We know that we want to homeschool our children and I think that unschooling is how I'd like to go about it. What I'm worried about is reading and writing. It's something that is important to me. I want my children to learn to read at an early age and write at a reasonably early. I feel that being able to read lends so much to independent learning. How can I teach reading and writing skills without be regimented? I was in public school my entire life so I know how to be regimented but that's not how I want to be and that's not how I want to help my children learn.
When you say "independent learning", are you looking for your child to need you less at a young age, or are you talking about your child setting his/her own goals as an older child?
I mean being able to look around while we're in a store and being able to read the things around them, learning practical knowledge. Being able to pick up a book and learn about whatever they're interested in. Yes, I can sit and read the book to them but I believe that you build a better understanding of things and a greater capacity to learn by reading. It's just good for your brain. It's not about me wanting to distance myself or have them need me less. I feel it's a very important skill for them to learn what they are interested in learning.
I think they are quite obviously important skills. My question would be, why is it important to you that they learn "at an early age"? (I am assuming you mean, say, before around age 7)
I can tell you what I have learnt from my own kids. Before around age 7, kids are not often really ready to make use of reading and writing skills. Even if they are technically able to go and look something up in a book, they often won't. My feeling is that at this age, gaining information is still very much a social activity. They don't want to know, say, why the sun goes round the earth so much as why you understand the sun goes round the earth, how you operate if you don't know. Decontextualised knowledge really isn't of that much interest or use to them.
And reading isn't really a straightforward cumulative skill. Its not a case of the more you do the better you are. Reading draws on a lot of other skills too. Its completely, cliche'dly normal for a kid to go from no reading to reading in advance of their age in weeks. The reason for this is simply that reading itself isn't especially hard, if you are cognitively ready. The thing that makes a first grade reader a first grade reason often isn't her reading skills, its her other skills-vocabulary, knowledge of grammar, understanding of how a story works. So a ten year old new reader who has been hearing stories appropriate for a ten year old will be quickly able to catch up.
I'd also say that there are negatives to early reading, if its pushed before a child is ready, mainly in that it takes time away from other things that are more important for their growing brain. Playing endless complex imaginative games, IMO, is far more crucial to a developing brain than reading. Have a look at the work of Piaget or Vygotsky-the brain develops in different stages and many 5 year olds are no more ready to read than a fish is ready to ride a bike.
Another thing that is important to me. You can teach most kids to read, I reckon, in that you can teach them the rules and how to read a sentence and so forth. I think with persistence and dedication most kids can be taught this by around age 6, many much younger. However, IME there are two steps to fluent reading. There are the decoding skills (or whole word equivalent). But there's also a need for a lot of practice, hours of it, and they will not get that unless they've spent a while just reading on their own. They have to push for it, no adult can make them. They need to choose to start decoding street signs, maps, library books. Its that stage that gets you from someone who can work out what words mean to someone who does not consciously decode words any more. Now for most kids that stage does not seem to kick in before around age 6 or 7 anyway, regardless of how old they were when they started to read.
So what I'm trying to say is that I'm honestly not sure how much point there is in teaching a young child to read. If they are ready for it, they will show you. If they are not, they will not be able to benefit from reading anyway.
Also, writing. My kids are 9, 7, and 5. I'm honestly trying to think of a situation in which they have needed to write, even in the last year. Absolutely they need to be able to do it, it is just that it isn't that important. Generally, if kids can read they can spell well enough to manage to google stuff of interest. It also seems to me that most kids get to a point where they want good handwriting, but that that is often around age 9/10 or so and I wonder if that's a dexterity maturity thing as much as anything else.
So if your aim is independent learning, first I wouldn't teach them til 7 or so unless they want it, and second I would only really bother with reading and leave writing til a little later, again unless they were interested.
To add to what's be already written....
Don't worry about reading and writing at this age. While there is a great freedom learning to read (my 6.5yo is finally putting it all together and reading everything everywhere we go-- it's sweet and wonderful, for sure), it is not a clear-cut advantage to do so at an early age. I was a precocious reader, learning to read quite well at 4.5yo or so (and write neatly at age 6), and I think that after 5th grade, the advantage flattened out academically.
Anyway, but you think reading and writing are important. You've probably heard this a million times-- read to your kids. When my girls were 3 and 5, we read about 20 books or chapters of books every day (not to say quantity is best-- we simply spent a lot of time reading). We maxed out our library cards every week, we went to the library at least once a week. I did not limit my selections for them to books targeted for their age group, I brought home everything that looked interesting. Not everything I brought home was read by me, but dd2 would sit on our papasan cushion on the floor in front of our bookcase and she would pull out every single book, one at a time, and look through it.
At 6 and 8 we borrow fewer books, but the love of the library is there. We still read together some everyday. They don't choose to sit and read to themselves much yet. At dd1's age, I was holed up in my room reading the Hobbit. DD1 still doesn't do much reading on her own-- and definitely not the way I did at her age, not yet anyway. She started doing some reading at 5.5, mostly sight words. Her favorite way to read was choosing graphic novels and I would read the narration while she would read the bubbles. Or, with Garfield comics, I would read the bubbles and she would read the sounds. She loves to cuddle up and listen to long, sophisticated mysteries and some adventure, though she is incredibly picky.
I would say writing usually goes along with reading, but it never stopped dd2. DD1 struggled with fine motor skills, which has resolved itself nicely. Lack of reading readiness never stopped dd2 from writing, however. She would copy and recopy, and ask to spell words. We had an alphabet puzzle, for sure, which she used as stencils, but mainly she would copy from whatever books were around. She also liked tracing letters in books with a feather.
I don't judge *how* my girls have chosen to do their learning. In the last few months, most writing and spelling has been done naming their vast collection of paper dolls cut from clothing catalogs. The names are spelled out and written on the back, complete with their birth date (lots of math in there, too, figuring out ages). They make lists of "fairies", lists of toys. And, now that they have a newfound confidence in reading and writing, they ask for spelling "tests", usually 3-letter words. We laugh about those crazy, English words with spelling that doesn't make sense. (A minute ago, dd2 just came up with a different silent "e" to differentiate between "live" and "live", instead writing "live" and "livE". Well, one would wish English were a bit easier.......)
Both of my girls have taught themselves to read and write, with help when requested. I've never balked at assisting them (though I've asked them to bring their "work" into the kitchen while I made dinner). I've made sure they had interesting material lying around, and ample supplies. That was all it took to eventually draw my oldest into conquering her writing skills-- that and just waiting for her development and motivation to get in synch.
So, don't worry. It's not to say that your kids will be as willing to charge ahead as mine have, but they *might*-- many do!-- and that's why I told you our story, and why I say "don't worry." Kids are perfectly capable of doing this without any pushing or regimentation from us.
They might not, but don't assume they won't before they are given the chance. That's how I approach unschooling-- give them the *chance* to unfold and grow for themselves. This will give them so much confidence and will do more than just about anything to create independent learners. Ditch any expectations of when and how.
If, despite all that, you simply can't relax about reading and writing, then skip the unschooling as a whole, introduce some gentle activities that work with your child's learning style and her needs (which might--scratch that-- will change) and call it eclectic. You don't want to pretend to be chill about your expectations, then panic when at 8yo your child is just barely reading 3-letter words!
You might end up with kids who ask and beg for reading and writing lessons. Then you will be put into the position to ask, "If they asked for it, is it still unschooling?" Or, "Should I encourage them to learn on their own anyway? (And would that still be unschooling? )"
Books cannot answer questions, and young children have *many* questions! Most young children, whether or not they can read, will ask questions rather than research the topic in books or on the Internet.
A lot of kids simply cannot read and write early because they are not developmentally able. Setting that as your goal is a lot like deciding it's important to you that your child is walking at 9 months.
One of my kids read at 6.5, another at 7.5 (with lots of support), and the third at 5. I might have been able to get my 6.5 year old reading 6 months sooner if I'd pushed hard, but I think there's a lot to be said for giving kids the chance to crave reading before they start on the work of learning to do it.
Also, I think you should take a look at what is written in stores-- there are a lot of things printed on magazines and newspapers that small children don't need access to.
Consider reading "Better Late than Early" by the Moores. There are some pretty large downsides to introducing academics to young kids, and very few downsides to delaying academics.
FYI, the Moores are not unschoolers by any stretch of the imagination, and their work is based on solid research.
Honestly when I started on my journey into alternative education I also wanted my kids to be able to read and write early.
I think mainly because I read from early and love reading myself.
When I started learning about unschooling I still thought it was vital, because once a child can read and write they can surely follow any path they are interested in.
But as I've started on the unschooling path and just lived my life I've realised that there is so many more fulfilling things you can be doing with your children than sitting and drumming in their ABCs...I have once or twice sat down to try "teach" the alphabet but my eldest strongly resists adult led suggestions and coercion, and trying to force him is a lesson in futility...so it is something I have been forced to let go of. Also there are plenty opportunities in your family life to point out words, letters, etc and just make your children conscious of them without teaching it as such.
At this stage my children are still young, but after not forcing the alphabet issue for a while both my 3 and 5 year old will ask to read some of the alphabet books we have finally), and my 5 year old has started asking questions around words and letters e.g. he recognises letters and will ask if a word starting with D says Dad, or a word with S is story.
I'm also learning to just answer his question and not elaborate unless asked, every time I get excited and try answer with more info and show him other words he is immediately uninterested.
Funnily enough we did some birthday cards recently, and he wrote his own name, with one or two letters back to front but that is perfectly normal from what I understand. This is something we have never practised and the few times I've offered to show him how to write his name he has completely refused, so who knows where he picked that up from
Anyway the point of my ramble is more to say that rather than worrying about specific things like what age your child will read, follow your heart, and if it is calling you to unschooling then just live your lives and let things unfold. Once you are doing what you want then you can see how you feel and take action as necessary. Some people teach reading and others don't, you will only know where your path lies when you get there
"That's how I approach unschooling-- give them the *chance* to unfold and grow for themselves. This will give them so much confidence and will do more than just about anything to create independent learners. Ditch any expectations of when and how."
SweetSilver, love this
I think early reading is very helpful:
If your child will be entering school and therefore will need to compete with 20 other children for the attention and facilitation of an adult in following his or her interests.
If your child will be entering an educational program where the main focus will be on the attainment of literacy and he or she needs to feel successful.
If you want your child to learn quietly and abstractly from text, rather than experientially and dynamically.
And if your child is hard-wired for early literacy.
Otherwise I think early reading is beside the point and potentially harmful. Harmful if the child isn't ready, and harmful if he or she gets the idea that book learning is preferable to other ways. Nothing shook up my thinking on early reading more than getting to know a couple of amazing late-reading children. Because they were unschooled, their education wasn't held hostage to their lack of reading readiness. They were every bit as knowledgeable, as capable, as bright, as erudite, as intelligent, as my early readers. Their auditory and kinesthetic memories were amazing. Their learning became a part of them in a way that it doesn't necessarily have to for readers -- because a reader can always look something up again if it doesn't 'stick.' They were affable, sociable and interesting to talk to, because so much of their learning came from conversation, and they were such enthusiastic social learners. They had all sorts of incredible skills and knowledge: animal husbandry, 4-harness loom weaving, violin and piano playing, knitting, wood-carving, sight-singing, vegetable gardening, ski racing, sewing, chess, second language fluency, ...
And when they learned to read at age 9, it took them about 6 weeks to reach an age-appropriate level of fluency ... or beyond.
These days there are incredible resources available for bright curious kids who aren't yet reading on their own. Kindle narration, audiobooks, thousands of amazing podcasts, documentaries on DVD, on YouTube, on Netflix, interactive digital books, interactive educational software, etc. etc.
I'm a mom to early precocious readers, but I see no significant disadvantages to delayed acquisition of reading in an unschooling environment. I see disadvantages for kids going to school, for sure, or for kids doing a traditional homeschool curriculum, but not for unschoolers. If anything I think unschooling makes more sense in kids who don't naturally learn to read by age 5 or 6.
We have three children. The oldest wanted to learn to read so we bought a program & taught her when she was about 7. She really didn't read though until 6-12 months later. For a while, she was reading all day long. Then she started doing other stuff. Our 2nd child also wants to be taught to read so he's getting the same program as dd, at 7.5. It's going a litlte slower & I won't be surprised if he takes a break w/ it after a while. I think he wants to read but just isn't there yet. The youngest is 3.5 & I won't be surprised if he starts reading some time in the next year because he is just so interested in words & letters & numbers. But if it doesn't happen, it will eventually.
So, that's our story. I don't think learning to read & write need to be taught any more than learning to walk & talk. Can you imagine, and another poster said something similar, saying you want your child to walk & talk early? What can I do to get my child to walk early? It's important for me to get them to talk early, how can I? Sounds a bit silly, doesn't it?
Had I thought about this before kids, I'm sure there's no way I would have said I'd take the slow approach & let it happen when it does. Now that I have three children, they're getting older, they're learning & growing & I see it day after day, I can't imagine doing it any other way.
Lastly, I think in our culture of "school is the way to learn everything," it's normal to go into this w/ certain expectations. Once you start deprograming yourself on this kind of thing, then it becomes easier to just let life be & enjoy your children. If you google "deschooling," you may come to some pages that will help you explore the idea.
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