One of the most overwhelming questions for parents who want to homeschool their children is “Where do I start?” On one hand, we are extremely fortunate that we’re surrounded by a seemingly never-ending flood of homeschool methods and materials. On the other hand, all of those choices can be quite overwhelming.
If you feel paralyzed with indecision, don’t be afraid that something is wrong with you. Several studies have shown that the more options people are given, the harder time they have choosing one. Here’s a secret that finally helped us out of the “which method do I use” dilemma: You don’t have to choose a method.
You’ve probably already figured out that there isn’t a single method that works best for every family. But in our experience, there isn’t even a single method that works for every child in a given family. In fact, we’ve found that for most of our kids, there isn’t even a single method that always works for that child.
Because of this, I think it’s a mistake to get too hung up on choosing a single educational philosophy or curriculum. One of the reasons we homeschool is so that we can provide our children with the best resources the world has to offer. There are so many amazing resources out there, why ignore some of them just because they don’t fit into a particular educational method?
Since this is a blog about teaching science, you might wonder why I’m talking about subjects that aren’t science. First, the most popular question I get from other homeschooler parents, people thinking about homeschooling, and people who are just curious about homeschooling is some variation of: “Which curriculum do you use?”
Second, even though the things I’m discussing in this “Where to Start” series aren’t necessarily what you’d think of as “science”, they all serve as part of the foundation for science. So today I’m focusing on one of the first formal learning activities parents of young children tend to think of, teaching a child to read.
Learning to read
Despite the increasingly popular push to get kids into school earlier and earlier, I think it’s counterproductive to force very young kids into a rigorous learning schedule. When our kids were very young, we spend a lot of time reading to them, playing with them, taking them on nature walks, exploring fun places together, learning about letters and numbers, and just being together.
I’m not a social-psychologist, but I think it’s important to establish bonds of trust and mutual learning early on. It makes things a lot easier down the road.
When should a child learn to read? Whenever they’re ready and interested. We’ve learned the hard way that trying to force a child to learn to read by a certain age just to satisfy some “developmental milestone” is a mistake. It’s a miserable experience for everyone involved.
Most developmental milestones are the legacy of an earlier era of motor development research—when psychologists thought that all this was much more predictable than it actually is. But although the milestones are outmoded, they still stand. They don’t even wobble much. Developmental psychologists have pretty much discarded the concept of developmental milestones, but developmental milestones remain the only thing that most people know about developmental psychology.
No parent would have much reason to suspect that milestones are suspect. They are still prominently featured in child development textbooks and pediatricians’ offices. They’re around mostly because they never went away. No one advocates for milestones; they aren’t endorsed by the relevant medical journals or committees. Nonetheless, they continue to be the most common tool pediatricians use to track developmental progress.
So how do you know when a child is interested in reading? For us, it was once they could distinguish different letters from each other, knew their names (courtesy of the ABC song), and showed a strong interest in learning to read. That last item is key, and trumps everything else.
If your child wants to learn to read, it will be a wonderful and empowering experience for them. If you try to force them before they’re ready or interested, it’s going to be a much different experience.
Once your child knows how to read, an entire world of learning is open to them. I really believe that teaching a child to read is the best gift a parent can give a child.
The book my wife has used to teach all of our children to read is this 100 Easy Lessons to Teach your Child to Read. It’s simple, combines reading, comprehension, and writing, and it has worked for us 5 times in a row (it must work for a lot of other folks too, because it’s currently the number one bestseller in early childhood education):
(Never ending library image courtesy of Bonnybbx)