Home Education

Why you don’t need to worry if your home educated child isn’t reading yet

It’s a familiar concern of a parent of a child 5 years plus, that their child isn’t reading yet. In the unschooled community, reading at 5 would be mostly unheard of. Those parents have made a commitment to go at their child’s pace, but it is hard. Their friends children are all learning to read at school and family and friends are often starting to make negative comments.

Firstly it’s important to understand that mainstream UK schools did not pick age 5 for any reasons relating to a child’s actual development.

Professor Lilian Katz, Professor of Education, University of Illinois who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.

She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.”

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”

During my teaching days I saw many more boys than girls damaged by early formal reading instruction. These boys suffer huge dents to their self-esteem, and often behaviour difficulties follow. They decide early on that reading, then writing is just not for them and it impacts on all future learning.

Some home educators also follow curriculums and encourage early reading, though they have the luxury of teaching one child at a time. This is often a more gentle child-centred approach, but can still result in abnormal development of brain pathways. If your child is not actively consenting to your help, it is very likely they are not ready either developmentally or motivationally. Either way, your encouragement and support will most probably backfire.

According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist:

Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success. Experts believe that when rote-learning tasks are used extensively in an early childhood classroom or other setting, normal growth and development of the brain can become distorted.”

(Healy, J.M. 2004. Your child’s growing mind. New York: Broadway Books)

If you are trying to formally teach your young child (under age 7) to read, you need to consider what they could be doing instead! Playing! Playing is vital to brain growth and future learning. By investing time teaching them to do things they are not ready to do, you are actually depriving them of time spent doing exactly what they need to be doing.

Anecdotally I can tell you that when my daughter learned to read at 8, she swapped play for books overnight. I am glad she did not learn earlier and thus stop hours of imaginative play earlier. She could also suddenly read everything everywhere, every headline, every billboard, every protest banner, things I am glad she could not read at 5 quite frankly! Literature is everywhere, but our society can be pretty inappropriate for 5 year olds and trying to explain our world to an 8 year old was tricky enough.

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Lego makes a great case for play-based learning up to age 8. Of course, they have Lego to sell, but the actual research they base their theories on comes from the most esteemed universities in the world. You can read Lego’s research and theories here.

You can also read my own personal thoughts and experience with play here.

Many more home educators do in fact take a much more unstructured and relaxed approach to reading. However, many of those parents, who have been schooled themselves, do find they worry about their child’s apparent lateness to reading.

Let’s define late. Most people are reasonably comfortable with their child not being able to read up to 7 years old. Pretty much everyone understands that in many European countries children are not taught to read until 7.

Beyond 7 however, the fear factor really starts to ramp up, but in actual fact, most home educated children learn to read somewhere between 4 and 14. Many I know personally learned between the ages of 8 and 12. I don’t adhere to the concept of ‘lateness’ to reading. A child will learn the skill when they are ready and motivated to do so.

Many parents I have spoken to want to know how best to support their home educated child’s ability to learn to read when the time is right for them.

Dr Katz suggests the following:

For children’s brains to become highly developed for learning, repeated experiences are essential. Connections become stronger and more efficient through repeated use. Reading to children every day, for example, helps strengthen essential connections. Connections are also made stronger when children have daily opportunities to develop both large- and small-muscle skills, have the chance to practice developing social skills, and interact directly with their environment. It is vital to incorporate rich language into all of these activities, since exposure to rich language creates the foundation for a child’s use and understanding of words, and increases the likelihood of reading success at a later age.

In short, your child simply needs access to books and people to model the skill, plus a variety of people to talk to and extend their language with.

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I would also be wary of young children appearing to want to learn to read. Often they have simply soaked up society’s expectations, or maybe even your expectations. Development is never really linear either; a child might make some progress with reading and then want to leave it for a while, or progress might happen very suddenly and all in one go. Always be respectful of your own child’s learning journey; there are no rules!

This is a good link with more ideas and information from the unschooling advocate, Dr Peter Gray: ‘Children Teach Themselves to Read’.

You can read about my own children’s unschooled reading journey here. For us, you will notice that technology did not play much of a part in my children learning to read because for many of their formative years we lived in Ireland and it just wasn’t a big part of everyone’s daily lives. There was certainly no broadband on their grandparents farm and access to technology was not something I deliberately went out of my way to provide for them. I didn’t believe it was needed and they certainly weren’t asking. It was more cows than computers in that period of our lives!

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Although technology wasn’t a resource we used in our children’s early reading journey, it has become an important element in their learning more recently. Most unschoolers I know where we now live in England use technology and find it can be an excellent tool for supporting literacy skills (I intend to write a lot more about this soon!)

Whatever path your child takes on their learning journey, I hope it’s enjoyable and that they love books regardless of the age they learn the skill. At the end of the day you can quash your fears with unschooling articles and blog posts, but the real guide should always be your own child.

Children know exactly what support they need and when they need it.

Home Education

A Glimmer of Magic

Unschoolers are not immune from bad days. Today started off as a bit of a non-event. I got out the wrong side of the bed (or more specifically, sofa……..hard bed=bad back). It doesn’t help that I’m not getting my full quota of sleep, since being downstairs means the dog wants to play with me at 2am and the light streams in the bay window at 5am and there’s a really big spider on the loose somewhere.

The day began with everyone reading and then I encouraged a get-together about 11am to discuss any plans for the day, but nobody seemed to want to do anything. I went into ‘suggestion overload’ and babbled on about our home ed science show, the upcoming voting, maybe a dog walk in the rain? ‘Remember those days’, I enthused, ‘when we’d dance in the puddles!’ All this over-enthusiasm with a constant background whirr of fidget spinners.

I wanted adventures in the rain, and they wanted to spin bits of plastic around on their fingertips.

I went to the kitchen to make lunch and sulked. They went back to reading their books, checking their emails and googling playstation joy sticks.

We ate lunch around the table together. I still hadn’t got the hint to just be quiet.

‘So the dog walk….I was thinking the woods, it might be fun?’ I said hopefully.

‘Well that sounds great Mum, but it’s going to be muddy.’

‘I know but we can put our wellies on’.

‘Hmmmm, well actually I can’t really because I’ve just put my trainers on and tied the laces up 3 times really, really tight and it would take ages to take them off now’.

I got the hint. Looks like it was going to be a simple dog walk round the block, in the rain, on my own.

After lunch they resumed reading their books and I made the decision to just get on with my own thing, so I made banana cake and washed the dog and cleaned the floor.

At about 4pm the sun came out and they decided to go out and play with their friends around the corner, but by 4:10pm they had returned soaking wet and shrieking. There were huge thunder claps and lightening, the sky was dark and dramatic as the rain pelted down. They were upset they couldn’t play out, so I tentively suggested getting the paints out.

‘We haven’t done painting for ages, yes I really want to paint together Mum!’ We got the paints and paper ready and sat and stared at the empty page. I had no idea what to paint, but T knew immediately he wanted to paint the storm.

We started to paint, but T wasn’t sure how to paint lightning, so we looked through our science encyclopedia’s and found some great photos of lightning. We took turns reading out passages about thunder and lightening. T was very thoughtful, he knew a lot about storms already. He knew it was unsafe to shelter under a tree but didn’t know that it was because lightning will find the fastest route to the ground. He was excited to tell me all about the man he’d read about who’d been struck by lightning 8 times and survived.

His painting was beautiful, the way he uses paint so thoughtfully and in an abstract way but with such precision. He needed an exact shade of purple and remembered a few months back that he had spent half a day with L mixing paints and creating their own colours. The pot of purple had been waiting all these months for this moment. It was the exact shade he needed for his painting. Two magical unschooled moments coliding, when a lost afternoon of paint mixing gave precision to the electrical pulse of lightning being painted months later. How perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better.

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And so, they will remember the storm today. T will remember the lightning and the way you can find safety inside a car not under a tree. He will likely remember the electrical impulses which create lightning and the thunderous sounds they make from the sudden expansion of air, a sonic shockwave.

And I will try hard to remember that sometimes the best moments come from keeping quiet and letting life evolve, and that even on grumpy days, good things happen.

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Family Traditions Part one: Poetry

Random reciting of poetry is somewhat a tradition in my family. My Grandpa Popsie, used to sing, recite quotes and poetry to myself and my sisters. It gave him such joy, and his face would light up as we listened eagerly. He’d pick the same favourites to recite aloud from memory and it was comforting. I miss Popsie and the comfort blanket of his poetic words. One evening at bedtime all those years ago, I recorded his singing and poetry on cassette, which I still have, but can’t quite bear to hear now that he has passed away.

My Dad has taken on the mantle for my own children. He will turn up on our doorstep and recite limericks and poetry, all created by him. Sometimes he wakes in the night with poetry whirring round his head, or thinks up crazy rhymes as he walks the 20 minute journey to our house.

Here is Dad’s latest offering, which he wrote in 15 minutes in the middle of the night this week, especially for L and T. ‘Big Brown Bear’ is his alter ego, a persona he acquired when the kids and their cousins were just toddlers. He used to switch into ‘Big Brown Bear’, which the kids would find both scary and utterly thrilling. This particular poem is based on the ‘spy’ games L and T play, following him halfway home, ducking and diving behind parked cars and lampposts, trying desperately not to be seen.

The Stealthy Trackers

 If you follow in the paw prints of the big brown bear,

You have to use much guile and take great care,

Be as nimble as a newt, as quiet as a mouse,

When you follow his tracks from house to house.

 

If you walk in the shadow of a big brown bear,

You have to glide like a ghost and sprint like a hare:

You need the strength of a lion and the eyes of a cat,

And the ultrasonic senses of a vampire bat.

 

So heed this warning from one, who knows,

Be on your mettle; be on your toes,

For if he turns and catches you there,

You’ll feel the force of the big, brown bear.

 

Robert Esau

 28/06/2016

Dad is a big part of my children’s home ed life, and I love the enthusiasm for life, the knowledge, the jokes and of course the poetry that he brings into our home.

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A Perfect Birthday

SDC11832Well, as a dear friend told me, I’m another year wiser!

My birthday has been simple since having the kids. It has usually involved our normal day, and then a takeaway, a bottle of wine and a film in the evening. A bit uneventful really.

This year my birthday came at the end of our holiday in Portugal to see Mum, and it was perfect. I awoke to handmade cards from L and T, plus a special plate of gifts carefully selected by T: 2 favourite shells collected from the beach, 3 special stones he’d found and 1 juicy nectarine. No-one could have chosen a better present for me, and I’m not just saying that! The nectarine was the sweetest, most delicious piece of fruit I think I’ve ever tasted and I love sea drift treasures. It certainly beat my present from him last year, which was my own sieve from the kitchen cupboard wrapped up!

My only birthday request this year was to swim in the sea, our little family of four together. It was freezing, but weirdly that’s how I like it! I love the buzz of a cold sea swim.

For the past 3 years I have entered charity open water swim events with my youngest sister, but she is due baby no.3 imminently and so we’ve decided not to do one this year. It was actually nice just enjoying the sea without the pressure of having to train.

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We then went back to the villa complex and had a pool swim before lunch at the pool bar. More swimming= my perfect birthday!

Lastly we popped into town so the kids could spend their holiday money and Mum insisted on buying me some shoes she had spotted which she thought would be perfect for summer dog walking.

The evening was spent travelling home, which we reached at 1am. Tired, but happy.

Of course our holiday is not a break from home education, life and learning just goes on. However, the sun, sea, change of scenery and having Sean around for a week has revived and energised me.

Home Ed, I’m ready for you!

 

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Ebbs and flows

Learning……it’s a bit like a stream…..sort of. The ebbs and flows, the times of constant swirling activity and the times of still, serene waters which to an onlooker may appear as if nothing much is happening. There is an under-current of learning happening all the time however, yet we cannot always see it. Our job as parents, is simply to trust.

On a hot day, a week or so ago, I took Land T to a nearby park. The idea was to walk our dog Legend and play in the park, but they had other ideas! They took off their shoes, rolled up their trousers and got in the stream which ran along the edge of the park. Legend followed, jumping in excitedly, then kept coming over to me to shake dry whilst I tried to enjoy 5 minutes of peace on a nearby bench.

It was futile of course, and I was wet by this point anyway, legend had made quite sure of that. I dutifully ditched my shoes and rolled up my own trousers and slipped down the muddy bank into the freezing water. L and T love me to join in their adventures and so I followed their lead: upstream, under the bridge we had played pooh sticks from earlier, through the shallow and deep. It was fun and I felt brimming with something…….aliveness!

The next morning T awoke excited about the stream,’we need to go back today Mum!’ and we did. We went back 4 times in all, until eventually they had explored a huge section of the stream. Towards the end of the fourth visit, they were waist high in freezing water and had to use a fallen tree to lever themselves out.

It was a great adventure to them, and they were learning. I couldn’t be sure what exactly, but years of living alongside them has taught me to have faith. I assumed of course, that the learning was centred on the stream itself. Not because it mattered much what the exact nature of the learning was, if it was important to them it was important to me, but because the world which children inhabit fascinates me.

L got out of the stream first and was shivering, then T got out and declared ‘well, we’ve done the stream now Mum, I’ve reached my limit with it’.

As it turned out, they were learning about themselves, their limits. Pretty important stuff I’d say.