Been meaning to write about this for a while because I have quite strong opinions about it and because I’m so delighted with Cana’s progress in this area. She gave me a note this morning that said “dear Mummy soory I all ways say meen words to you when your in the shoere love Cana”. Burst out laughing as she is banned from coming in the bathroom when I’m in the shower now due to her uncomplimentary comments such as “why is your bottom so HUGE?”, “when I was in your tummy were your legs all fat at the top like they are now” and “I don’t want to look like you when I’m grown up”. When your post-baby body confidence is at a low these are not things you want to hear!
Anyway, when you tell people in England you’re homeschooling, especially your work colleagues when you’re a teacher, they mainly look at you like you are confessing to child abuse. Or you are too lazy to take them to school or something. Not as if you were an intelligent, educated person who has researched the topic and found out that homeschooling, done properly, is actually better for your child than institutionalised learning. Your child is getting quality, one-on-one teaching from someone they love and they are being taught to find things out for themselves. In other words, self-manage their learning, in the same way that we, as adults, do.
However, that said, I do not advocate letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want. For a start, one day they will have to have a job and a boss. Secondly, children do not know what is best for them. And thirdly, although left to themselves I’m sure they will learn to read and write eventually I don’t want to leave such a crucial skill to chance. Apart from anything else, if they don’t learn to read till they’re ten then they miss out on 5 years of reading and I was reading Pride and Prejudice by the time I was ten. What a lot of pleasure they’ll miss out on.
So I always resolved to start mine on reading by the time they were 5, but in reality it started much younger because Cana started asking what things said when she was 3 and simply gobbled up the alphabet and blended C-A-T perfectly the first time I showed it to her. I know she’s exceptional because I’m a teacher, a practising teacher, so I work with children who aren’t that quick every day. Jude is showing much more normal progress. He’s 3 and three quarters and has learnt all his alphabet (largely due to some Thomas the Tank Engine flash cards I made him – A is for Annie, B is for Ben, C is for Clarabel etc.) but is still working on CVCs (consonant, vowel, consonant) and has been for a few weeks. My method is simply little and often. Just a few minutes a day and no more than 6 letters at a time. When they were learning their alphabets I would have a set of whatever letters they were learning in the car and whip them out a few times a day. It only takes 30 seconds to run through 6 letters with them.
Writing is on our curriculum once a week, and by that I mean writing with a pen on paper. Cana does ICT every day which often means writing and she also has spelling to learn everyday. I’m not a mean mummy, only two a day, and sometimes these take her a few days. She’s working through the first 200 high frequency words in the English language. These two spelling are linked to handwriting so she practises them in joined up. And although she wrote her note to me this morning in print, more often than not she is choosing to write in joined up now.
I have a bit of a thing about joined up because the first school I worked at taught it,successfully, in Year 1, basically as soon as they could form all their letters correctly; so when I went to other schools where it’s taught much higher up the school I couldn’t understand it. I have always taught it in Year 1 and the children have always really enjoyed learning it and quickly took to using it all the time. I now teach Year 6 children who can join their letters in handwriting lessons but don’t do it the rest of the time. They have consolidated writing in print. There’s always smart alec ones who say “Miss, why do we even need to learn, it’s only 3 points in the SATs?” and I point out that it will help them write faster and it looks more grown-up. I know doctors have notoriously bad handwriting but we’d all be pretty unimpressed if we got a prescription and they’d printed their name.
So Cana spends 5-10 minutes a day practising her joined up, and Jude will start on letter formation pretty soon. And if there’s any advice I can give to homeschoolers it would be: make sure they form their letters correctly. The first time Cana wrote her name we were pretty impressed but I quickly stopped praising her if she hadn’t formed her letters properly. The way I see it, in a year she’ll be fluent so it’s worth investing the time in being pernickety now. Oh and make writing real, for real reasons. Cana writes cards and letters to people, she texts Daddy and Nana (obviously using proper, unabrieviated words) and she blogs. She just got her first proper pen-pal too, one of my old uni friends has a little girl of a similar age up in Scotland so they are going to send real letters in the post to each other. Jude is already beginning to play at sending letters to people , he drew his Auntie Rachel and very good blue pig the other day!
So we are NOT leaving it to chance and in fact it’s loads of fun watching these little children develop into literate people. I leave notes in their lunchboxes when they go to nursery and now I text Cana (on Daddy’s phone) from the bus on my way to work. Reading and writing is a big part of our adult lives and it’s brilliant introducing them to it.
I’m going to finish my rant by adding a photo of a story Cana wrote a week or so ago. I told her to do some writing as it was her writing day, and she decided she would write a story. She spent so long doing it she had to break to have her tea and then she asked if she could continue while I took the other two to bed. Most importantly I did not have to nag her once, she just sat there quietly for about an hour writing away. It’s not the most interesting story in the world and she had to explain bits as she missed a few words out but considering it’s her first ever attempt we were pretty impressed!