Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!


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Reading Is Hard…

Sander has been having the most difficult time with reading.  It’s been a challenge for him for quite some time, which is why I pulled him out of school.  They were teaching him whole word reading, which wasn’t helping him any when he encountered words he didn’t know.  It was a frustrating experience for him, so we decided to do something different for him.

Now we’re working on phonics.  It’s already made such a difference in how Sander reads.  It’s not the natural “when he discovers it” kind of experience I’d hoped for, but we’re trying to keep with state standards.  We don’t read together as often as we should, and most of our reading is the easy readers as a part of the Primary Phonics workbook set, but we’re getting there.  He’s building the skills he needs to read, which is the general idea of it anyway.

Today we read one of the Rookie Reader series.  As much as I love the idea of those as beginner readers, they’re really not so easy.  I’ve come to discover that many “beginner” readers have a lot of really challenging words, several with multiple syllables.  They’re not exactly easy reads for a kid that’s just learning to read, which makes it challenging, especially for Sander who is definitely a reluctant reader, if you want to throw a label on it that way.  He finds those books really challenging, which makes enjoying the time reading them that much harder.

One of the problems Sander has with reading is sounding things out.  He tries, but he keeps mixing up the sounds and adding sounds where none exist.  This leads to the frustrating challenge of trying to straighten him out and getting him to read only the letters that exist and in the right order.  It’s really hard to have patience with him while he struggles through.  I’d almost rather read to him instead of watch him struggle to figure it out and get frustrated.  While the whole word method of reading made him equally as frustrated, I think phonics and sounding things out are equally frustrating for him, though he’s definitely making more progress this way.

I have to admit, it also helps that I’m not the best about getting him to read either.  We’ve been known to skip whole days instead of working with it every day.  I don’t feel like fighting with him for daily reading is really going to help him love reading, even if it’s going to make his reading skills that much better.  It’s hard to be motivated to push my kids to do things they really don’t want to do.  I don’t see it as necessary.  I guess this ties back to the days when we used to be pure unschoolers, something I really hope we can get back to as my confidence with working with the system grows.

In the mean time I’ve gotten a lot better at reading to the kids before bed.  Luca doesn’t last long through the stories.  Generally halfway through the chapter I have a sleeping Luca on my lap.  Sander isn’t a huge fan of reading stories before bed, which doesn’t help things much, though I think it’s because he’s just not a fan of Peter Pan.  I think if we were reading a story he was more interested in, that would help.  We’ve talked a bit about what comes next and we’ll see what we end up doing.  We’re halfway through Peter Pan (which isn’t surprising as it’s not an overwhelmingly long book), so we’ll be on to another book soon.

I know reading aloud to the kids isn’t really helping Sander with his reading skills, but I can’t help but think it may eventually increase his love of books.  If I can read stories he really gets into I’ll be able to inspire his love of books.  If he loves books he may be motivated to work on his own reading skills so he can get the stories without having to wait for me to get around to them.

Isn’t that really how unschooling works, though?  You inspire your kids to get into things because you expose them to those things.  Your kids want to read because they learn books are enjoyable.  That’s how you unschool reading.  They learn to read because the words show up in their video games and they want to be able to read it on their own.  They learn to read because they get tired of having to wait for someone else to read everything for them.  They learn to read because it’s a useful skill, not because it’s something they have to do.

Of course, that backfired with Corde.  She just wanted me to read everything for her.  “Reading is boring,” she still says even now, but she would listen intently whenever I would read a story aloud.  She’s a bit old to enjoy read aloud stories, but she still hasn’t gotten that spark of wanting to read on her own.  She’s started reading Coraline and hasn’t gotten past the first chapter, and she’s been working on it for a almost two weeks.  I honestly think she’s never going to take to reading.  She much prefers to watch Netflix or play silly little games on her phone.  At least texting is making her spelling improve.

Luca, on the other hand, has really taken to reading.  It’s frustrating because Luca wants to read everything, but doesn’t have the skills to actually read any of it.  It’s frustrating for Luca because he wants to read the same as the rest of the kids.  It’s doubly frustrating for me because I have to explain to Luca that, until he can develop the skills himself, I still have to do the reading.  In the end it would all be so much easier if Luca would learn to read.  I have a feeling once Luca learns, nothing will stand in that kid’s way!

Beekee is much more of a reader than Sander and Corde.  He can sit for hours reading on his own, though given the choice he would rather play video games or watch television.  I’ve taken to instituting reading time during the day so that Sander and Beekee have to read.  Once Corde is home, that’s when she’ll do her summer reading.  Beekee really seems to like this time, though he does have a tendency to just look at the books rather than actually reading them.  At least the idea is there.

This all brings me back to Sander.  I’m not sure how I’m going to help him become a reader.  Maybe if I keep picking up Kindle edition books that will help.  I like the Kindle edition books because I can download them as many times as I like and they take up no physical space to store.  If the kids want to read them when they get older I can always get them their own Kindles to load up with all their favorite stories.  That may be what it takes to get Sander interested in reading.  The challenge then is picking out books that he’ll really enjoy.  Peter Pan is not a win, in spite of the adventures and everything else.  I think it’s far too wordy and not enough action.

If anyone’s got suggestions, I’m all ears.  I’ve already decided we’re going to do Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and likely the Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Extraordinary Children.  We’re definitely going to read Coraline.  I just don’t know where to go from there, maybe the Redwall series.  There are too many options and I’ve got to admit, I’m not up on what kids are reading these days.

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So Much for Phonics, Hello Sight Words

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m giving up. I always swore phonics was the path to good reading, but apparently not for my kids. I can’t fathom how it ever worked for my sister and me. Maybe it never really did.

After having so many people drill letter sounds and the importance of vowel sounds, blends, and all of that into my head, I swore phonics would be my tool for teaching my kids to read. All those days I remembered being told to “sound it out” and struggling my way through words. It gave me confidence in reading, at the cost of some early challenges. It may not have been fun at first, but I walked away with the ability to decode any word. It seemed like a valuable asset, something my own children would need to know in life.

Over time I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. I’ve tried teaching Corde through phonics with our every brush with reading. She fought me the entire way. She didn’t want to sound out words. That was too much work. She didn’t want to sound things out. She just wanted me to tell her, or just made up whatever word she felt like using. Hard work has never been a part of Corde’s goals. If she can do less work, she’ll do anything to get there. Shortcuts are her best friend.

I had no idea where I was going wrong! This was supposed to be the easy way to teach reading. You teach the child all the tools and they just take off, right? Apparently not…

After starting the same struggle with Beekee (who seems to have forgotten his alphabet, though we review it weekly and have for years), I’ve decided to give up on phonics, at least for now. It isn’t even coming close to serving us. Corde still can’t use phonics to sound out words (though purely because she doesn’t try, not from lack of skill), and to work it out phonetically, you need to know your letters at the least, something Beekee seems incapable of getting down at this point, and their sounds. Sadly, Sander is further on the path to counting well and recognizing his alphabet than Beekee. Apparently a weekly practice will at least get me somewhere with one of them.

Yup, I’m giving up. Sight words, it is! I hate the idea of sight words, since I feel it doesn’t give kids decoding skills, but it’s a start. Corde started picking up sight words at three, but I didn’t stick with building it because I was stuck on phonics. Now Beekee seems to be doing okay with it. You can tell the words he knows, he knows by sight. There is no decoding going on. However, it seems to serve him well. Clearly, he’s building a vocabulary of words he can read, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much for now. We can build in phonics later.

This week Beekee chose his own words. He selected: but, can, castle, not, play, sand, the, we, with, and you. So far he’s gotten pretty far along with memorizing them. I show him the cards, ask him to read them, then he spells them off the card. Maybe he’ll have less gaps in his alphabet this way. On Monday he gets to pick ten new cards to add to the list. It may be a slow pace, but ten words a week is a good start for him. We may make the list longer once he gets the hang of it. As much as I’m not so much for tests, I might give him a spelling test or review or something. It would help him with his writing. I may just take the words he gets familiar with and stick them in a spelling box in alphabetical order. Then he can pull them up when he needs help spelling it for his writing. My aunt suggested a book form, to make a “speller’s dictionary”, but the cards are already made up and an index card box is cheap.

Corde has twenty words this week. We’ve been doing a spelling bee kind of quiz. She’s been quizzed every day this week. Today she finally got all the words on the first try. “Laugh” kept tripping her up. Tomorrow is the weekly test. I don’t know if I will have her write them out or just spell them. I want to put her words in a box too, but I don’t know if I’ll use the same box or a different one. It may be easier to just use one for now. Right now Corde’s words are in black and Beekee’s in green. It means they can both benefit from the same box for writing.

I’ll probably bring phonics back into it in time. I know it’s a useful skill. Maybe giving them both some confidence in writing will help. They’ll both have a set of words they can confidently read and write to build upon. They can also look back to familiar words for decoding hints.

Thinking back, I’m sure this is how I must have learned to read, words first and phonics later. I could be wrong, but my mom probably didn’t teach me to sound things out. My aunt wasn’t a teacher yet, so I wonder if she even thought about phonics. I seem to remember doing most of that in Catholic school.

Again, this is another change that makes me think we can’t rightly call ourselves unschoolers. It’s been really positive for us so far. Corde is finally learning to spell and doesn’t hate writing near as much. Beekee is learning to read. Sander is starting to get comfortable with reading. Even Luca is starting to build a strong vocabulary. It won’t be long before reading and writing are no big deal around here. Better yet, I may be able to get Corde back on track for the classical co-op, if we can manage to get back in. She’ll be ready to handle her writing assignments and reports before long! That day can’t come too soon!

Once again, written in advance, in case the sequence of days is all crazy…


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Talk Amongst Yourselves: Copy Work, Reading, and Writing

I’m just trying to get some discussions going here. I can see I have a lot of readers, but not much conversing is going on. I would love to see more of that, and some honest batting around of ideas might just toss me a bit of good info! So, here goes the first topic:

Just a couple days back I talked about learning to read by learning to write. It got me thinking about the how of reading and writing. It’s clear that reading and writing are directly linked. At the very least, in order to have something to read, something must have first been written down. You really can’t have reading without writing. At the same time, there’s no point in writing if no one knows how to read it. It just becomes pointless scratches on paper.

That being said, how do people learn to read? I’m not talking memorizing a few words and being able to recognize them. I mean how do people learn to decode written text, to expand their known words? How do they learn to break down and pronounce the unfamiliar words they encounter? There must be a way to understand how it happens, and more importantly, how it doesn’t.

Obviously phonics is the magic decoder ring that teaches everyone how to decode new words, it comes with all these rules that used to drive me crazy as a kid. I didn’t understand why things didn’t always get written as they sound. In my mind, phonetic spelling would imply it was spelled using the rules of phonics, but that never seemed to ne the case.

More importantly, can kids learn to decode unfamiliar words by learning to sight read? I’m pretty certain they can learn to sight read by copy work? In theory, if someone were to write a word enough times and build the mental association, they would learn to recognize it by sight. Or is something deeper going on here? By constructing the words over and over a letter at a time can someone learn phonics in a subtle, natural way? Will they learn to sound out the letters and combinations as they write, making it sound like saying the word in slow motion as it’s written? Wouldn’t that build phonics skills, not sight reading vocabulary?

More importantly, isn’t one of the eventual goals of reading to see a word and instantly know it? Isn’t that sight reading? And you only default to phonics when entering the domain of an unfamiliar word?

In theory it would seem like it’s perfectly possible to learn reading from first learning to write, in other words, from copy work? In other words, you can’t learn to write by learning to read, but you can learn to read by first learning to write. If that’s the case, why not tackle both at once and start with writing?

What do you think? Can writing and copy work lead to learning how to read? Is it better to learn to read first, then apply that knowledge to crafting your words? Is one way really better or are they both equally as good?