The joy of reading

Bookworm turned eight today. Leaving aside the slight state of shock that I am in from being mother to an eight year old, she was given, among other things, some books. She said to me tonight that her favourite presents were the books, and that they had given her joy.

It was such a beautiful thing to hear. One of the things I really want for my children is to see them grow up with a love of great books. Already Bookworm, as her name suggests, loves reading. But to get joy from a book – I never want her to lose that. I have a friend with a son just slightly younger than Bookworm, and he, after just graduating off staged readers at school to free choice books, has now been put back onto staged readers in a new program, this time with a comprehension test every week. To get a new book the following week, he has to pass the test. When my friend told me this, my heart sank. What a way to make a child lose the joy of reading.

One of the biggest pleasures when we started home education was seeing my children sitting down at home and reading because they wanted to. Bookworm usually wakes up and reads in bed for an hour before she gets up. Snugglepot, too, can often be found on the couch with a book. Even Buttercup, at three, sits for ages looking at books, being read to by me or her sisters, and has an overflowing book basket in her bedroom. In fact, this week she asked me to hurry up and teach her to read!

Reading positionsMy kids like reading anywhere – even the kitchen doormat!

I was thinking recently about how to make reading such a natural part of life. We recently travelled back home to Australia to visit family. Staying at both my parents’ and my in-laws’ houses, I noticed again that the houses were crammed with books. In virtually every room, every spare wall space, there was a bookshelf. Both my husband and I grew up surrounded by books. We never had to look far to find something to read. Both of us grew up, too, seeing our parents reading. My mum would sit for hours on weekends or holidays, absorbed in a book. Library trips were a regular after school activity, and we were always given books for Christmas and birthdays.

These are all things that I want to give my children. I want them to grow up with books just being part of the house, just accepted as normal, yet also treasured, exclaimed over, read, shared, and discussed.

It seems to be working. My kids are often found sitting side by side, noses in books. Every day we do “Snack and Read Aloud”, and I usually get “One more chapter. Just one more chapter”. Even on the weekend, Snack and Read Aloud is requested, and I often get a book that we are reading dropped beside my plate at dinner time to read another chapter. We don’t sign off how many nights we read in a log book. We don’t particularly pay attention to what “reading level” a book is. We just pick up books and read them, because we like them. It’s part of our family culture. It’s a legacy I want to pass on. I want my grandkids and great grandkids to grow up in houses full of books. Which means I don’t feel guilty when some afternoons, like today, I don’t fold washing because I’m sitting engrossed in a book while the kids are playing. I’m just modelling for them 😉 I’m modelling that books can be a source of joy. That’s what I want to teach my kids.

Silent work time and Fun Break Tokens

I am trying an experiment at the moment. Our bookwork time has been a bit chaotic lately with Bookworm and Snugglepot complaining about their work, asking for breaks all the time, and having trouble focusing, and Buttercup wandering around looking for something to do. So I have introduced “silent work time”, a 15 minute period at the start of our bookwork where everyone in the house has to be quiet and doing something productive. So Bookworm and Snugglepot sit and do parts of their bookwork that they can do themselves without needing my help, and Buttercup has mat time, with a mat on the loungeroom floor. She has to stay on the mat and do quiet activities. She has been choosing a jigsaw puzzle and a book, and I am trying out the idea of Montessori style activity trays for her to explore as well.

I can tentatively say that the experiment is looking successful. We have had a bit of trouble with everyone remembering not to talk, and with people doing productive work and not sitting there staring into space. Buttercup has had trouble sitting quietly without needing my help if something is not working. But I’m hoping that if we persevere and get used to it, that gradually everyone will come to accept that this is part of our day, and that the focus and quiet concentration will gradually spill over into the rest of bookwork. I’m also hoping that Buttercup will become better at solving problems herself during this time, instead of asking for help straight away. Being the third child, with doting older sisters, she has plenty of people to jump in and do things for her if she struggles with something, instead of having to persevere and solve the problem herself.

My other experiment is fun break tokens. I have been getting frequent requests for breaks, when not much work has been done. So now the older two girls get a card at the start of bookwork, which is a “fun break token”. This entitles them to a 10 minute break at any time they choose during bookwork, as long as they have completed the task they have been working on, and as long as it is not in the middle of silent work time. It’s gone well so far – simply putting “fun” on the token instantly makes it more appealing 🙂 This idea was not mine – I stole it unashamedly as I do most of my great homeschooling ideas! It was on a blog somewhere – I’ll have a hunt and edit the post so that I can credit the person who actually used her brain to come up with it.

These changes only started at the beginning of this week so it remains to be seen whether they will last, but I’m hoping that they become part of our normal day.

Why I said I could never homeschool

When I was a child, I didn’t know a single person who was home educated. People went to school, unless they lived in the middle of the Australian outback, in which case they did distance education through the School of the Air. Choosing to home educate was a foreign concept to me.

Then I went to university, moved across the country, and met people who homeschooled their kids. The first family I met had seven children. Well, I thought, if you had that many kids it would probably be just as easy to teach them at home than it would be to get everyone out the door each morning. Then I met another family – with eight kids. The mother and I discussed homeschooling – by that stage I had married and had my first daughter, Bookworm. I loved the idea of teaching my own child, but as I said to my friend “I’m just not organised enough to homeschool”. I figured that she had to be organised anyway, to survive with eight kids, and again, it was probably easier for her to teach them at home than to get them all out the door with packed lunches, clean uniforms, and the right sports gear.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was in a different city, where I became friends with a number of families who were homeschooling. One or two were the large families I had grown to expect, but some of them had just three or four children. For the first time, it became in my mind something that one might choose to do simply because one felt that it was the best option for them as a family, and not because they were forced into it by circumstance or because it was too much effort to get out the front door in the morning. I spent time with these people, saw the way they raised their kids, saw the relationships they had with their kids, and envied them. They had something I really would have liked to have a part of, but at that stage it was still an “in a different life, a different circumstance, maybe I would have homeschooled” thing.

Then Bookworm started school. And she loved it. Her school was wonderful, her teacher was brilliant, and we had no complaints. Except that she was so tired. And in my lovely, sweet Bookworm, that came out as stubborn refusal to be reasonable. So every morning, we fought over getting her shoes on to get out the door. Every morning I had to drag her out of bed. Every morning I would drop her at school, feeling like I needed to make up with her before I left her for the day. And then, every evening, we fought over getting ready for bed. I was worn out and fed up, and worse, I was grieving the loss of relationship. And I missed her – she was away for most of the day, and when she was home, she was often so grumpy that she wasn’t much fun to be around. My homeschooling envy got stronger. But I was still convinced that I just wasn’t organised enough to homeschool.

Then my husband sent me a message out of the blue saying that there was a job vacancy on the other side of the world. We decided to go with it, got accepted, and then had to think about schooling. Finding a school from the other side of the globe and sorting out enrolments seemed such a headache. Then one day Bookworm was home sick, and it struck me like a thunderbolt. Maybe homeschooling was the answer. That day, after months of stress and battles every morning, we had a peaceful day. It was such a lovely, relaxing morning. Maybe I didn’t have to be organised to homeschool – no more organised than I had to be to get three kids ready to walk out the door each morning. So we moved, and we started, and 18 months down the track, we love it. Life is busy, and sometimes hard, and I have discovered that I do need some level of organisation to maintain my sanity. But I’m surprised to find that, although I’m disorganised, I’m not too disorganised to homeschool. And that relationship, with my dear, sweet, eldest child? Why, it’s never been better.