s why I have good Chi.

Claire Timberlake
Life Coach
Holistic Health Coach
Author of Soul Secrets of Salsa

Children Need More Time to Play

When my children were young, they were “playing” all day long. I don’t think they thought of it that way, though. They were usually working on something. My son was building or drawing edifices or vehicles when young, building websites and a computer when older. My youngest was communing with plants and animals. She knew more botany than I did, by the time she was five, not from studying books, but from studying plants on her own, in her own way. My middle child was dancing around the house and reading beautiful literature, which is seldom read in shcools. Both of my girls took care of our housekeeper’s younger children, but an onlooker would say they were just “playing house.”

And several days a week, they’d have friends over and would play all day long and into the night.

Recently, when I was a speaker at the Life Without Instructions Conference in New York, I had the pleasure of conversing with Peter Gray, a soft-spoken genius who is doing the world a great service by speaking and writing about research indicating that children need more freedom in learning and life.

His article, The Decline of Play and Rise of Children’s Mental Disorders, will intrigue and reassure you if you are on the road to offering more freedom to your children. He talks about extrinsic goals vs. intrinsic goals. I know my children were always intrinsically motivated to learn. No one gave them any extrinsic reason to learn anything. They were just learning as they played.

You’ll undoubtedly enjoy Dr. Gray’s article. Save it to show the inlaws when you need to explain why your children’s freedom is good for them.

Enjoy Dr. Gray’s article here.