“We cannot separate skills and acts, and we make a disastrous error when we try. Talking is not a skill, or a collection of skills, but an act, a doing. Behind the act there is a purpose; whether at two or ninety-two, we talk because we have something we want to say, and someone we want to say it to, and because we think or hope our words will make a difference.
The baby who begins to talk, long before he makes any sounds we hear as words, or even understands words, has learned from sharp observation that the sounds that bigger people make with their mouths affect the other things they do. Their talk makes things happen! He may not know exactly what, or how. But he wants to be a part of that talking group of bigger people, wants to make things happen with HIS voice.
In the same way, walking is not a skill, but an act, with a purpose; the baby wants to move as he sees the bigger people moving, and quickly and skillfully, like them.
Reading is not a skill, but an act. The child sees written words all around him; he sees that the older people look at those words, use them, get meaning from them. Those words make things happen. One day (if we give him a chance) he will decide that he wants to find out what those words say and mean, and that he can and will find out. At that instant, and with that decision, he begins to read. Not to “learn to read,” but to read.
Of course, at first, he doesn't do it well. He may not even be able to read one word. But if he is allowed (as few children are) to continue to DO it, to seek out in his own way and for his own reasons the meaning of written words, with only as much help as he may ask for; if this task which he has set himself isn’t taken from him and replaced with a lot of fragmented and meaningless tasks invented by someone else and done on their command; if he is not convinced by adults (as many children are) that he is not able to do this task he has set for himself, to figure out what written words say, but must “get” reading from a teacher as a patient gets a shot from a doctor; if he is very lucky, and none of these bad things happen, he will be reading well in a short time, perhaps even in a matter of months.”
Instead of Education by John Holt