When Miriam and Jireh were preschool age, I actually sat down and did phonics with them for a number of months. Then they figured out the sounding out words thing and took off on their own. They were about 4 and 3 at the time. By a year later they had self-taught all the phonics rules a first or second grader would be expected to know and now they can read just about anything.
Around that time, through some reading on children’s brain development and how to maximize a child’s natural intelligence potential (what got me started on this path was the fascinating book by Jane Healy, _Your Child’s Growing Mind_ and the research represented there), I had become convinced that – at least for the 7 and under crowd – formal schooling served no long lasting educational purpose and that it could potentially do some harm (either by taking away time to do what came naturally and was better for their brains – running around, exploring nature, using imagination – or by setting up a pattern of struggle to do “sit down school” that could create mental blocks to learning later). Well, I was convinced enough to allow myself to quit doing workbook style school with them, and it freed me up to try to figure out how to manage a household with five children five and under for a while.
I’ve wondered since then whether the next few children would miss out somehow, not having that sit down instruction of phonics to get them started. I suppose I shouldn’t have worried. Soren, Christina and Agnes have shown a great interest in forming letters when they sit down with pen and paper (or with their raisins and oatmeal, or cheese and teeth, craft sticks and pipe cleaners, etc.) and Soren has shown initiative by sounding out words on his own, creating letters out of legos and trying to make them say something that makes sense. He hasn’t applied this to books yet, though he loves to sit down and look through them, but he has shown that he can sound out words on cartons and signs and things. So I’m not too worried. When he wants to read, I think he will.
Then Sunday at Mass, I gave Christina a little notebook and pen during the sermon. She drew a picture and then wrote at the top, “MMI” and I asked her what it said. She said, “It says, ‘Mommy.'” I probably shouldn’t have been shocked, since Jireh was reading at this age, but it is really encouraging to see the progress of how she has learned all her letters and their sounds without *any* formal instruction whatsoever and now is sounding out words phonetically, all on her own initiative.
So it seems, at least for the basics – colors, shapes, letters, sounds, numbers, grammar – that my course hasn’t been too harmful to them, and that indeed, just as children learn to walk and talk without formal instruction, so too they can observe and pick up so many things without being “taught,” things that we have put in a box called “education” and sprinkled with rules and timetables and in some instances just killed the joy that they naturally have to learn about these things.
I guess this is just a big “whew, I didn’t mess up,” and relief that I freed up all that time and energy for myself the last couple of years.
And in the meantime, they learned to sweep, do laundry, wash tables, and unload the dishwasher. 🙂