Sunday, June 29, 2008

Learning with sisters

Playing 'hangman':

And: how do zips work?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ali: boy to man

It's Ali's 18th birthday today! Following hot on the heels of his brother, I somehow don't think he'd appreciate the same kind of birthday treat I recently gave to his sister. But.. well, what's the harm in a few photos between friends? ;-)

He was a Solstice baby, born after what the doctors euphemistically called a 'trial of labour' - meaning: they didn't expect him to be born normally and were standing ready with the scissors to extract him the other way. No pressure, then! But he proved the experts wrong then and this set the pattern for the rest of his childhood.

We went to playgrounds, but he climbed on the tops of the swings, and the climbing frame roofs and up trees and on high walls. At school, he argued with the government's brand new Numeracy and Literacy Hours, putting himself (at 9 years old) on hunger strike until they would agree to give him some more interesting work. They tried to tempt him with all kinds of food, but nothing would induce him to eat. So they locked him in the library with his 'Numeracy and Literacy' work until he climbed out of the window and set off home.

The school gave up trying to forcibly shoehorn him into its round holes then - they phoned me with the suggestion that home education might be a better option for him. I'd thought so as well, for ages. It was Ali who had wanted to stay at school, to try to win the Numeracy and Literacy battle. At home, he got into Pokémon, but then found he couldn't read the Japanese characters on some of the cards he had. So he set about teaching himself Japanese, which he can now read, write and speak quite well. After that he did a bit of German and some Russian, then got into Internet coding languages. But honestly, he lost me at the Japanese, never mind the rest of it.

The thing about Ali is that he taught me how to parent in a different way. With Tom, it was OK for me to say: "NO. Don't do that," but Ali insisted on thinking everything through for himself. He had to know why he shouldn't do something, and to agree with the explanation before he complied. He saw power struggles as welcome challenges against which he would not be beaten. He made me think, and be creative. He has always forced my respect for him, and then returned it.

As the middle of the three teenagers he's the peacemaker, as you'd expect. The arbitrator. But sometimes he's the agitator too, as the mood takes him. He goes his own way. He refuses to be labelled and, just when you think you've got the measure of him, he surprises you with something you didn't expect. Always has and probably always will. He lives with integrity. He's dazzlingly intelligent and eloquent, and we all love him to bits.

That was the boy. Here's the man:

Happy birthday Al xxx

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reading again

As I've blogged before (November 2006: Letterland, March 2007: Learning to read & type with The Sims and May 2008: What *do* we do?) Lyddie has, for some time, been learning how to read.

Last night we went to bed as usual with her choice of book for me to read to her. On this occasion it happened to be this one:

The Little Monster

- which contains lengthy narrative on the left pages and a more concise version on the right, in larger font, for the child to read. I explained this system to Lyddie last night and she said she wanted to read the book that way, together with me. So I would read the left pages and she would read the right ones.

I see that we've done this before with Puddle Lane books but this time she was quite fluent except for the word 'vanished', over which she didn't struggle for long. It's a while since we've done them though and she must have forgotten how they work.

I've absolutely loved sharing this 'learning to read' process with her. It's been a pleasure from start to finish. We've used Letterland phonics (by accident, since someone put a machine and some books in her hands about 18 months ago) combined with a lot of story reading. Also, reading is a very prevalent activity in this house. Most of us do it a lot and we frequently discuss, share and critique our reading, so the pay-off of learning the skill has been clearly modelled for her and supplied her with the motivation to want to master it.

At night I often go to bed with a book or newspaper: she's wanted to read it with me and I've abandoned my relaxed reading-to-myself session for a more concentrated helping-Lyddie-read session often at 9, 10, 11pm after the baby fell asleep so that we could devote ourselves 100% to the task. These sessions were never planned, but I suppose the prospect of one's adult being lost in their own reading and therefore not really attending to you is much less appealing than asking to join in and learning the rules of the game.

So, she learned the letter sounds very early on and she knows how to blend them into words. But for all the method purists out there, I have to say that she relies heavily on memory too and only falls back on the phonics when she doesn't recognise the word on sight. So for example, last night she glanced at 'there' and thought it said 'the'. When 'the' didn't work in context, she used her knowledge of phonics and the 'magic e' to work out what it did say. Only when she's stuck does she ask me to blend the sounds for her and I always wait until she asks and then comply with her request without question: it has been very important for her to retain control of the process.

When she successfully reads a sentence without problems we both laugh out loud for the sheer pleasure of her achievement. She concentrates so hard and is delighted when she gets it right. I think she's close to the day when she'll start to just pick up books and read them to herself now - something we're both looking forward to.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Signs of success

You know you've done something right when your 17 year-old son comes to you for instructions in how to work an alarm clock. He's never needed one before and I'm so glad about this - they were the bane of my life when I was a child. No child should need to know how to work one, in my opinion. People should sleep until they naturally wake up, and go to sleep when they're tired. That's what natural body clocks are for. We should not be slaves to the economy and to our alarm clocks.

Yesterday we had this kind of a day:

- identifying birds and wild flowers. We think we might have some coal tits nesting around here, and we were trying to work out whether we've got fat hen or 'good king henry' growing in the field (about which, more here later, I hope.)

The cows escaped from the top field again and Tom had to fix the wall to try to prevent this - again. He took Lyddie up with him and they sat in the grass, enjoying the view.

Is this real living? It feels real. We get things done, slowly but surely. Sometimes I wonder whether we should be rushing about earning money instead, but life's not just about money, is it? In fact, I suspect it's not even about money.

These were the things that I wanted to teach my children.