Teaching a Child to Read

I have taught many children to read, and it is such an exciting thing to see the understanding of how to read really click in a child’s brain. I even get a little thrill of excitement when I see complete strangers sharing on social media videos of their children beginning to “get it.” This post is not about how to teach reading though. I have plenty of thoughts and ideas to share on that, but not today. This post is a little bit of the conversation I had with my husband the other day about ‘when’ a child should begin learning to read.

Now remember that this is a homeschool blog, so I’m talking mainly from the point of view of a homeschooler. In the homeschool world there are various schools of thought on when children should begin lessons, and what those lessons look like or consist of. There are academically heavier ideals, and there are more wild and free types. There are those that think formal lessons shouldn’t begin until at least age six, and then there are those that have full curriculums for their three year olds. And of course you’ve got those whose opinions fall somewhere in between these. I am one of the latter I suppose. I don’t think a small child should be expected to sit and do formal lessons that are workbook heavy or such. I also cannot say that I think a child shouldn’t begin learning how to read or do other more academically challenging things until the age of six. What I do believe is that a child should be read to A LOT, and given the opportunity to learn whatever is up next for them to learn. I don’t view learning in grades or levels, or even ages. There are paths followed to learn things, and a child should learn whatever is next on their path. Learning is sequential. In order to be successful, a child must learn things, be it reading or math etc., in the right order. The age of a child doesn’t matter. The ability of a child is what matters. Every child is different and you just can’t think that what is best for one child is best for every child. Each child should be considered individually when it comes to something like learning to read, and given opportunities to show where they are on their own path to being a reader.

Look at this picture of my son. He just turned six and a half and is devouring chapter books left and right. He has a notebook in which he likes to keep track of his completed books. In the month of January he read twenty books to himself. He will walk into a room to do something but end up distracted because he saw a book. This happens multiple times a day. He also loves to read all the Minecraft books he can get his hands on, most of those books are informative and not stories. I’ll also walk in a room to find him on the couch reading through one of the many beautiful science books we have sprinkled throughout the house. A few weeks ago I started allowing him to read in bed for a little bit, and you’d have thought I told him we were going to Disneyland or something. I look at my son and I think, what if I hadn’t given him the opportunity to learn to read until he turned six? He loves to read, and had I not given him the opportunity to learn when I did, then he wouldn’t be able to do this thing that he loves so much right now.

Kids learn to read at all different ages. Some kids get it at three, while it doesn’t click for other kids until they are older than ten. The age of a child is not so much my point though. My point is that kids should be exposed to learning to read at a young age so that if they are a child is ready at a younger age then they’ll get that gift early, and if they’re not ready then it’s also fine because there doesn’t need to be any pressure put on them to actually learn. It’s just there as an option if they are ready and able. And from how I see it, this is how just about all education should be approached. I don’t think little kids should be kept from doing seat work because some actual love to do it, but there is also no need for them to HAVE to do the seat work. Most littles don’t enjoy it, but I know some that do, and how sad to not give them the chance to do educational things that they’ll enjoy. I cannot agree with the idea of keeping a child from doing something just because a method, or the age listed on a box says they aren’t ready yet. Look at your child as an individual and judge for yourself what your child is ready for.

Ultimately what we want for our children is a good relationship with books. I have yet to come across a parent that doesn’t want their child to be a reader. We all know that the more a child reads that better they are likely to do in life in general. And those of us parents who are readers ourselves, we want our children to know the wonder and love that we have for books. Regardless of when your child masters reading, let the stories happen. Read to your kids of all ages. It’s one of the greatest gifts you’ll give both them and yourself.

A New Year and Enough

I haven’t written for a while now. Instead of writing my advice on how to be present with your kids and enjoy the holidays, I was busy with my own kids, enjoying ours. The holidays were more tough this year because I just wasn’t feeling Christmas like I usually do, despite all my efforts. Who am I to give advice to others when everything I was doing wasn’t helping me to feel in the holiday mood? So I just chose not to write.

I am a big fan of Christmas, so much so that I even celebrate Christmas in July, but to be honest it never really got to feeling like Christmas to me this year. I still made sure to do all the things we normally do for Christmas. I didn’t let the lack of what I was feeling affect how my kids experienced their Christmas. We never really do a big gathering so that wasn’t missing for us this year. We did advent every night, and focused on the light, and had plenty of fun as a family, playing games and watching some movies. Now it’s over and we’re all preparing to begin a new year.

Obviously this past year has sucked for most people, and I truly hope this next year holds more good news for us all. I am not going to dwell on the craptastic that was this past year though. I’m just thankful to have come through it mostly unscathed. The reality is though, that at the stroke of midnight nothing actually changes. BUT the new year always holds new hopes. I hope this next year is better than the last. I hope this for everyone. The new year is also guaranteed to come with struggles of it’s own; that is life in a fallen world. I will live in hope though, and the actions I choose to take can help. I’m more of a realist than an optimist, but I am also a realist that knows I do have some power over my life. I cannot control the world around me, but I can chose where my focus lies, where energy goes, and where I place my hope. I can look at this next year and decide how I want to begin it even if I cannot see where it will head.

Now for homeschooling, since this is a homeschool blog. We have taken a little holiday break, which has included plenty of games (lots of math happening here) and lots of reading. I plan to get back into the swing of things come January after we celebrate my youngest’s birthday. If you read my last blog, you know I think of myself as a “skeleton” schooler. I have a general structure or outline of the things I want to focus on, or make sure we cover, and then everything is pretty fluid from there. Before I start up a regular schooling schedule again, I will sit down and make a list of the things I want to be doing for the next little bit of time. Like scissor work for both my boys ( an area of weakness for them both) and how I want to move forward with teaching my youngest to read or my oldest to begin writing more. I will take a look at math and see how it’s going for us, and if there is anything I want to change up. I’m planning to start a English word roots curriculum, so I’ll prep that, and that’s it. We’ll just get back into the swing of things. We’ll do some school most days, and we play, and we’ll enjoy our Winter while we anticipate Spring.

Remember, school does not have to be overly complicated. In my opinion, learning shouldn’t cause stress until you get to college. Hahah then the stress is inevitable I think. Do not think you need to do all the things. Do not think just because Susie McHomeschool’s kids are doing this or that, that means yours should be too. I suggest you take the opportunity of a new year to evaluate what matters to you, what your kids are really needing during this time, then make adjustments accordingly. Mostly I just suggest you stop watching people’s lives that make you feel like your life is somehow less, or that you are not doing enough. I’m sure we’ve all been sucked into that social media emotional trap. This year I want to make sure to acknowledge said trap and side step it. I am not those other moms and neither are you. There are things I am not capable of doing, wether it’s financial, physical, emotional and even geographical reasons. There are things my kids will and do miss out on. That’s normal. Not all kids will live the same kind of life. My kids are mine, and they’ll live the life I can give them. Your kids are yours and they’ll live the lives you can give them. That is enough. You enough. If nothing else, I hope you go into this near year knowing and hopefully also believing that you are enough.

Happy New Year to all and happy homeschooling

Steph

Skeleton Schooling

There are many different “methods” or schools of thought when it comes to teaching our children. Different schools, teachers and parents will be drawn toward the various methods, and do their best to implement them for their students. Some of the popular ones out there are Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Classical, and even Unschooling, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Personally I fall into the “eclectic” camp. I’ve read up on all these ways of teaching, but I cannot fully jive with any of them. Thankfully, I do not need to. For my boys I have taken what I believe will work best for them from these various schools of thought, and put together my own way of schooling. I thought this Halloween season would be a fun time to mention it because I like to refer to it as “Skeleton Schooling.”

I do not like complicated things. I also I’m not a giant fan of being told what is the “right” way to do something. So I have taken what I have learned from reading, and my own homeschooled background, and formed a way to go about my boys’ education that is simple, yet I believe strong. I focus on what I believe are the most absolute basics, and most important focuses for their current stages. These are the things I believe are the most necessary and valuable for holding up everything else they will learn for the rest of their lives. I view these things as the “bones” of their education as students and human beings. There are various parts to education, and all are important for a strong, healthy, intelligent person, but it all starts with a good framework; a skeleton if you will.

I am an avid learner; a true student at heart, and I adore learning about new things. There are SO many things I could add to our homeschool; so many subjects we could cover that I think would be very interesting. Even with how much I love to learn though, I know that for us, too many subjects and activities would easily upset our equilibrium. I may be a forever student at heart, but I am also easily overwhelmed. Knowing this about myself, I cannot make our homeschool too much. Especially not in these early years. These years where my children are young (preschool and second(ish) grade) I want to just focus on the skeleton subjects, so that as they grow we are able to add on some of the other wonderful areas of learning without one or all of us crumbling under the pressure. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever do more than the basics. I just mean that I don’t let anything else weigh our homeschooling down. If we feel like studying something, or an opportunity for learning presents itself, then we will totally jump on it. This happens all the time because life is full of its own unscheduled learning. At this time focusing on just a skeleton of subjects allows us plenty of time for the extras without the stress of needing to get through a list of “must learn” subjects.

I enjoy the homeschool community I have found on Instagram. There are so many wonderful parents on there giving their kids full and beautiful educations, but a lot of what I see would be too much for me to handle at this time. Also, I am aware that not all of these parents are doing all of the things. One mom over there is doing all the hikes, and makes the most gorgeous nature journals with her kids. Another mom over there just made a fabulous King Tut mask with her kids as they study Ancient Egypt. This mom does the prettiest handcrafts, and yet still another parent is over there baking all the yummy breads. These things are all good. They are all things I would love to do with my boys, and probably will do at some point during the time I have them in my home. I will not be doing all these things at one time though, and for the most part, other parents are not doing all these things every week either. Remember that.

What is comes down to is being free to make our homeschool work well for my children and myself. I want my boys to be smart, capable and kind, and so I will focus on what I need to do to help them grow as such. This just won’t happen in my home if I try to do all the things. I will be quickly overwhelmed and thus so will my children. So for now I will focus on the “skeleton” of their education. We will do the things that will give them an incredible structure for the rest of their lives to grow on. With a strong foundation or skeleton they will be able to more easily add on subjects as the grow and learn them well.

To form my skeletal school structure (that was an accidental alliteration, but I like it, so there we go) I think about my beliefs and my children individually, and put together a plan based on those things. For our current “skeleton school” I focus on various forms of reading, math, and talking about Jesus. Yes, we do a lot more than these things, but these are the skeleton; the things I know we must excel at in order to have the strongest frame for everything else in life. There are many other subjects that I place high value in learning. Things like handwriting, writing skills, and learning about the world and the stories of the people we share this world with. We do these things regularly, but they are secondary in my system. Focusing on the skeleton keeps the pressure at a minimum for us all, and allows us the freedom to enjoy our learning journey together.

As Seasons Change

There is something about school supplies that excites me. I know I am not alone in this. I have to fight to keep myself from buying new crayons every year, especially since I typically have several unopened boxes from the previous year. There is just something wonderful about fresh crayons, and you never know when you may need a new box right? The few new supplies we actually needed were purchased and have been waiting in a bag these many weeks to be cracked open on the first day of school. After patiently waiting, that day is just about here.

We technically never stopped doing school work. I find it much less stressful to school to some degree all year round, and since I don’t live in a state that requires I track hours and days, I am free to do this. I believe it also helps to keep up with skills like math all the time. This way nothing is ever forgotten, and we can just always be moving forward, instead of needing to stop and relearn something. That being said, I plan to officially begin Nathan’s first year of second grade this coming week. I also plan to be more intentional about doing educational play with Simon, and we’ll call it preschool. I have been collecting new supplies, learning games and activities, and plan to make up a big shared basket of all the items to give the boys on our first day. I’ve purchased a few new books (I can never have too many) and I have scored some awesome thrifted finds in games and such that I will also be adding into the basket. I’m excited for the new year, and the basket of new (or new to us) fun things will help the boys also be excited. I’ve never done this before, but I love to put together fun baskets of things, and thought that this year I’d take the opportunity to do it.

As we approach the new school year I am ruminating on what I want and hope for it to feel and look like. Not just the goals I’d like to accomplish, but what I want the atmosphere in our home to be, and what memories I hope to make. I adore Fall and the anticipation and enjoyment of the holiday season. I want to wrap our homeschool in the wonderful coziness of it all. I’m excited for the ideas I have come up with to make memories with my boys as we all learn together.

I know this school year is going to be harder than normal for most people. Whether kids are attending in person school, online classes, or officially being homeschooled, I realize that for many this school year has added stress and worry to most lives. I know that I am fortunate homeschooling has always been my plan, so this year isn’t really different where the schooling bit is concerned. I am very thankful that in this change of season, I can be heading into it with some excited anticipation. I encourage you to find yourself a moment of quiet to think of what you would like to find in this new season for your family. As we hunker down for the colder months, how can you bring a feeling of peace and coziness into your home when the world around you is in turmoil? Yes, for many this coming season is going to be difficult, but as a parent, I hope that you can find a way to make your home a place of security and comfort for yourselves and your children. I think this year more than any other, the need to make a “hygge” environment in our homes is so important. If you’re not familiar with that term do a quick search to find out all the loveliness it entails.

To me, homeschooling is not just about getting our kids educated. It’s about having a culture in my home of learning and togetherness. The Fall and Winter seasons seem to have an innate togetherness about them because we are indoors and well, together, so I feel like they provide a great opportunity to families. We can help add to this though by being purposeful about our time together. Here are a few ideas if you need a little help to get started:

  • Pick out a new game or two to be played as a family, or pull out some games that haven’t been touched in a while.
  • Plan family movie nights, and maybe even attempt making popcorn from scratch.
  • Pick out a family read aloud.
  • Attempt learning a new indoor hobby together like a hand craft or drawing.
  • Sit down with a cookbook together and write a list of new meals to try, or new desserts to make, and attempt one a week, but do it together.
  • Make your home cozy by bringing out the warm blankets, throw up some twinkle lights, or put out some candles.
  • Buy a few new teas and have a tasting time. Or any new foods!

These are just a few of the ideas that I am planning to implement this coming season, but really the possibilities are vast. This new season will have its challenges for everyone. Life is challenging us all right now. You can go into this next season with some simple plans and dreams though. You can view these coming months as an opportunity to make good memories with your children. You will only get one chance at this year with them, and yes it has been a kinda sucky year so far for most, but you can make some good memories with your children in this next season. Those will be a lot of what they remember of this year. They’ll remember how they were helped to feel safe, and loved in their home, and the best way for kids to have this feeling is simply by spending quality time with them.

Why “Gradient Homeschool”

To start off this blog I want to share why I chose the name “Gradient Homeschool.” I wanted a word that expressed the ease, and the natural progression of learning. I asked a couple family members to brainstorm with me, and the word ‘gradient’ came out, as in ‘color gradient.’ Picture in your mind the gradual increase in a spectrum of color. How colors move nearly imperceptibly from one shade into another, going from light to dark. But you can’t tell where the actual change takes place. It happens over time until suddenly it’s another color, and you notice the difference. My boys have a light that has a color changing rotation. While we sit and watch it, it is changing, and we’re trying to guess what color it’s going to be next. Sometimes we get it right, but some of the time the change is so gradual that it is too hard to tell until the transformation is complete. I say complete, but it’s never fully complete. The light continues its cycle from one color into another, into another, and so it is with education. The growth of a child’s knowledge and understanding is gradual and often times, not even perceptible until one day, it suddenly is. A knew concept is finally understood. A new skill is finally acquired.

 
Children follow a gradient path as they grow. Going from one stage, smoothly into another, and then another. Sometimes it will seem to us that a child just jumps from one of these stages into the next; that they suddenly can do something, but that’s never the case. There is preparation, practice, and unnoticeable learning that takes place inside a child before they grasp some new ability. Take learning to walk for instance. A baby has so many days of practice pulling themselves up, standing holding onto something, falling down, standing solo, and falling down some more. Then finally steps happen, and some more falling, a few more steps, and suddenly they’re walkers! But that baby didn’t just go from crawling to walking. There was a learning gradient they followed. The process from crawling to walking is a bit more perceptible than some other gradients of learning, but you can see my point. Learning flows from one stage into another, and does not just take place in these stages alone. Honesty I don’t much care for using the word “stages” when it comes to learning. To me it seems too cut and dry; too boxy. Kids and education do not fit into nice and neat little boxes. Both are too complicated and complex for boxes. But a beautiful color gradient of learning; that is an educational concept I can visualize and get behind. 


The notion of how a color gradient blends the colors, also goes to support my idea of how life and learning blend together. The two go hand in hand. As a homeschooler, there is no start and stop to the educational process.. We don’t learn 8am-3pm Monday through Friday, September through June, with breaks on weekends and holidays. We learn always, and should always be ready to learn. Homeschoolers don’t juxtapose “home” and “school” because they are one and the same, just as living and learning should be. Life grows, and the truest form of growing, is learning. If you are not learning, then you are not growing, and if you aren’t growing then are you really living?


This isn’t to say that those who go to a brick and mortar school are not really living. Don’t misunderstand me. What I’m saying is that for the homeschooled child, their learning is allowed more gradiency. It flows from one thing into the next. This is why it isn’t uncommon for a homeschooled child to struggle when asked what grade level they are in. For many homeschoolers they are not in a set level, but typically somewhere in between levels in various subjects. My son would have been in kindergarten this past school year had I sent him. But when asked what grade he is in I cannot say kindergarten because he is somewhere in-between kindergarten and 2nd grade in just about every academic subject. Yet his physical skills like riding a bike or brushing his teeth are a bit lacking for what would be considered most “normal” for his age. My son’s learning is on a gradient. In some things it’s a lighter shade, in others he’s already an obviously new color. Our lives are on a beautiful color gradient. Our learned skills blend for one shade into another, and into yet another. It’s forever and it’s beautiful, and it’s woven together into all areas of our lives. This is a Gradient Homeschool; a gradient life.