Friday, October 4, 2013

“What do you DO with your kids if they don’t learn to read before age 10 or so?” Part 1

After reading my post from a few weeks ago, Different children learn to read at different ages, and that's okay, a friend asked the above question, which she kindly allowed me to use here.  My original answer to her was about what I’m doing now, but for this blog post I thought I’d begin with what I did with my older children, who are now 24, 22, and 20.  I’ll cover what we’re doing now next time.

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Part I:  What I did with my older children

I asked #1 Son what he remembers doing in the days before he could read to himself, and his answer was, “We played outside.  All the time!

That’s funny, because what I remember was that I read aloud to them – all the time.

But, yes.  Playing outside was kind of the default thing for me.  From the time Eldest Daughter was a baby I made sure to let them be outside as much as possible, in all kinds of weather.  A frequent refrain around here is, “The Lord made the out-of-doors for children to play in.  Now go outside.”  So, ditto what Cindy said:  “I let them play outside a lot. I mean, a lot, a lot.” 

Playing outside wasn’t even a priority – it was just, as I said, the default.  As a child I loved being outside, and the whole reason I began homeschooling in the first place was so my own children would have plenty of time for a happy childhood.

And that means playing outside. 

A lot.

Without adult interference.

About the time my oldest was six or seven years old, I read Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake, and I tried to incorporate some of her ideas.  First of all, this was when I learned that playing outside was part of the children’s education – Nature Study – so occasionally, as she suggested, I would ask my children to tell me something interesting they had seen while outside, and sometimes I would give them a specific task, like watching the ants on the sidewalk.  When they came in I’d ask them to tell me what the ants were doing and where they were going, and that sort of thing.

By “occasionally” and “sometimes” I mean, oh, once or twice a month.  When I’m really working at it. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty relaxed homeschooler.  Some people might call it dilatoriness, but I prefer to think of it as Homeschooling From a Place of Rest. ;-)

Also from Macauley, I learned the centrality of reading the Bible, history, and literature.  I had already been reading the Bible, picture books, and children’s literature to them every day, but I began to be more deliberate about choosing history books to read.

That fall, the first school book I read to Eldest Daughter, who was my only official student at that point, was Margaret Pumphrey’s Stories of the Pilgrims.  It was beyond her reading level, and anyway I wanted my younger ones to hear it, so I read it aloud to all of them.  That went so well that I decided it was best to include the younger ones in the school work I did with the oldest as much as possible.

As she got older and I began giving her Greenleaf Press’s books to read on her own, I also got library books for the younger kids that covered the same period she was studying.  A great resource for finding titles in the library is Christine Miller’s All Through the AgesWe had at least two story times during the day when I read “school” books to the younger kids – one in the morning and one after lunch.

In addition to this I always had a bedtime story going.  In those early years we read through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, E.B. White’s books, all the Chronicles of Narnia, most of Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, and a few G.A. Henty books.

When we were reading school books, I tried to get my children to narrate, or tell back in their own words what I had just read, but this never worked out well.  One of my children thought I meant for him to recite verbatim and he simply couldn’t do that!  I don’t remember now whether I ever thought to model narration for them, but after a while I just dropped it.

But we did talk about what we were reading.  Sometimes I’d ask them to tell Daddy what we’d read that day, or I’d ask them to tell me what their favorite story was.  As they got older this became so easy and natural that I can’t figure out why it was such a problem at the beginning.

For math with the three oldest, I used Math-U-See, which is fairly teacher intensive, but doesn’t require any reading on the student’s part, so it was no problem for the two who read later than is typical.  Also, I tried to have them count for me and do simple math problems orally as they came up during the week.  “How many spoons do you need to put on the table?” – that sort of thing.  I’m not very creative though, and didn’t do nearly as much of this as would have been good for them.

We also drilled them in math facts, but that doesn’t seem to have stuck, probably because we weren’t consistent about it.  Math is definitely my weak area.

I have always loved classical music and I began my collection of CDs about the time Eldest Daughter was born.  I don’t remember how often I played it – I’m guessing two or three times a week, because I rarely play it as background music.  I prefer to play it when we can really listen to it.

About the time baby #5 was born (the older ones were 9 ½, 8, 6, and almost 4) we started going to a church that encouraged families to teach the hymns to their children, so we bought four hymnals and began memorizing the ones that we sang in church fairly regularly.

So here’s a summary: 
  • Let them play outside a lot, and sometimes ask them to tell you what they’ve observed while outside
  • Read aloud a lot from well-written books covering a wide range of stories and topics, and talk about what you’ve read, especially when you’re not doing lessons
  • Demonstrate math concepts to them instead of having them read a textbook, and talk about math as it comes up in everyday life
  • Listen, really listen, to classical music a few times a week
  • Sing and memorize hymns together as a family

Bonus advice, especially for moms who spend a lot of time pregnant and nursing:
Combine as much of your children’s schoolwork as possible.  Combine subjects (for example literature and history), and combine ages, having all of your children learn together as much as possible.  This works for nearly everything except skills where each child needs individual tutoring and isn’t on the same level as any of the other children, like reading or handwriting.


  1. Great advice, Kelly. And I love your anecdotal way of explaining things. It helps see the principle, but I can easily see how this is how it worked for *your* family and how it might be different for my own. :)

    1. I do that because it's the way I learn best myself. I know some people don't like to do it that way because they're worried someone might take it as a Rule and apply it rigidly to their own life... but my mind just doesn't work that way. For me, life is a grand buffet and I go down the line and pick out the bits I think will work best. I even mix stuff on my plate if I think it'll be better that way. :-D

  2. Kelly, I love your adoption of the phrase "Homeschooling from a Place of Rest"! I know how intriguing and compelling that is to me whenever I hear it, so it's good to know I have a friend who's been doing it all along. :)


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