Make Curiosity Your Curriculum: Unschooling Literacy

Photography: Amanda Sharma

Books are the resevior of human knowledge. Through the written word, we discover pieces of history and walk the trails of human ideas. To read is to be empowered to teach oneself anything one wants to know. To read is to join in the human conversation.

To read is to be empowered to teach oneself anything one wants to know. To read is to join in the human conversation.

Spelling and grammar and punctuation and writing have all followed naturally. Mostly she picks it up from what she’s read, but she’ll also ask how to spell things. Usually in the car, when she’s writing in her journal about where we’re going. “Listen to this mama: ‘April 2, we are going to the greenhouse to get more seeds and some fruit trees.’ Is that how you spell fruit? F-R-O-O-T?”

This is my curriculum: Be available when questions are asked.

Sometimes we are the teachers, but usually we are the facilitators.

She likes to write letters to grandparents and cousins. I make sure she is stocked in stationary and stamps. I write down all of the addresses for her to copy. She likes to staple paper together and write stories. I sort through broken crayons and stacks of paper scraps.

Right now she is working on a story for her daddy’s birthday “Everything you have taught me about trees”. Her last pen runs out of ink on the third page. Pens is becoming a permanent item on my grocery list. Better teach this kid how to type so I’m not sending gazillions of plastic pens to land on a beach somewhere.

“Mommy, look! I got a high score!” This one is five. He holds up his iPad in the back seat for me to see. Playing games on the touch screen has really helped him develop his fine motor skills.

Screens are just tools. Use the tools that work.

Use the tools that work.

Until recently this guy didn’t have much interest in letters. He preferred his sister reading to him. He could never seem to grip the pencil properly and make it cooperate, and his hand quickly became tired. As his motor skills have improved on the iPad, he has suddenly developed an intense desire to master letters. He asks me or his dad or his sister to write out the alphabet for him, and he copies it. He likes it when I quiz him on what the letters are, or what sounds they make. A couple of weeks ago he copied the word “toad” out of a book.

This boy is frog and toad crazy. There’s never a day in the spring that you won’t find some bucket or other on the porch, filled with pets that he’s collected. So it’s fitting that he’d choose “toad” as his first independently written word.

The second word he mastered was “butt”. Which you know is also fitting, if you’ve ever met a 5-year-old boy.

He’s gone back to his game. There are symbols on the screen, too. I know it won’t be long before he puzzles these out, because they are relevant to him. Learning happens when there is context. Skills “taught” out of context can feel like a burden. Skills mastered, in context, are thrilling and joyful.

Do only what is joyful. That is my curriculum.

Look for where the learning is happening, and do more of that. Be present. Answer questions. And if you hope a child will develop a love of the written word, then pick up a book (or two, or ten), and read it where they can see.

You can read more of Amanda Sharma’s beautiful work on her Website. You might also like RAISING WORLD-CHANGERS…SECOND-GENERATION UNSCHOOLING.

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