I have “lesson” resistant children. It seems they were born that way.
Learning without “lessons” has been easy, really…. especially in hindsight. We pursue life. We pursue the objects of our “want and need to knows.” We have developed a family culture of life learning, and the real lessons, the ones that take place internally, are an inherent and often personal and private part of that. It’s been a smooth ride (in hindsight), and we learn all over the place.
I embraced this kind of life in theory several years ago, until it came to reading… until my eldest, my daughter, reached the age of 8, the age of "you really should be reading by now," and she was not reading!! Then, I questioned myself and my daughter. Did she care enough? Would she ever want to learn to read? Did she have a learning disability, and especially did she have dyslexia? Was I not pursuing all of the above as I should? Was I failing her by not pushing her? Was I failing her by not getting her tested for a learning disability?
She was so adamantly “lesson” resistant, and she didn’t give a flying flip about learning to read by reading along with me or even caring that there were any *words* on the pages of the many books I read to her. She was in it for the story!
I was soon to learn that she was also pretty much “lesson” proof, and no matter what I tried, it went over her head like a bad song she really did not care to hear... at all. I worried on and off for about a year. I did manage to give myself breaks where I relaxed and enjoyed the quality of our lifestyle, after all, a person can take so much worrying, and life was pretty darn good otherwise!
But, every so often (and looking back, I wonder if I could track a pattern) I interfered with the natural flow of my daughter’s learning. She was on her own adventure, and I purposely pulled her aside and tried to teach her a thing or two… or more if she would just let me! I have nothing against “interfering” when it’s needed. I have learned, though, that artificial time tables do not need to be the “rule” that determines when I intervene on my child’s behalf.
I could tell that learning to read directly through phonics would not work. I didn’t know why, but I could tell she was not a part to whole learner. I knew that breaking words down into little parts would confuse her. Too much information. I was right to avoid. Hindsight is great, isn’t it?
I tried word families. I talked about how the words formed families and demonstrated those families with a modicum of enthusiasm (too much might scare her off…). I was excited at the possibility that this might work! I thought so because she was into “families” (lifecycles, ant colonies, mommy and baby insects). It didn’t. I wrote them out for her, and I had her copy them. I searched for the perfect word family stories through my Waldorf resources, which I don’t think I read to her because I soon realized that she was not “getting it” ... really not wanting it... She made it clear by becoming irritated with me and giving that persistent blank look that one who is not responsive to you can give.
Then, months later, I tried word art. I tried having her draw a picture of a word that conveniently also belonged to a …. word family. OK. She likes to draw…. a lot, and she was willing to give it a try… for me. It turned out to be a task that was performed for my benefit, and it lasted one, maybe two times because I saw “the look.” I saw how meaningless the task was for her.
Finally, again months later, I tried readers. I had her read to me every now and then. She did. For me. She learned slowly, but she wasn’t enjoying herself. It was a chore that she performed. I wanted more for her than that. And, she wasn’t really interested in learning to read! She was happy for me to read to her. She enjoyed our reading time together.
I thought possibly that she might be afraid that reading time would stop when she learned to read. So, I assured her that it would not. She heard me, but it didn’t matter to her. She was not ready to read. It was not on her agenda “today” and any day soon thereafter.
So, I let it go. I “relaxed” (in front of her) hiding my secret fears:
My daughter will never learn to read!
She has a learning disorder that I am not properly seeking help for and it will be my fault!
But, something inside me knew to hold out. Little hints from her led me on with letting go. For her, this was the right thing to do. Hindsight validates little instinctual nudges.
Slowly, she exhibited signs of reading. She began around age 9 to draw notes, doctor’s prescriptions, and restaurant orders in pictures while playing. She began to substitute some words in inventive spelling for some pictures. She began to play Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Toon Town.
She asked me how to spell words constantly. I learned not to give her the rules while giving her the spelling because it would just be another case of bad music grinding into her ear. Her brain actively processes and catalogs information unbeknownst to me, and my lessons seemed only to be providing interference or extraneous noise at best.
She began to want to move forward in her reading (and writing) through these interactive, community based on-line game communities. They were and still are her vehicle for learning to read. My daughter became an actively engaged reader at age 9, and last night, two months shy of 10, she informed me that she has been reading a Magic Tree House chapter book on the sly and had completed all but one chapter. Then, she finished the book and read two chapters of another one while I was perusing a pile of catalogs. She *insisted* on more time to read so she could finish a chapter before I turned out the light.
Woo hoo! She was resistantly proud of herself. The corners of her mouth were itching to break into a huge smile. Her eyes were beaming and her cheeks were flushed with “I can do it!” …but “Don’t make a big deal about it, and don’t you dare try to teach me… OKAY?”
She learned to read in the context of her life… and in her own time and way. She is an extremely private, independent learner. Her true lessons are learned in the personal spaces of her mind where she can turn and examine them discretely. She processes in the act, and the act must be meaningful and engaging. She learns from whole to part, and can completely leave out “steps” as she goes. Her process is highly personal. She shares the results when she is ready and prefers little to no fanfare. She is highly sensitive to the difference between “proud of” and praise that holds an intention to maneuver her. Her process works very well. Of course, hindsight makes this all somewhat clearer!
I don’t believe that all children need to learn to read the way my daughter needed to learn to read. She is one unique individual. Her brother learned to read at age 6 without the play writing (and without my “lessons”). And, he is his own unique story… as we all deserve to be.
(Update: My daughter wants to read aloud to me now. She read a few stories from the Frog and Toad series to me recently, sharing chuckles at the silliness the stories described, as if she were sharing her life, as if reading was as natural as conversation. Yes! If she has dyslexia, she is not suffering from it.)
Robin considers herself a budding naturalist and conservationist and a spiritual eclectic who enjoys celebrating the wheel of the year with her own unique blend of earth-centered world traditions.