I’ve skirted, for the most part, the topic of My Homeschool Theories on this blog. I’m hesitant to share my theories for two reasons. First, my methods are a bit on the edges of normal (and that’s The Homeschooling Normal, not The-Everyone-Else Normal). Second, raising children is one big experiment and talking about my experiment might jinx it.

It’s like spending years writing a book and not only telling people that you’re writing a book, but telling them what a great book it is and how it’s definitely going to be a best seller because how could it be otherwise when you’ve poured all those years of work into it. You’re writing a book for valid reasons, important ones, but, you never know—despite your best efforts it could be a dud. That’s scary, folks. Terrifying.

I have good reasons for choosing to homeschooling the way I am. My reasons are well thought-out and gut-inspired. But, and this is the clincher, my kids ain’t done growed yet. There’s a chance they might end up duds, and that would be sooo embarrassing. It’s one thing to do my little experiment in a secluded corner, but it’s quite another thing to advertise it because then when the experiment (ie, my kids) runs amuck, everyone will point their fingers at me. That would be beyond embarrassing.

But if other people didn’t go out on a limb to share their ideas and thoughts—embarrassment be damned—I might not have been inspired to do what I’m doing. It is vital that we hear other people’s stories so that we can be pushed, encouraged, taught, cautioned, and challenged.

Chattering away about my methods and theories might come across as cocky and arrogant. On the other hand, withholding my ideas could make me appear snobby. Finding a middle ground would be kind of cool. I’ll give it my best shot.

The point I make, with the upmost humility and a bit of fearful t-t-trembling, is this: Kids learn when they’re ready.

Sha-zam! BOOM!

Did I shock you? Not really? Good. Let’s get on with it then.

If, when learning something, your child gets genuinely frustrated (not to be confused with I-have-a-bad-attitude-and-don’t-want-to-do-any-work-today), then she probably isn’t quite developmentally ready. Give her a couple weeks, or maybe even a couple years, and she’ll get it eventually.

In Norway—or is it Sweden? Denmark, maybe? (shucks, it’s one of those enlightened, nudist beachy countries … Um, do they have nudist beaches up there? … It’s not that I’m interested in going to a nudist beach because they would actually freak me out, but, I digress..)—the schools aren’t supposed to teach any reading until the children are seven years old. It has something to do with how our minds aren’t able to make the shift from symbol to abstract thought till about that age.

(And by the way, do not quote me on any of this. I am horrible at regurgitating factual information. Like I said, I’m a Gut Person, as opposed to a Heart Person or a Head Person. And, just for the record, I did great in school—graduated salutatorian [still can’t spell that darn word] in highschool and with honors in college. But my SAT scores were so low that I almost didn’t qualify for one of my scholarships. Go ahead: draw the conclusions, make the analogies, point out the ironies. Have at it.)

How does this apply to how I teach my kids? Last year at this time, Yo-Yo was not really reading. He could figure out a few things here and there—I had worked with him occasionally—but he just didn’t seem ready. It was too hard. I’d try a bit, and then I’d stop and wait. Over the summer he went through all that extensive testing for his ADD and the educational evaluator (who was extremely professional, thank goodness) gave us a thick packet of information titled “Essential Reading Strategies for the Struggling Reader: Activities for an Accelerated Reading Program, expanded edition.” Yo-Yo was not reading and he was not struggling; it didn’t apply to him. I never even peeked inside.

(Note: He tested negative for learning disabilities. If he had been in school, with three good years of struggling tucked firmly under his belt, I doubt that would’ve been the case. But hey, what do I know. I’m just supposing…)

That fall, right around the time he turned nine, Yo-Yo discovered Harry Potter. He tore through the series. Then he re-read the seventh book, twice. Now he has started over at the beginning and is reading them all again.

That’s an easy little story to share with you since Yo-Yo now knows how to read. It all (at least that little episode) turned out alright.

Miss Becca Boo’s story isn’t tidy and neat (no bragging rights here) because she still doesn’t know how to read. And she’ll be eight next month.

PUT DOWN THE PHONE—DO NOT CALL SOCIAL SERVICES! Whew! Please don’t scare me like that, okay?

I did try to teach her. (Unschoolers would say, “…in one of your weaker moments.” But I do not ascribe to a one-way-is-the-right-way theory. Trial and error. Trying and erring…) We worked our way through at least a third of the reading lessons in Teach You Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, but it was not easy. It was not clicking. She couldn’t remember the basic words (and, it, is) from line to line. So I made up some flash cards to help her memorize those words. She threw a fit. I told her, “Honey, you are a smart girl. You will learn to read. In fact, I bet you can teach yourself to read. I have some ideas of ways to help you learn when you are ready, but if you don’t want my help, that’s fine, too. However, if you decide you need my help, you’ll need to listen to me. Got it?” Case closed, and life moved on, sans those dreadful reading lessons.

Maybe I’ll bring it up again in the fall. And maybe not. There’s all kinds of research that shows she will learn and that I shouldn’t fret (but I’m not going to try to summarize it for you since I’m not too good at that kind of thing).

Sometimes, though, I feel a little panicky when I hear her peers reading fluently. I see her girlfriends reading stories to her, and I feel sorry for my daughter, The Illiterate One. But so far Miss Becca Boo doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, she’s delighted to curl up alongside her friend and listen quietly as the friend drones on and on and on.

Another part of me is secretly delighted that she’s still isn’t reading. She’s having a true-blue childhood, free from the worries and obsessions of the academic world. She’s washing dishes and gutting chickens and playing the piano and picking potato bugs and building forts and acting out Shakespeare and dreaming about Narnia and playing with the cat. That she’s “behind” in a certain subject doesn’t matter. She has the freedom to learn at her own pace, unimpeded by the judgements of others. It feels like such a privilege.

While I was writing this piece, she came up to my room (where I had once again sequestered myself). She stared intently at the computer screen for a bit, and then she pointed to the words Becca Boo and said, “That says Becca Boo, right?”

She’ll get it.


  • Judy

    love your blog .. very witty and humorous.. just curious to your thoughts on why are there so many adults who can't read? not ready, plain lazy, not encouraged? just wondering

  • Fiona

    Ha ha! I just found your blog and clicked on this post. I live in Denmark and your comment made me laugh out loud! By the way, there are no nudist beaches here….nudity is accepted on all beaches 😉 yes, it's true that kids don't learn to read until they're 7, in first grade. I loved reading your thoughts about homeschooling!

  • Anonymous

    JJ, I find it very interesting that you aren't a good speller considering that your mom and her baby brother (my husband) are some of the best spellers I know. Your Grandma Kurtz also comes from a line of very good spellers.
    I do think there is something in the methods of teaching. I am not the worst speller but our three oldest boys are terrible spellers. Jim, who has worked with middle schoolers for 26 years now sees a definate decline in the ability of middle schoolers to spell and do simple math. Good penminship has completely gone under. What is it? How can I teach my 7 year old in such a way that we will reverse that trend in our family?

    I am a product of the public school system. I did have frustrating times in school because book learning didn't come as easy for me as it did for my siblings and peers. I am ADD with a bit of dyslexia thrown in. I don't feel damaged because of it. I just learned to cope, figured out what I am good at and learned to accept the way I am. It's good that being a homemaker allows me to have a short attention span. My family does pay though as a result of my disorganization.

    Aunt V.

    Aunt V

  • Jennifer Jo

    Yosha, Your questions are perfectly fine—no need to apologize!

    I've already done some posts that might answer some of your questions. If you go to the link for Our Book Bits, you will find some titles that, once you click on them, will link you back to the blog and the appropriate posts. They talk about socialization and our reasons for homeschooling, among other things. If those posts still don't answer your questions, please let me know…

    (And by the way, there HAS been an increase in homeschooling. That so many people are writing and talking about homeschooling also serves to make it more visible.)

    Best wishes…

  • Yosha

    Hello! I've just recently started reading your blog (started with when I searched for a recipe!) and this post makes me wonder…before i ask I want to say I hope I am not being rude (it's not meant to be) just curious…

    Lately I've noticed a lot of blogsters being home schooled. Now I am not sure i there is an actual growth in home schooling or if the technology is there that one can just happen across theses stories/lives.

    Anyway I wonder

    1. what made you decide to homeschool your kids? If it's too personal, no worries.

    2. Do you think the current school system fails the kids so this way you have more control?

    3. Do the kids have regular get togethers and such so that their social sides are developed? Meaning group projects and such especially when the get to high school?

    Again I am just curious and really in no way am I informed well enough to be "judgemental!"

    I went through the public school system though now that i think about I went through a some what hybrid system…my dad used to make me (well us, when my brothers turns came) sit down with him every weekend and he'd move us ahead in the maths/sciences and well english when we needed it to (the man still quotes Julius Ceasar around the house!)

    But looking back I think I did as well as I did becasue of those weekends!

  • Anonymous

    One interesting thought: Some people think there is good reason to think there is a direct relation between how one learns to read how good a speller one is. Kids now, overall, are worse spellers than years ago.
    Did you and Mr.H happen to learn to read using Phonics?
    The theory is that that method tends to produce bad spellers.
    Wish there was some way to know.


    BTW, I know a homeschool family that took more of the unschoolimg approach. Their one child was not learning to read. And by the time he was 12(?) they realized there was a problem. Laziness and bad habits? So they realized they needed to take action and put him in school to be pushed a bit. Now in his 20's, he is not much of a reader (terrible speller).
    But who knows, if he had been pushed earlier would things be even worse for him?

    At what point does one take agressive action and not let negative, destructive habits develop and when does one pull back and allow for natural development?

  • Jennifer Jo

    Dr. P, You ask some good questions, ones that people often ask (and if they don’t ask, then they are probably thinking them).

    I would be pleasantly surprised if any of my children grew up to be good spellers, considering that Mr. Handsome and I are both horrible at spelling. I think they have a fair chance at being good writers because it is something that I love and that is important to me.

    I looked at your comments again, and I think what you are asking is, “Do we have enough diligence to stick with it [“it” being learning] when the going gets tough?” Yes, I think we do.

    This brings up a deeper issue: our priorities and goals for ourselves and our children, which is way too big of a topic to take on here, so….

    To be continued in another post!

  • Kris

    Several books that have influenced our parenting/lifestyle/learning choices:

    Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught
    by John Holt

    Unconditional Parenting
    by Alfie Kohn

    Nonviolent Communication
    by Marshall Rosenberg

    Check them out! I highly recommend all.

  • Kris

    You're right, I am definitely biased. 🙂 And was feeling somewhat (or maybe a lot?) defensive. And can certainly understand if I came across as sassy or overly opinionated. (I admit to both.)

    Honestly, I do welcome your questions, Dr P, if you are curious about our life choices. I have read and thought (and questioned) a lot about what we're doing — our grand experiment in life learning and respectful parenting — and feel that it is a very good path for our family at this time. I have learned much about trust and patience and giving up control. Frankly, it's one of the best decisions we've ever made, in terms of our own personal growth (as parents) and building positive relationships with our children.

  • dr perfection

    Sorry Kris, Now that I have heard from you, the mother, who has absolutely no bias, that your children are interesting and wonderful, I sincerely apologize for raising any question whatsoever about their future literacy. I have no further questions.

  • Kris

    Now I've just read your latest comment and wish to clarify:

    I did not say that my daughter has problems with spelling and writing. I said that "she still doesn't write much…and isn't as afraid to make mistakes with spelling"

    You are assuming that not writing and spelling fluently at age 11 is a problem.  I don't agree.  I think it is simply her own timetable.  There is no reason at all why she should write or spell any differently today than she does today.  She is not "behind" anything, except the covers of a book most of the day.  When she wants to send an email or write a letter, if she's feeling good she will spell what she can and then ask me to check it for spelling.  Or she might ask me to help her spell various words.  I am willing to answer her spelling questions, just as I'm willing to answer JJ's cooking questions.  

    Learning at home (and wherever you are) can be haphazard, sure.  You never know when you might learn something that you weren't expecting.  

    What I remember most about all my years of school and life (I’m 40) is what was interesting to me and that I experienced rather than that which was taught by tests and memory work, or that someone else thought I should know.  Some of this learning (the former) happened in school, and a great deal of it happened in the rest of my life — singing in church, watching birds with my dad, gardening, cooking, and many other wonderful experiences. 

    Please don't worry about our children.  They are lively, curious, interesting, wonderful people.   Any other questions?

  • Kris

    Warning: long-winded soapbox ahead…

    Dr P, does it seem to you that JJ's and my children are more likely to have literacy problems as adults than any other child?

    As far as I know, most children to whom books are read aloud eventually learn to read . Just like most children who are spoken to learn to speak.

    A few assumptions in your comments cause me to wonder: How many adults do you know who have at least some trouble with spelling and writing? My brother was a terrible speller as a child and majored in English in college. Thank goodness for spell-check! My husband has more difficulty getting words on a page than anyone I know, but he loves to read and discuss philosophy. Thank goodness there are countless jobs available that do not require extensive writing for success. (He is self-employed as a stone mason of some repute.)

    I have read numerous accounts of children who were given freedom to learn at their own pace and did eventually learn what they wanted to learn, when they were ready to learn it. It's a major trust issue, in my opinion. Trust that everyone can learn and that children inherently love to learn, especially when they can do it in their own way and pace. Trust that children do the best they can.

    You can force a child to attempt learning when the child isn't ready, but at what cost? I (and you, too?) spent many years of life being forced to learn many things we no longer remember. What if we instead had been given freedom to explore books we loved, or build forts outside, or cook to our heart's content?

    My dad died when I was 14, but was at home full-time for nearly six years before that. What if, instead of spending five days a week at school, I had been at home with him, writing poetry, watching birds, playing chess, cooking meals for us (I have always loved to cook), with as much time as I wanted to read and read and read. And how much more would my two younger brothers have received in memories from our dad if they had been home with him?  

    Maybe I'm going off on a tangent here, so I guess I can say it straight: No. I am not worried that my children will have spelling or writing troubles as adults. (JJ can speak for herself.) Maybe they will, maybe they won't, (have trouble) but I'm pretty sure that letting them learn at their own pace won't hurt anything except maybe the patience of those who don't understand.

    Rest assured, dr perfection, that worry never accomplished anything but make the worrier (and those around him or her) feel worse.

  • dr perfection

    It seems to me that homeschooling can be somewhat haphazard. It takes a lot of diligence to learn to spell and write (remember the hours of penmanship?) Kris even states that her 11 year old child has problems with spelling and writing. At what point will you be concerned if your child is behind? Eleven is almost a teenager. I'm not a teacher and maybe I'm all wet, but…

    Does Jonathan know how to spell and write?

  • dr perfection

    Just thinking about this and wondering if your children might have spelling and writing problems as adults. Do you worry about that?

  • Jennifer Jo

    Zoe, My friends are pretty mature, generous people, and even if they don't agree with all my methods, they extend lots of grace and love (some are better at doing that than others).

    Also, I'm careful who I confide in and go to for support—I surround myself with a few dear friends who "get me"—that way I am better able to withstand the unhelpful comments, of which there really aren't many, thankfully.

    Honestly, I am a bit surprised that Miss Becca Boo is as unfazed as she is. Either she has really polite, gentle friends (I think that's the case), or she's just clueless!

    Amy, Ooo! Do you mean to say I have a Bad Self? Yee-haw!

    Kris, Good points.

    ThyHand, I'm relieved to know that I came across as respectful—one of my biggest fears is that I'll appear thoughtless and judgmental…

    Mom, Thanks.

    Goodbadi, Yes indeedy.

    Vehementflame, Math? HA! (Maybe I'll say more about that later…) And no, I haven't read that book, but thanks for the suggestion.

  • vehementflame

    nice post woman! after a HORRID math day- I think you are hitting the nail on the head here!!!! and you were right about the delayed reading- my mom heard a dr speak at a conference about that- one of the big reasons is that it puts too much strain on the ocular muscles and causes vision problems early in life (glasses!) have you read rc sproul jr when you rise up??? you might like that- his overall education goal is to show your children christ's love. to lead them to christ. to show them by example how to love thy neighbor.

  • Kris

    Frankly, I think it's the plain truth (and not just your opinion) that kids learn when they're ready. Humans learn when they are ready.

    Abi learned to read just as she learned to talk, over several years time. She was an early talker and a late reader, according to the school schedule. Three years ago she was reading hesitantly through easy-reading books. (Sunday School peers were reading aloud in class WAY before she was.) Now having just turned eleven, she recently completed the entire Anne of Green Gables series, asking for meaning of words now and then. She still doesn't write much, but lately she has been attempting to spell words the way they sound (which I find utterly fascinating!) and isn't as afraid to make mistakes with spelling.

    And, I'm in no hurry to encourage Sophie (age 6) to read. She lives in a wonderful world of colors, images, smells, shapes, song. Her imagination is wildly creative. After she learns to read, she can never go back to that pre-literate place. Why rush this amazing, gloriously free time of childhood?

    My trust in the unique learning timetable of each of my children has been rewarded again and again when I see their joy and satisfaction in discovery and accomplishment because of their own initiative and effort. Who am I that I should mess with the innate love of learning that each one of us shares?

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I'm so glad you wrote this. Thanks for your honesty. I love hearing others' perspectives- I don't think we share them in respectful ways (like you did) enough:-).

  • Zoë

    So, do you ever get ridiculed by YOUR peers that your children are so "behind"? I sort of worry about that (or, I will worry about it when the time comes). If so, how do you handle it? I'm terrible at fighting back in arguments.

    I find it surprising that Becca Boo's friends don't make fun of her. Maybe it's because they don't know each other in a school setting? A child with slow reading like her would definitely be ridiculed in the school system…maybe not directly but she'd feel it any way. And that's a very sad fact…all the more encouragement to keep my kiddos at home 🙂 And it's great that her friends read to her. Eventually she'll want to catch up with them!

    I think you should write more about your homeschooling ideas. I'm very interested in this sort of thing, and I think I might like some of your methods.

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