I’m moving around the flat, getting things sorted out for the kids bed time. Gathering pyjamas, checking what needs to go in the wash and what is clean enough to wear again. The bath is running and I call to them both to come through to the bathroom.
There’s no answer. I carry on pottering away. Picking up used towels and relocating toys and household stuff to it’s usual home. I call again.
Maia tends to wander round at this time of night with her head half cocked murmuring and singing to herself. Quietly ignoring any request made of her. Louie is often open and attentive in the evening and becomes well focused on books and projects. I get ready to start rounding them both up. Unusually, they are in the same place. I find them in their room, leaving together, heading for the bathroom.
Then I spot the graffiti. We have a loose agreement in our house that they may ‘decorate’ their own items any way they like. (Just not the blummin walls!) Louie has been writing along the top of his play tent.
It says: nm e h8 L6bF K y M
Not going to school has meant that Louie has not had any formal lessons in reading and writing… ever. We occasionally look at workbooks and he has sometimes used an online reading app called reading eggs. But these have been sporadic and he has not shown much interest in either. However, we read. We read everyday. Short stories, baby books, magazines, longer stories; we have a home full of books. And both children look at books alone. Maia likes to ‘read’ the stories she knows well. At any one time Louie has a largish stack of children’s graphic novels that he ‘reads’ alone.
I have not felt a need to support either child with literacy. At times I have felt a vague pressure from myself to make sure that they are at the appropriate level, whatever that might mean, but have resisted the urge to sit them down and focus on either literacy or numeracy. Or any other given subject for that matter. I follow a parenting theory called ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along-parenting’. I read and discuss many various parenting and educating theories and ideas and borrow those that feel intuitive and work well with our family. So in this vein we loosely follow un-schooling methods of education.
“This is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.” – Pat Farenga, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling
So reading and writing can come whenever the child is ready. Louie’s been confident writing his name for a while. It started appearing on scraps of paper, along his bed and bookcase and of course on cards for others. Then he stopped. He knew the letters in his name and that was enough as far as he was concerned. Until he learned how to write Maia’s name. It just sort of happened accidentally. He was just showing her how to write it more neatly and suddenly it was another word in his writing repertoire.
Then he began reading. First spotting individual letters (thank you reading eggs for the first few letters!). Then full words. He got excited to see a Jack Daniels poster on the underground. ‘Look daddy! Look! Look! It says Jack and there’s a guitar!’ And just this week as we drove into Stanmer Park pointed out a banner saying ‘Look mummy it says Apple Day. Is it today?’
And then today. The hieroglyphics across the play tent showing the first inklings of coherence. He’d copied a few letters from a little heart that read ‘Cheeky Monkey’. A clear K and Y just along from a couple of h’s. Followed by his name, half in capitals which he is starting to experiment with. I ask if he’d like it to read ‘Louie’s Tent’. He says yes so I tell him he needs to start with T. Straight off he puts up a t, albeit with a bit of a tail. Then another without, e and n go up easily and the last t without a thought.
I don’t know where he has learned these letters, how to go from left to write, to keep the letters at a similar size and in a straight line. Without focusing time, effort and concentration he has absorbed a knowledge and he is in the first stages of applying to his need. It reminds me of watching him learn to talk, or to walk. Both fundamental human skills, both acquired without lessons or training. And so I aim to support both children in acquiring this human skill in much the same way, by speaking and reading words clearly to them, by modelling how to do it, by holding their hands when necessary and giving them a hug and a kiss if they fall over/miss a word/do something really cute!
At first it was difficult to trust that the children could learn all that they need to learn in an undirected way. Until I realised the issue was not the ability of the children to learn but a cultural attitude to prescribing what children should learn and when. In our home educating adventure the more and more I let go of the traditional ideas of ‘teaching and learning’ the more I am able to see just how much the children learn each day. How much richer and fuller their knowledge is because they are learning in every single opportunity rather than being taught what is prescribed by others.
“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
George Bernard Shaw
And Maia… at three she has her numbers down. All the way to 100. And she’s beginning basic addition and subtraction. How does she do it? I have no idea, she certainly doesn’t get it from me!