There was a thread on one of my fave e-lists about which curriculum to buy for teaching a 5 year old to read. There was a brief discussion about the value of curriculum, and how learning “organically” is a good option too. I thought about this. Yes, organic is good. But does that mean that curriculum can’t be part of that?
My 9 year old son picked up decoding quickly. We didn’t use curriculum, mostly because it is expensive. I know myself, and when we spend a lot of money on something, I feel compelled to use it, even if we don’t need to. I didn’t want to become a slave to any books or curriculum. So we used cheap, cheap stuff.
My son, when he was 3-4-5, would have gobbled up any curriculum we got him. He still loves workbooks and word games. I think no matter how we introduced reading to him, he would have enjoyed it. He is an engineer, and the “puzzle” of the english language, especially spelling and phonics, makes sense to him. It’s fun. It’s easy. That’s why he likes to do it so much.
My daughter, who is 6.5, doesn’t have an interest in phonics really, or any particular affinity for it. She is more into ideas and images. She understands just enough phonics to get by. She doesn’t care to know the names of things, or how things work. She just wants to figure it out enough so that she can finish it and move on to what’s really important – getting the meaning out of what she is reading. So, curriculum doesn’t really “speak” to her. We have workbooks, and she does them (usually math), but not in the same hungry way as my son.
What I guess I’m saying is that each kid learns differently, and in most cases, the curriculum isn’t want makes or breaks a kid’s learning to read. It’s whether or not we match what we’re doing to their learning styles and what their purpose is. Are they reading and learning phonics because it’s interesting? Or are they doing it just so they can read their favorite books? Are they interested in the process? Or does talking about the process too much create a wall with them?
My daughter puts up a wall if I delve too much into describing the puzzle of language. Sometimes, she’s interested and will react positively to explanations. Generally, though, explaining why things are done this way or that (say, why some words are spelled differently) makes her frustrated. She just wants to know the facts – “OK, “their, they’re, there”, all spelled differently, each have different meanings, different words. Got it. Now I can figure out what this sentence says.” She doesn’t care why. Doesn’t want to know the explanation. Just wants to know which ones to use, and after using them a while, in their contexts, she gets it. If it’s not in context, she doesn’t get it. Doesn’t want to get it. Context is everything for her.
My son – totally the other way around. We had a whole 1/2 hour long conversation about those three words, and when they are used and how they are spelled, and even other possibilities of how they could have been spelled and why they aren’t spelled that way. “Thare, the’re, thear”, etc.
Two completely different ways of learning to read, different purposes, different ways of looking at the world. They use their workbooks, their story books and me, as a place to get info, in different ways. So, I let them do their thing, and I met them where they were at, and helped them achieve their goals and met their needs. I also had the constraints of 1. money and 2. not wanting to be a slave to the curriculums/workbooks.
We love workbooks BTW. And, we’re not unschoolers in the sense that we say “no” to anything schoolish. I’m in the “do what works” variety. We have goals, we do what works to meet those goals. We see the world as one big set of tools, and we get to pick the tool that works. Usually, there are many tools that work. And sometimes, the tool that works is something entirely different than what common wisdom would suggest. Or sometimes, everyone’s just “used” to certain kinds of tools, when there are a lot of them out there to choose from.
Kind of like guerilla marketing – guerilla living/educating/schooling – do what works.