#149 watching kids learn

It’s amazing to me how different my three kids are.  And so fun to watch that unfold.  Two nights ago, Husband and I put the kids down and then closed the door to our bedroom while we watched a movie.  When the movie was over and I opened the door to go downstairs to get something the drink, I found this – outside in the hallway, right by our door.


4 had spent about an hour in his bed, while his brothers were falling asleep, drawing and writing on his little clipboard.  He had filled up several sheets of pages with his name, the names of his friends, my name, and drawings of us all.  It was so sweet it made my heart melt and I was compelled to go wake him up and carry him into my bed so I could tell him how much I loved him and fall asleep with him in my arms.  (Clearly, I’m not doing much to encourage them to sleep in their own beds, huh?)

Anyway, I was looking at these sheets again this morning and thinking about how my kids have learned their letters in such different ways.

Oldest kid came to us when he was 4.5.  That next summer, I decided it was time for him to learn something.  We did one letter a week or so.  In a very old-fashioned way. He sat while we made lists of words that start with that letter.  We wrote the letter in sand, shaving cream, bathroom crayons, window markers, playdough, etc.  We hung up 3D version of the letter on the basement wall until we had gone through all the alphabet.  And then we started putting them together into words.  And then he was reading.

Middle kid has never had a single such lesson by me.  He basically learned by osmosis.  He watched all this unfold with his older brother, soaking it up as much as he could like a sponge.  He has always loved to write.  So at various stages he would say, “Mommy which letter makes the ___ sound?  How do I make that?”  And I would answer his questions.  Or sometimes not.  I was a little scared of his ambition when it came to Language Arts.  And tried to throw cold water on some of it.  I’ve seen so many kids (especially boys) ‘peak’ in the 5-6 year old age.  And I guess I was afraid that would happen to him if I acted like it was a big deal that he was reading and whatnot.  Anyway, without any instruction at all, he simply learned to read.  Pretty much on his own.  And he’s a great reader now and an even better writer.

Youngest (4.5) is another story all together.  Up until three months ago, he had no interest in any such thing academic.  He knew NO letters.  Could sometimes write his name.  But didn’t have any interest in writing or reading at all on his own.  (And why should he with 4 other people in the house who could do it for him?)

I had mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I did not want to push him at all.  I was adament that he would learn when he was ready to learn.  I was not going to sit down and force instruction into him.  So whenever he was curious he would ask.  And maybe he wouldn’t read until he was 10.  But I felt sure that eventually he would.

But on the other hand, I was conscious of the fact that he would be doing kindergarten this fall.  And even though I knew his teacher had the same approach I had, and that it wouldn’t be a big deal if he was at the bottom of the barrel, I was still feeling anxious about that.  Would it be a big deal to him?

Then, about 3 months ago, I needed to do a little homework incentive for oldest kid.  Homework was a battle every day with him and I was sick of it.  It wasn’t me assigning the stupid pages of worksheets.  But I needed to make sure he did them.  And I hated arguing with him about it all the time.  So I made one of those damn sticker charts that I frankly hate, so that it removed me from being the bad guy.  Do your homework without Mommy nagging and you throwing a fit, and you get a sticker.  If not, you don’t.  And at the end of the week you only get your allowance if your stickers are all there.  That has worked out beautifully by the way.

But of course, when we started it, Middle Kid wanted in on it too.  He’s like that.  So I said, fine.  And added a slot for him.  And told him that his homework was to read me one book each day.  He jumped all over that.

But then – SURPRISE – 4 year old didn’t want to be left out.  I was reluctant to give this kid homwork of any sort.  But I told him if he wanted to do it, he could practice letters in any way he chooses for 5 minutes each night.  And I vowed I would never ask him about this.  But that the opportunity would be there if he so wanted.

He so wanted.  Yes he did.  And every night since then he has brought a white board and a marker to me or Daddy and asked to do his homework.  Only here’s how he wants to do it every night: He has a white board and we call letters that spell the names of the kids in his class.  He loves loves loves doing this.  Writing names.  He does it all day.  Our house has about 37 different sentence strips taped all over with kids’ names from his class.  His two best friends have names beginning with K.  So naturally, that’s his favorite letter.  I hear him singing out how to spell their names while he’s in the shower.  He traces the letters of my name on my back.  He claps out his brother’s letters like a rhythm.  He loves letters.

Oldest kid learned his letter and eventually to read because I told him to.  And he likes doing what he’s supposed to do.  Middle one learned his letters because he desperately wanted to read and write.  And knew he needed those letters in order to do it.  Youngest has learned them because he thinks they are magical.  A dance.  A recipe.  A puzzle.  He likes the sound of them, the look of them, and how they all mesh together.  He loves guessing whose name we are calling out.  He loves that some names are short and some are long.  Some have curvy letters.  Some have letters with tails.  He loves looking for letters that he may have in common with his friends’ names.  He loves it all.  He doesn’t seem to care diddlysquat about putting them together to read.  And that’s fine with me.  He’s just savoring them for what they are now.

It’s B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L.


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