This is part 10 of our 4 Moms 35 Kids series. Visit 3 other moms of large families to see …
Teaching the little people. That’s what we planned to talk about this week. Well, to be quite honest there’s one particular little person who is eating up all my attention right now: the one with his bum buried in my spleen. Oops – I used a masculine pronoun. Does that mean something? I almost went back and corrected it to reflect the girl that I’m fully expecting, but I’ll let it stand.
See? I’m digressing even before I get started. Good luck discerning a train of thought on this post, especially with all the contractions I’ve had over the past 2 days. But I’ll try, really I will.
Homeschooling little ones – we’re not just talking about keeping them out from underfoot while the big ones study, although that may be a very nice side effect. I want to share encouraging tips on how I ensure that my little people are actually benefiting from home education, preparing for more rigorous academics, and generally exercising their gray matter so that we don’t become the poster family for mandatory government education. That’s what you want to hear, right?
You may or may not be surprised to learn that my little ones lead a rather leisurely life when it comes to academics. We’ve never had a 3yo who could read; depending on how you define reading, maybe we’ve never had a 5yo who could read.
I did try to start early with our first, Deanna, because I recognized right away just how brilliant my firstborn was. She has always had what I consider to be a near-photographic memory, so I don’t think I was crazy to break out the alphabet flashcards when she was 20 months old. She loved them, and within 10 days she had learned all the names of the letters and their respective sounds.
But when we tried to combine them, she just wasn’t ready for the concept. I wasn’t too disappointed. I could wait until she was 2 to teach her to read.
We kept trying regularly, but her 3rd and 4th birthdays came and went, and still she just didn’t get it. We dabbled in a few reading programs, but none really clicked with us. Memorizing was easy for her, but the concept of combining the sounds of the letters into meaningful words was outside of her comprehension.
Finally, a few months after her 6th birthday, she got it. Almost overnight, she began to read. By the end of the year, she had read all 9 Little House books, C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, a bit of Tolkien, and hundreds of other books. She was unstoppable.
I learned a lot while teaching Deanna. I learned that you don’t need a program to teach a child to read – most just caused us frustration and/or unnecessary “busy time.” I learned that developmental milestones don’t always come on a schedule. I learned that every child has a different learning style, and working with that child’s learning style makes for a far more relaxed learning process. I learned that you can start very young and spend 4 years teaching a child to read, or you can wait and do it in 4 weeks.
As our other children arrived and celebrated birthdays, some expressed an interest in learning very early. We didn’t discourage this – but we also didn’t press them when the interest waned for a season.
Most of our children begin to read between the ages of 6 and 7, reaching what I call the point of fluency around 8 or 9 – this is when they can look at a book and the book reads to them. When they open a book, they hear words in their head rather than seeing letters that must be decoded. A few didn’t read or reach that point of fluency until even later. So far, all have become voracious readers in their own time.
Wait – there’s supposed to be a point here, isn’t there?
My point: our goals for little ones differ somewhat from our goals in teaching the big ones, but not as much as you might think. We want to instill in them a love of learning, not just pour their little heads full of facts. We do this not by giving them busy-work, but by including them in our lifestyle of learning – yes, in ways that keep them from derailing the older children’s studies, but not just by sending them away. Er – not always…
We read to them – beginning with the Bible, but certainly not ending there. We give them mind-stretching games and activities. Yes, we occasionally let them watch an educational video, but we don’t stop there. We cook with them. We do laundry with them. We read to them some more. We talk to them, and listen when they talk. We include them in discussions with the older children and adults. We send them out to play, and when they bring back flowers we sit down together with a field guide.
Depending on what day you ask and exactly how you word the question, my little ones might tell you that they do school every day, or they might boldly assert that they never do school. I used to find this alternately gratifying and mortifying, but I feel differently now. I like it this way.
Were you hoping to hear more about the nuts & bolts of teaching the younger children? Try my post about Phonics the Cheapskate Way.
- May 27 – Teaching big kids: what changes? What do they need that little ones don’t and where do you need to give more freedom. How do you make the transition?
- June 3 – Putting it together. How does it work?
- March 18 – Live-blog day, in which all 4 of us live-blog a real day in our home. Find out what we really do all day. It’s our own reality show, just for you. Who needs TV?
- March 25 – Outings with only little ones. Mom’s rules of order, and how notto become the poster family for birth control.
- April 1 – A baker’s dozen for managing the food budget: budgeting in the kitchen to feed a crowd.
- April 8 – Menu planning, how we plan (or don’t plan) to feed our hungry crewmates.
- April 15 – Cooking from Scratch. What we make from scratch and what we would like to make from scratch.
- April 22 – Cooking for a Crowd. The big linky! We shared our own recipes, and you shared yours.
- April 29 – Extreme Homeschooling, where I try to stir up trouble but you all are much nicer and more agreeable than some of the readers I had a few years ago.
- May 6 – Picking a curriculum, method or tactics that work for a large family (part 1).
- May 13 – see above, part 2