Despite my hopes, J did not start reading street signs from his car seat when he was three years old. He had very little interest in academic learning. He loved playing, especially with cars and trucks. He was less interested in crawling into our laps for a book than his sisters were at the same age. We let him play. His formal preschool education consisted of about twenty minutes of school per day beginning at age five. He is what I would consider a normal child. For some reason, in our culture, we hate to call our children normal–it hurts a bit–but he is, and that is okay. J is normal. Last night he started yelling everything he wanted to say. We have to tell him not to wrestle the dog. He spends most of his afternoon on his bicycle. Ultimately, the difference in our children will not be measured by how abnormal they are, but by how well we train and teach them–especially how well we teach them to work hard and obey.
We are in our third month of kindergarten and the only English Language Arts homework we have had has been the less than five minute daily review of phonogram flash cards. (We are up to 23 cards.) The teacher drills them at school, so he needs very few corrections at home. He still struggles distinguishing “d,” “b,” and “p.” He loves doing his phonogram “homework.” He has begun to read.
I set up his school desk in the corner of our dining room. Almost nightly, he writes random letters on sheets of paper. Last night, he heard someone say “gold.” “That starts with a g-j!” he said while writing “g”. He had some trouble figuring the “o” out. I had to elongate my pronunciation so he could pick it up. Then the “l” and finally the “d.” He does not always use the letter names–I do not know if he knows the alphabet yet. Regardless, he spelled out “gold” by pronouncing the word and listening to the sounds.
Here is what is beautiful (Not everything is…my home is proof that we need the Gospel!) about what happens in our house in the evenings. No one makes J sit at his desk. No one makes him write letters. No one makes him memorize his phonograms. No one made him spell “gold.” No one made him underline the “o.” (Our spelling rules require that the “o” is underlined when it says its own name.) He did it because he wanted to.
Here is a list of things we provide or do not provide in our home to create an environment that fosters excitement about learning.
Quiet in our home. There are times in our house when there is no music playing, no TV on, no yelling etc.
A place to play. J has space where he can do his own thing.
A time to play. There are times in our house when no one tells other people what to do. J has time to make his own choices. Over-scheduled children have to be told, “It is time to sit at your desk.” If this is their only experience, it will take the joy and playfulness out of learning. Schedules are for adults, not six-year-old children.
Books. Reading is not homework. It belongs in the life of every civilized person! We read a devotional, a Scripture, and a family read aloud most nights. (Taking time out for reading is not always easy. Sometimes it requires selflessness. It is good for a family to have the experience of choosing to do something that is difficult but valued.) These books have provided the fuel for J’s curiosity. The wonder, the stories, the conflict, and the happy resolution have drawn him to the world of letters and books. We have lots of good books in our home. We listen to audio books. From what he sees and hears, he knows that books bring pleasure.
Structure. J can count on our home being a place of predictability rather than chaos. (Most of the time!) We are at that stage of life when we cannot do whatever we want–we have young children.
Minimal screen time. Confession, we do not own a TV. Regardless, we do not let the computer, a cell phone, or the Kindle compete for J’s time. He does not expect to be handed a “device” in the car, the grocery, or at the line at checkout. He is too young and these things teach distraction while children his age need to be trained to focus. If we let him choose between being entertained or entertaining himself, he would rarely go to his desk to write letters and spell words for fun. He would also become sedentary.
No pressure. Young children (It starts to go away around Grade Three) have a natural interest and joy in learning, pleasing others, and showing what they can do. Good reading programs, families, and schools take advantage of this. Bad education kills these things. J is not on a timeline–no one in his life is worried about him learning to read by December or May. No one’s job is on the line if he does not start reading by Grade One or whatever.
He is my third child. All three have learned to read this way. We have been blessed to be in classical schools (or homeschool) that provide a structured approach to reading with good, solid phonograms programs. Despite what happens in many kindergarten reading classes, there is very little focus on understanding and lots of focus on memorization and practice. It is beautiful. Many children lose any natural curiosity and love they may have had for reading when they are taught to read under pressure. None of my children were reading before kindergarten. (The girls are normal too.) The two olders are now excellent readers.
A lot of what parents hear about early reading is just noise from benighted schools that are trying to prepare for a test at the end of Grade One.
Learning to read is a beautiful thing! It has been a pleasure to watch my children do it and they loved it too! School should not take this away. I am glad mine does not!