So, My 9-year-old picked up Animal Farm… AND finished it... and why homeschooling revolutionized reading and changed everything.

in education •  2 years ago 


There were a number of reasons that I pulled my children out of a very good (10/10!!) public school this year. There was significant personality conflict and pedagogical laziness on the part of one of the teachers, among other things.

I learned some things about reading during this transition. It turns out that a big part of reading instruction in school is to encourage and celebrate free reading. Allow kids to pick what they want, they will learn to love reading, explore great worlds, blah, blah, blah. I am sure there is truth to this, and I certainly want my kids to have some agency in picking out their reading materials.

However, without great guidance (or a lot of attention), my child fell into factoid land and stayed there 6 months. She picked up Oh Yuck, The Guinness Book of World Records, and National Geographic’s 1006 Crazy Facts about some such thing every day. She might have been learning some vocabulary, but she certainly wasn’t thinking, digesting, imagining. She wasn’t growing her ability to pay attention. As we came into spring, her teacher was allowing the students up to 2 hours per day to read whatever they liked. Her school experiences leaked into our home life. She wasn’t interested in reading long form fiction. Or non fiction. Or really even shorter stories. Her attention span was about 30 words long.

Though I was disappointed in her development as a reader, this was not the main reason I pulled her from school. However, just a few weeks after we started doing school at home, she changed into a whole new child. One part of that was that she was able to read a whole book! Without prompting.

I started requiring her to read 20 minutes of a book of my choosing. Her ability to read was there, but the focus was not, and she complained bitterly - for the first few days. Then, suddenly she became engulfed in the story. I started with Hatchet - because it was a story that swallowed me as a child.

It didn’t take long for her to figure out how to engage on her own with books. She was reading full books in a few weeks without any prompting. Perhaps this would have happened the same way if she had stayed in public school. However, she had made no progress in half a year.

Then she found Animal Farm on the bookshelf and decided to plow through - without any encouragement from her parents. To be fair, it was an illustrated edition, but she waded through the whole text.


TL;dr School might not be the right place for children to learn to dedicate attention to a task. They need an adult that is ready to be the architect of their learning - or at least be the pebble that starts the avalanche.

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Happy homeschooling!

BeriBeri Quite Contrary
Advocate for Natural Health Care for Babies
Parent of Free Range and Slightly Neglected Toddlers
Promoting Preschoolers and Hot Glue Guns
Encouraging Gambling Kindergarteners

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The summer I was 9 I read The Voyage of HMS Beagle by Charles Darwin and The Double Helix by James D Crick, as well as 10 of the abridged plays of Shakespeare. I wasn't homeschooled, though. I was just doing it for pleasure. That was on top of the other 10 required reading books from the list that my private school supplied us to choose from.

Helping our kids get into reading has been a goal since thay were born. Now reading can still be an issue for us. We can't get them to put down the books, when we eat. Or have to fight with them to put their books down and go to sleep. I can think of worse problems to have.

It seems like a miracle the way kids learn when they're enjoying it. My son was not even 5 years old yet when I pulled him out of school with his sister (who was one class ahead). At the time he read 3 and 4 letter words and I didn't really emphasise on the reading as he was still so young and where I grew up, we didn't start reading till the age of 6 or 7 and we are fine. The Dutch mostly are at least bilingual, which was the case for them too. Half way through the summer he read like his sister did. And I never really did anything! He taught himself, with a little help from us. It's amazing.