The Three R’s (Part One)

I have a lot to say about the learning of reading, writing and maths so I’ve decided to break down this post into two parts in order to explore my thoughts in depth – bear with me.

What can school teach my children that they cannot learn for themselves?  How to read and write?  Maths?  Without doubt these are necessary skills in today’s world: a world in which everywhere people turn they are bombarded with words and numbers.  Schools place such emphasis on literacy and numeracy in schools because children need these skills.  I agree.

And because they need to learn, they will.

Just like when they learned to walk and talk, children will – when given the freedom to do so – aquire the necessary skills in order to function and contribute to society, to communicate.  It doesn’t take hours of instruction – and despite the efforts to make school lessons fun and engaging, it is still instruction – to teach a child to read or write or multiply.  It takes necessity.  If the subject is relevant to the child, they will gain meaningful learning from it.

Like many parents, and teachers, I wish for my children that words and numbers go beyond mere necessity.  I wish for them the satisfaction in manipulating words to express themselves; to lose themselves in a great book; to marvel at the beauty of number; to read to learn.  But how can this be learned?  Certainly not in school, with targets and tests, but through giving children the freedom and the opportunities to discover these joys for themselves.  And if they don’t find enjoyment in these things, that’s o.k.

The National Curriculum requires children to learn about and reproduce a long list of literary genres and mathematical systems.  Will my children ever need to use these?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  In order for me to weigh this up I decided to look at my own ‘literacy and numeracy life’ and whether or not it mirrors what children are expected to learn in school.

My Literacy Life

Reading:  I read daily – books, newspapers, social media, blogs, texts, magazines, notes to myself, post, the t.v. guide – and I do so because I either need to for information or because I’m enjoying what I’m reading.  Once a book becomes dull I begin to skim the pages.  When I’ve gathered enough information from an article I rarely finish it.  If I’m not gaining from the material I’m reading, I stop reading.  Why would a child be any different?

In a recent discussion with some teachers, we got to talking about parents who ask how they can help their child improve with their reading.  The unanimous answer was ‘By reading.’  Many parents worry that their child shows little interest in reading.  Is it any wonder when all the joy of reading has been crushed by the daily grind of the ‘literacy hour’?  When children come to a point when they need to or want to read (I think it’s safe to say that these points are inevitable) they will learn.

Writing:  Other than this blog, I don’t ‘write’.  I compile lists, I type emails, I text.  I didn’t need to be taught how to do these things.  In school I do recall writing letters and learning about the layout, tone and form of letters but I would have learned how to do this by simply reading letters written to me.  This is what happened with emailing – I wasn’t taught how to email in school.  I am sure that when my children become adults they will be using a form other than letters and emails and they will have to learn to do this for themselves, as I did with emailing.

So my children will not need school in order to learn how communicate through writing.  What about real writing?  By this I mean crafting a piece of writing, considering composition whether it be a fictional piece of writing, poetry, blogging, reporting.  I see this in two parts:  one being that if my children find joy in writing they will want to learn how to write effectively and will seek out ways in which to do this; the second being that they will learn in the same way they will learn to write an email – by being surrounded by writing, by reading genres of writing and using them as models.

My Numeracy Life

Like most people I know I use maths everyday, usually within the context of money.  For my everyday life I must know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I must be able to budget and in order to do this effectively I must have an understanding of number.  I do not need to know the formal ways to present long division or how to work out percentages without a calculator.  I do not need to know what a Carrol diagram is.  I do not need to know the difference between a square based pyramid and a triangular prism is.

What I do believe is important is an understanding of how numbers work and relate to one another; the relationships between shapes and angles; how to record data effectively.  Having these skills and this fundamental understanding allows for further learning to happen if necessary.

There are jobs that require a much deeper understanding of maths than I describe above – engineer, special effects designer, architect, doctor – and one or both of my children may choose to pursue one of these (or any other number of options) paths.  If they do, they will choose to learn the maths required for themselves or with help from a college tutor or university lecturer, if needs be.  The point is, they will be choosing and they will have a purpose.  The maths they learn will be of use to them and quite possibly fascinating.

I am not saying that children should not learn advanced maths or algebra, if they so choose.  But it is choice that is crucial.

In my next post I will be writing about how we approach the three R’s in our home, where we find resources and how effective our approach is proving to be so far.  In the meantime it would be great to hear about what you think about the need for school or how you approach reading, writing and maths in your home schooling environment.

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