This week is Conferences Week at Z’s school. We get his report card and get to discuss with his teacher all the good stuff he’s doing or not doing.
And, for the first time in a long time, I don’t give a crap about what his teacher thinks.
Z is reading. Not quite chapterbooks yet, but he’s reading simple level 2 readers with virtually no problem. My tactic has been to simply supply him with words he stumbles on. Sometimes he makes the correction himself, sometimes he gets stuck and frustrated with a word and can’t continue. My (bad, stupid) tactic before was to make him sound it out. He would respond by producing the rarest sounds associated with those letter combinations. It wasn’t working, but I kept on insisting on “helping” him in this manner for most of last year. Bad, stupid, well-meaning me.
This summer, I completely de-emphasized reading. We did some cursive work, played on the computer, watched lots of documentaries, but I did not force him to read anything. And then, magically, when school started up again, he was actually interested in reading, in decoding text anywhere at any time (which he was not willing to do before). When he stumbled, I simply supplied the word. He heard it, associated it with the text, and moved on, happily comprehending the rest of the sentence/passage/book.
Magic. We took a break, and it worked. Just like so many homeschoolers recommend.
Why does “taking a break” really work? I think it resets the frustration levels for both kid and parent back to zero. I was better able to understand what he needed from me. He wanted to read the STORY not the individual words. And isn’t that the point of reading in the first place? for content? But I was forcing him to backtrack into some kind of horrible textbook basic sKILLS curriculum with my previous tactics. Bad, stupid, albeit well-meaning me.
What has become crystal clear to me over the last year and a bit with his current teacher is that he can’t really learn effectively in her classroom. It is basically a waste of Z’s time to be sending him to school in order to learn subjects like reading, multiplication, and division. But who cares? I didn’t learn division at school. The teacher introduced us to long division in 3rd grade and I was completely lost. For the first time in my academic career, I couldn’t figure out how to do something in school. So my parents got me a tutor (a family friend) and she walked me through long division, we practiced a great deal, and eventually I decided to keep going to tutoring and she taught me more advanced subjects like base-5 in 4th grade. And I loved it! I adored learning about how cool math was – mobius strips! binary! WOW!
So what is he getting out of school? Well, in our case, “socialization”. He has some really wonderful friends there, and he wouldn’t be able to play with them much if he were being homeschooled (at least at this point in our lives, given our distance from the town where they live and work schedules and such). And also, mad skillz at being outwardly “respectful” to authority figures while learning to ignore them when they’re unreasonable or unhelpful.
I’m not worried about Z’s learning anymore. Because he is learning. He always was, or at least he was always trying to learn. I, and his teacher, and my partner, were just getting in his way.
And when the burden of fear is lifted, frustration diminishes, and real learning, real *living* can flourish.