Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Kai is reading. He’s still learning (but aren’t we all – I still see new words I’ve never read before – most days!), but I wanted to write this while it’s still fresh and I remember all the details….(and I edited this to add a time-scale – he started ‘getting it’ around October. It’s now December and he’s reading almost all things, albeit slowly..)

Since Kai was around 4 or 5, I’ve been reading accounts of how and when unschooled kids learnt to read. On the whole, those accounts have helped me relax and chill when I’ve started to get stressed about it. But some of them also gave me some funny ideas about what his learning to read might look like….It hasn’t looked how I imagined it was going to, based on a large sample of those accounts!

So, I wanted to summarise what it has looked like for us….

Until he was nearly 8.5 years old, Kai couldn’t read jack squat!

I thought he was reading words he commonly came across, in gaming (like ‘Play’, ‘Exit’, etc…) but he tells me now he wasn’t. He figured things out in different visual ways (which is super cool all by itself!) – like by colour – the ‘play’ button is often green, etc. He also couldn’t remember most of the letters of the alphabet, didn’t write and couldn’t spell.

There has been/is an ‘awkward’ sounding out phase

A lot of accounts of unschoolers learning to read describe kids going from no reading to reading Harry Potter in the blink of an eye. As Kai has never ‘got’ phonics, I kind of expected him to learn as a whole word reader, and just ‘do it’. Lots of unschoolers say their kids didn’t have an awkward sounding out phase. But that’s not what happened for us.

It was more like he suddenly got letter sounds overnight, and so then he started sounding out words. And that’s what he’s still doing, though he is getting so fast at it doesn’t sound so slow or awkward any more. Once he ‘got’ phonics, he seemed to remember all the letters of the alphabet, and is already able to spell most things he needs to. I don’t know when he’ll be up to tackling a whole book. I’ll let you know though!

However, this ‘sounding out’ phase, might be because of this next point….

All Kai’s learning to read was done ‘out loud’

A lot of unschooling accounts say their kids kind of kept their reading progress to themselves until they were confident to come out and say they could read. That didn’t happen here! But Kai is a very ‘out loud’ kind of kid in many ways. ALL of his reading has been done out loud – all the sounding out – pretty much all of his reading is like that. Right now when he’s playing Skyrim, he’s reading the instructions out loud. When he’s in the car anytime at the moment, you can hear him sounding out passing words on shops and signs under his breath – it’s pretty cute!

Kai didn’t learn to read ‘by playing video games’

That might seem a surprising thing for me to say, for anyone who has read any more of this blog, as you’ll know I’m passionate about the learning involved in video gaming and we have never limited video games, and Kai games all the time – but, bear with me (I promise I’m still the worlds biggest proponent of video gaming!)!

On LOTS of unschooling discussion, you’ll see variations on that sentence – ‘My child learnt to read from video games’, ‘my child learnt to read because he needed/wanted to get to the next level in his video game’….etc…

Oooh, that makes me cross! No-one’s kid learnt to read ‘because’ of video games! That’s like saying ‘my kid learnt to read by looking at flash cards’! It’s on a par with the annoying ‘My child learnt to read because they wanted to’!! Grrr!! Children learn to read when their brains are ready. Not before. I’ve seen parents write frustratedly that they ‘let’ their kids play video games and ‘expected’ they would learn to read because they’d need to get to another level….Brain. Ready. Period!

PLEASE, if your child isn’t reading yet and needs help in their video game, for the love of all things good – help them and read for them!! Kai happily gamed for more than 3 years before he learnt to read, and I read out any instructions he needed me to – he was still learning all the time – video games have plots, stories, characters, numbers, design….


Once Kai was ready to read, video gaming meant his progress was very fast, and he was exposed to far more complex words than your average ‘Let’s go to the Park’ book!

Once Kai’s brain was ready to decode words, gaming means he’s reading almost ALL day (currently that is in Skyrim) and the words he’s reading are far more sophisticated and complex than anything you’d find in a ‘grade level’ reader! For example ‘Alchemy’, ‘Arcane’, and yesterday ‘Shellbug Chitin’ (we discussed how Chitin is a weird word because the CH is pronounced as a ‘K’ not the usual ‘CHU’ sound! We also discussed what chitin is – I’m pretty sure I never had heard of the word chitin till 2nd year undergrad zoology – I was 28!!).

And it’s also definitely true that, once a kid is reading, gaming offers a lot of motivation to read and understand instructions– you read an instruction, you do it, you immediately get to a new level, or get a new achievement. There is also a lot of literature around gaming – manuals, fan fiction, etc – though Kai hasn’t gotten into any of that…yet!

On a related note, so I’ll add it here – there has never been any distinction here between ‘learning to read’ and ‘reading to learn’. ALL of Kai’s reading is to learn – mostly about his games – his reading and his reading comprehension aren’t separate entities.

So. That’s how it was here….Now some advice, which you can obviously choose to take or ignore!

Keep calm, and keep reading (you, not your kid!)!

The thing that helped me relax the most about reading, and really, truly believe it would happen, was reading about how other unschoolers learnt to read. Also, we have unschooled friends older than Kai who I also watched learn to read – that really helped too! That’s not to say I didn’t have periodic panics…but when I did, I went and read some more and distracted myself! Kai also has never liked to be read out loud to, only on very rare occasions – so I’m here to tell you that doesn’t matter either, if your kid doesn’t like to be read to!

Don’t set your kid a deadline based on other peoples stories or experiences!

I’m only including this because I kinda did that! When we first found unschooling, and had friends with older kids, I said (jokingly, back then!) that I’d keep calm about reading until Kai was 9, then I might freak out! Lucky for me, Kai’s brain kept nicely aligned with my randomly imposed schedule! But I realise now that that ‘joke’ really was important in my head…..and I think if Kai hadn’t have been reading by 9, I would have freaked out more than I would had I not set that deadline. Kids learn to read anywhere between 3 and 13, and sometimes older….

Don’t expect your kid will learn to read from video games because they ‘have to’.

Let them play video games because video games are awesome, not because of some deluded idea that they will learn to read ‘because’ of them or ‘from’ them.  They will learn to read ‘with’ them (and only when their brains are ready!)!

Don’t expect your kid learning to read will look the same as any of the stories you have read about other unschooled kids learning to read!

I did. And it didn’t! Though it might! Read more stories about unschooled kids learning to read here!

Lo and Behold, this turned up in my email this evening, so I edited to add a link :)


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I tend to avoid avoid blogging specifically about learning these days. Sometimes it feels too ‘try hard’…a bit fake, y’know!? Or maybe it’s because I don’t like to overthink the learning for fear of schoolish thoughts coming into my head!?? Maybe both of those things and more!?

But I guess for newer unschoolers, it might be what the you are looking for….ideas on bringing stuff into the home, looking for the learning in everyday stuff, and strewing…also recording if you have to register….

So…I hereby shall blog about some learnin’ type stuff that’s been going on around here of late! Specifically, since they are the two ‘subjects’ people freak out about the most, Maths and English!

As he approaches 7, lots of things are going on for Kai, I think, at the moment. He has a new awareness of things, he likes things he didn’t like before…constantly growing, learning (and losing teeth!).

He suddenly likes to be read to. Chapter books. Every night. I’m enjoying reading with him greatly and we’ve so far got through about 8 Beast Quests and 3 Boy Vs Beast books! He’s not reading yet, but I see a definite progression in his understanding of words and writing – which has happened pretty fast since Christmas. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll be an independent reader anytime soon, but it’s very cool to watch his learning move forward in such a natural, unforced, way…he can pick out a word in a group of words, and has been following some sentences as I read aloud…

Other literacy things we enjoy here are Rory’s Story Cubes (just discovered they have an App too, while I found that link! Cool!!), which Kai loves…and recently we got a game called ‘Gallows’ from the Op Shop (also discovered an App for hangman getting that link!), which is essentially a fancy plastic version of the game hangman that we all played at school!

Since Kai can’t read or spell yet, we had to come up with a more ingenious way to play Gallows together..…the same day he’d also got some Pokémon Annuals from the same Op Shop, so we decided to play Pokémon Hangman/Gallows. Kai chooses the name of a Pokémon creature from his annual, and chooses the letters to spell it out, then I choose one too, and we play that way. It’s so much fun!! (and  just an interesting aside, ‘Pokémon’ is in the spell check dictionary on my computer! Who knew!?)


Someone on an unschooling group suggested (to another poster) Montessori Crosswords App on the iPod, but that didn’t go down well here, although Scribblenauts is still very popular, especially on long road trips. Kai pretty much knows most alphabet letters now, mostly all from Scribblenauts…

Workbooks are a definite no-no in Kai’s opinion, although we do have a pile in the cupboard (mostly for reporting purposes!)! I think, if a parent is fully deschooled, and a child has never been to school, workbooks are actually a pretty odd concept in general. If school didn’t exist, then workbooks wouldn’t exist…..it’s a simple truth!  Workbooks are set up in a schoolish way that has no relevance to everyday life and learning, so I can’t imagine them being at all appealing to most always unschooled kids – although I’m sure there are some kids out there that like them, before I get jumped on!! He also doesn’t much enjoy Junior Scrabble, but loves Junior Monopoly (see below for maths!).

Other aspects of English of course include public speaking and drama, and Kai has been enjoyed drama class a lot, and we have our first ‘real’ performance in front of an audience tomorrow!! But he’s never had any problems with public speaking and acting anyway!

And although he doesn’t enjoy writing, when he does write, his writing is quite legible…drawing, cutting and gaming are awesome for fine motor control, and I’m sure that has helped his writing when he’s decided to do some….he recently wrote this story about dragons…



Number concepts are so pervasive in everyday life, it seems kinda weird to ‘address’ maths! But, we do have some favourite mathsy type resources that we use a lot….lately those have been board games – Junior Monopoly, Chess, Go For Broke, Blokus….we’ve been playing a whole lot of all of those (well, in truth I don’t/can’t play chess…but Brett does!).

Another game we found in an Op Shop is called CrissCross and has two possible permutations, one with letters and one with numbers. Unsurprisingly Kai doesn’t enjoy the word version, but rather more surprisingly he loves the number version – we use some wooden operator symbols to help him put his sum together, and sometimes the abacus, and he quickly picked up addition and subtraction and actually asks to play that game. Later down the track it’s obviously possible to do longer sums and multiplication and division and stuff in the game….




Jigsaws are another of our favourite maths resources (spatial reasoning, parts of a whole, etc)….And, of course, cooking and food!…Oh, and we seem to find graphs EVERYWHERE!! Lately we’ve been checking the surf report graph at Swellnet.com to see if there is local surf! Kai can interpret bar charts and pie-charts easily.


But for both English and Maths, computer games have been our biggest and best resource by far….on so many levels (pardon the pun!). Fine motor control helps with writing, drawing, cutting… Problem solving helps with everything, but especially maths. Gaming uses big numbers, 100’s, 1000’s, even 10,000 and more – and so Kai has no problems with the concept of large numbers. A great deal of the words Kai knows by sight are gaming based (play, pause, exit, zombie, etc!). Map reading skills are required in loads of games. The other day he made a hotel in Minecraft and wanted to call it ‘The Cave Hotel’ (no, I don’t know why!) and typed out the letters for his sign.

Minecraft in particular is AMAZING!!!And don’t just take my word for it, read and watch the links below – and then go get your kid Minecraft – it’s only $19.95!!! Cheaper and way more useful than a box of wooden Cuisinaire rods!

Is Minecraft the ultimate educational tool?

Why won’t she get off Minecraft?

So. That’s what we’ve been up to….but remember these are things WE enjoy! They might not be things that float your child’s boat so much, so they’re just a guide – an idea of the type of learning resources available in every day fun life (and in the Op Shops!)…..but remember…. if I forced Kai to sit down and play CrissCross with me – well – I wouldn’t be unschooling anymore, i’d be teaching him maths…..

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Regular readers of this blog will know Kai’s not a great fan of story books. Nor being read to in general. But we do love Christmas. And he does love these two Christmas books in particular! We’ve had them both since he was very little, both sent to us from my Mum in the UK – Merry Christmas Little Mouse, and of course, The Night Before Christmas.

We usually start reading them nightly around now, and we’ll take them to Nana’s to read on the actual Night Before Christmas. They are also both hard back and such beautiful books!

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I’m having a ‘misty eye’d about unschooling’ kind of morning. A friend (Hi Nicole!) posted about how she’s so glad I helped her find unschooling, and how it is working in their house with their baby…and I’m reading about all the cool things our unschooling friends are up to, and I’m enjoying a quiet morning, in my lounge, while Kai sleeps in because he’s got a(nother) cough and we had a massive big day yesterday….

If we went to school, or if I did school-at-home, he wouldn’t be able to sleep in till after 10.30am…(not without me freaking out, at least!!)…

So, we’ve been busy this weekend….and prior to the weekend also…

Here’s what we’ve been livin’ and learnin’ this week…

We went to the local Wildlife Park (because now we’ve joined, we just can! Whoo!)…It was coooooold…but really nice and quiet, and the kanga’s were chillin’!

Kai fed some of the more friendly wallabies (who are much hungrier on a weekday!)

 Kai also realized that he could read more words than he thought he could when he knew what ‘push’ or ‘pull’ said on the gates! Oh, and we saw the Tassie Devil get fed…

On Friday he didn’t feel great with this cough, but decided to go to Stunt Monkeys anyway – this week he got to be ‘King of The Castle’ at the end of the session game – he was very happy about that!

Friday night was a rare blue moon. The clouds were kind and dissipated long enough for us to get a look at the moon…

Kai said it wasn’t blue, and went inside!

On Saturday we went to a CSIRO Double Helix Club session to dissect an owl pellet. We had done it before at Paleo Week at the museum, but Kai had chosen to go and do it again. The pellets come from barn owls in the desert, and our group was lucky that we had a real variety of stuff in the pellets! Kai’s had at least 3 different dusky hopping mice in it (we could tell from the lower jaws), including a really big, intact skull….

And other people found budgie skulls, gecko’s and zebra finches…super cool!

As I walked around the room asking kids what they found, a lot of them didn’t really seem so excited (not as excited as us three, anyway! I suspect Brett was the most excited person in the room!). Two boys in front of us (about 8 or 9) seemed more concerned they were ‘doing it wrong’ and ‘not finding enough’…some of the other kids just looked bored and fed up…I realized how I would have felt being dragged (yes, that’s how I would have felt!) to a schooly type of activity on a Saturday morning! I would NOT have been happy!!! (although – owl pellets *might* have piqued even my interest….).

Anyway, Kai loved it…we vowed once more to try and find some owl pellets in the wild to look at at home – we just need to find a perch where they vomit and we’ll be all good!

After that we stopped off at the video store and got The Green Lantern, as Kai’s been discovering the Green Lantern on some of his cartoons lately, and went home…..The Green Lantern was watched and enjoyed by all on Saturday night!

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and Kai made a beautiful card for Brett…

The sun was shining and spring really was in the air, and we headed to Victor Harbor for the first time. Our main reason for going was The South Australian Whale Centre, and the possibility of seeing actual whales in the ocean.

We all enjoyed the Whale Centre…it had some pretty cool stuff – like this skull of a Southern Right Whale…

They had lots of things for kids, including a sand/fossil dig pit, and a cool play area inside a giant squid!

Displays included info on all the oceans mammals in Australia, whaling information and what they used whale products for, a shark exhibit from Rodney Fox, lots of whale bones and ocean stuff to touch, a ‘classroom’ upstairs with little microscope things to look at shells and stuff…pretty cool!

After that we went for fish and chips, which were very good – possibly the best chips I’ve had in a while! Then we went for a walk over the causeway to Granite Island….the boys went clambering over the rocks, looking for….I dunno….something?? Then we did a little walk around the Island….and lo and behold, we found some lizards!

Two shinglebacks enjoying the first of the spring sunshine! This was the first time Kai had caught his own shingleback, and he was pretty happy about it!

Then we headed to a lookout where we were told we might see an actual, real-life, in the ocean, whale. And we did. Albeit very far away! Here is my most massive zoom shot…

It was a southern right whale. I was quite annoyed at myself for forgetting the binoculars, but  honestly I don’t think they would have helped too much! But it was still very cool to see – I realized I have now seen 4 species of whale (orca, humpback, pygmy right, southern right) in the wild in various places! Yay!

So, today is another sunny day, and we might go for a short hike or something. Kai is still asleep. I have some work to do. And a job (of sorts) to apply for – more info if I get it at a later date! And I suppose I’d better get the washing out before the rains return on Wednesday!

Lovin’ our life! Hope y’all have an awesome week too!

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I don’t write much about what Kai’s learning much anymore. I assume (rightly or wrongly – but I admit I am given to making assumptions!) that regular readers will understand that learning is just happening, and I don’t feel the need to document it or quantify it anymore. This blog won’t be used for registration purposes either, I have enough records without it, and some of the things I’ve said here might not go down so well with the education officials!

To be honest, I’m not sure what direction this blog is going, but I do feel it turning into something a bit different soon….

Anyway, since I have a bit of time, and since we are nearly ½ way through what would have been Kai’s first year at school (yikes!) and we’re going to register soon, I thought I’d regale you with some updates on what Kai’s been learning, and – probably of more interest to most – where he’s been learning it from!

Starting with the big two. English and Maths.

He still doesn’t like being read to. I doubt he ever will. I read to him, a whole book, maybe once a fortnight on average. Last time was Good Friday and I read two books about Easter bilby’s at bedtime because he asked me to!  I offer, he declines. It used to bother me. Now it doesn’t! I don’t think it will be remotely tied to his ability to learn to read, and I really liked this page  as it made me realise that reading aloud isn’t that important, and Kai’s not the only kid who doesn’t like it!

But, there is no lack of reading ‘material’ and written words in his life. Wii games. Ipod games. Books he flips through himself (usually non-fiction – books on knights, dinosaurs and the like!). Brett and I are always reading in the house – Brett usually non-fiction (lizard books!) and me fiction! We get new books from the library every week, fiction and non-fiction, early readers and picture books…whatever we fancy!

His reading journey is hard to nail down, and we are only at the beginning, but in recent months he can pick out a word in a list of 5 or 6 options (ie: which word says ‘knight’ in a list) and is starting to figure out beginning letters/sounds – mostly from playing eye-spy in the car and on the bus.

His progress reminds me of when he learnt his colours – when he was about three (and before unschooling, but when I was considering homeschooling) I was freaking out because he didn’t seem to know his colours. But soon I realized it was how I was asking the question that was important; if I asked ‘what colour is that?’, he wouldn’t know, but if I asked ‘which colour is orange?’ then he knew. And lo and behold, he now knows all the colours of the rainbow and more! Similarly, if I said ‘what does that word say?’, he wouldn’t know, but if i said ‘which word says ‘Roman’?’ he can usually guess.

 Myself, I recently came to the realization (I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes!) that knowing the alphabet (ie: the names of letters) has absolutely NOTHING to do with learning to read. At all. However, he also now knows most of the letters, from playing ‘Scribblenauts’ on the ipod.

I made a few word searches for him, which he liked and can do. He’s written a few birthday cards, but dislikes writing on the whole – although his writing is actually quite legible!

Numbers seem to come to him somewhat easier than words and letters do. He can add in his head, up to three different numbers, and recognize all the numbers up to 100 (he learnt that mostly from speed signs on roads, and video games!). He has an awareness of larger numbers which are bigger and smaller (ie: can guess if he has enough points to buy something in a game) although can’t do addition/subtraction of larger numbers (Jeez – he’s only 5!). He recognizes plus, minus and equals operator signs, and knows what they mean, but dislikes written sums in general. 

He can tell the time to the hour and half hour – usually I ask him to tell me what the clock says at some point in the day, when I’m in another room without a clock – we have a clock in the kitchen and one in his room.

Right, so that’s that for those. I don’t know what else people are interested in knowing about!? Science – well, most of our science of late has come from visiting exhibits and museums – paleo week, The Abyss, also TV shows like Deadly 60, Barney’s Barrier Reef, Backyard Science.

I know some people worry about science, but science is such a massive part of our lives, always, that I don’t consider it really!  Kai’s been out with Brett putting out temperature loggers, measuring rocks with the tape measure, etc, etc…he’s not so keen on experiments as he once was, but all the stuff is there when and if he is again – we also found some moth wings the other day that we have ready to look at under the microscope (I might be more excited about this than him!).

History has been, and still is, big….still keen on medieval history and knights and weapons. We got an awesome DVD from the library last week about the history of weapons, from stone age to duels and jousting to guns and firearms (it’s called Conquest, if you’re interested!)….we’ve been watching that together. He has learnt so much about history in the past few months, it’s mind-boggling! In a couple of weeks we’ve got the local Medieval Fayre to look forward too! Yay!

So that’s where we’re at…..and soon to go on a big trip overseas, where he’ll learn so much more –he’s pretty excited about visiting medieval sites in England (me not so much, but i’m sure i can muster up some enthusiasm!).

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It’s Day in the Life day! I don’t have any cute photo’s. I don’t really have much to tell you. But I thought it might be fun to do since it’s the last day of the road trip, and it’s a glipse into a usual day in Kai’s life on the road, and in the car!

So, we woke up this morning in a small cramped cabin in a scabby type of caravan park on the outskirts of Nyngan, New South Wales. Brett went out looking for lizards, and Kai found something on the TV to watch – Sponge Bob and some Anime type of thing. Breakfast for Kai was a piece of wholegrain toast with nutella, then an apple, then some yogurt. Since he’s on antibiotics for his bacterial skin thing, he’s been having more yogurt….lucky he likes it anyhoo!

Kai went out to climb some tree’s outside, and found some sticks, we had a shower and finally got on the road around 9.45am, which was much later than we had planned!

We drove due west. Kai played some Cars game on the Leapster, and watched Ivanhoe on the DVD. We stopped at Cobar, which is actually only just over an hour from Nyngan, but there is literally nothing much for hours after it! We got car snacks – more yogurt, seaweed crackers and tzatziki, dolmades, and cheese sticks, and a lolly! Brett and I got coffee. We went to the same park we went to on the evening we stopped at Cobar on our second night on the road! Kai made friends in the park again and had a good run around before we had to go.

He watched something else on the DVD, then turned it off and said he was going to sleep. He slept until we got to Wilcannia, where we stopped for fuel and chocolate (for Brett and Kai!).

He watched Kung Fu Panda for the final leg, and we arrived in Broken Hill around 4.00 local time. We got a cabin, since I think Brett is done with putting the tent up (and taking it down!). We went to the shops to get dinner – we decided home cooked fish and chips for our final night, with broccoli and corn cobs (just because they were looking yuck in the esky!)….I’d also promised Kai i’d get him some of the Skylanders figures, so we got those – so now we have figures that work with a video game but no console to play it on – i guess we’re committed to the Wii for Christmas!?! He just playing with them as toys right now!

Brett went out to lizard, and Kai and I had a swim in the caravan park pool. His swimming has improved heaps on the trip – unsurprisingly given the amount of time he’s been in pools! Then we had a shower and washed his poor sore legs, and now we’re watching Horrible Histories on ABC 3 while the dinner is cooking!

So….I guess that’s a fairly typical day on the road when we haven’t been heading to a National Park! I haven’t been thinking of things much in terms of ‘unschooling’ lately…I think because i’m in such a trusting place with it all, it’s just all flowing without stress!

But, I’d have to say that in terms of food – we’ve all eaten pretty awesomely during the trip, and mostly avoided the trap of bad ‘road trip’ food – and that includes Kai – i don’t think i’ve ever seen him eat so many apples and nuts (erm…or lollipop! ha ha!)…His bedtime has become considerably earlier than at home  – he takes himself to bed anywhere between 7 and 9 most nights, and has been waking up around 6 or 7am…bedtimes haven’t been an issue at all. Ever.

And, so what has he learnt today? Some geography? Some history (since we’re watching Horrible Histories – we’ve had Ancient Egypt and Vikings so far tonight!). He did some letters and words on the Leapster earlier on….and he’s learning a lot about bacteria and antibiotics from his episode of impetigo! So – english, geography, history (although as a KLA – geography and history come under Society and Environment together!), and health, and biology….not bad really! Oh, and phys ed since we’ve been swimming! Oh, and socialization since Kai made friends at the park!

So. That’s our day. Not typical, but typical of a day on the road! Hope y’all had a good day, we’re looking forward to getting back to our ‘real home’ (Kai’s quote!) tomorrow!

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I had a thought, about something I wrote last week – that, as unschoolers – we don’t think learning to read is more important than learning to swim. But I’ve been thinking about that statement this week, and I’m not sure….I guess it only holds if you also believe the opposite is true – that I don’t think learning to swim is more important than learning to read. And I’m not sure I completely believe that.

Definitely for a 5 year old….up to probably a 10 year old, or even older, if pressed, I’d have to say that I think learning to swim is more important than learning to read. Am I saying that because my 5 year old shows absolutely no interest in learning to read and I might be freaking out (a little!), but he can swim….well, possibly….but lets ignore any self-serving motivation I might have for now!

**Disclaimer – I am not, in any way, suggesting you should force your child to learn to swim if they don’t want to, just like i’m not suggesting you force your child to learn to read! I am merely offering an interesting comparison of two things and how important our society views learning them in childhood….

But think about it. In every-day life (not school – that’s not everyday life), what advantage does being able to read give a 5 year old? Or even a 10 year old or 12 year old? Yes, you can read some signs. You can read some books. You can understand something more of the world around you. But if you have an involved parent, they will help you do that if you can’t read. They’ll read signs if you ask them. Read books if you ask them. Read instructions for games if you ask them.

But can being able to read save your life? Because clearly being able to swim can. I looked up the stats for 2009 – 2011. 29 children aged 5-14 drowned in Australia in those two years – the majority were in rivers and creeks, some at swimming pools, some wandered and fell into water. Figures are MUCH higher if you include under 5’s….but since I’m comparing the life-utility of learning to swim vs learning to read, I feel it’s only fair to use 5 and over, since most under 5’s are not being pressured to learn to read (well….that’s debatable these days, I guess!)..

And a study quoted in the Life Saving Reports found that for exposure adjusted person-time estimates (I’m assuming this means corrected for the amount of time you spend near/in water vs the amount of time you spend in or around cars), risk of drowning is 200 times higher than for death in road traffic accidents.

Could being able to read save your life? Well, possibly in some situations. If there was a danger sign and you read it? But most danger signs also have obvious pictures – presumably for those speaking a foreign language –  a swimmer with a big cross through it. A crocodile. Kai understands what those type of signs mean.

However, in the interests of research and clarification, I showed him these two signs and asked him what they meant (I would have shown him more, but he got fed up!) – quotes in italics from Kai!

nobody swims


No swimming with the crocodiles


I googled extensively (and I’m modestly confident I am a pretty good search engine!) and found nothing to tell me that being able to read had ever saved someone’s life (or, that not being able to read had resulted in someone losing their life)…the closest I got was ‘learning to read a map could even save your life’….and, arguably, you could potentially read a map without actually being able to read….

The possible life benefits of being able to read, once you are outside a school setting (where getting children to read as soon as possible is a control tool, and the easiest way to ensure mass instruction), are pretty slim ….there is just no real reason why most children should want to be able to read. The same can be said for writing – they don’t need to be able to write a cheque. Sign their name….

In the recent past, and even currently in many areas, learning to swim would have been pretty important for 5-10 year olds– especially those that were coastal or relied upon fishing – boys (and maybe girls) that age would have helped with fishing and hunting. Learning to read…..erm….that’s a pretty recent pursuit for 5-10 year olds….and one in which the most academically successful counties, such as Finland, don’t start until children are 7 or 8……

Obviously some children come early to reading, of their own accord. I’m pretty sure I was reading before I started school, and Kai has a friend who taught himself to read at 3…..But for those children who are not interested in reading early, I wonder could putting energy and stress into learning to read (for no apparent good reason) – and other strongly academic pursuits at that age, hinder their development in other ways….

Apparently yes…..(are you surprised…I think not!)….Here’s some snippets – and full links at the end of each section of points…

Sitting increases fatigue and reduces concentration, {while} movement feeds oxygen, water, and glucose to the brain, optimizing its performance.

Children who had experienced early academics were more anxious and less creative than their peers who had been in traditional, play-based preschools – a distinctive disadvantage.

(above from here)

The evidence suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.

Children should be introduced to the alphabet at the age of about five-and-a-half, in an ideal world”

Could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready

(above from here)

This is also a really great article, which is repeated with some differences here (click on the link at the bottom). Although I’m not a massive fan of some Waldorf-Steiner ideas (Yes – warning – this is a Waldorf-slanted article!), I think this brain development stuff totally makes sense (but I’m ignoring the strict age guidelines – I think those brain developments can happen at vastly different ages for different kids….)

Most young children, less than 7 years of age, have not finished developing their neurological pathways for writing, reading and spelling.

The right brain reading pathway becomes overworked and the children will end up being just sight readers with poor spelling and poor comprehension.

If children are pushed to learn phonetics before bilateral integration and the left brain has fully developed, they will still struggle with reading and spelling.

According to this article and the ‘skip’ test, Kai already has bilateral integration (left and right sides of his brain ‘talk’ to each other)….but I’m fairly sure he is heavily right-brained and have no intention of pushing reading, in any way, shape or form! (unless he asks, and of course I always read to him…when he wants me to….which isn’t often these days!)

And in a lovely connection back to swimming…..the article also says that doing cross-lateral movements, such as swimming freestyle, can strengthen bilateral integration…So, by learning to swim first, children will also be helping to make learning to read easier later!

And…although slightly off topic – here’s a report detailing how schools in the UK (and undoubtedly elsewhere), are pushing phonics programs due to financial incentives….http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14029897 Don’t kid yourself- the compulsory schooling system is just as biased and corrupted by money as the pharmaceutical industry….

I found a few other really good reads about reading (pardon pun!)…, I especially like this page is from Joyfully Rejoicing – and it talks a lot about how reading isn’t the only way, or even the best way, to learn… and there are lots of other reading links there – in the menu on the left.

And, just for food for thought – it’s a widely held belief that Albert Einstein didn’t learn to read until he was 10 (and didn’t talk until 4)…and Stephen Hawking has said he didn’t learn to read until he was 8…

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