Friday, February 19, 2010

How I Learned to Read and Write

This is something I seem to see parents worrying about sooo often...  Parents of four and five year olds (both in and out of school) wring their hands and tear their hair out over the fact their children can't read.  When I see this, I just shake my head, and feel bad for those poor kids!

There is such an industry built up around teaching kids how to read.  So many programs, flash cards, DVD's, computer programs...  I can't help but think that an awful lot of money must be wasted annually on something that really doesn't need any "teaching" at all, something that children will learn simply by spending time with literate adults.

I suppose my own family bought into this at first, as well.  When I was first pulled out of kindergarten (my only experience with traditional schooling), my mother bought a program called Sing, Spell, Read and Write, and, though my memories of that are pretty foggy, I know I did it for a while, and managed to sound out words, but never finished the program.  I don't remember ever being *forced* to do it (and my mothers memories match up with mine), no tears were ever shed over it, and it was simply forgotten about.

Now, I should point out at this point that my family is VERY big on reading.  Bookshelves line every free wall in our house, filled with everything from sci-fi and fantasy novels, to cookbooks, to locomotive repair books, to encyclopedias, to natural health books, and a thousand other things.  From the time I was tiny, the people around me, my parents, were regular readers.  And from the time I was tiny, they read aloud to me.  Poetry, the newspaper, picture books, you name it.  Words were something I appreciated from a young age.

But I had no interest in reading myself for several years.

I don't remember precisely what age I was when I started to read, although I do remember feeling embarrassed in Brownies when I couldn't read.  I also remember (or at least I think I remember-as I said before, a lot of these memories are rather cloudy) my mother calmly assuring some other mothers that I would read when I was ready to.

And, sure enough, she was right!  When I was something like age eight or nine, my mother was reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my sister and I.  But, well, she had things to do other than read, and if she read too long, her voice would get hoarse.  So, being quite frustrated at how slow a process this was, and really wanting to know what happened next, I picked it up and began to read.

I haven't looked back since!

After that first Harry Potter book, I became a truly voracious reader.  I went through countless novels, often two or three of them in the same day, just soaking up all the stories, characters, places.  I truly fell in love with fiction.  I also simply loved poetry, and memorized several fairly long poems in their entirety (most notably The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.  After seeing the movie Anne of Green Gables, where part of that poem was recited, I just fell in love with it).

As for writing, well, since before I could read I'd been dictating simple poems for my mother to transcribe.  And after I learned to read, I simply wrote more poems myself!

How I actually learned to write, the mechanics of it, grammar and sentence structure and all that, I have no real memories.  I simply knew, I suppose, from reading so very many novels and poems!  I've never been *taught* how to write in my life.  Not one lesson from my mother.  Yet I obviously learned...

I do remember playing spelling games with my sister, where my mother would say a word and both of us would try and spell it properly.  This was always great fun to me!

So now, years later, I just get so frustrated when I see parents worrying and fussing over when their children will learn to read.  So many teens, so many adults for that matter, hate reading.  I firmly believe this is because it was forced.  Things aren't fun when you *have* to do them.  Reading, and writing, come so naturally, so organically, if only you're brave enough to take a deep breath, and let things unfold.  I can see so many ways that things could have gone wrong, had reading or writing been made into Schoolwork (I know so many homeschooling families who make their children write a book report when they finish a book...  Who would want to read a novel when you have that tedium waiting at the end of it??), that I'm forever grateful to my parents for fostering such a great love of words in both me and my sister.  We love reading and writing precisely because those things have never been anything but joyful, even when it was hard (sometimes I have to push myself to write something I want to get written, but it's always worth it), because something you do entirely because you want to do it is inherently joyful.

So, I want to say to all those parents of younger kids, that you really, truly, don't need to worry about reading and writing.  Read to your kids, enjoy reading yourself, and the rest will come!  Your kids may or may not develop a passion for language, as that depends in large part on personality, as well, but I can't help but feel that they're so much more likely to come to love words, love the beauty of language, if they approach it in freedom!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Unschoolers Winter Waterpark Gathering 2010

So, in case you couldn't guess, I'm home!!  I had a really great week, spent time with many truly wonderful people, and took way too few pictures.  But I'll do my best to tell the story with only a few shots...

Last Saturday, we headed off toward Pittsburgh, to stay with a family we met at last years UWWG.  We were originally supposed to arrive much earlier, but by the time we actually got there it was midnight, and by the time we all stopped talking and hanging out in favour of bed, it was pat 3:00 am!  Emi, mum and I were thrilled to find out that not only were Jody, Bethany, Timmy, & Sam awesome people, they were also just as much night owls as we are. *Grins* The time we spent with the Hagensen's was great, and involved lots of conversations around the table in the sunny kitchen, about a variety of topics.  I love how with unschoolers, age matters so much less.  Between our two families, there were ages 9, 15, 16, 18, 18, and parents (I don't think they'd be thrilled if I tried to add their ages as well... ;-)), and all of us would happily sit around talking to each other...  That just makes me really happy.  As do the Hagensen's.♥  I really hope I get to see all of them again soon!

Here are Sam, Emi, and Timmy playing Smash Bros on Nintendo...

Their adorable, fluffy, crazy, cat.

 Isn't he cute?

On Monday, we headed to the Kalahari, for the third annual Unschoolers Winter Waterpark Gathering!  We took Timmy along for the ride, since his family was leaving a bit later in the day, and he wanted to have as much time as possible there!  On the way, we spotted the official Girls Gone Wild bus.  Seriously.  We found that hilarious!

Yeah, I know you can hardly see it.  But trust me, that's what it was!

The first night there I was sooo tired I nearly fell asleep in John Taylor Gatto's keynote address!  That first day though, it struck me how very different it was for me just a year from my first unschooling conference.  I knew SO MANY PEOPLE!  I could barely take two steps without running into someone to hug hello, chat with, or just enthusiastically wave hi to.  I was even greeted by a lovely gift in one case.  It was a truly great feeling. ♥

The next day, I attended John Taylor Gatto's workshop.  I find what he has to say very interesting, though I don't agree with all of it.  He's very Libertarian, and I'm definitely not, so I found myself feeling uncomfortable with some of the surrounding assumptions and beliefs in many of his statements.  Regardless, I really enjoyed his talk, and found that he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  Not arrogant at all, and very friendly. 
It's blurry, but that's him!

The conference centre was filled with hoards of happy teenagers...

People with interesting clothing...

And cheerful goofing off.

I enjoyed myself, spending time in the waterpark and in the conference centre, with teens and with parents...  Sadly, since I'm the photographer here, I have no pictures of me having fun! *Grins*

We also had the great pleasure of seeing the world premiere of the short documentary about Not Back To School Camp!  This film is seriously, absolutely and completely, AMAZING.  It captures so perfectly what NBTSC *is*.  I love it. ♥ Both Emi and I can also be glimpsed in several scenes...  I highly suggest you watch it now!!

Not Back to School Camp: A Glance Within from Allen Ellis on Vimeo.

On Wednesday there was a marketplace, complete with advertisers!

Emi was very happy with the stuff she sold, and felt she got a good idea of what sold well and what didn't, what price ranges worked, and similar useful info.  She also met some very kind and helpful people, who shared their experiences with both selling handmade items and traveling.

A friend kept her company while she sold her Creations...

Emi introduced one of her favorite games, Werewolves, to her friends, and they played some pretty intense rounds, or at least so I've heard...

Apparently playing Werewolves is much more fun than dancing. ;-)

You know, I really don't have all that much to say.  I hung out with awesome people, had lots of cool conversations, played in the waterpark, went to a couple of talks...  Of course, that's a lot of stuff.  But at the moment, I don't really feel equipped to elaborate on all of that!  So I'll just say that I had a good time.  Oh, I did also get to meet a few blogging and Twitter peeps whom I hadn't met before, which was cool, and got to know some people whom I'd only met briefly at earlier conferences and gatherings, which was also great!

On Friday, we left the Kalahari, with much sadness.  After an unschooling gathering, home seems pretty lonely...  I really want to make sure that I keep in touch with people this year!  

But anyway, we left the Kalahari and headed to my grandfathers, whom I haven't seen in several years.  I was a bit nervous about seeing my granddad and step-grandma, honestly.  Having had only brief phone calls for the last few years, it felt a bit strange to be visiting.  But I'm really, really glad we did!  It was really great to see them, and I was a rather sad when it was time to leave the next day.

 My step-grandmother and my grandfather, with their adorable but VERY yappy little doggy.

Me, my grandfather, and Emi.

Then, on Saturday, we came home.  It's always surreal coming back home after being away.  The tap works the same way, the dishes are all in the right spots, and the bed is in the same state of dissaray it was when I last saw it, yet it all seems different somehow...

I should mention that the Tuesday we were away, we got some bad news.  My great-grandmother, Eileen Boyle Caputo, passed away at age 99 on the day we left, Saturday the 6th of February.  I wasn't very close to her, having only known her in her later years, but my mom was, and it hit her hardest.  I don't think any of us really thought she was going to die soon.  She always seemed like the Energizer bunny: you just expected her to keep going forever!

So I will leave things at that for now...  I hope everyone had a great week, and there are, as there often are, several post ideas bouncing around in my head, that will hopefully turn into actual posts soon!


Friday, February 5, 2010

An Epic Adventure

SO, bright and early tomorrow morning, we are heading off into a snowstorm!!  Seriously, we are.  The forecast isn't looking great, but my mom is a tough Montreal driver who is very used to driving in lots of snow, and if it gets too bad we can always pull over.  Hopefully that won't impact on our plans, which are to drive to Pennsylvania tomorrow, and stay with some lovely people who live near Pittsburgh until Monday morning, at which point we'll drive to the Kalahari waterpark for the Unschoolers Winter Waterpark Gathering!  We'll be there until Friday, when we head to just outside Toronto, Ontario, to visit my grandfather, whom I haven't seen in several years!  Saturday, we'll complete the final leg of our journey, and return home.

By that point, I expect to be thoroughly exhausted, but very hopefully cheerful!

I will, of course, have my camera with me, and try to remember to take lots of pictures.

And I most likely will not have internet access.

Right now I'm both very excited (I'm going to be seeing lots of awesome people!!), and rather stressed (we still have tons of stuff to pack!!).  We're bringing all of our own food (or at least, bringing *most* of our food, and buying some at a grocery store in the States), because otherwise we couldn't afford to go, but that means that today includes cooking and stuff as well as packing and tracking down lost clothing items and buying last minute things...  PLUS I signed up for what will be my last year of NBTSC just a couple days ago, so I need to send in my registration form before I leave!

...Phew, it made me tired just writing all that...

Point being, I have much still to do.  But I'm excited!!

Oh, and if you're going to be there, come say hi!! 

Enjoy your week, everyone!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Interview on Unschooling

Emi doesn't often consent to go along with my random whims, so I was pleasantly surprised, and pleased, when she agreed to answer a few questions about unschooling on video!  Here is the resulting short interview:

It can be found on YouTube here, if you prefer to watch it there!