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.
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.