Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's Strewsday Tuesday!

Faith at Unschooling Resources started this feature but while Faith is off for Lent, Maureen at Bread with Honey is continuing it.

 I thought I would join in because Chari and I both rely a lot on strewing as a way of jumpstarting and motivating learning in our households.

In future days, we will probably be writing more about strewing in our households, but if you would like to read up about it now, start with Melissa Wiley's post on strewing and for an example read a story by Melissa, Butterflies, or the Benefits of Strewing, which actually features Chari as the starting point of the article.    For more examples,  Sandra Dodd coined the term and has a page of links about the idea.

This will be the long distance version since I am away from home and so I am not really strewing anything for my children.   But wait.... I don't have to, because I have friends to do it for me.

Paddy taught himself to read when he was only four.    I had told myself when he was a toddler that I really wanted to see if one of my children could learn to read without being taught.  He is my seventh, and all my others had either learned to read at school (Liam) or using 100 Easy Lessons and whatever else was around until it clicked (the other kids, and they learned on their own timetables, Clare at five and Sean at nine and everyone else somewhere in between).    Then there is Aidan, who is still learning literacy, but that is another story for another time.

So for Paddy  I tried something I had read about -- maybe in Cushla and Her Books?    When he was two or three, I started sliding my finger under the words as I read them.   I did it for a while and then stopped, not wanting to be too teachery and ruin the book for him.   He grabbed my finger and put it back on the page under the words, very decisively.    From there I was committed.   Sliding along the words became an essential part of the reading/nursing/cuddling experience.  Sometimes my forefinger would burn from the friction from the page as I read for an hour at a time.  But if I tried to rest it, Paddy put it back. Decisively.

One bonus:  he didn't mind long stretches of text with only one or two pictures.  The moving finger kept it dynamic. So from an early age I could read him things like Winnie the Pooh , which my other kids didn't get into so much until they were older.

Another bonus: he really did learn how to read that way.

The transition into reading was painless and gradual.   At four I would see him reading Tintin  (good for early readers, because it is so lively and visual but has  plenty of text -- Aidan reads them now).   Maybe he didn't read every word, but it didn't really matter.   By six Paddy was reading Narnia, Winnie the Pooh, and the Thornton Burgess books.   He liked to read books that I had read aloud to him first.   I think knowing what the story was about gave him clues in puzzling out words he didn't know.

 He did puzzle out words he did not know, but it was certainly not by means of phonics, because Paddy. Did. Not. Know. Phonics.

Not at all, no way.  When he did the K12 California virtual charter program in first grade, he was doing math at a 3rd grade level and reading at a 6th grade level according to their initial assessment.    But in phonics he was under kindergarten level.  He had trouble with rhymes, and hearing ending sounds, let alone middle vowels.  He usually could get the beginning sound.   He was like the bee who shouldn't be able to fly according to the rules of aerodynamics.  Paddy was the child who shouldn't be able to read according to the laws of reading readiness.   Yet somehow, like the bee, he did it and did well.

In second grade this lack of phonics savvy translated into a horrible time with spelling.    It didn't help that K12 moves ahead pretty briskly in spelling.    I admit that I didn't push hard with it.  It would have taken an hour a day to get him spelling, and one of my firm rules in early education, learned from painful experience, is Don't Take the Joy Out of Learning.  One of the best ways to decrease joy is to push something hard that the child does not yet have an affinity for.   The bee flies well when it is nourished but falls to the ground and crawls painfully when it has run out of fuel.  And joy is fuel for the young learner.

Just recently, when I traveled up to Alaska in January, Paddy mentioned casually on the phone, "I can spell some words now.   Want me to spell "sword"?"  Of course I did, and he spelled it.

A little later he asked me if I wanted him to spell "ring".  He spelled it.  And from then on we had quite a few conversations like that.   Sometimes he would phrase it as a question:  "Mom, is this how you spell HERE?  H-E-R-E?"    He always got it right.  You could tell each word was a treasure to him, like picking up an especially beautiful quartz pebble, or picking up strewn equipment on one of those computer quest games.

This wasn't coming from his phonics or spelling lessons, because he hasn't had any this year or for about half the year before that.  Because of a combination of discerning while praying and default because of traveling, I have decided to mostly go the unschooling route this year.    So his new skill in word-building has come from real words in real books and real computer screens.   They talked to him and he wanted to talk back in their language.  As Frank Smith says, since he has been in the reader's/writer's club since infancy, it was natural for him to want to take the next step in the relationship and learn to speak back their language.

As Melissa Wiley says, quoting Sarah of Knitting the Wind,::

Do you want to know my philosophy and overriding practice of education? Tell them stories. Get them to tell you stories back.

So now you know who my friends are who strewed words for Paddy and patiently helped him to learn them well enough to spell them. 

Thank you Mr Lewis, Mr Milne, and Mr Burgess, for all those hours your books have told Paddy stories and made him want to tell them back.


  1. My middle dd was similar, though not quite to the same extent as Paddy. She learned to read using a mixture Key Words books (they focus heavily on the 100 most used words in the English language, which apparently account for about 50% of written text) and osmosis, and also skipped the phonics stage. I started her on the Explode the Code books when she was already reading and she didn't get them at all - why go through the painful exercise of breaking "bat" down into "b-a-t" when you know just by looking at it that is says "bat"! Spelling just came along somehow in the wake of reading.

  2. Thanks Willa. I needed this. I just don't think my oldest likes phonics much. It worries me. Spelling worries me. Because I am a mom. Her reading is moving forward at a good pace. Her spelling is not so much. I just need to remember she will learn what she needs and at her own pace. Hearing that Paddy starting clicking with the spelling was good for me today.

  3. Dear Willa,
    thank you for this I think I might use it with our struggling reader who has intelectaul difficulties as well as with our younger children too. I just need to start it and remember the benefits.


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