Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reading, Freak Outs and Playing with Words

Around the time that E turned 8, I experienced this weird dip in my confidence about how we are doing things.  Having been applying unschooling principles since she was 2, I've seen such a huge amount of natural learning and proof of how well unschooling works in those 6 years.  So, normally, the occasional, mild bit of nervousness just because this is my oldest child and it's all new, is easily relieved by seeing how much they are learning, comparing where they are this year to last year, seeing how much they enjoy learning, and knowing that I provide a life rich with experiences and resources.  However, something about her turning 8 and still not reading really well, sent me on a downward spiral.

I mostly kept it to myself, but I had the occasional moment of pushing, "You can read that," when she asked me to read something to her, or "Just try to sound it out one more time," after she had tried and was clearly frustrated.

Then in January I had a freak out about her not knowing how to spell her last name.  Her first name is 8 letters and she could spell it and write it at 4 years old.  Her last name is 8 letters, but for some reason she was stuck in learning how to spell it.

I have to admit that the worst part is that it's not that I believe that it really matters in the long run for *her* if she learns to write it at 8 or at 12. It's that I was afraid that if we end up in some social situation where she is expected to spell it, I will look like the neglectful, failing idiot who hasn't taught her kid how to do something so basic.  In my experience, the worst parenting mistakes are made when we stop looking at our kids and their needs, and start worrying more about what other people think.

So I freaked out and I apologized.  She said she was feeling frustrated by it too and that she wanted to learn it, but that it was hard.  So I asked if she wanted to find a way to make it fun and she did. I didn't think it would really click with this one fun thing and I reminded myself that was ok and that I *would not* push.  But suddenly it just clicked and now she can spell her last name!  We did a cheer leading thing where she spelled out her last name by making each letter with her body.

She wrote it about a dozen times a few days later, both just for fun and because she made some cards to give to the neighbors that say "Her Name, Pet Sitting, Phone Number." 

After that, I made sure I gave her lots of space regarding reading.  I went back to what I've always done- read things for her, anything she asks me to, suggest that she try occasionally, but not push at all if she doesn't want to, fill her life with words and print, but not make them the be all-end all of learning.

And she went back to doing what she does.  Days of no attempts at reading or writing, then a day of reading a few pages or writing a whole list.  Days of not wanting me to read anything to her and then a day of having me read her a half a dozen books (though mostly she's been far less interested in books this last year or so, then in years past).  Days where she can't remember how to read words she's read a dozen times, and then suddenly reads a word she's never seen before.

Then a few days ago, we were watching L play a computer game and E pointed to a button L was about to click on and said, "That says 'See More.'"  I asked her how she knew that and if she had sounded it out.  She said no, she just knew.  Then she asked me to write down more words for her to figure out.

Since she had just read "see," I wrote down "bee, tree, free," and since she had just read "more," I wrote down "sore, tore, pore, more, fore, lore."  She read them all easily.

Then she wanted to sound out a word to write down herself, and this is where it has gotten tricky in the past.  She always seems to pick words that don't follow phonetic rules.  Then she tries to sound them out, and I gently, regretfully, tell her this is one of English's dumb words that doesn't make any sense, she gets frustrated and gives up.

So, this time she picked "Lloyd."  Yes, really.  Of all the words to try to sound out.  She gave it a valiant effort, but didn't even come remotely close (and seriously, who would know that if you don't know that?!).  But when I told her it was another weird word in our language, she didn't mind one bit this time!

Next she tried "pet."  Much easier!  Though it still took a few tries, because she was pronouncing it "pep."  But after I distinctly sounded out each letter for her, she got it.

Which leads into what I believe to be her biggest reading challenge.  She seems to have a hard time grasping the concept of phonetics and especially blending sounds.  She has an easier time memorizing whole words, which I've read is more of a right-brained way of learning to read.

I've seen other unschooling moms describe this as their child "collecting words," which is what she seems to be doing.  It takes these kids longer to learn, because they need to be exposed to enough words over enough years to memorize or "collect" enough to read a book.  But once they get to that point, they excel.  Of course, they eventually pick up some phonics in the process, but they will mostly be sight-readers their whole lives.

However she eventually masters it, the way she was playing with words the other night solidified for me once again why we are doing things the way we are doing them.  We spent a long time sounding out words, working together and playing with words, and she was having fun the whole time.

It would be so, SO easy to ruin her love of learning by pushing her to read.  There is no guarantee that any method we used would have her reading any earlier than she is, but I can just about guarantee that the stress, tears, and frustration caused by pushing, cajoling, or bribing would leave her hating reading all together.

Instead, she has the freedom to pick it up and set it down.  Play with words when it suits her, and then let them lie while her mind mulls over other things.  Connect the dots in her own way and add to her word collection at her own pace. 

Freak out over.  Confidence returned. 


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