My children and I had a routine that lasted for years. We had a working rhythm that manifested in the way we interacted with each other and the way we worked with each other. We had a synchronistic flow.
Part of that flow was our reading time. Nightly we would pile into bed, plow through baskets of books that we borrowed from the library, and begin our snuggle-time book feast. This is the closest we came to doing school at home. This was the corner of our day that I exerted the most control. It was I who picked out most of the books as my children were less interested in determining which books we read. They enjoyed the ones I picked out (we tossed the ones they didn’t), and they relished in our time together on that bed reading and reading and reading. We could easily check out over 75 books in one library trip.
We rode the American Girl express for a year. I checked out fiction, non-fiction, myth and legend, poetry, cookbooks, and craft books for each character, from each time in history or culture from which she lived. We didn’t do the crafts or cook the food. We weren’t interested in doing those things as much as feasting on the idea of them. That’s where our energy was. To push it further was not in the cards of our experience at the time. We enjoyed ourselves right where we were.
Then we rode the Magic Tree House express. This one we are still riding because we like to take breaks from this series. I have chosen not to explore each and every book because it feels unnatural for us. The books are short, and to go in-depth on each and everyone would be a drag. Besides, the books are not a curriculum; they are for pleasure, and if it has felt pleasing to explore one book in depth, we have.
We've taken interests and life events, such as the adoption of our dog, Sophie, and “expressed” those as well, as long as the exploration pleased us, as long as we were excited to pick up each book and open the cover.
Then, my children learned to read for themselves. That happened this past year for both of my children, when one was age 6 and the other age 9. Within this year’s span of time, they have both graduated themselves to chapter books and have become independent readers. They love to read. Shock of all shocks (why, I don’t know, perhaps it was fear on my part), they love to read.
So here we are living and learning without our sacred reading time. We manage to fit one in every now and then, but more often than not, we are all three in our corners reading our own stuff… and we are really enjoying ourselves!
My son, age 7, walks out of the library with tons-o-books, like his mother. He can read a pile in the blink of an eye. He’s an extreme reader. He gobbles them down and then continuously interrupts my reading with tidbits of facts here and there: “Did you know, Mom????!!!!”
My daughter contently walks off to her own room and reads, sometimes with a flashlight so she can easily put her book down and go to sleep without getting up to turn out the light. She reads slowly, and is currently shuffling three chapter books at one time. She leaves the library with one or two books at a time, not a gobbler, rather a grazer who likes to take her time. She is a private reader, although when she is reading a book on her favorite topic (animals), she will share facts with the rest of us in her own quiet, matter of fact way. She surprised me when she picked up a biography on Abraham Lincoln and excitedly read it. She surprised me even more when she began to share interesting facts about his life with me. She enjoyed that book. This child of mine, who at times seems to cling to the familiar and known, has branched out of her comfort zone and created a new one for herself. She is currently shuffling between a biography of George Washington, a biography of Martin Luther King, and a work of fiction about a boy and a dog, and I am learning more about who my daughter is by the choices she is making for herself.
My children were autodidacts before they learned to read. When they learned to read, they became more independent autodidacts. They are learning to fly without me, and I have lost the control that I once had. Sure, I still have lots of influence in their lives and in their learning, but now I have less and they have more. That’s the way it should be for us, and as I witness them stretch beyond me and my influence, I feel excitement for them, pride, a twinge of loss of the “good ole days”.... and a twinge of the fear of loss of control.
By the side of the reading bed are baskets of books that I checked out from the library for us. We recently visited Fredericksburg (George Washington and Civil War), Monticello (Thomas Jefferson) and Montpelier (James Madison), and my children developed an interest in presidents. I checked out tons-o-books on presidents and particularly on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (My daughter got that Abraham Lincoln book from the presidential basket.) And wouldn’t you know it, our next Magic Tree House stop was Civil War on Sunday. This kind of synchronicity happens to us a lot! We enjoyed looking at the presidents and reading snippets of their lives in the reference books written about them. We enjoyed reading a few story books about Abe. We read up to chapter 6 in the Magic Tree House book…. We did begin to take this express together, only to be sidetracked by our own individual longings to read our own stuff.
We come together and we disperse. That's what we do these days. We share our interests and readings: my son took my Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type workbook for days, reading the charts and informing me of what I can and cannot eat if I am going to eat right, and we used Nana’s, Papa’s, my sister’s, and my blood types to figure out the exact genotypes that Nana and Papa carry; I learn about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King, and bats from my daughter; and my son tells me all kinds of interesting facts about dinosaurs and wild cats.
We are changing and adapting our flow. It scares me a little to lose the control I once had, but I realize that my children are really doing what I really want them to do. They are growing up and into unique, self-empowered individuals. They are actively engaged in their own lives, enjoying the life they live, and learning all the while. I think we are off and running into the next phase of our lives.
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.