Monday, May 3, 2010

How Monkey Learned to Read

I think all homeschoolers come up against objections at some point. Even though there are an estimated 2.2 million children being homeschooled in the United States we are still far from the majority-we've all heard the much belabored "what about socialization?" argument and I'm sure we have all bit our tongues while we explained for the 80919870987109837214672nd time that homeschooled children do not live in plastic bubbles. Yet whenever the subject of unschooling comes up traditional homeschoolers and public schoolers alike look at the unschooler like they grew a third eye right in front of them. The question, while phrased differently, is always exactly the same:

How will your children learn anything if you don't have curriculum and tests!?

I think the public at large has problems with the idea of unschooling because they are taught to have a certain idea of what learning looks like. To many, learning takes place when one sits at a desk or table and completes worksheets, handouts, essays, specially designed projects with guidelines that match specially designed curriculae, and (inevitably) tests. Even many homeschoolers follow this model, removing their child from public school and setting up a school in their home where their children do flashcards and lapbooks and worksheets. They test their children regularly at the end of each unit and assign their children grades. This is the only system of learning that many people can remember, and they pass it on to their children...and if it works for their family then that's awesome. I really have no problem with school-at-home homeschooling if that's what a family chooses to do, just as I have no problem with school-at-school schooling. I just don't think many people realize that even though that system may work it is not necessary.

Learning is a natural process that occurs from birth. Every child learns in their own time and in their own way, but they all learn to crawl. You don't need to practice crawling with them 8 hours a day, or test them to make sure that they learned it, one day your child will see something across the room and decide they want it and that motivation alone will propel them to make the change.

It happens at different times and in different ways-Monkey was 12 months old before he decided to crawl, but when he did he just got up on his knees and went to town. Baby Bug was 10 months old when she started to crawl, but she decided that the army crawl was the most efficient (laying flat on her belly and using her arms and her tip toes to pull/push herself). The Bean was 9 months old when it was her time and she does a weird little mixture of regular crawling and army crawl-mostly involving pushing herself with her feet while walking on her hands or elbows. I didn't have to instruct them how to do this, and all I have to do is look at them to know that they have learned what they need to know...and believe it or not, the same works with reading.

I have never given Monkey flash cards. I have never made him sit down and practice phonics. I have never forced him to play reading games. Instead we sang the abc song while he was brushing his teeth. We drew together and I would label our pictures, spelling the words out as I wrote. Our home has always been full of books of every level and whenever he asked I would drop everything and read him a story, following the words with my finger. We created a culture of literacy in our home-Hubby and I are ways reading and writing and discussing studies and articles, we have world maps and colorful posters with words on them on the walls, we write letters to distant relatives and ask the kids if they want to say anything...we use language whenever possible.

As a baby, Monkey mostly played. He pretended to read books, looked at pictures, scribbled "words", and had a ton of fun doing it. As time went on, Monkey became more and more interested and started asking more and more questions. What does this say? How do I write this? What sound does this letter make? One day we got a book in the mail from a relative "The Adventures of Biscuit". It is a compilation book that has five stories about a little dog (named Biscuit) written on a K-1 reading level. He was in love with the book and wanted to read it. I offered to read it to him and he said no-this book was special and he wanted to read it himself, and so he did. Just like that. He still asks me for reading help of course, "gh" and "kn" words are the hardest for him, but he is an excellent reader. Right now he is reading Charlotte's Web and loving it.

I never "made him" learn to read. I didn't have any curriculum. I never had to fight him to sit down and practice. I presented him with the opportunities, and eventually he picked them up and ran with them. I don't have to test him to know that he knows it-I can see it when he laughs while he is reading or when he runs up to me and says "Mommy! Mommy! This part is so funny I want to read it to you!" He is learning math the same way and can now add and subtract any numbers under 20.

Learning is a natural occurrence and, no matter what public school might have people thinking, kids love to do it. It's not work (school work, home work)-learning is LIFE! It is everywhere we go and in everything we do and children, left alone to discover things naturally, will learn the basics. The best part is because they weren't forced to turn learning into a job they will want to do more of it. They won't think "Arg-Geometry!" they'll think "I can't wait to learn how to build that fence!" and they won't say "Eeew Biology!" they'll think "It will be so cool to be able to name every single bone in the body-it's like a puzzle!"

So I'm here to tell you it's true-homeschooled kids can learn without curriculum and tests just as well as they can socialize from inside their plastic bubbles.

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