Saturday, October 28, 2006

Being busy and our reading story...

One down and it’s weird...

It’s very strange here this weekend as Pearlie is off at her first ever Woodcraft camp without one of us. I’m sure she’s enjoying herself but the rest of us are all missing her.

Here’s the briefest of catch-ups.

Tuesday 24th was a day at home for me and the kids. We have a current interest in the Vikings and spent most of the morning reading aloud (me), learning Futhark (Pearlie) and making silver finger and arm rings from foil (Leo). We are planning to spend a day in costume doing Viking things and eating Viking food – as soon as we have another free day!

Wednesday 25th had Squeezebox for Pearlie in the morning. As the weather was poor Leo and I waited around at the studio and Leo did some reading and writing. Pearlie had a good session, as usual.
Pearlie and Leo spent a happy afternoon playing together. They have big sticks that they are using to fire rubber bands around the place – inspired by Robin Hood. Dani also read them lots from 'The saga of Eric the Viking.'

Thursday 26th
My mum came round for the day and she, Dani and the kids went to the park. There happened to be a biggish clutch of home eddors in the park – so the kids were pleased. I went to work as a cleaner, and then as a librarian.

Friday 27th
Dani and Pearlie set off for the camp site. Pearlie had been pretty stressed (in her usual cryptic way!) about going but was happy when she got there and got stuck in to pitching tents.
Leo and I went to town for a fabulous back stage tour of the Theatre Royal where a local home edding dad is performing this week. He had generously sorted out a tour for local home ed kids. It was really interesting and such a treat for me to see the back stage of somewhere I love so much – all surprisingly pokey and fairly grotty really! One of the strangest things is that the theatre expanded at some point and swallowed up a small fisherman’s cottage – and it is still there, inside the theatre! To get to the dressing rooms you go in the front door and up the stairs.
After the tour Leo and I went to the shoe shop to get him some decent winter shoes.

Saturday 28th
We took a few books to town today to sell in a second hand shop. This boosted the family coffers a bit and we treated ourselves to some takeaway cakes from the gorgeous tea shop.
Leo also thrashed Dani in a game of Casino, while I slept off a threatening migraine.
Tomorrow Leo was to have been looked after by cousins but he has decided to go with Dani to fetch Pearlie from the camp – so he can, ‘see her as soon as possible!’

Books and reading – an aside

Leo is deep into his current passion – The Edge Chronicles. He has now written about ten books in his ‘Corner Chronicles’ series and he draws, talks, plays Edge Chronicles things. He has read two of the Edge Chronicles books by himself and we are reading him others at the same time. The books he has been reading are really dense – complex plots and long passages of description. At first I was not sure that he could really cope with them alone but he tells us things about plot and character and it is clear that he is coping fine.

I have been reflecting on this whole reading thing quite a lot recently, as there has been debate on some blogs and lists about autonomy and learning to read. I think I have probably been somewhat guilty of misrepresenting our approach to reading in the past. When people ask how Leo learned to read (they don’t ask about P as they assume she learned at school – actually she started reading before she went to school) we tend to say that he ‘just started doing it’. We didn’t teach any phonics systematically, we didn’t follow a reading scheme, we didn’t ask him to ‘practise’ reading with us. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t ‘do anything’ to enable him to read. I realise more and more that what we think of as just normal life involves a passionate relationship with the written word – and especially with books.

We started reading to the kids pretty much from birth. I guess lots of people do that but I don’t mean a book or two, I mean ten or twenty a day, or more. Even our whippet child would sit still for hours if we read to her. I can remember her standing on her head on the sofa as I read to her and she watched the book upside down. We’ve got a photo of me reading to Pearlie while breastfeeding Leo and a second one of him turning round to look at the book over his shoulder. We probably read to the children for three or four sessions a day when they were between one and three. Sometimes the stack of finished picture books would topple over beside us.

So, maybe it’s no surprise that both the kids seemed to read by magic. I guess it isn’t inevitable that that will happen - children may have dyslexia or some physical impairment that makes reading difficult or impossible. But I think if you make something a central feature of day to day life then children will identify it as significant and try to find out about it.

I have seen small children (all boys, if I’m honest) who have skills with a football that I have never mastered. These are children of three or four years old. I guess that the minute they found themselves on two feet a ball was placed in front of them. They took to kicking it about as this was clearly ‘something you do’ – in the way small children learn everything. If the adults in their lives love football, play football, watch football, become animated around football, then children will think football is very important. I think we did the same thing with reading. Dani and I would read, read things aloud to each other and start laughing, or arguing, or get tearful. We turned to books to cheer the children, to comfort them, to re-assure them in new or frightening situations. We did that for a period of years before they ever read anything for themselves.

So, in all the debate around methods of teaching reading – phonics and all that stuff – I am always drawn back to the place that reading has in our lives. I think that this central place that reading occupied was the most significant thing we ‘did’ to enable our children to read easily and with confidence. I don’t claim that this is ‘the way’ for people to learn to read. I can only speak from our experience. But I think that it is a shame that this approach is not promoted more in the world.

It would cost very little in terms of a lifetime to give children four or five years of complete freedom and joy in the company of books – preferably enabled by people who love them. I used to despair when Pearlie’s reception teacher (a very nice woman in many ways) would destroy a book by ‘simplifying’ the vocabulary, or stopping to point out things she deemed important. She would even do that with a story that bubbled and flowed with rhythm and rhyme – chop it up and try to make it ‘accessible’.

Pearlie learned to read like someone cracking a code and she loves to read to squirrel out facts. I can remember the first word she read – in the street. At four years old she announced, ‘if B is buh and U is uh and S is Suh then that must say BUS!’ We had thought she just watched ‘Words and Pictures’ for the stories while we sorted out Leo’s nappy or breakfast – but it turned out she liked the phonics. Now she does read fiction but she prefers things she can skip about in – noting stuff down and linking up things she knows. She will often fall asleep surrounded by different editions of the Guinness Book of Records. She uses books like tools primarily, but still loves to be read to, and in a moment a crisis will be comforted by a book. One night recently I took ‘Mole goes to bed’ into her room and offered to read it to her when she’d been really upset and cross. It was like a balm on everything that hurt and we ended the book with a hug.

Leo loves books as objects and for the stories they contain. At the moment he often carries a small rucksack full of books on his back. He says he is Cowlquape – a character in the Edge Chronicles who carries his barkscrolls wherever he goes. He loves the pictures and the covers, and the way he can collect a set. He loves the world he can find in the books and the fact that he is an expert on that world. He reads words he doesn’t know and he learns them – he speaks those words to test them out – and he writes them. He swirls in a world of words that carries him through every day. He says that he will be an author and illustrator. He asked for a study this week – a desk where he can work and create his books. He owns books with such confidence that I think he will never be intimidated by the written word. And I think that this gives him great power, as well as joy.

Of course I love it that my children have this close relationship with books – because I do and it’s nice when you can share things with your kids. It is part of our family identity – something that defines us. When I say that the children ‘just started to read’ that doesn’t really tell the story properly. People often look at me as if that is hard to believe. But I find it hard to explain what happened in a few words. I can’t say we used a particular book, or scheme. I can’t say we made sure they had good knowledge of phonics. We didn’t ‘teach’ them in a formal sense at all but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do anything.


Anonymous said...

hi, this is fiona from AEUK. exactly the same thing with books and reading here. from birth.for comfort. for amusement. for interest. to enter another world.
we went to library story time once. the librarian kept stopping reading to ask questions and breaking the flow. i wanted to shoot her. these things are not right ! we never went back. love fiona

Gill said...

Those are inspiring, comforting thoughts about learning to read. Especially this bit: "It would cost very little in terms of a lifetime to give children four or five years of complete freedom and joy in the company of books."
Very true. :-)