Saturday, June 07, 2008

A few things I have learned while teaching my own children at home.

What have I learned from over ten years of teaching my own children at home? I have learned with each child that many of the educational materials out there are a waste of money, children can learn without a “qualified” teacher, and that children need a reason to learn.

I wonder how many children associate the first day of school with a big brown delivery truck. My six year old son’s school year began when the UPS man dropped off his school books. For me it was like Christmas but I don’t think all of my children shared my enthusiasm.

I wasn’t sure if my son would be in kindergarten or in first grade this year so I ordered materials for both levels. He picked up the kindergarten math workbook, flipped through it, and said, “This is too easy!” He had learned basic math skills by just living with competent counters. We made a point to count out loud and to verbalize our thought processes as to instruct. He ran off with the 1st grade math workbook and completed the first twenty lessons on his first day of school! “I’m in first grade like eleven year olds” he told his big sister.

He wanted to “do school” even on the week ends. I found myself saying things like, “No more school!” or “No school if you don’t eat all of your dinner!”

I witnessed the same thing when my now 15 year old was about five years old and ready for kindergarten. UPS was on strike that year and our materials were late. By the time the school books finally arrived my son had learned how to read on his own. What a waste of money! If I knew that a child could learn to read by playing around with refrigerator magnets I wouldn’t have invested what little money we had in expensive instructional materials.

Like his little brother, he ran off with his math workbook and completed the first 20-30 lessons on his first day of school. He finished his whole kindergarten math workbook before Christmas and had learned to read on his own. I didn’t even get a chance to “teach” him.

I think one of the things that helped my son excel in math was that his favorite computer game, Math Blaster, required that he work several math problems quickly so that he could save the world from enemy invaders. If that's not a reason to learn I don't know what is. Armed with an abacus and the ability to count to twenty, he spent much of his day solving math problems.

My daughter had a similar reason to learn to read. Her favorite computer game, Roller Coaster Tycoon, required her to read the messages that were flashing on the screen. She knew that in order to please her park guests she would have to read those messages.

She taught herself how to read without the aid of instructional school-like materials. She had this wonderful Leap Pad alphabet desk that would say any three letter word that she entered. She figured out how to get this toy to help her read Dr. Seuss books.

I didn't know that she was able to read until I caught her reading a book to one of her beanie babies. She acted embarrassed when I caught her. I don't know why. I guess she hadn't perfected her reading ability and she wasn't ready to share it with the world.

She figured out the concept of multiplication by organizing and grouping her beanie babies. She taught herself many basic math concepts during play time. I wrote about it at the time.

It would be a big confidence boost to be able to say that I was a wonderful teacher. More important than a good teacher are good learners who have a reason to learn! More important than a "qualified" teacher is an atmosphere conducive to learning, a reason to learn, and freedom to play.

If I wouldn’t have allowed my children the freedom to play most of the day I don’t think they would have had the time to use an abacus to solve math problems to save the world, cuddle up on the couch and demand that mom read ten books, figure out how to make their toys help them read words, or learn mathematical concepts while playing with their beanie babies. If I would have made my children sit in a desk and do school would they have learned as much? Would they have learned to read naturally and with ease?

A loving and educationally rich atmosphere or environment can be more important than a "qualified" teacher. I know that because I can’t say I’m a “qualified” teacher, yet my children still learn.

Did I mention that my daughter would be considered a "late" reader? I had read enough research to know that children don't need to learn to read at such an early age. That is the only reason that I can say that teaching her how to read was not a struggle - I waited until she needed a reason to read and saw the value in it. I had to tell myself "Just so she can read by the time she takes her SATs." And she did. ;)

1 comment:

John said...

I love your comment about using refrigerator magnets to read Dr. Seuss. We have the LeapFrog three-letter magnet device and I immediately went down and worked with my daughter on the device as we're trying to get her reading before kindergarten to have a head start. She LOVES books and I know it's only a matter of discovering the right method (Daddy asking to do so while we're reading doesn't appear to be working) so hopefully this will work. Thanks.