“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents” –Emilie Buchwald
I wrote in my last post on understanding unschooling that we are leaning towards choosing this path of education for our children. There has been some resistance and uncertainty on my part given my background and training as an educator. I have learned from meeting various homeschooling families that when kids are pulled out of the school system to become homeschoolers there is an important period of deschooling that takes place. Given that my children have never been enrolled in school, they will not need to readjust their ways of experiencing learning. Instead, I am the one going through the deschooling process. After obtaining a Masters in education and teaching in the public schools before my children were born, I am having to readjust to this new lifestyle of learning. For the most part, it is an easy lifestyle to embrace because the results are positive and rewarding; for my children and myself. But there are still a few areas of their education that I am resisting letting go to natural learning and one of those is their literacy development. I disagree with schools’ approach to reading instruction in that they force a one size fits all perspective and anyone who falls above or below that standard is considered off track. As my fellow homeschooling friend and blogger wrote about this week, schools are pushing for this sameness among students that leave them feeling inadequate when they do not achieve milestones at the same time. Just as learning to walk and talk, the age at which children are ready to read varies greatly. Some kids can read as early as 3 and I have heard stories of other homeschooling families whose children didn’t read until as late as 10 or 11. In a homeschooling environment, these later readers do not prove to be at a disadvantage in their education nor do the precocious readers guarantee they will always be ahead of the game. Everyone is on his or her unique path and there should be no right or wrong age for reading. I say this because I am working really hard to internalize that idea. As a teacher, that is not what I was made to believe. I have since changed my opinion, but for some reason it is taking a little while to deschool and shake those false beliefs.
I mentioned in my last post that when we started homeschooling I was all schedules and lesson plans. With this came what I know of teaching literacy which includes phonics, sight words, word walls, etc. Big Brother began showing all of the reading readiness signs around his 4th birthday. He had a strong sense of phonemic awareness and could recognize all letters, he had a collection of sight words under his belt, and an understanding of basic print concepts. He even demonstrated the sensory-motor reading readiness signs such as prolonged attention span, ability to balance and skipping. I took all this to mean he was ready to learn to read. I spent years helping kids learn how to read in the classroom and I thought to myself: I got this! So, I began formal instruction with him for about 15-20 minutes a day. Yet, just as with all of my other attempts at formal instruction, he was totally psyched at first, but quickly lost interest and resisted. Frustration set in on my part and his and I decided to back off and re-evaluate.
Enter my recent exploration of natural learning: I decided that even though he was checking off all of the boxes for reading readiness and by my public school training standards he was ready to read, I had to remind myself that he is almost 5 and there is absolutely no rush. And from what I have learned through researching unschooling, the motivation must be intrinsic for it hold any real learning value. The last thing I wanted to do was make reading a chore because then I risk killing his natural drive for reading. So we have since been continuing to read, read, read to him and watch where his literacy development leads him. I am doing my best to support him where he feels motivated. Once I saw him looking at a book and rubbing his finger over each word, left to right, as if he were reading the book. When I asked him if he was reading, he replied, “I am reading quietly to myself. I read better that way for now. When I’m ready to read out loud, I will.” The confidence that he has in his future reading ability is enough for me to feel confident in the process.
He is very focused on writing and spelling words. I love watching him write on anything and everything, paper and pen obviously, but also stick in dirt, finger on windows…if there’s a way to write, he does it.
He often has no fear in sounding out and attempting to spell words. I bite my tongue when he (often) misspells whatever word he is trying because I think inventive spelling is an important step in the process. It is also true that Big Brother may be a bit of a perfectionist and I am worried that any negative feedback may shut him down. Some other ways we support his love of writing include: writing letters to his best friend, creating to do lists the night before of things we need and want to do, daily writing in his journal, and creating books telling stories about his day. With these letters, lists, journal entries, and books, we take turns writing words. Sometimes he asks to copy the words that I write for him and sometimes he tries them on his own. He loves to speak in riddles and will encourage us to guess his answers based on his hints of what letter the word starts with. He points out words and letters he recognizes while we’re out in the world. He likes to label things with his name and other family members’ names. There’s so much brewing with his writing and spelling skills that I get this sense that any day now, reading is going to click into place and he’ll be off and running. And I am so eager for that door to open. It will transform his learning experience and then the possibilities will truly be endless.
Did your child learn to read on their own time? I am especially interested in hearing stories about natural learning readers and how that process went for your child. I want to trust the process and I think more stories shared would help in that journey.