Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Don't Teach Your Kids How To Read!

Yep, you read that right. Don't teach them how to read. Most homeschooling parents get sucked into trying to "keep up" with the public school kids. What's wrong with that? Well, you only get the same results the public school gets. Why bring them home for their education if your not going to at least try to do a little better? With my experience working in public schools, I have noticed different learning personalities. If you are replicating public school methods in your home you can expect to have one of four results. The sprinter, the reluctant, the snail, or the studious.

1. The Sprinter knows that if they complete the task presented that they can go on to what ever they want to do. Mom says "As soon as you read 2 chapters you can watch T.V." The child quickly rushes through their work in order to gain the reward. Reading becomes the mean to an end, not something to be enjoyed

2. The Reluctant reader is the student who  may have the ability to learn how to read or even know the basics of reading, but has absolutely no interest in doing it. Even if there is a reward being dangled in front of them the motivation can not be found in order to accomplish the task. Maybe they're a day dreamers. Maybe they find the subject to be boring. Maybe they just don't like being told what to do. This can lead to a child upset and even in tears over reading a simple book. As a result the child avoids anything remotely related to reading.

3. The Snail is the child that has the desire to please and wants to do well at reading but for whatever reason, no mater how hard they try, they cannot produce the results as fast as other children. Left feeling stupid, slow, dumb, hurt and frustrated they will sit there trying their hardest. Unfortunately, no matter how many times it is explained or drilled into them it just does not stick. Tricky and always changing phonics and sight words prove to be an arduous task that leads to loathing of even the thought of a book.

4. The Studious student is the one who enjoys the rigour of study. Reading come easily to them and they enjoy things in more detail. This is more of an inborn trait than a result of their education. This child is the type that may even ask for more difficult books because they enjoy it. They were reading books at age 4 with little to know effort from the parents.  As we all know there are only so many of these children out there. Good for you if you happen to have one.

Do any of these outcomes foster a Love of Reading? OK, maybe the studious child if they are not pushed so hard that they burnout later on. But their enthusiasm can be squashed by strict adherence to state standards and requirements. Have you ever met a public high school student who has already read the class required AP reading and requests to read another title only to be told "NO! That is on the senior reading list. Your not allowed to read that yet." I have. Talk about squashing a child's potential for learning.

This is not my goal for my children. I want them to love reading. I want them to enjoy all styles of literature. I want them to understand the writings through the ages. I want them to fall in love with characters and be able to discuss more than the love interest in a book. I want them to enjoy the process of comparing and contrasting books with other books and current events. I want them to have a thirst for knowledge. I do not want reading to be a way to put a big CHECK on their life list when their education education is "finished." I want them to always be  looking for the next book to devour. A night stand covered in great literature they plan on reading. Forcing a child to read before they are ready is not going to foster this love.

According to John Holt, a few ingredients must be present for a child to learn how to read. He learned from George Dennisons book The Lives of Children that a child needs to feel trust and that there is an element of touch. Dennison believes that touch is very important when teaching a child how to read. Dennison states " The importance of this contact to a child experiencing problems with reading can hardly be overestimated." when talking about his experience with a tough 12 year old street kid. Of course the bond, or trust would have to be there before hand. Holt adds that "To touch or hold a child who has not yet decided to trust you will only make the child far more nervous."

In Copenhagen, Denmark there is the Ny Lille Skole. This literally translates to New Little School. Holt visited this school which has no formal reading education of any form.  I have included this video, produced by Holt, full of video of the Ny Lille Skole. Children are left to manage their own reading time to include what they read, when they read, and where they read. Holt visited this school to observe and speak with Rasmus Hansen. Hansen had formal education to be a reading teacher. After many years experience he has found that none of it is needed. He only makes himself available when a child asks to read with him. He sits in a comfortable place with them and encourages them now and then by saying "yes" to show that he is listening and that they are doing well. He does not correct a mistake unless he notices the child may be "getting into a panic." after about 20 minutes the child closes the book and is off to their next self-chosen activity. Hansen has found that providing moral support was all he needed to do. Holt asked Rasmus about how much time he would spend with each child before they were ready to try reading on their own. He replied "that from his records of these reading sessions he had found that the longest amount of time any of the children spent reading with him was about thirty hours." He shared that this was the average over a few months time. But there were also the children who spent even less time with him and some spent no time reading with him. Yet when it came time for the students to continue onto the much more rigorous high school, they were all good readers.

How can this be? We are encouraged by numerous ads, government programs and are subject to the throngs of voices preaching how important it is that they get an "early start" on their education. Does a toddler really need to be removed from their parents to learn? Is a parent incapable of reading to their child and identifying letters and sounds? Clearly, if you are reading this you do not think so. Either you are a homeschooling parent or thinking about it. So, how would this look in your home if you were to choose not to use a reading curriculum and chose to follow the example of Rasmus Hansen?  It would look something like this. Your washing dishes or sitting on a couch reading a book. Your child wonders into the room with a book in hand and sits down next to you and begins to look at the pictures. Your child tugs on your sleeve and asks you what one of the words are. You answer "cat!" Your child,satisfied, closes the book, gets up from the couch and goes on with her day.  Weeks later your child might ask you about a couple of words or notice the little dot that is at the end of each line. Believe it or not your child is learning how to read. They are processing it in their own way. They may be sounding out words or just memorizing them but its entirely up to them. We as the parents are not prescribing how they must learn how to read. They are just doing it.

The current public school model disregards the fact that children have already been self-taught up until this point and that they could continue their education in this way. There are many people who are famous for being "smart" and knowledgeable who are autodidacts. Lets see how many of them you know
  • Louis L'Amour
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Leonardo De Vinci
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Danny Elfman
  • Orson Welles
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Gustave Eiffel 
  • Thomas Edison
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Nathanial Bowditch
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Jane Jacobs
  • Herbert Spencer
  • Henry Walter Bates
  • Sean Parker
  • Jakob Bohme 
  • Malcom X
  • Abraham Lincoln
Must I go on. There are so many more but I'm sure you get the point. Clearly, the public school way of teaching (note I do not say educating)  is not the only way. You can take a chance and ignite a paradigm shift in your home. It wont be easy for you at first. You have to let go and trust that your child's inner curiosity will lead them. 

This said,  you can try and spark their interests. Surround them with opportunities for learning. This is how I do it. I have things throughout the house that may catch the child's attention. Place mats with letters on them for the dinner table. ABC Board books. Dr. Seuss books about letters, the alphabet, and reading. I have two Leapfrog interactive toys that just identify the letters they see and tell them the sound. A pack of flash cards with letters and/or words with attractive pictures on them. With these few items letters become a part of every day life.
We read about them, look at them, share our knowledge, and more.

Now, I will never ask my kiddos to come sit down with me and do flash cards. But if my child happens to run across them, and they look fun, and they come to me wanting to "play" with them we will do so until they are done with it. I don't force them to finish the stack if they get bored of it. Once their curiosity has been satisfied they can go off and explore something else.

The number one best thing you can do for them is read to them. They learn so much from hearing the words, sentence structure, voice fluctuation, vocabulary and more. Make reading a huge part of your day. Read in the morning, at lunch, with each child, at bed time and listen to audio books in the car. All of this book reading will not only help their future ability to read but also write, discuss and critically think. Read road signs. I read road signs and point them out as I drive by them. Stop, Yield, Wal-Mart, Target, Gas, Milk and so on. The first time I realized that my child was interested in reading was when he read a road sign on his own.

So stop trying to keep up with the other kids and enjoy your children doing their own thing. They want to learn and they will. Reading is no exception to this. So give your child the best education. Forget "no child left behind" and "common core," Aim for "my child's leading the way!"

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” 
― Plato

Additional resources

Here is a link to a great article listing seven ingredients for Children Teach Themselves To Read

Holt on How Children Learn

Holt on Children learning pronouns

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lap books

So I have never used lap books but the idea seems like a great ad on if you do unit studies. For instance, my boys have asked for a space camp and adventure camp (Indiana Jones). There are so many already made lap books it would just be a click away. Here is a link with hundreds to choose from.


There are even lap books for the Little House books. My kids are not much into worksheets but they love stuff that is content rich on a subject they are interested in.