How to Teach at Home
by Leslie Fobbs
My boy picked up a pen today!
He stapled together a few pieces of printing paper and decided he was going to write a book!
Yes! He gave it a cover page with a title and included his name as the author. There was even a title for the first chapter.
Why am I so excited about this? Because my son, Dee, who has proclaimed he is not a writer, and that he hates it (like most boys do), decided to write on his own today without prompting from me. Read on to find out how this came about.
I was all set to talk about reading today, but I’m so excited that I just had to share this story that occurred yesterday evening. Besides, it's kind of related to reading anyway, as I'll explain a little later. But first, a bit of transparency:
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I was annoyed with Dee when I made this exciting discovery. I had offered for us to spend time together by preparing dinner together. He declined, which is fine (don’t worry, I got him with washing the dishes later, lol), but when I saw the light on in the office, I just knew he had skipped out on me to play more video games. He had already played for a few hours earlier. I stomped over to the door and pulled it open ready to scold him only to find that he wasn’t on the couch with the controller in his hands. He was sitting at the desk! I was so surprised and happy that I almost turned right around so as not to disturb whatever it was he was doing, but I got curious.
I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m writing a book," and he showed me the title of it. The Story of Life in New Orleans. I didn’t even bother to ask for details because I was afraid he would stop. Later on, he explained that he got the idea from reading a new mystery series he liked called Brixton Brothers. (It's an adventurous, mystery series filled with action and humor; perfect for boys especially.) Surprise number two: I never imagined that reading a book would inspire him to want to write.
This boy is the same one I’ve had to struggle with to get to enjoy the pleasures of reading (he has since taken off with it). The same boy who would slam the desk in frustration during K12 writing assignments and say that he wasn't a writer. But when I think about it, I'm not that surprised. His mom is a writer, obviously. I used to write stories all the time when I was even younger than him, and it's probably because I also read a lot. This is another excellent example of why it's not always necessary to separate subjects. It all runs together, and it all comes out unexpectedly fine in the end.
When we first began to unschool, I said I wouldn't worry so much about writing because of the negative experience we had with it so far. That's easier said than done. I haven’t mentioned it here online, but since then, I have worried that I would never get Dee to write. I still have fears that he will grow up to be the only teenager who doesn't know how to write a complete sentence that makes sense with the correct punctuation and tense. I know these fears are silly, but I can't help feeling this way due to years of social conditioning.
When thinking about it logically, I know that he can write, if he wants to, because he speaks intelligently. When he is confident about a topic, and when he is comfortable with his audience, he is able to convey his ideas very well. He even has the vocabulary of someone much older. Why, because he’s not sitting in a classroom with only other fourth graders. He’s around me mostly, and peers of all ages. And he’s reading a lot! After a while, that stuff starts to sink in naturally because writing is just putting the thoughts in your head and the words that come out of your mouth down on paper. The grammatical skills can be taught later when they're ready.
After some time passed, Dee came out and asked me how to spell a couple of words. Before our transition, I would have told him to sound it out or go look it up, because I think it’s something he should already know or that he’s just being lazy. But now I go ahead and spell it out for him. He asks a question, and I answer. For now, that is how I support his learning. I’ve also shown him where the dictionary is and he knows how to ask Google for things with his voice.
When he finished, he was excited to show me what he had written so far. It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and it made me so proud. I tried to restrain myself from going into editor mode and critiquing his writing. However, I did mention that he left the ‘d’ off of a word I had spelled out loud for him. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t writing to be perfect in grammar, he was just writing. I threw my hands up and apologized. I knew that, in order to turn around his I’m-not-a-writer attitude, it would have to be done on his terms.
In unschooling, we focus on trusting that the child will learn what they need to in the time that they need to. I know that this is just a small step and he may not even continue on this path. But it calms my unschooling worries just a little bit more. I have a hunch that when he needs to know how to write essays, to get into college for example, he will learn what he needs to get the job done and it won't take very long. Why? Because he’ll be internally motivated by his own needs and desires. In the meantime, I'll continue to help grow his interests, support his learning, and applaud his effort, even when it’s not perfect.