Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Gift

It has been a while since I have written anything specific to unschooling. Tonight, while looking for a different document, I ran across an article I wrote a few years ago about A learning to read. Since we are now getting the joy of watching E learn to read, what I wrote then is just as relevant now for her. Without further ado, here it is:

My seven year old daughter is beginning to read. I did not teach her in the traditional sense. Sure, I answered her questions, read to her, helped her write words she wanted to write, filled our home with interesting things to read, and let her see me reading for my pleasure and for information gathering. But I did not sit her down and teach her to read. I remember her wanting to know how to read when she was 3 and a half. At the time, I was new to unschooling, still investigating the concept and finding the lifestyle aspect more relevant in our lives then. I went to the library and checked out 100 Easy Lessons. We sat together and did two, maybe three, of the lessons and then she lost interest. The book went back to the library and I never looked back. I figured that if I was going to have to force the issue, it was not that important to her. I started to wrap my mind around the idea of trusting her to know what she needed, and when.

So, instead of doing anything actively with her with regards to reading, I sat back and observed. I learned that she was not going to learn to read phonetically. I saw that she was more interested in writing than reading. I observed that she had an amazing memory for things that interested her and that were relevant to her life. I learned that she did not take instruction well and that she had a perfectionist streak to her. She showed me over and over that the best way for her to learn was to let her figure it out on her own. Any help on my part was seen as a commentary on my lack of faith in her. So, I tread carefully and mindfully near her as she acquired the skills necessary for reading, doing my best not to step on her toes. I answered her questions, but gave nothing more than the answer she asked for. I showed her how to write words, but let her do the work on her own, without my “help.” I supported her efforts, but let the satisfaction of an accomplishment be her own and not mine.

It was not until she really started putting all the skills together and having success at reading that I realized what a gift I had given her. She knows, to the core of her being, that she did this all on her own. She has faith in herself and her ability to do that which she sets her mind to. I allowed her to build a strong foundation of confidence in her own mind, one that will not easily be torn down by future challenges. She knows that her mind is up to the task of learning anything she desires to learn. She knows I am here to help, but that she is capable of doing the work on her own.

Our society believes that reading is the key to learning. Our schools are set up so that if you do not read by a certain time, you will be unable to function in the system and will not be able to learn. Unschoolers know this to be false, for us, outside the system of school. Our pre-reading children learn amazing things, every day, long before they read about them in a book. That is because we are there to support their learning in whatever way they need at the time. We read to them, we find shows on TV that they can watch to learn about their latest passions, we talk to them and answer questions. But, I am starting to see how reading can be the key to learning, in a much different way.

How you learn to read can set the stage for how you approach learning all the rest of your life. The child, who decodes the written word on her own, does not wait for others to teach her what she wants to know. She knows that her mind is strong and that she is capable. Learning anything she wants to learn is seen as fun and rewarding, not hard and boring. It might be a challenge that takes many years, but she knows she can do it. The pride my daughter feels about her accomplishment of learning to read is palpable. It is a joy to behold! I am confident that she has been given the best possible start in a life I hope to be filled with joyful discovery and a love of learning. What better gift can a mother give?


cherapple said...

Very nicely put. Andrea struggled with reading in school, was being labeled as "behind," and the school wanted her to get a tutor for the summer, when I took her out after 1st grade and started homeschooling her because I didn't want her to have to live with the "behind" label. It took her years to warm up to reading and not see it as a chore that adults forced on her.

Jessa, on the other hand, has never had formal instruction, and what a joy it has been to watch her pick it all up in her own way and in her own time -- knowing that she did it because SHE was ready, SHE wanted to, and SHE was capable.


Sissie said...

I love this description of your daughter learning to read.
thank you.

Robin said...

I too love your description here. It was wonderful watching each of our kids learn to read in their own way and time and as you said, they really own the process and the knowledge when they do it on their own.