I began homeschooling my son Harrison from the time he was “school age” or as I like to say, we have always been learning through living, it just took me time to realize that and to label it. We began homeschooling with limited financial resources and thus my motivation to do so without buying expensive curriculum. Looking back, I am glad I did not have disposable income to warrant buying “expensive curriculum”. He began early reading at age 3 1/2 and had already begun to write letters before that. The first letter he ever wrote was and “s” with chalk on the sidewalk after watching us write “stop” over and over again.
Before I go too far off tangent, did you miss that?
The first letter he drew was the letter “S”.
Child development experts say a child will learn to draw a straight line and copy a circle first. Quoted from babycenter.com, ” Between his second and fifth birthdays, your child will learn to make horizontal lines, to copy a circle and a square, and to draw people.”
But my son drew an “s” first. Yet, he wasn’t good at drawing a stick figure person and had little interest in drawing people. He drew the “S” because he loved stop signs and loved watching us make them in chalk on the driveway and side-walk. His “security blanket” when he went to “preschool” at age one, aka, part-time day care, was a large manila envelope filled with hand-made card-sized paper road signs. He first fell in love with the stop sign at the corner by our neighbors house. Maybe because when we took a walk from the time he was a new-born, I would talk about everything I saw, including naming all the road signs. Or maybe it was just because it was bright red or he was just by nature fascinated with letters and shapes.
I remember the day I decided to make him a paper sign for the first time. He looked forward to taking a walk every day to the stop sign located just on the other side of our next-door-neighbor’s yard. I had the idea, what if it is raining and we can’t go outside and walk to see the stop sign? And so I got a paper plate and red paper and made a stop sign and I added a paper post. That was his first paper sign and he loved it!
Maybe because my son learns like I do or because I was academically minded… or just because as his parents, we became bored, we began to add other signs to his collection and went from going over the colors to the shapes to the letters and words. But the reason it worked, was because HE was INTERESTED in the road signs. We were following his interest. We never pushed him with this endeavor of learning road signs. He had an interest and we followed it and his lead.
Back to my point..
Not all kids learn in the way that human development experts say is the way kids learn. In my education to become an Occupational Therapist (OT) I learned human development from these “experts”. OTs who work in the school system are “experts in handwriting and fine motor skills”. I vividly remember my son’s well check up at age 3. The pediatrician was doing a quick development screen and asked my son to draw or copy a circle and square and Harrison drew 3 octagons and wrote “STOP” in each of them. Of course this confident display of his skills prompted the astute pediatrician to ask my son if he could tell what time it was on his watch. I think it was at this same well visit that they gave him an eye test with that silly kids eye chart with pictures on it. I can not figure out what some of those pictures are! He read the words at the bottom of the eye chart.
All children learn differently. Some learn complex to simple as opposed to the traditional method of learning simple to complex. You can read more about this in the book, The Right Side of Normal by Cindy Gaddis. When Harrison was about 5 and learning to read books, he wanted to read Charlotte’s Web, a book we had read to him many times. My first though was that is a complicated book to read at age 5, but I went with it. He needed help with many words but he was motivated to read it. That is all that matters. My aunt,whose son was less than a year older than mine, and also an early reader, had recommended the Magic Tree House books. I had to encourage Harrison to let me begin reading the first book to him. And once I did, he was hooked on it. I helped him by encouraging him to read a sentence and then I would read. Slowly I encouraged him reading more, two sentences, then a paragraph and eventually a page. It was something we did together and we both enjoyed the stories. I had no set time-table of when he would read on his own nor any set amount to read each day. We just did it regularly, each day if possible.
I would never tell another parent that they need to teach their child to read in the way I taught my son. First, I feel I have acted more as a facilitator of his learning over the years. Sure some things, I have “taught him” but not in the traditional meaning of “teach”. Second, I know every child is different. Each child has different interests and different strengths and weakness with learning and learning styles. Thus, the reason this blog is called, “Child-led learning”.
Academics came easy to my son. He had gross motor delays and so I found PE classes for him and also taught him to roller skate and attended homeschool skate days. Unfortunately, we had my parents buy him a bike when he was about 6 and he was not ready to learn to ride. He had balance issues and I knew that, yet, didn’t really get it until later. Even parents who have education in child development miss things. I knew he was on the later end of his gross motor skills but yet did not realize that learning to ride a bike at age 6 would be too early for him. My husband later told me that he was 9 when he learned to ride a bike but thought it was because he was the youngest of 6 and didn’t have a bike until then. We all miss things.
Funny thing is that everyone worries about academics and fine motor skills. Yet, here was my son excelling in academics and fine motor skills but no one was worrying about his gross motor delays. Not that we needed to spend time “worrying”. Yet, looking back, I would have done some things differently. Like gotten him a balance bike like we got my youngest child when he was 5 or 6 instead of a regular bike. I did do some things to help like teaching him to roller skate and the PE classes. A trampoline would have been great. We have one now. He enjoyed PE classes until he was about 11. We started a new PE class program but unfortunately it was set up like an after-school program and rather than teach skills, they played competitive sports. He was in with other boys ages 11-13 and most were physical and much bigger than him. He got accidentally knocked down in a game of kick ball by a boy nearly twice his size. He used to like kick ball. PE class was no longer a good fit for him. We found swimming and then exercising at the YMCA. He learned to swim about age 11, motivated by wanting to advance in rank in boy scouts.
Back to academics.
Over the years, I became more unschooled and we continued to nurture Harrison following his interests. We did math work books along the way in a very laid-back manner. He later became using Khan Academy for math. We participated in homeschool co-op classes and field trips, science fairs and Science Olympiad among other things. I never gave him tests on what he learned. We did the yearly standardized tests as required by NC state homeschool law. When he was the age of “10th grade”, I signed him up to take the fall PSATs. He couldn’t believe what our local high school looked like after standing in an hour line to take the PSATs. The school was about 5 years old in a “nice area of town”. I enrolled him in an SAT essay prep class later that year and signed him up for the last SAT offering in June. He was overwhelmed in the essay prep class in part because he felt “behind”. He didn’t know all the terms for English grammar rules even though he knew how to apply the concepts in practice. He scored well on English components of both the PSATs and the SATs. His score was under 500 on math, most likely due to the time factor. It needed to be 500 to qualify for the community college dual enrollment program, now called, Career and College Promise in NC. But he was able to enroll on a provisional status. He needed to take English and a math class (per what is allowed in the Career and College Promise tracts and get a B or better in both and would be able to take other classes in the tracts. We created a transcript for him. And this past spring, enrolled him in the BA tract so he could take Statistics ( the BS tract only offered Pre-Calculus Algebra as the minimum math class) and English 111. I still don’t understand why College Algebra is offered in the program. It is what it is.
At the age of 16 years and 9 months, Harrison went to school for the first time. He had contemplated attending high school a few years ago. He had some homeschool friends who went on to attend high school. Yet, I always knew that college would be a much better fit for him than high school. And over the years of learning alongside him and unschooling myself, I realized there was no rush to get him to college. Sure, he might have been able to be at a high-school junior level several years early and therefore we could have enrolled him sooner in the program at the community college, yet, he might have missed out on other opportunities. Like the opportunity to be a child. (More on that in another post!) I think he is right where he needs to be in his life.
There is a plaque that my mother bought for my son when he was a new-born. It has his name, “Harrison” and the meaning of the name. It says that “academia is his playground.” And his Myers Briggs Personality Type, based on the book, Nurture By Nature, Understand Your Child’s Personality Type- And Become a Better Parent, is INTJ. The book gives a description for children of each of the 16 types. INTJ is described: “Ready for college in Kindergarten”.