Monday, March 2, 2009


A disadvantage I have when it comes to teaching my children is that I, myself, was taught very little. No one can really explain how I learned to read--skeptical nursery teachers pulled a thick book from the shelf to prove my father wrong and were shocked--and I had a grasp of positional math when I was shy of four, and I received an adding machine for Christmas. (Whether I learned from the machine or knew some other way and simply demonstrated on the machine, I don't recall. I remember finding the whole thing very intuitive.)

Being an autodidact has its advantages when you couldn't possibly focus on the slow-moving lessons teachers deliver. (Most repeated embarrassment in school for me was "read aloud" time: When the teacher called on my I was pages and pages ahead. No clue where I was supposed to pick up.) My parents at least leaned toward the same style of learning so it never occurred to them to teach, I don't think.

My kids are not like that at all, and it's fascinating to me to watch them struggle with things, and then suddenly click into it. The Boy, brilliant though he was (and is), struggled with reading till he was relatively old. I've noticed this with a lot of kids not my own, too: Montessori schools apparently have a at-your-own-pace approach, and I knew a kid who didn't "click" till she was eleven or twelve. And then, became a very good reader overnight.

From what I've heard my mom describe, she didn't really click until she was in college. (She was a mathematician which, as rare as it is now for a girl, was way rarer back then. But she clicked on a college reading course for children's literature, and probably would have changed her major had she been a little bolder.)

On the other hand, the Institutes is all about teaching babies to read; they view the time as lost and, more importantly, consider the early age critical to reading quickly and, for lack of a better word, I'll use natively.

If you read natively, you're not reading "in your cortex", basically. Late learners tend to sub-vocalize or to hear a voice reading to them. Intriguingly for me, I used to never hear that voice as a youngster, but I did as a I got older. (Now it sort of comes and goes, depending on various environmental factors.)

I started reading music at about four years old--playing piano, and even though I was not very good at piano and a very sporadic player, that knowledge survived and worked when I took up the guitar, and then later in music classes where you had to read scores for various reasons. There was no conscious process at all.

It's not at all limited to traditional school subjects either. Being a good fighter involves something not quite conscious--or cortical, perhaps, is a better word. If you're a programmer, you confront new paradigms all the time. If you're a painter, there's a point where your cortex shuts off and you just draw what you see.

Anyway, today reading clicked with The Flower, and she did a couple of months worth of work in an afternoon. So, victory there. Now she's on to math. She has a real competitive streak as far as her schoolwork goes: She likes to time herself doing the work and try to beat her own best times.

One of the things they don't do at the Institutes is run down the professional teacher. It's amazing, they say, given twenty to thirty different kids with different levels of understanding and abilities that they manage to teach any one to read.

And looking at my kids, I'd have to agree. They've all been wildly divergent. That in itself has been incredibly educaitonal for me, and I hope if my kids take something for the future, it'll be that understanding they can apply when they raise their own kids.


  1. I received an adding machine for Christmas.

    I asked for a tape dispenser at age 6.

  2. Now she is getting somewhere. If she can only learn to box out under the boards and step on the foot of the girl she is fighting to get the rebound from, we can work on getting her a scholarship to Old Dominion.

  3. She's getting better! Books and practice are being employed!


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