My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Well, it happened.

Woody has decided he is a reader.

I can't tell you exactly how this happened, since a lot of it happened in Woody's brain, but there he is, reading about 2/3 of the text in The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby comic. We stayed up late together last night with the book, him excitedly reading parts to me, guessing at words he didn't know and soliciting help or confirmation, asking me to read a few pages when he got tired or wanted to hear the story sped up. 

I know how kids are taught to read in school. I did that for four years with my middle school students. I didn't do that with Woody. We read together. I read by myself. Daddy Honey read by himself. We read for fun and for information, books and captions and ads and the backs of toys' boxes and video game instructions and letters. Woody decided he wanted to do that, too. For a long time, he practiced, pointing out short words he recognized. When he misread them, I'd offer him the right word--once and without a big lesson attached to it, though sometimes I'd offer a tip: "Sometimes the a makes a short sound, like in cat, and other times it says its name, like in ate," if it seemed like he wanted a little something more to work with. Then he started reading short phrases, then sentences. 

But this was the first time he picked up a text-filled book and set out to read it. I was in awe sitting there with him. He was proud of himself, and happy to be able to read the jokey parts himself and then share the funny with me. 

I see ads now for early baby reading programs, designed to teach kids as young as 2 how to decode using flashcards and picture associations. I don't really see the advantage of that. My education friends talk about a critical window where, if kids don't learn to read, their brain development is behind.

I think that may be a bunch of hooey.

Our brains develop differently with every single experience that we're presented with. A child who learns to read later than some but who spends her time inventing new picture- and skill-based board games is developing her brain. A child who decorates and redecorates his room is developing his brain. A child who mediates conflict between friends and cousins is developing her brain. A child who notices his parents openly fretting about whether or not he is progressing fast enough in baseball or violin or math is developing a synapse pattern, too, a chemical and physical response to his parents' overt disappointment. 

Sure, as young kids our brains are fastest and most elastic. Nobody could stop us from learning at that stage if they tried. But why should it necessarily be reading if a child's life is full and wonderful without it? And why do we have to pack so many skills into young childhood? Adults can and do learn, too. Older kids do also. Frederick Douglas, the great American speaker, writer, and former slave, wasn't allowed to learn to read until he was much older. I think we'd be hard pressed to find the parts of his intellectual life that were clearly less-than because he learned that skill a decade or so after the rich white people his age. 

I can't say this kind of learning works for everybody. There's a lot of contingencies out there. But I can tell you it worked for us. It happened just like all the other things Woody's learned: there was opportunity, initiative, effort, resources, support, autonomy, and self-satisfaction as the reward.

I keep waiting for this model to hiccup, to show its limitations, but I continue to be kept in (happy) suspense. 

Sharing the new skill with his little brother this morning.