When I first started out homeschooling, I reached out to one of my wiser friends who had been educating her kids at home for a while for some advice. My kindergartner wasn’t reading yet.
“Am I messing her up?” I asked my friend earnestly.
As moms, when it comes to understanding and helping our kids develop, we have a good sense of when kids should eat solids, sit up, crawl, say their first word. And if we don’t, we can ask our family or tribe for help. But teaching and learning reading can be a conundrum. (Tiffany Jenkins has provided SO MUCH comic relief. How many of us teaching reading want to punch sight words in the face?)
It may have to do with the enormous pressure, for students and teachers, to test well that has permeated the government school system. When I grew up, kindergarten was mostly play based. With the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) enacted in 2002 and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, “The effects of standardized testing on students’ physical and emotional wellbeing are worrisome and equally as deserving of attention as the effects of standardized testing on teaching and learning,” says Christina Simpson in her 2016 paper “Effects of Standardized Testing on Students’ Well-Being.”
In 1979, a child was ready for 1st grade if he or she tried to “write or copy letters or numbers.” Now, with the common core standards, kindergarten students should be able to “read and understand books at my level well.”
As a family, we wanted to eschew this stress of school performance and let our kids learn naturally, so we chose to homeschool. We wanted to escape the rat race and let our kids be kids for as long as we could. Articles like this one by Peter Gray, as well as his fantastic book Free to Learn, helped us make the jump.
Still, there is this lingering sense of keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to academics for my kids, particularly reading. In trying to preserve the carefree nature of their learning, I have become a buffer, absorbing the stress of condescending comments from family members and gloating Facebook posts from friends describing all their kids’ accomplishments in school. Posts like, “What curriculum do you use with your 3 year old who is already reading chapter books?” set me over the edge.
I have now developed what I affectionately call the “Homeschool Mom Disease” where I ruminate on whether I am doing enough for my kids, not giving them enough work, and if homeschooling will ruin them. “Am I messing her up?” is the question that wakes me up at 3am.
Which brings me back to my visit with my experienced homeschool mom friend. She has 9 kids, all homeschooled, some for their whole life, some for fits and spurts. One of her kids went to an Ivy League school and is wildly successful in the corporate world, one has renounced the trappings of wealth and lives happily with very little in the jungle, a few are nurses and teachers, and some are still figuring out their path in life. She is a wonderful resource to turn to when I flounder.
“Do you want to know the 5-step reading program I used with all my kids when they are little? It’s super simple to use and it’s worked every time with all my kids.” She smiled at me.
“Um, yes please! All the stress of researching different curriculums and reading articles and joining 1000 Facebook groups trying to sift through comments and trying to figure out tests to assess where she is at is exhausting!”
She smiled at me in that warm, all-knowing way she always does and said, “Well, it’s guaranteed to turn your kids into readers and lovers of words! Ready?
Step 1. Read to them.
Step 2. Read to them.
Step 3. Read to them.
Step 4. Read to them.
Step 5. Read to them.
Reading aloud to them is the best thing you can do. Children will not learn to appreciate reading if they never see it being used.” She winked at me.
“That’s it?” I asked
“Yep. And then, when they are ready, which has been different for every single child, we go from there.”
“So what you’re saying is that I need to just not stress about it?”
She just smiled again, which always seems to calm me and help me down from the ledge of jumping back into the government school system.
When you decide to forge your own educational path for your children, it is important to remember your “why”. “You can make a conscious decision to create an atmosphere that meets children where they are individually and developmentally,” says Jeanne Faulconer of Brave Learner Home. In that same article she echoes what my friend said, “Reading to young children is better than all the reading lessons in the world.”
Since this conversation with my friend, I try to read to my kids every night. Right now we are enjoying City of Ember, and we have my childhood favorite The Trumpet of the Swan in the queue. I am learning to take more time to enjoy the pleasures of simply being with my kids, to marvel at their beautiful uniqueness, and trying not to succumb to the Homeschool Mom Disease. It’s been a learning experience for me too.
For more resources about reading out loud to your kids, Sarah Mackenzie is the guru behind Read Aloud Revival.
To find interesting learning opportunities outside of the traditional education system, visit us at Uschool.Com to learn more.