Friday, January 04, 2008

Sometimes I wonder

Lyddie read a whole book to me last night for the first time. It was a Puddle Lane one - Mrs Pitter Patter and the Magician. I like that story: I'm a great fan of that magician's. Anyway, she didn't read the lengthier, smaller type text on the left but she did all the bits on the right hand pages. The only simple 4-letter words she really struggles with now are 'magic E' ones like hide, gate, etc. I don't know how to explain this in a way that will help, except to just keep reading with her until familiarity and repetition sorts it out in her mind. English is a difficult language in some ways I think. The rules aren't always consistent.

So is this autonomous? Well, I don't make her do it, but I did ask her to read me a story last night instead of me reading one to her, pleading tiredness. A cunning plan, on my part? Am I coercing her to learn to read? I don't know. I really was tired yesterday! But I do want her to learn and she says she wants to learn. And she often asks me to read with her, which means to help her blend the letter sounds and work out the words. Last night I was surprised by how many she was reading straight off, without any help, so the process is obviously working.

I suppose if we were strictly unschooling, she'd go off and learn by herself and then turn up and amaze me some years hence, with her seemingly magically-acquired new skill. This is how the teenagers here often seem to learn. If they ask for help, I try to help but they evidently don't need it very often. Lyddie asks more often and I'm glad she does. When I sit and analyse it, the reading skill is quite important, to my mind, as a key to learning other things. I don't know if I'm forcing it along any faster than Lyddie would be learning anyway. I don't think so. She seems happy, anyway.

"Maybe it's daytime already, only the clouds haven't seen the sun yet," she's just said to me. It is a very dark morning today. Or maybe we're just awake earlier than usual. The Lyddie-isms still make me smile though. Especially her explanation for fog: "The sky has fallen down!"


Blogger Clare said...

If someone asked you if you wanted to go out for a meal, would you think you were being coerced into it? I think that if children love books, then they'll love reading and, as with everything, sometimes don't know they would like to do something because it hasn't occurred to them. I'll often ask Flopsy if she wants to read to me and she often says no. I think I'd be coercing her if I pushed her to. Last night I had to coerce her into *not* reading to me as Mopsy wanted to go to sleep and it was our bedtime books we were reading - Mopsy got a bit fed up of the slowness of Flopsy reading.

I often ask Flopsy if she wants me to explain something and she often says yes then closes up when I get started so now I just keep my mouth shut and hope she picks it up as she goes along as she has all the words she knows how to read so far :-)

8:50 am, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

"If someone asked you if you wanted to go out for a meal, would you think you were being coerced into it?"

Probably not. Good point Clare :-)

But but but - by asking them if they want to, are we directing their learning process away from a path it might naturally (and perhaps more efficiently) take?

Angst-ridden parent? Moi? ;-)

8:55 am, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

Yes, I recognize the dilemma. I've eradicated it from my life by not asking myself the question about coercion anymore. I know, I'm a coward without principles. Well, I have one principle left... if it feels okay and everybody is happy, just do it.
That's putting it simply, but I suppose it's basically what it boils down to. Maybe that's not entirely autonomous, but 'kind of autonomous' is a term I started using for our way of living because I thought it suited what we did. But it's not the other way around, it's not something I religiously try and live by. And even if I'd want to do that, the children wouldn't let me :).

2:57 pm, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Clare said...

But, but, but...what's wrong with making tentative suggestions. Surely offering to take Lyddie to the swings would be interfering in her learning in that case? And offering to make her a sandwich while you make your own? And showing her a new book you've bought her because you thought she'd like it? Or taking them all to a museum?

I just think that there is no way on this earth that you can not influence your child's learning at least a little bit, and I don't really think we should be striving to. I feel our role as parents is to signpost and to open eyes. For instance, how would a music lover know that she wanted to learn music if she never heard it? how would she hear it if their parents never played it?

6:32 pm, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Mieke! That's probably a very sound principle, and sensible to pare it down to just the one. I might well end up following your lead on that :-)

Clare, my worry is that by consciously influencing their choices, even just by suggestion, I might inadvertantly lead them away from their natural paths. Lord knows, I do enough unconscious influencing I'm sure, without adding a conscious dollop of it on top!

Have you ever had a friend you really looked up to because they seemed a lot cleverer/wiser/older/ more exciting/more anything(!) than you? If that person seeks to influence your decisions you can sometimes find yourself losing your identity a bit and letting them take charge. Maybe not your identity but, you know, your oomph. Or curiosity. Losing something, anyway! (says she vaguely..)

I think as parents we could be in that sort of position of influence with the same effects, sometimes. If we're not careful. Which we probably all are.

7:24 pm, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Jax said...

I think the way we are set up as human beings is to learn from our parents, and our siblings and our peers, and I don't think we're set up to not influence ppl, we're social animals. So what I'm saying is that I think influencing your children *is* their natural learning path.

7:30 pm, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Hmmm. Yes, my parents embraced that concept wholeheartedly Jax, which is why I'm so wary of doing the same. Is there a difference between consciously influencing someone and trying to control their lives? I suspect there might be an extremely fine line between the two, if there's a difference at all.

10:11 pm, January 04, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

I think that, in our family anyway, we influence each other. Of course, there are issues about inherent power imbalance, given that some of us are kids and some adults. But, I think all I can do is be aware of it. I think its impossible to eradicate it totally.

As long as my kids feel comfortable to just say "No!" (which they do!)then I'm happy to make suggestions. I think it is a fine line and one of my fears is that I ruin anything for them by making it the thing I demand/expect.

12:22 am, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes there are definitely two very different kinds of influence, aren't there? The conscious kind where you say: "I think X should be doing this and you set about making it happen, regardless of what X might have wanted to do.

(In our house, when we were children, it was even considered ok to persuade/bully/badger/bribe X into saying they wanted to do the thing - even when they plainly didn't - so the parent could then nag them into doing it with a clear conscience!)

Then there's the subconscious constant influence that you can't prevent, which is just how people are affected by being in the company of other people. It's natural for young people to follow the example of older people and I'm quite happy about that.

I think Lyddie wants to learn to read because she sees the rest of us doing so much of it, so she thinks it must be a good thing to do. I don't have a problem with that kind of influence. It's when I'm tempted to say: "Let's sit and learn to read now and let's do it this way," that my warning bells start ringing.

8:52 am, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Clare said...

I think if you bring up your child to be self-confident with good self-esteem then they won't be unduly influenced to follow a path that doesn't sit right with them - if it does sit right with them then it's not being 'influenced' but 'having your eyes opened to something you find yourself enjoying'. If you bring up your children respectful of their opinions, ideas and desires, then they are likely to be confident enough to follow their own natural path whatever external influences there are.

Flopsy, for example, will not be bossed around by other children unless she wants to be. If a friend says 'let's play mummies and babies' and she feels like doing so, then she will but there's no budging her if she doesn't want to. I feel she's confident enough to say 'no' and that's the important thing we need to be doing - making sure that whatever suggestions we make to our children, they *know* it's safe to say 'no' if they don't want to, and that their parents will facilitate their attempts to follow their own paths.

10:02 am, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

'having your eyes opened to something you find yourself enjoying' - kind of like the Green Eggs and Ham analogy?

Hmmm, yes I can see where you're coming from I think, though I'm still very wary of suggesting things just in case the suggestions do impinge on the person's freedom.

I was chatting to someone on the phone about this earlier today and I said: "I think it's because I prefer to explore the world through fresh eyes, on my own terms, so that I can find things out for myself. For me, that's a more exciting way to live. I don't want someone pointing thing out for me all the time - that spoils things and I lose interest."

"Yes but not everyone is like that," said my friend. "Some people prefer to be shown around a new place by someone who knows it better."

So, probably knowing what works best for each individual child and supplying that is the optimum approach. Do you reckon most attentive parents instinctively know this about their child?

11:32 am, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

Yes Gill, I personally absolutely believe that to be true. Hence my 'if it feels good, just do it' approach, which is not always as easy and casual as it sounds. Because to know your and your child's true feelings is not always as straightforward as it seems, or as it should be. But home education certainly provides me with the space and the opportunities to discover it.

12:10 pm, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

"Because to know your and your child's true feelings is not always as straightforward as it seems, or as it should be."

No it's not, you're right there. Some children seem to be natural people pleasers who will claim to want whatever they think their parent wants them to want! Still others are natural rebels who will never want what another person thinks is right for them, just because the other person thinks this! I think we've got a mixture of both here.

And one of my children kind of resents even my unconscious influence and feels it impinging on his liberty. I tell him he should do his own thing regardless, but he does struggle with it and I have to keep reminding him. (Ooh - does that mean I'm influencing him to do his own thing? LOL! *Ties head in knots!*)

12:35 pm, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

I don't know how it is for you, but for myself I know that the more I think about what to say, how to respond to my children, the further away I get from my true feelings, my intuition. It is a continuous challenge to trust myself to say and do the things that are supportive to them, and at the same time trust them to be strong / independent / individual enough to choose to use it or not. I'm sort of looking for the correct words here, but I suppose I'm trying to say that trust is very important here. Trust in both your own and their strength.

12:47 pm, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Yep. Trust is often difficult isn't it? Especially if one's own childhood model isn't one you want to use, for whatever reason. Then I think you're consciously always trying to get it 'right'. And I think there are positive as well as negative effects of that consciousness. On the one hand, you can be trying too hard which probably isn't very beneficial to anyone. But on the other hand you don't absent-mindedly relax into the traditional power structure of the parent always having automatic control of all the child's decisions.

12:54 pm, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

For me, it is about respect for my children - trying to do everything in a spirit of respect and friendship. I happen to believe that there are things they sometimes need guidance in (like food choices) or reminders of (like the fact that violence is not going to lead to a good place.) That's because they are younger than me, and so have had less time to learn. (Not that I claim age is any guarantee of wisdom!) But, for me, guidance or reminders should be kindly, respectful mentions of something - not involving force, bribery or punishment. If they choose to ignore me than that's their right.

The reason I don't tend to do much in the way of guidance or reminders around 'educational' matters is that I genuinely believe that there is little I can offer them. They have an inherent desire to learn and to enjoy learning. I have no idea what they will need to know in ten years, so there's not much point pushing any particular thing.

I guess the reason why reading is such a thorny issue is that, as you say, it is the key to so many other things. FWIW I did sometimes ask Leo if he wanted to read to me, and sometimes he did, and it didn't kill his love of reading.

2:51 pm, January 05, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

I think trying to lead by example is probably my best strength as a parent, rather than giving unsolicited guidance which I find very difficult.

It's good to know that about Leo! :-)

6:03 pm, January 05, 2008  

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