My children could already read (to some degree) when we decided to home school. In terms of what that means for me and helping them to learn, I’m very lucky…or unlucky. It depends on your point of view.
I’ve been spared the worry about the girls learning sounds, letters and blending. They had the basics down and everything else is a progression from there. You could say that the grunt work was done. Praise be!
I also have to witness the upset and shriveled confidence of my eldest daughter when she tries to read.
Four terms at school and I didn’t get Shahada out in time. She loves being read to and making up stories so I’m ecstatic that she has retained some enjoyment of literature and I intend to enable that to grow and flourish. The pressure and dullness that accompanies literacy in school has turned her off. Now she will only read to me via a toy. As sad as this is, the use of a toy as a kind of go between really works well – if you don’t push it. Shahada reads through her teddy and I respond to the teddy with praise and assistance. The moment she shows signs of wanting to stop, or when she asks to stop, we stop. The idea that if a person is not engaged they are not learning underpins all activity in our home.
My youngest daughter only served one term in school and, although she attended nursery for some time, she has retained a love of reading. It is fortunate for her that her formal education up until de-registration from school had been heavily play based. Yet, despite her enjoyment of reading, she will only read on her terms. And I admire her for it. Khadija won’t be coerced, bribed or fooled into reading.
At this point I must stress that I do none of the coercing but when friends or family want to sit and read with Khadija they will try certain tactics if she refuses. I must also confess that I used to try these tactics myself when it came to homework and reading school library books. So I am left to take some responsibility for Shahada’s reluctance to read. But we’re working on it. Or not.
Writing is a more enjoyable affair. This is because there is no writing in our house without purpose – we write shopping lists, letters, cards and titles for artwork – and it never lasts longer than the girls want it to. When they’ve had enough, they’ve had enough. And they write everywhere! On steamy bus windows with fingers, on pavements with chalk, on paper with pens, in mud with sticks, on walls with crayons (!). They seem to enjoy the physical, palpable aspect of writing as much as any communication to be created by it.
As I’ve found with a lot of parents and teachers, I am largely preoccupied with maths. I am quite sure this is a result of the mysterious, other-worldly reputation born by poor school tuition: that maths is , in some way, separate from us. I try to create and take advantage of opportunities to learn about mathematics that make it fun but also make it accessible and meaningful. The girls hear the word ‘maths’ and I see them roll their eyes – and this is after a total of five terms in school – so although I don’t want them to fear maths and associate it with being boring or inaccessible, I am aware of labeling our games or separating learning into subjects.
The more obvious activities that we engage in involve cooking (weighing ingredients, dividing, doubling, timing), board games and dice games, mobile phone apps (look out for a list of apps and websites we use) and dealing with money. For more inventive activities I turn to the internet. A great website I often turn to for inspiration is Ordinary Life Magic.
Unschooling is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to grab opportunities as and when they present themselves: to actively seek out learning without coercion. And it’s not forgiving on the brain (I literally do not stop thinking about it!). But this is merely the beginning for us and I know that while autonomous education is a constant work in progress, it will become an aspect so ingrained in our lives it will become second nature.