Friday, January 25, 2008

Onto something Big!

"Mama! Mama! They're the same!" He called.
"What? What are the same?" I came into the room where he was holding this little board book, Numbers by Candlewick Press. We picked it up at the library for the animal pictures Ezra was so into last week.
"They're the same as my book. My alphabet book."
Gibbie was excited. He couldn't believe it. He pointed to the letters, turned sideways and
running down the side of the cover.
Yup. I tried to be nonchalant. These are the letters that make up all the words in the books we read.
I opened the Red Letter Alphabet Book and we found each of the lower case letters in the title of Numbers in our cherished Alphabet Book.
I don't normally like Alphabet books much. They are not generally fun to read. We like stories and poems better. But this book is special. The letters are lowercase, like most of the letters we read in stories. The letters are flocked and printed very large, enticing us to run our fingers over them, tracing the path each one makes. The example words use the phonetic sounds of the letters, which only makes sense, but, maddeningly lots of alphabet books don't do.
This was a spontaneous, Eureka! moment for Gibbie--a milestone on his path to literacy. I hope I can share his enthusiasm in these moments without getting all boringly didactic on him. Without being so excited that I take over and make it my moment to teach, dulling the simple sincere pleasure of discovery.
We have these alphabet and number books and a few others that we read when requested, but I don't think that at one and two and three years we need to go out of our way to teach this. Our enthusiasm can detract from the pleasing puzzle that is reading. Kind of like how once when my sister asked Paul and I for our opinion on something. After we stopped talking twenty minutes later she said, "Wow. Next time I want a long lecture on something, I'll ask you guys."
As Gibbie nears the boundaries of school-agedness, I'm really chewing on some different educational philosophies. I read Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook in college and it changed my life. I took fully took the reins of my own education for the first time, and it was great! Since leaving educational institutions, I find I'm blossoming. Reading more than ever. Thinking hard, doing, processing with more depth than I did in school.
But I do wonder if I could do so if it weren't for all the time I spent in schools? If it weren't for this broad base of formal classes, all my gifted and talented, international baccalaureate, liberal arts, bachelor of arts hocus pocus. The question is somewhat moot as my time in formal classrooms is largely over anyway, but it's not moot for these kids. The big idea in the Liberation Handbook is that real learning happens best in real life. I don't know that we're going to become head-over-heels unschoolers, but it is promising to see how spontaneously and joyfully Gibbie discovers the world. How he makes this intellectual leap that is often laborious when taught from the top down.

I don't give his little self enough credit. Thank God that we can live a life that is so richly, luxuriantly full of books. It needn't surprise me that if he is as surrounded by the written word as much as the spoken word, he just might come to decode it almost as naturally.
Anyhow, I love these Montessori number and letter books. They are really beautiful in this plain, spare way. The Blue Number Counting Book is my favorite. I just can't resist touching each little shape on every page as I count it. Nothing could be more natural.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't you love those moments? It's probably one of my favorite things about teaching. One of my favorite ah-ha moments was, after months of working with a child on reading he suddenly stopped and said "if I start on this side and read to this side, I can read in english." He had little experience with books in general and now was trying to learn to read left to right (in english) and right to left (in arabic).

As far as unschooling goes, I don't know how I feel about all the hype it is getting and how it is "better" than an education within the classroom. (not that i felt you were saying that). I think that people fail to realize that teachers really do a lot of unschooling within the classroom. Sure, I start my day with a set lesson plan, but on most days my plans have been scrapped because the kids asked a question and we got off on a tangent learning about the solar system, the weather in Africa, why penguins don't fly, or how to say 50 words in sign language.

I think more people do unschooling at home, than they realize. Parents who are involved with their kids tend to do activities, etc. that their children have shown an interest in and then kids come to school with all that background knowledge and more is added. Then they bring home and share what they've learned and the parents expand on it, then they return to school, etc. etc.

Just my two cents.