"About reading, children learn something much more difficult than reading without instruction – namely, to speak and understand their native language. I do not think they would or could learn it if they were instructed. I think reading instruction is the enemy of reading. " ~ John Holt
The only ultimatum I ever remember issuing to my mom was about homeschooling.
It was last year. She was concerned that Sage, then 7 1/2, could not yet read. Yes, he could read a little but he couldn't read like kids learn to do so young in public school, her baseline for when certain things should happen developmentally.
This worry had been coming up again and again for her since Sage reached "school age". She feared that if he did not learn to read – and soon – that the door would close on him ever becoming a passionate reader. She felt that at 7 1/2 he was late.
I did not share her concerns.
Because I – like most unschoolers – believe that given a nurturing environment, all children will learn to read at their own pace. In their own time. I also believe that the optimum time to learn to read is much, much later than the public school system would have you believe. And at 7 1/2 Sage has just entered the realm of reading.
If we are there for them to read to them and provide inspiration and guidance (and we shake off our worry and trust their journey) they will learn. We didn't teach our children to walk. We didn't teach our children to talk. We simply stood by them and watched in amazement as they learned on their own, when they were ready.
I handed my mom a couple of John Holt books and urged her to pick up a copy of Better Late Than Early. I urged her to do some reading herself so that we were at least speaking the same language and then we could have a meaningful conversation about her concerns – if any remained. I told her she didn't have to agree with me, but we had to at least be on the same page of understanding.
The ultimatum was this: Educate yourself or never bring this up again. We are not operating from a place of mutual understanding because we are believing in completely different realities. I perceived a door as just opening that she believed had already begun to close.
She took the books and we changed the subject. It never came up again.
Fast forward one year. Sage taught himself to read. At 8 1/2 years old he started reading with passion and gusto and (gasp!) no lessons, curriculum, or interference by me. He has friends who are 10 and not truly reading yet and others who at 6 were reading and writing passionately (self-learned). Yes, we can teach them to read before they are ready but that defies logical and good common sense. It defies the entire point of education.
Pete and I have caused a stir by breaking the mold of our western culture with many decisions in the past decade or so. We're making up our own story and in many ways it doesn't at all resemble the experiences that we grew up with (some parts do, as my mom broke the mold herself in the 1970's by breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and her passion for natural, unprocessed foods).
My mother and I have a truly wonderful relationship. I consider her a friend and she has acknowledged that I come up with a lot of "hair-brained ideas" that turn out to be healthy/safe/or otherwise wonderful upon further research. The list of "Rachel's-seemingly-crazy-but-actually-wonderful ideas" includes homebirth, elimination-communication, extended breastfeeding, cosleeping, intact boys (non-circumcision), delaying solid foods, natural immunity (non-vaccination), naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, and unschooling. I'm sure there will be plenty more to add to our list soon, but that's about how far we've come thus far. Child-lead reading is being added to her list at this moment.
And as I look over this list they really all come down to the same thing: trust in a simple and natural way of doing things, and freedom from fear. I believe in my body, my kids, the nourishment or real food. I am not afraid of things going terribly awry if I don't get in the way of it somehow. I know that it is all unfolding perfectly.
I trusted Sage to make this leap when he was ready. And he did. I'm grateful every day that I didn't get in the way of this beautiful, gentle, natural journey. And now – quite literally – a new chapter begins. Because he was ready.