I was having a conversation with another unschooling mother about teaching our children to read. She asked me how my oldest son learned all of his letters.
At the time I drew a blank. How did he know all his letters? I certainly never “taught” them to him in the conventional sense. We never sat down to do workbooks, trace letters over and over, or practiced reading on those boring learning to read books.
So I answered her the best I could at the time and said, “I don’t know, I guess he just absorbed it.”
But now that I have reflected on this I realize that is not exactly true and I thought I would take a moment to explain how exactly we unschool reading and writing.
Our journey starts literally in the first few days of our boys life, before I even knew what unschooling was or that I would ever be a homeschooling mother. Every night at bedtime we read to our children. No, they could not understand what we were reading but we felt it was important to introduce them to reading from the beginning. Reading stories became part of our bedtime ritual and continues to be to this day.
We always have lots of books in our house. Mostly they come from the library but some of them come from our local thrift store (at 5 to 25 cents per book) and get redonated once the kids have finished with them. From an early age both my boys would pick up the books and pretend to read by themselves. Sometimes I can hear them making up or retelling the stories and sometimes they will just flip through the books looking at pictures.
We usually go to our library at least once a week. Choosing books is something the whole family takes part in and I do my best to never say no to any book the boys have picked (sometimes this is hard for me!) When we read books before bed the boys get to choose from the pile of library books and are free to stop the story half way through if they are not finding it interesting.
They picked up learning the sound of the alphabet simply because it is one of the bedtime songs that we sing. After they knew the words for the letters they started to put the words to the symbols. Mostly this was done by them just asking me “Mommy, what letter is this?”
The first time I saw Lan begin to manipulate words was in the bath. We have those foam letters that stick on the bathtub wall when wet. The boys had played with these foam letters a hundred times before…putting them up to make gibberish words and then asking me what they spelled. I would sound out the word for them and they would laugh at the nonsensicalness of it. Then one night Lan put up the letters F O X and said “That spells fox!”
Lan’s writing began with his name (Kayden has not started to write yet) and has slowly evolved from those three letters. When he wants to add text to a picture he has drawn he will ask me how to spell the words. At first I would write the words down for him on a a separate piece of paper and he would copy it onto his, but now he pretty much knows all his letters and just needs help on how to spell them.
If I need a grocery list made I will sometimes ask for Lan’s help. Sometimes he says yes and sometimes he says no. I don’t force the issue if he is not into it. He also enjoys writing lists of animals that we see if we are going for a drive and both boys have a notebook and pen in the car. Sometimes Lan will actually write down the animal names with my help and sometimes he will pretend to write by scribbling “words”. Although of course I would rather him actually writing the real words instead of scribbling, I don’t push it and make sure to be just as outwardly enthusiastic over the scribbles because the whole point is to kindle a love of writing, not put pressure on him.
And of course one of the most important things I do to encourage my children to read is to read myself for the joy of it. I always have a pile of books on my bedside table and the boys see that I truly enjoy reading. Since kids grow up wanting to emulate those closest to them I do my best to set a good example for them. And it helps that as I grow older I discover how much I have to learn, find new and ever evolving interests, and have a passion for bettering myself and my parenting style (I am a work in progress!)
And there you have it. That is how our family has unschooled reading and writing so far.
What do you think about the unschooling approach? Have you had success unschooling reading and writing?