Whenever I talk to people about unschooling, I get the question: “but how does that work”. Really, what they mean is: “How do people learn”.
Over our 7 years of unschooling, I must say that learning does not - not even closely - resemble the way the schooling system believes it does.
In a traditional system, learning is believed to be linear. You do reading 101, regularly, then pile it up with 102 and so on. You continue this practice for about 14, 16, 18 years, depending on where you live, and in the end you’re accomplished.
Now, just from observing my own children, and conversations with other unstopping parents, learning isn’t linear AT ALL. If I have to define it with some ‘shae’, I’d say the spiral comes close. It’s cyclical, it moves away and back to the ‘core’, and it’s ever continuing.
My eldest has a taste for the written word. She’s 7 and can only read and write her own name. In Belgium, that’s quite the shock. But she loves the written word. She loves pretending to write, look at words, and be read to… As much as possible. We’ve been reading chapter books for quite a while now and have covered many classics and half the Harry Potter books.
Yet she doesn’t read yet.
Her interest in words started about when she was two. We’re a heavy reading family, so even early on I would read to her. Anything really. She’d point at words and ask me what that word is. I’d tell her, point to similarities… Then she lost interest, the pointing out words game wasn’t frequent anymore.
A while later, when she was about three, I know for a fact she could recognise some letters or at least letter groups. Pa and Ma for example.
She went through a phase where she did lots and lots of pre writing exercises.
Then at about 6, she did a lot of very scholarly early reading and writing.
Now, at 7 and a half, she talks about learning to read again. It comes and goes.
Now, my daughter is a perfectionist and like to get things ‘just’ right (wonder where she gets that from), I figure she probably recognises some letters, or later sequences, but is too proud to meddle. She’ll probably be one of those kids who one day picks up a chapter book and just reads it. And astounds us all.
And that’s ok.
Now, I am her mother and I observe her closely. I have been with her nearly every day of her life. I see her effort, I see her achievements, I (sort of) see her progress. Some things are small and escape me at first.
Other people don’t notice these small things because they aren’t as closely involved. “Can she read yet,” is all they ask. Reading, however, is a process, not a possession. She’ll get there, but in people’s linear view of learning, there’s just no understanding how exactly this is happening, or where she is on her path. She could very well read tomorrow. Or in a couple of years. I don’t know. But I don’t worry.
To cast the full picture: I myself, was an early reader, so the not reading, learning to read process has been very much one of learning to let go for myself. For a long time, I was anxious about it. I had read extensively about unstopping and knew that children learn to read at very diverse ages. Somewhere between 4 and 14, quite a vast span. But I was somehow confident that my children would be early readers, too… How could they not be? I’m a writer, we read, and I was an early reader myself.
Comes to show that unschooling is all about deschooling yourself and putting your assumptions to the test.