Holiday Break Update

November and December are so full of birthdays, holidays, special occasions, and extra curricular activities, that we have scheduled a two month break in our normal schooling. We are halfway through. I call it a break because we’re breaking from the normal math, writing, etc, but you know that learning is always happening. Right?

I have one “academic” goal for these two months. I want to read with the kids three novels: The Giver, Tuck Everlasting, and Doctor Dolittle. We are working through them at the same time to allow for different areas of interest to be enjoyed. The Giver seems to be the favorite for the olders and Doctor Dolittle for the youngers.

Is this enough to be doing for two entire months? Yes. It’s enough because we aren’t just reading the books. We are savoring them. And we are discussing the ideas we read about as we go about our days. It’s like a crash course in good literature and the introduction of new ideas to discover and build upon. Why not enjoy books all year instead? Well, we do. We read a lot. But I wanted to give special time to The Giver since it is such an intriguing story, and while we were busy with the holidays, I thought it the perfect time to read it along with a couple others.

Of course we are doing more than just reading together. That only takes an hour or so a day.  We’re also doing a lot of shopping and wrapping, baking cookies and learning new eating habits, (since we’ve found that at least two of us benefit from a gluten free diet). We are playing. A lot. And the ideas we’ve read about or talk about or that they’ve seen on TV shows get played out. It’s great fun watching my comedians kids act out these crazy ideas. It also gives me insight into what they know and where to go from there. I bought each kid a new calendar, and we are working on related skills from memorizing the months to scheduling one’s days. There’s also library trips, visiting people, church activities, theater, dance classes, music practices, Boy Scouts, playing school, emailing friends and family, and even learning to read. Yes. My kids tend to learn big things like reading when we take time off of school. They’re special like that. 😉  Not really. It’s just another proof that learning is happening all the time, and for my family, it happens best when there’s no pressure. That’s one reason I love these breaks and take at least two a year.

I planned this season to be one of really enjoying the holidays. We’re doing that, and we are still learning through life and through sharing of ideas.  I imagine unschooling looks something like this. I dont consider us to be unschoolers in the purest sense because we don’t follow this pattern year round, but during these breaks I suppose we could be. We still have a few more weeks before we pick back up with our regular work. I wonder where these weeks will take us? What adventures and new lessons will we encounter? Who will surprise me with some new skill or understanding? I’m looking forward to good things. Oh this journey called education…

Late Readers

Do you worry about kids that are late readers?

My fourth child is eight years old and is still not reading. I keep telling myself that I’m not too worried about it. Her sister didn’t read till she was almost eight. I learned with her that it will come. That was after I stressed and grieved and panicked over the delay for a couple off years.

Why wasn’t she reading? My first two kids read by their fifth birthdays, and this third child didn’t even like sitting down to look at or listen to books. I pushed her to try. I used tried and true materials to teach her how to read. I bribed her with prizes. But all she wanted to do was play outside. Every day. All day. Then one summer, at nearly eight, she picked up some phonics readers at the library and began to read the words she knew and asked about the ones that she didn’t know. A few weeks later she picked up her Bible and “read” Genesis 1:1 and some from memory. She must have reread those first few verses 20 times over the next few weeks. Then she checked out a Harry Potter book from the library. Do you know how thick those are?! She loves the movies, so I let her get the book. She could only read a few sentences from her favorite part. I think she read about one and a half pages over the two weeks that we had the book. But she read.

That was about two years ago. Now at ten, she has just finished her first chapter book, Sarah, Plain and Tall (and Skylark). Not only did she read it, she fell in love with the characters. It was the first time she had experienced loving a story that she read. It was a short book, and she still needed help with some of the words, but now she’s looking for more books to read. She has found that joy.

Back to the fourth child. I’ve started to stress a bit over her not reading yet. Sure, her sister didn’t read till nearly eight, but now this girl is past that imaginary deadline, and I’m getting a little nervous. She enjoys being read to a few times a week. That’s a good sign, right? She can read a little when we do simple phonics lessons. She even messily sounds out some words to write down sometimes. So why hasn’t she decided to take on reading?

Just as I’m thinking about this little delay again, she insists she cannot read the words on the cover of the book she’s looking at, but reads the letters. P.E.O.P.L.E. of C.A.N.A.D.A. Was that what I thought I heard? Did she read “of” just that easily without realizing it even herself? And I realize it is happening. She is finally starting to read. There will be success after all.

It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It may take another year or more before she reads well. What will I do in the meantime? I’ll wait. I’ll read to her. I’ll let her experience life in other ways. I’ll talk with her. I’ll wait. I’ll show her videos. I’ll remind her kindly of all of the things I learn and enjoy by reading. I’ll continue to take her to the library for books she enjoys. I’ll wait.

It will happen. And when it does, when she finds that first book that she loves and devours ever so laboriously, it will have been worth the wait.

What About “Off” Days?

In our family, we are more rigid about scheduled learning from about August to November and again from January to April. That’s eight months of our year. The other four are much more delight directed. Today, being only our third week of structured learning, I had a normal day of school planned. Math, reading, writing, all of that.  I like to stick to routine, but today it just was  not going to happen. One child had a stomach ache, one has been feeling rushed all the time, and the other two are just full of play.  I hated to miss another day of lessons, so I “planned” a delight directed day. I erased our planning chalkboard where the day’s lessons are displayed, divided it into a section for each child, explained to the kids that we were having an “unschooling day” and to record on the chalkboard the educational activities that they chose for the day. They are no strangers to this idea, so the logistics were easy. At the end of the day, I will record what they have done and move my original plans to tomorrow’s space. I know how much of a blessing it is to have the freedom to take days like this. they are refreshing and help us get back on course when we feel better without completely losing today as a learning day. And there is no reason to stress over days like this. Just make the most of them 🙂

Here is what is on their lists so far:

L and E: They painted with water colors (inspired by a painting E saw last night), read jokes, watched two episodes of Wild Kratts, one on  beavers and one on polar bears. E also has a two hour dance class this evening.

A: He researched via internet pictures and videos and the encyclopedia sharks, carp,and square dancing , practiced his dance moves from the class he is taking, watched an older dance recital video for new ideas, watched the Wild Kratts episodes, designed with tangram pieces, and told me about one of the  Tom Swift Jr. books he has recently read.

B: She has not felt well today, but she watched some of the Swan Lake Ballet, read from Lord of the Rings, and will teach an hour and practice two more hours of dancing tonight.

I’d say there is plenty of learning going on during our “off day”.