Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jack Out of the Box

Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the chances are that he won't learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything. -John Holt, Teach Your Own

Jack and I spent the evening meandering through fields and scouring our driveway for trilobites. (No luck this time, but we found some fossilized clams and coral!) I love our quiet walks together, because sometimes he gets a little overshadowed by his very vocal older sister and younger brother.

Of all my kids, I think homeschooling suits Jack the best. He is very much an introvert, and needs his connection to nature the way most of us need oxygen. Some days he's outside before I'm out of bed, and it's unusual for him not to be covered in dirt. I honestly cannot imagine him in traditional school right now, as I think an integral part of him would be lost being forced to sit inside all day, five days a week. Short recesses on some manufactured plastic playground could never replace trees for that boy.

Jack is one smart six year old, and the questions he comes up with show the beginnings of great critical thinking skills. He will discuss subjects at great length and listen to books all day long, as long as the subject interests him. Interest is really key though, because as soon as I try to work with him on something he doesn't like, such as reading, he tenses up and it becomes a battle.

John Holt says that there are no teachers, only learners, which I am seeing more and more with our little homeschooling endeavors. I know there are hundreds of books about teaching your kid how to read (and I've tried several of them) but I really think it boils down to the kid wanting to learn for it to happen. I have NO doubt that by instilling a love of reading in our family and by the kids seeing Kelly and me read all the time, that Jack will also be a reader. But it's going to be in his own time. (Potty training analogies do not seem out of place here.)

Given all of that, as well as believing that it's not necessary for a child to read young to be a good reader later, doesn't totally take away from fact that, especially as a homeschooling mom, I feel pressure to have my six year old reading. It's kind of this benchmark that we all use to judge elementary kids, isn't it? And it doesn't help that Kelly (who incidentally was a very late reader who became a very good reader) isn't quite on board with all of this unschooling stuff, or that Bonnie is an amazing reader who picked it up very easily at a young age.

So, while pocketing fossils, picking wildflowers, and rescuing a box turtle from the dogs, I said to Jack, "I'd really like it if you'd let me teach you how to read."

He thought about it for a moment and replied, "I'd really like to learn how to swim."


  1. Aw, this made me smile so much. You had me from the John Holt quote and then it just got better. I love this ode to unschooling, and the obvious, but so often overlooked, acknowledgement that even in the same house, you can wind up with kids who are going to respond better to varied approaches. This makes things harder in some ways, but it's absolute validation, to me, that the one-size-fits-all mentality at a typical school, is inadequate at best, harmful at worst.

    We do a lot of trilobite hunting, too! I grew up searching for ancient sea creature remnants around here pretty much every weekend. That and arrowheads. For whatever reason, the American Indians in this area either had a factory right around here, or a LOT of battles.

    Anyway, I love seeing kids these days who are dirty from playing outside as much as possible. We seem to undervalue that kind of play more and more in general.

    1. Wow, thanks so much, Sarah! Always fun to run into other trilobite hunters. Very cool about the abundance of arrowheads where you are.

      To filthy, dirty children who smell like sunshine! And dirt!

  2. Nature is the best!

    I take a similar approach. My daughter started sounding words out when she was three and basically reading at four.

    My son, 3, has just recently started to try to sound words out. But he doesn't show a great interest in actually sitting down to learn. I do take advantage of the times when he comes to me with questions about words/vocabulary. But he'd rather be running around.

    I'm not stressed or worried about this. When I was a kid we didn't learn to read until the first grade. We all learn at our own pace.

    1. Sounds like your son is on his way to being an early reader too!

  3. Great post, Leanna. I also occasionally stress about teaching Caoimhe to read, but I know it can't be forced. We went down that road with one of the other girls for a while until we finally backed off and let her learn at her own pace. I do think older kids need daily lessons in math and grammar, but not at Jack's age. I always remind myself that Laura Ingalls (who I've always adored) had no schooling at all until she was 9.

    1. Love the reminder about Laura Ingalls. Thanks, Otter!