Today hasn't been a particularly difficult day. In fact, it was a pretty good day. However, I did get up early this morning (well, yesterday morning) which is why I'm tired. Like many people, I get cranky when I'm tired. Add to that the fact that I spend Saturday nights grasping for a little "me time" and you may get an idea of how short my patience may become and how I may not be the best company. To put it simply, I turn into a jerk.
Every sound irritates me. Every question weighs on my mind like tiny grappling hooks threatening to tear me down. This mood of mine does little deter my 7-year-old from trying her very best to convince me to play with her. I crankily tell her to leave me alone. I don't want to play. I don't want to read her a bedtime story. I don't want to watch TV with her. I want to read something for myself and listen to some music, but she hacks at me and hacks at me. Somehow, I manage not to breakdown to the point of lashing out verbally, which does happen more times than I'd like to admit. Then I hear it.
She has given up on the assault and has settled down to read herself a book. She isn't sad or angry with me. She has simply accepted that dad is serious about doing his own thing at the moment. The sound of her reading to herself relaxes me. She makes up her own voices for each character in the story, just like I do when I read to her. I don't have the words to express how great this makes me feel.
What comes next is what I call an unschool parent's moment of clarity. Actually, I just made that up, but it truly is an aha moment. The clouds of irritation and selfishness simply melt away and I'm back to my fully present self.
Her reading flow slows, and then seems to skip as she struggles to read unfamiliar words and combinations of words. I hear mild frustration in her voice. It isn't the I-give-up-and-hate-this kind of frustration. It's the healthy kind of frustration that tells me she's stretching that envelope. She's reaching beyond herself for more.
"I can't read this," she says to herself, although, that statement includes a silent "yet" at the end. She understands that she can learn how to read it. She's just stuck at the moment. I can feel her eyes looking at the back of my head as she asks, "Will you read it to me dad?"
Even though I have thwarted all of her previous attempts to recruit me as a playmate over the past couple of hours, she knows that her learning is important to me and that I will recognize when she truly needs my help. This perfect optimism is so very important. I cannot stress it enough. All children open themselves up in this way...until someone conditions them not to. It takes a lot of rejection to break that trust, but it will break if neglected. My job as an unschool parent is to maintain that trust. You may think that this is the job of any parent, unschooling or not, and I agree. However, it took a transition to unschooling to bring that parenting style out in me.
I stopped what I was doing and agreed to read the book to her. It turns out she was reading a chapter book, Catwings Returns by Ursula Leguin. Until tonight, she avoided chapter books because she found them to be boring. Perhaps it was the lack of pictures or maybe she hadn't developed the skill to imagine what she was reading (or having read to her) as the story unfolded. Regardless of her previous experience, she wants to read this book. This is the unschooling (life-learning) process. She sets a goal and then moves forward with a plan to reach that goal. In this case, I am a part of the plan.
I read forty pages to her before she fell asleep. It was clear that she was following along with the story. She only stopped me to ask where I was on the page when she wanted to see specific words that I was reading. This time she may not have been learning to read a chapter book, but she was learning what it sounds like to read a chapter book. She will ask me to read many more until she eventually starts reading them to herself.
Unschooling is recognizing the moments when your child is trying to learn and then helping them find a way to do that learning. At least that's my half of unschooling. Her half is finding those moments as she lives her life.
I would also like to share, that upon opening the book I found the name of my oldest daughter's 4th grade teacher on the inside cover. I remember Mrs. Rice well. She was one of the most condescending teachers that I have ever met. She wanted to make it perfectly clear that although my daughter was great at reading, she socialized too much in class. It hadn't occurred to me, until just now, that the one thing opponents of homeschooling claim our kids fail to receive is actually discouraged in the classroom. Well guess what Mrs. Rice. My youngest daughter is also a great reader, and I let her talk and "socialize" whenever she wants to. We're doing just fine.
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