On Sunday, he came over to me, frustrated that he can't make his own games. (Never mind that he creates levels on some Super Mario game that he has). He asked how is it possible to make my own games? He asked me this numerous times until I finally said he needs to learn how to program. Okay, he said. How do I do that? He brought it up again and again until Sarah, who was working at the table on a project for her Computer Science class in college, said that she thinks he's serious and that I should sign him up for a programming class. I remembered that in homeschool I've seen people talking about coding for kids. Was there a class? Was it online? I searched around and found that Codecademy came up a few times. I asked my friend whose daughter is in 11th grade homeschool and she asked her daughter, who recommended this. Elazar couldn't figure out how to play the game and he just wanted to start coding. So we explored the website a bit and finally decided to start with the half hour lesson of making your name in bubbles and getting it to move around. It says the lesson should take about a half an hour, which is perfect in terms of a decent amount of work for a 3rd grader but still has a tangible and satisfying outcome. But of course it didn't take into account that he doesn't read.
Now when I say that Elazar is in 3rd grade and isn't reading, I don't mean so much that he can't read. I know he can read words like "obsidian" from minecraft. I hear him reading store names on the street. But a bunch of words assembled into a sentence or a story? His mind wanders and he doesn't comprehend it or even bother finishing to try to read it.
One of the big questions that people have about unschooling is:
If you leave your child alone and he approaches you when he wants to read, why won't he end up illiterate? If unschooling works, there should be no illiteracy, and yet we know that there is an illiteracy problem.
When Elazar was young and I realized he
I had read that unschoolers learn to read between age 3 and 11. When they learn, it takes them a few days/weeks/months, and at that point they are on grade level. Some learn to read themselves and some ask to be taught. Either way, I figured he'll either miraculously learn to read or he'll tell me to teach him, and so I don't have to worry about it.
A few years ago I read an article (that link might not be it but it's a good one) that described how many unschoolers were constantly read to by their parents or older siblings, and usually ended up learning to read when the people around them got fed up with reading to them and so they figured it out for themselves. At that point, I realized that I was doing Elazar a disservice by not reading to him the many times a day he asked me to read something on the computer for him, and so I began to make that a priority and exert myself more to read to him when he asked. About half the time he would have to wait until I was finished with what I was doing. But I began reading to him a lot more. Also, when he asked me how to spell things, I had always said the word slowly, emphasizing the sounds, coaching him through it (unless he got impatient and asked me to to just spell it, which didn't happen very often because he was interested in learning how to write what he wanted to write). This went on from age 4 to age 8.
So it wasn't like Elazar was in 3rd grade and had no idea about how to read. He could read many words. He just wouldn't read books or stories.
So I opened the coding instructions and was curious to see what would happen. And Elazar began to read. He needs a very little help with unfamiliar words but once he hears them and they fit into what he wants to know, he remembers them.
He reads and follows the instructions. He jumps up and down and up and down as he reads, climbing all over me and yanking on me and moving and wiggling. But he focuses intently on what he is reading. I have taught many first graders to read and I remember the wiggling as they struggled with the new task of reading. But in my experience with Elazar, if I would, even now, push for him to struggle through a task, what gradually happens is that the wiggling increases, his brain stops working, and he starts chewing or doing other anxiety provoked actions (a common anxiety provoked action/soothing technique that I see in children learning to read is masturbation).
But in following the coding instructions, there was no anxiety or stress, and no loss of focus. Elazar was intrigued and excited, and his wiggling and jumping was due to the energy generated by his excitement (similar to when he plays minecraft).
So this is the level of his very first official reading: