Learning to Read While Unschooling

A couple weeks ago my newly-turned 6 year old decided to learn how to read. 

Now, this didn’t come completely out of the blue. She’s been making some noise about wanting to learn how to read for several months, but every other time I had sat down with her to work on letter sounds it had quickly become clear that she wasn’t quite ready. 

This time was different. 

This time she approached me with a plan. 

First, she folded up a piece of paper and asked me to write the alphabet — with both “big” and “little” letters — for her. I obliged and went back to doing whatever I had been doing. About ten minutes later, she came back with several folded pieces of paper and informed me that she needed help stapling them together so that it could be her reading book.

We got the reading book all stapled and she asked me to spell out the title “*6 Year Old’s Name* Reading Book” so she could write it on the front. She’s known how to read and write her name for a while so all those letters were fine, but she didn’t know what most of the others even looked like. I discovered at this point why she had wanted the alphabet written out: every unknown letter I told her to write, she would look up by singing the alphabet song and pointing at each letter in the alphabet until she came to the correct one. 

At this point I was beginning to pay a bit more attention. 

Now, generally speaking, when my children have difficulties with something and get frustrated, we take a break. I don’t push them to continue, although I do encourage them a great deal. Every single time, it’s been about six months before they’re ready to try again and at that point they often find the previously difficult skill to be ridiculously easy. 

At this point it had only been a couple of months since her last serious reading attempt and it had been very frustrating for her. I put it down, fully anticipating that we wouldn’t see a marked improvement in her reading readiness for around six months, so when she first approached me this time, I began the process without being attached to any significant outcomes. 

But here she was! Proactively creating her own method for learning how to read and write on her own terms.

Then she informed me that she was ready to read “those books on [my] iPad.” The “those books” she referred to are the New Alphabetti books from ProgressivePhonics.com. I had been very impressed with them a couple months previously when we had first looked at them together. She had been less impressed, but now was insistent that she was going to read and that she wanted to read those books. Now.

Okay, then! We sat down with the iPad as soon as I got the 2 year old occupied with his building blocks. 

I immediately noticed a difference in my 6 year old’s readiness. 

Instead of needing constant help and reminders the way she had a couple months ago, she was remembering the letter sounds on her own. When we came to a new word that she hadn’t learned before, she sounded it out and then painstakingly wrote it down in her “reading notebook” before we continued. 

At the end of the book, she insisted on reading the next one right away! 

My 6 year old simply created her own reading program — including copywork — on her own terms and based on what she needed in order to learn how to read. 

When she finished the second book, we mutually decided that we should wait until the next day to begin the third. At that point she informed me that her goal is to participate in National Novel Writing Month this November with her two older sisters and me. 

I couldn’t be any prouder. 

Between my oldest two children, I already have a computer programmer, a gymnast, a musician, a ballerina, and two authors. I cannot wait to find out what interests this third child decides to pursue! I only hope that we’re able to continue supporting them all in whatever ways they need us to as they grow and find more interests or refine the ones they already have. 

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A Proud Mama Moment

My oldest daughter, my just-turned-eight year old, received everything she asked for on her birthday this year. Spoiled? Maybe. Although, given what she asked for, I feel as though I’m the spoiled one.

She asked for a dictionary and  a snake reference book. We found her two reptile books because there didn’t seem to be any that were only about snakes. She has absolutely loved and used them all since her birthday and I’m just as pleased as can be that she loves reading and learning as much as she does!

This is my child who was barely reading more than the words “cat” and “dog” a year and a half ago and who has devoured books as varied as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, and Tennis Shoes in the past year.

I love seeing how much she loves learning and I love talking to her about the books I loved to read when I was her age!

I used to love reading reference books when I was her age too, and I still do, actually 🙂

birthday books

Mothering, housekeeping, and procrastinating

I accomplish much more in a day now, with three children, than I ever did when I only had one child.

Once I realized that fact, I asked myself why that would be. After some thinking about the reality that there’s also just more to do, I figured it out! It’s not so much that there’s more to do or even that I have children who can talk now to remind me to do things that I probably wouldn’t have gotten done before. The key to why I get more done now than before is procrastination.

Procrastination has been the bane of my existence more than just a few times in my life. College is the time that springs most readily to my mind, followed by high school, and my entire life before then… Since having my own house I’ve struggled with the tendency to let things go and put things off for as long as possible. The dishes are dirty? Well, might as well just wait until after the next meal and do all the dishes at once! The floor is dirty? Might as well just sweep once a week and get more dirt with each stroke! There’ll always be more time later, right?

Wrong.

I don’t just procrastinate, after all, I wait until the absolutely last minute possible or even longer. Usually I wait too long when I have a known deadline. Something needs to be done by a certain day and I’ll stay up all night the night before doing it even if it’s something that takes longer than a day to complete.

Now that I have a preschooler, a toddler, and an infant I have different deadlines. If I don’t help my older daughters with their workbooks or play with them while the baby’s asleep… well… it doesn’t end up happening. If I don’t clean the kitchen while my older daughters are helping and relatively happy to help then the opportunity might not come again until the kitchen is completely unusable.

For the first time in my life, I have very specific deadlines. The great thing about these deadlines for someone who procrastinates is that they’re unknown deadlines. When will the baby wake up? I don’t know! I’d better get busy playing, working, or cleaning while I can! When will my older girls become tired, hungry, or uncooperative? Nobody knows… least of all me, so I’d better get their help (they are very good helpers too!) and get the house in order before that happens!

Realizing this has made a huge difference in the quality of my life. I relax now after my kitchen is clean, not before, and it’s much more relaxing to relax in a clean house than a messy one! I wish I’d figured this out much sooner in my life… but better late than never.

~B.

My Third Birth

When writing my 2nd birth story and this last birth story, the most difficult part for me was to figure out where to start… my last two births both had a clear-cut “beginning,” but most of my laboring was done before the “beginning” which is why I can’t really call it an actual beginning. It’s a bit muddling when figuring out how to put it down on paper/computer screen!

For my last birth though… I suppose the real beginning was the day before my third beautiful daughter was born. I had been laboring for several days at this point, but my prodromal labor, while very effective, didn’t interfere with my life much at all – which is what happened with my second daughter’s birth as well. The contractions weren’t difficult or very uncomfortable at all and yet they got me more than halfway dilated before active labor ever began.

Anyhow, back to the day before my daughter – I’ll call her “Little Anne” – was born. I was done. I was more done than a burned Thanksgiving turkey. There was no room in my midsection whatsoever. My ribs were sore from the baby pressing against them constantly and kicking the right side. Every time I had a contraction, the upper part of my uterus felt sore just like my ribs did. The space was maxed-out to the extreme.

I don’t think I’ve ever been *that* done with a pregnancy before. I thought I was done with my other two, but I wasn’t. Not really. Not like I was this time. I honestly, for the first time, doubted that the baby would ever come out. She was just going to stay in there, getting bigger and bigger until I popped a few ribs or needed a c-section or something. I knew that I was about 6-7cms dilated because I checked, but even that didn’t help the feeling in my mind that I would be pregnant forever.

At the same time though, I had the feeling in my body that if I moved too quickly or rode in the car over too many bumps the baby would just fall right out. I knew that feeling… it’s the same way I felt a few hours before the precipitous (fast) birth of my second daughter. So, that evening, I called my midwife to give her some warning. My body felt as though labor was going to start that night or the next day at the same time as my mind was convinced that it would never begin. Ever.

Needless to say, this was very confusing and I probably wasn’t particularly convincing when I called my midwife because I wasn’t completely convinced myself.

We went out fairly late that night to pick up some good Chinese food and to get a few things from Wal-Mart that we needed before the baby could be born. Then we came home and ate some Chinese food. My husband set up the birth tub and then we went to bed.

I woke up the next morning at 5:24am with a quite strong contraction. I had another one about 8 minutes or so later and decided to get in a nice warm-hot bathtub to see if they calmed down so I could go back to sleep or if they got stronger and closer together in which case, it was probably the real thing.

My husband woke up as I was filling the tub and he helped me keep track of the timing because I really wasn’t able to do much in that area. I would forget the previous time by the time another one would start. The contractions were still not particularly close together or regular (ranging from 5-15 minutes apart), but they were definitely getting stronger and not calming down at all.

At around 6:30am I called my midwife and told her that I was pretty sure the baby was coming. I still wasn’t 100% sure, but by the time she arrived at our house about 15 minutes later, I was definitely in transition and was working through very intense contractions that were just a couple minutes apart.

My mom and my midwife’s assistant arrived not long afterwards. When my mom arrived, I was out of the bathtub because the birth tub was full. I made a stop at the toilet to make sure my bladder was empty and *WHOOSH* my water broke. On the toilet. Perfect! Just like last time 🙂 I felt stuck on the toilet for a bit – whether because of the contractions or because my legs just wouldn’t work, I don’t remember. I didn’t think I could walk, but my husband helped me and somehow (I don’t remember exactly how) I made it into the birthing tub where I knelt, leaning against the side and held onto my husband’s hands through every contraction.

I didn’t push for very long before the baby’s head crowned. It crowned for what felt like forever, but was really only about 4 minutes. I was able to reach down and feel the baby’s head – complete with hair! – as it crowned. I had to go slowly because it was quite a large little head and I didn’t want to tear, but it was extremely difficult to keep from pushing as hard as possible to finish up my least favorite part – the crowning – ASAP. I tried doing some panting-type breathing that helped to slow things down a lot. When the head finally came out, it only came out part-way because there was a little hand on the little cheek so I had to push an extra time to get the chin out. I had a wonderful short break between pushing the head out and pushing the body out – no crowning sensation anymore!

When the baby’s body came out, at 7:24am, I was able to catch her and bring her up to find out that she was a gorgeous little girl! Not so little either… she weighed 9lbs. 10oz. I still have a hard time believing that I – not quite 5’4″ tall and 110lbs when not pregnant – pushed out a 9.5 lb baby with a nuchal hand! Without tearing. Before I got pregnant last time, I could still fit into a size FOUR (might never be able to again though!). It’s no wonder that I felt there to be no room in my womb – there really wasn’t any!

The rather corpulent placenta came out 9 minutes after Little Anne was born and my husband cut the cord about two hours after that.

I remember my older daughters (2-yo and 4-yo) asking me questions periodically – “Is the baby coming out?” throughout this whole time. They woke up soon after I got in the bath and were very excited about the baby coming! My mom stayed with them and read them books while I was pushing. I think they were more interested in what was going on though. They also wanted to stay in the room. I think my mom suggested going into the living room, but they wanted to see the baby come out.

Before my baby came, I watched birth videos and slide-shows online with both girls so they’d know what was going on and I think that helped a lot. They weren’t worried or scared at all and afterwards they were thrilled to have a brand new baby sister! They both wanted to hold her as soon as possible and my oldest told me that I was very strong and brave to push that baby out!

It’s so amazing to me still that this birth even happened… the baby came out! And she was huge! Still is, actually 🙂 There’s so much of her to love and she’s the snuggliest, chubbiest little baby ever ❤ At least, she's the snuggliest and chubbiest that I've ever had! She's a good little sleeper (whether I'm next to her or not) and she nurses like a champ.

Welcome to our family, little Anne! We're so glad to have you with us!

~B.

Babies and Overindulgence

It’s very difficult for me to write about topics that I think of as obvious or simply common sense. Once I’ve researched something to death and the conclusion I’ve reached has become obvious to me, it’s easy for me to forget that others probably don’t see the issue in the same way that I do. I think that’s true for most people, actually.

Occasionally this fact is really brought home to me by a friend or acquaintance who says something that I didn’t realize people still believed, and the obvious-to-me thing that I want to write about tonight is babies. Newborn babies in particular, but really all babies at least up through 12 months of age.

I was reminded this evening of a common phrase said to and about new mothers who actually hold their babies and nurse on demand, “You’re spoiling that baby!” or “She’s going to spoil that baby!” This is usually uttered by a well-meaning older relative or friend who was warned against spoiling her own baby when she was a new mother.

After doing extensive research into the way other cultures raise their children and into the biology of how babies develop once outside the mother’s womb, I came to the obvious-to-me conclusion that babies cannot be spoiled or overindulged. I personally prefer the term overindulged because it is a more accurate representation of what people actually mean when they say a child is “spoiled.”

So, why do I believe that a baby cannot be overindulged? First of all, during at least the first year, a baby’s needs and wants are the same thing. Babies are not manipulative – they are not complex enough to manipulate their parents or to even understand what that would involve. Babies simply know that they are hungry, lonely, wet, tired, or uncomfortable and they cry until someone responds or until they give up on someone responding.

Once they get what they need, babies are generally content until they need something else so it’s mainly a question of figuring out what they need and ensuring that they get it for as long as necessary. Some babies need to be held constantly, others seem to need to nurse constantly, and there’s nothing wrong with holding or nursing a baby anytime they need it. It is not overindulgence because if they need it, they want it and vice versa.

Wants and needs become gradually more divergent as a baby gets older, but it’s very clear to me that babies were created to have their needs met during the first year and that they cannot be overindulged during that time – perhaps longer. Studies have even shown that babies who are responded to more quickly in infancy are less whiny and clingy as toddlers and preschoolers. Perhaps they’ve fulfilled their need for being close to their parents and are better able to move on. This is explained fairly well with Erickson’s first of eight stages of personality: trust versus mistrust, and has certainly been borne out in my personal experience with my two daughters so far.

My older daughter was held all the time when she was a baby until she began to crawl everywhere at 6 months and to walk full-time at 9 months! She was nursed on demand until she was a bit over a year old. She has gradually become more and more independent and is now almost 4 years old, an age where I could certainly overindulge her if I continued to treat her as a 4 month old since her wants and needs are often very different now. Still, treating her as I did when she was tiny, feeding and holding her on demand, did not cause her to be overly dependent on me as a preschooler and it certainly didn’t hinder her gross motor skills at all!

My younger daughter is basically following in her older sister’s footsteps. We no longer hold her all the time – she’s been walking for well over a year now – and many times when she asks to nurse I’ll offer her something else like a cup of water or milk and she’ll take it instead. Generally asking to nurse for her means that she’s hungry or thirsty and I really don’t have any milk right now since I’m pregnant so it’s important to for me to fulfill her actual need as well as to help her realize that she needs to eat or drink when she feels hungry or thirsty. If she wants to nurse because she’s hurt or tired then I don’t refuse or redirect her because that’s a need to nurse while cuddling and not a need to eat or hydrate.

I haven’t personally received any comments about “spoiling” my children in the past, but now that I’m living in a different part of the country, as well as living closer to my extended family, I’m expecting to hear that phrase at least some after this new baby is born. While I appreciate the concern that I know lies behind the statement, I am fully confident that I have done the right thing in the past with my babies and that I will be doing the right thing with this baby when I hold or wear him/her as much as possible, co-sleep, and breastfeed on demand.

Typical Day With My Girls

I just realized that I don’t really blog much about my kids and my everyday life… or even much in general, but I’m working on that! I’m with my girls all day long and I love them dearly, but usually when I sit down to write a post it doesn’t occur to me to write about them. I’m not sure why, but I should write about them more often.

Lolo just turned 2 years old last week. She’s one of the sweetest little girls I’ve ever met. Amazingly enough, though her sister Nayna was barely talking at age 2, Lolo has been using complete sentences for several months now. She loves to talk about anything and everything, especially with her big sister! She’s very excited about the new baby and asks to rub my belly several times every day. According to Nayna, Lolo is expecting a baby girl and Lolo now talks about the baby in *her* belly as well as the baby in mine.

Nayna is a bit over 3.5 years old now. Her hair is still blonde and curly even though both her father and I have straight (maybe wavy-ish) brown hair. She’s fascinated with having her hair put up, especially in two ponytails, and she’s decided that she’s expecting twins – one boy and one girl. She’s very insistent that I’m expecting a baby boy even though I keep telling her that we have to wait and see if the baby is a boy or a girl.

Both girls are still sleeping in our king-sized futon with us though we move Nayna to her own toddler bed in a corner of our bedroom some nights after she’s asleep. Lolo is still nursing even though I’m pretty sure she’s not really getting any milk at this point. Nayna nurses periodically with a few days between each request and she’s very adamant that 4 year olds do not nurse, but 2 and 3 year olds do. That works for me since she’ll turn 4 right before the new baby is born! Tandem-nursing is no problem and I wouldn’t really mind with three, but two is much simpler I think because then they can both nurse at the same time – that part wouldn’t really work with three!

Our typical days are pretty uninteresting really… at least I think they would be to other people. We get up in the morning and eat breakfast – oatmeal is Nayna’s current breakfast of choice – then we play for a bit and read some books before lunchtime. Lunch is usually sandwiches, leftovers, or Annie’s macaroni and cheese (another current favorite that we buy when it’s on sale). The afternoon is when I spend some time online and the girls play with each other.

I also try to get some housework done between lunch and dinner and, when possible, the girls love to help me. They pick up their own toys and help me sweep the floor. Nayna clears the table and Lolo brings her own dishes into the kitchen. When I do laundry they help by handing me clothespins after I wash the clothes and then they put the clothespins back in the bag when I take the clothes down from the line. We don’t have a dryer right now so I’m busy learning the lost art of hang-drying everything and I now understand the rationale behind separating different types of clothing in the wash. It’s much more important when hang-drying than when using a dryer. Both girls love to help fold clothes and Nayna is getting quite good at folding square things like napkins and washcloths. We usually try to get a nap in there during the afternoon as well.

For dinner I usually have to soak some grains and beans or thaw some meat ahead of time to have along with whatever CSA veggies we have handy. Using the dried beans and grains as well as the bulk meat helps us save on our food bills and is actually quite easy, but does require foresight and at least planning a meal the night before. I’m not always on top of it, but the more we get settled in here, the easier it is!

After dinner we usually watch a bit of whatever Netflix DVD we happen to have. We don’t have a television and it’s much cheaper to just watch Netflix on our computers than to have a TV and cable or satellite service. Then the girls take a bath and it’s off to bed where Fred gives everyone foot rubs (what an awesome husband/father!) and he and I usually read a bit before going to sleep. Nayna sometimes reads a book also, but Lolo generally just drops right off after a few minutes of nursing.

Not too bad!

~B.

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