Homeschooling and Libraries

Things I'm thinking about and learning while working with homeschoolers and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.

Monday, September 18, 2006

An Interview with Mary Griffith, Part Two

Adrienne: Did you unschool from the get-go? Did you try any programs or curriculums through the years?

Mary: I think what I did was just extend preschool for another five years or so. When the girls were 3 or 4, we did tons of reading out loud. (Another useful thing to know about my youth (and entire life, for that matter) is that I've always been a complete bookworm.) We always had lots of books around, plus lots of paper and pens and crayons and paint and blocks and Legos and cooking and Dad's science toys (my husband works for Pasco Scientific, which is one of the leading manufacturers of school science lab apparatuses in the country, so asking him a science question always prompted at least a half-hour lecture with hands-on demos) and whatever else we happened to think looked like fun.

There were a couple of things we used that could be described as more or less formal programs:

A very big element for us was the Brownie Try-It Handbook. Several of us started a homeschooling Brownie troop which met weekly or biweekly (I can't remember) for almost seven years before we left it just after Kate became a Cadet Girl Scout. I was a leader or asst. leader for most of that time. But the Brownie years were especially fun, because all the badge work at that level (at least, then – I haven't seen the program for several years now, so I don't know if it's still the same) was so good. We'd poke through the book and find things that looked like fun and do them – everything from science and nature projects to plays and poetry and games and playing with numbers. I'm of the opinion that if we completely did away with the primary grades in school and just let kids fiddle around with Brownie badge work as they felt like it, they'd end up learning more and enjoying it more (and I'd be willing to bet they'd do better on the damn standardized tests, too, if they could stand being bored long enough to take them).

That 5-step reading program (Read to them. Read to them. Etc.) I describe in The Unschooling Handbook is what we used. The hardest part for me was being patient enough to wait for them to be old enough to really appreciate all the books I was looking forward to them enjoying as much as I had when I was a kid. And then there were all the nifty new ones published after I'd grown up. Kate and Christie both went through stages where they resisted reading something I'd suggest, just because I'd suggested it, and then discovered they loved it when they finally got round to it. The sardonic "I hate you, Mom" that was a kind of reverse "I told you so" got to be something of a family joke.

Christie, my younger daughter, went through a stage after Kate started reading seriously on her own (they're almost four years apart) when she wanted me to teach her to read. I hated the idea, but she felt she wasn't learning on her own and wanted to be explicitly taught, so we toddled around a bookstore looking for something appropriate, ending up with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, mostly because she thought it looked serious enough. I think we struggled through to Lesson 63 before we finally gave it up. She hated it most of the way (and we made tons of snide remarks all along about how stupid some of the stories were) but had to persuade herself that it was okay just to go back to reading real stories together instead. (I'll spare you my reading instruction rant, but I'll never understand how anybody could come to believe that draining interest and meaning from texts would make them better to learn from.)

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