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Monday, November 11, 2013

A Freelance Writers View on Teaching Kids to Read and Write

I hear it all the time, "How do I get my child to read or write?" They want to focus on a secret way to teach homeschoolers English and it seems to make no sense to me. Every time, every single time, I shake my head. I just don't understand the concept of a child needing to be got to read or write. I was pretty much born with a pen in my hand. I remember wanting to know how things were spelled as a toddler. When I was five, I went to work with my father on a regular basis. I spent that time typing on an old typewriter and being happy as a clam. Figuratively speaking of course. Who knows how happy a clam is anyway?

I digress.

It's a foreign concept. Apparently it is a common question though and I would like to share my thoughts on English homeschool curriculums and what I feel their values are. First, I would like to say that I definitely see a point to having them out there. I do realize that there are two children currently and watching their interactions with books and the written word has been interesting. One already has a love of books and takes charge in reading to himself. He thinks that words are cool. The other, I had to force feed comic books until he was about 9. However, the older one would never have a problem with me reading to him. That being said, I get that different kids have different needs.

Who needs a curriculum?

That being said, not all kids need a pre-formulated plan on learning the language that is spoken around them all the time. Many kids out there have parents thinking that they do and because of this they are forced to sit down and suck down a litany of worksheets and beginner books that are boredom times a million. What better way to kill a child's interest in learning than to set them in a box and tell them to occupy themselves. There are kids out there that simply don't need it. It is far better to encourage a love of learning and exploring as the child sees fit versus what we as parents seem to think is needed. Before any parent goes out and buys a boxed curriculum and spends money on it, I think it is important to talk to the kids first and see if an interest is there. Ask them questions about what they want to know about and provide literature that fits those interests. Children that learn under structure and strive for grades and approval in a more traditional manner will do great with a curriculum and that is what they are there for. Other than that, save your money on other tools and go from there.

Learning to Read

Learning to read can be done in a number of ways. There are many jobs as a freelancer that I didn't know how to do from the start of the job but by the time the project was finished, I was a bonafide expert. I learned WordPress this way. I mastered transcription this way. I have watched my own son master reading this way. In his case, the learning aspect came from the love of comics. While learning to read is a process and it won't happen overnight, my point is that a curriculum is not the only way to do this. There are other methods which focus on phonics, tactile learning, and trial and error. This isn't the full list, but the point is this... when a child wants to learn they will.

Challenge is Good

As I said, some of the ways that I learned my own trade was by jumping in. This can be done with English as well. When my son was learning how to read, since he was older, I handed him "Hatchet". He was not to a fourth grade reading level, but his maturity was at this level. Did he struggle with words? Yes. Of course he did. However, he also had interest in camping, hiking, and the other aspects that the novel offered. The point was that I wanted to find something that he wanted to read. I didn't give him a time limit but I did ask him daily questions to challenge his understanding. Sometimes he surprised me and had caught something that I had forgotten. Other times our talks inspired him to go back and read again. As he has gotten older I have offered more challenging readings on different topics. A love of war machines has given us "All Quiet on the Western Front" and interest in politics has inspired readings of "Animal Farm" and "1984".

Greed is Good

Money is a good motivator. Do I spend more time on clients that pay more? Sure, it's been known to happen. While I have a love for all of my clients, sometimes money talks. The same can be said for learning. Of course, you don't want to make it a constant. However, offering money to read something outside of the scope of my son has given him and I the opportunity to learn about new avenues and get writing. I once had a project for my own college class that I didn't want to do and I paid him to help me research. He ended up enjoying it much more than I did and he helped me get a better grade in the class. Every now and then he will ask if there is anything he can earn money by doing and I'll tell him he can write a report.

Finding Common Ground

At the end of the day it is up to you to decide what is going to work best for your kids. I have found that teaching children English is a task and that you do need to get them involved in the process. Once you find the way they learn, run with it. Don't let anyone else tell you how to do it and don't freak out if they don't meet a deadline. There is no need that a child needs to learn their letters by 3 or that they need to be reading at level right on time. Remember with homeschooling there is no standard and that because you spend one on one time with your child, chances are that they are going to catch up in their own pace. However, if you have concerns, don't be afraid to ask for help. Just don't take advice as the end all of the conversation. You know your teaching and you know your children. You are ultimately going to know what works best for them.

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