"Although I speak from my own experience, I feel that no one has the right to impose his or her beliefs on another person. I will not propose to you that my way is best. The decision is up to you. If you find some point which may be suitable for you, then you can carry out experiments for yourself. If you find that it is off no use, then you can discard it." Dalai Lama...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Update on reading, writing and spelling....

I have been wanting to write an update for ages. When I looked back to the last update I was shocked to find it was way back in 2009!!
Milly is now 12.

How time flies when you are having fun ;-))
This is a loooong post - some I have copied from the last update ( saved me having to type it out again ). If you have already read it, or just want to cut to how things are now, scroll down to the picture and read on from there. Or - grab a cuppa and read on ;-))

A little bit of history for anyone reading that is unfamiliar with our story.
Milly came out of school in year 3 when she was 8, after 4 years in the system. On the last parents evening we went to, the teacher informed us she had a reading age of 7 but had a spelling age of zero.They knew Emily had dyspraxia and yet it appeared to count for nothing.She said that even though she was given fewer words than the other pupils to learn she felt she was malingering and should try harder.I wish I could remember her words correctly but she said something about Emily using a charming smile when she got things wrong and that she wouldn't get away using it forever!!I nearly cried when she mentioned that smile because I knew that was what Emily did when she was embarrassed and didn't know how else to deal with a situation.

Here we were with a little girl who was sinking in the system and yet more pressure was being put on her than she could cope with.It seemed obvious to me that she had shut down and no amount of persuasion and spelling tests were going to improve her spelling.

Enough was enough and we took her out of school. For many months Emily would not pick up a pen.I know that had she stayed in school or had we continued the school at home route she would have learned to loathe books and writing.I look back and thank god that I had done so much research prior to her coming out of school and had found autonomous Ed/unschooling,or I might have been tempted to encourage her, because it was a very scary thing to let go completely and trust.I had many wobbles along the way but never once let her know how I was feeling.

Over the months we read to her constantly with no expectation for her to read at all.We spelled words for her if she asked.We enjoyed many great stories and played and visited and crafted and baked.Eventually she began to write again . Initially it caused great frustration leading to meltdowns and self criticism.
Here are a few excerpts from previous posts....

Milly has been seeing the shape of letters everywhere.

Now she has known her letters for many years ,having learnt them at school but over the last few weeks she has been seeing letter shapes in all sorts of places, the way a particular item is set out or a piece of string left on the table etc. Yesterday we were sitting in the living room discussing what to do with the day ( Emily had not gone to gymnastics and it is most likely she will not go back I realised after yet another morning where she didn't want to go that I had to allow her the choice and she was so happy, I feel I had pushed to encourage her when I should of let go a lot sooner,another lesson learnt.) and as we were talking she said "that's a w " and showed us the shape her legs had made so this led on to all of us making the alphabet together, what fun rolling about on the floor making the shapes. I am not sure what is going on for her but it seems she is making links in her own way and a clearer understanding of the shapes seems to be unfolding.

Alongside this she has been reading more by herself. She had stashed a load of her favourite books between her mattress and our bed and put the torch there and has been reading after I have left her as she informed me the other day!! ( Edited to add .... She only read a few pages at a time never a whole book.)  She has also said she will read for ten mins to Al each night so she chose to look through a lovely book by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels called The wonderful world book, it has lots of pop ups and facts and then Al started reading Phillip Pullman The Northern Lights, We generally have a book that Milly and I read and her and Al have one they read together.

Her use of language has continued to improve and I love it when she tries out a new word and a couple of days a go she went into the kitchen and on seeing two boiled eggs I had left on a plate set on top of a mixing bowl to cool called back "those eggs are a bit precarious" and proceeded to move them to a safer position. And yesterday she sat watching TV whilst she had her sausage sarni for breakfast and afterwards brought her plate through and said "that was a delightful breakfast"

Milly has continued to concentrate on her spelling and is using the keyboard more rather than asking me to do it for her.She is also going on education city and choosing the spelling options to do.I have been asked to spell words a lot but she has also been challenging herself and I can hear her sounding the words out to herself, she is using spellcheck on the PC when it is available on what she is doing.

It has taken a long time for this to happen, we have resisted the temptation to engage her in any form of writing she didn't want to do and I have always written for her or typed for her and have done so willingly.Gradually her confidence has grown and I believe we are seeing the process we would have seen had she been home educated from the start.

We had a bit of a melt down last night.Over the last few weeks Milly has been writing in a journal she has started and is choosing to write short amounts more and more and I had thought she was quite content to go along slowly.However, we watched Miss Potter last night and afterwards she was keen to get out a sketch pad and paints and set about drawing Beauty and to write a story about her, within minutes she was tearing up the paper and stabbing the pencil in the table and was really angry which then turned to tears and wails of why can't I write, I'll never be able to write.It was hard to watch and I don't think I handled things as well as I could of,I was tired and got angry when she started stabbing the pen down and regretted it immediately as it stopped the behaviour but also stopped her getting it out,I should of just done what we have done on other occasions and punched some cushions and had a good scream which helps her to get back on an even keel.We went to bed together and she seemed much better this morning.We talked about it and I said I felt I hadn't handled her anger very well and that it was OK to be angry but there were better ways to deal with it than damaging the table and she accepted that but suggested that next time instead of raising my voice I should just stay calm and encourage her to calm down and we could punch some cushions!!!
The first thing Emily wanted to do this morning was to write a story about the Bratz pixies,she asked me to write her words which I did and although it is not ideal for her she likes to see her story written out.When she writes herself she reduces the words she uses because it takes so long for her to write but when I write it she narrates beautiful intricate stories.We have talked about the possibility of recording the stories on a tape and then Alan or I typing them out and she did mention that again so I will look into it and see if it would be a viable option.I have also thought about the voice recognition software you can get for PCs but need to find out more about them.
When she was at school she was frustrated because she had no options and had to write whatever was set in the lesson and she felt so out of her depth and unsupported.I think she has become frustrated now because she is really wanting to record her thoughts and ideas and she sees her friends writing effortlessly in their journals and her limitations have been highlighted. It is a really positive thing that she is wanting to record things and we just need to ease the process so she doesn't get disheartened,she is such a perfectionist and is so hard on herself.She doesn't want to practice writing or spellings and I don't think for one moment that is the right way to go,she needs to go at her own pace but it is hard for her to believe that she will get there,she doesn't see the improvement in her writing and spelling since leaving school she just knows she has difficulty and that it makes her unhappy and hurts her hands:-(

It has been quite some time since the last excerpt but we have continued in exactly the same way.She once dictated an 18 page story, straight off, as I was typing, the whole thing just flowed out.It lost it's way a little but that is not the point,it was all about her confidence, not so much about the content or grammar.My mum bought her a voice dictator and if she wants, I will type things out for her.

We had a conversation in the early days, about whether writing neatly was important,she thought it was very important and I think she was shocked when I said I thought it was not so important.I explained that it was much more about her enjoyment of doing it,if she wanted to do it at all, freeing her self up from having to be perfect.I explained that she would get by in life with the writing she could do. I said that if it was easier for her, typing it out was a definite option.She didn't rush right in and start learning to type(nor did I say it with that expectation) but what she did do was to continue story telling without the feeling that it had to be written down or that it had to be a complete tale.Milly is a story teller, her head is full to bursting at times with tales to be told.Why should she stop,why do they have to be written down unless she wants to,would that mean she wasn't a storyteller just because they weren't written down?

I never correct her spelling, unless she asks me to.People think that if you don't tell them they will never know,I know by watching her on the computer when she is writing her stories how she looks at a word and knows it isn't right and will change it around till it looks tight to her and often it is then actually spelt right.Milly writes when she wants, what she wants, for how long she wants.She has about 100(OK slight exaggeration!)notebooks scattered around the house and drools in the stationary aisles in shops.She adores books and we are surrounded by them.She chooses bundles of second hand ones from the charity shop. She gets great pleasure from searching through them and buying them,far more than we could ever read to her.I don't dissuade her,it would be easy to think it was a waste of money because she may never read them herself,to my mind it is fostering a love of books that could last a lifetime,and when/if the time comes that she starts to read more herself, we will have a very good stock for her to go at:-)

She says she wants to be a writer when she grows up and her head is so full of stories.Not all the stories are finished in fact 99.9% are begun and discarded, whether that is on paper, in her head, told to us,or dictated on the machine.

I don't worry that she won't be able to put a story together if that is what she wants to do in the future. I see all this as practise and importantly practise in the way that works best for Emily,I have no clue how all this will fit together for her in the future.She is fine tuning her story telling and her writing is improving all the time.In fact there is little to choose between her writing and her schooled friend.

I have been through the school system,my handwriting isn't bad but it is not brilliant,I choose to type rather than write anything if at all possible.

I don't know all the intricacies of grammar and punctuation,if I really wanted to I would find out,just as Emily will if and when that need arises.I don't let it stop me rambling  writing on here,throwing in a comma where I think it looks right:-)

A few months ago we had arranged a visit with an educational psychologist. We had a few questions we felt needed answered but were not too keen to go down the diagnosis route(we didn't see the need now she was not in school)so the paediatrician organised the visit. Emily was used to seeing the paediatrician because she had been seeing her since birth(two months prem),and had had other tests done at the hospital to determine the level of her difficulty's(so the school would accept it and not have us down as being over anxious parents).

We explained that this visit was in connection with those visits and when he came(he visited us at home) she happily set about the tests he wanted her to do.Then Alan took her to play whilst I chatted with him about our concerns,which were much more to do with emotional/social issues.I did get the answers I needed from him, the point here though is that in his assessment he gave her a reading age of 10 (her age now) and a spelling age slightly below that.(We knew that both had improved and under normal circumstances would not have tested her)

So with us reading the books she chose for as long as she wanted us to,no lessons,no spelling tests,no constant repetition,no corrections other than the ones she asked for,read what she wanted, when she wanted,the ability to work in her way at her pace, she has managed to do what years in school had failed to do.
Emily does not care that she makes mistakes,sometimes she corrects them, sometimes she doesn't,sometimes she asks how to spell a word,sometimes she can spell a word one day and have forgotten it the next.She may never be a great speller, luckily there is always spellcheck;-) She may well continue to be a great storyteller though.Time will tell whether that than becomes something she can earn a living from,who knows,that time is years away and in that time her interests will change,no point in predicting what she will do.
All I know is she is spelling well enough for anyone to understand her work,it is improving and much more importantly, although she knows her spelling is not always the best (by her own admission,not something that we have said) she enjoys writing and has the confidence to go ahead anyway and not let it get in the way of a good story.

Not sure I can fill in nearly two years!
We continued in the same way, if anything changed it was our confidence in the process. The FEAR that she would never learn eased and we trusted she would find her level and if and when she needed more she would ask and we would help in any way we could.
Milly still wanted us to read books to her - and we did - lots and lots of books, we also bought story cd's and downloaded from Audible onto her Mp3, we borrowed story tapes and playaways from the library. She spent many hours listening to them. As with everything this went in phases and there were weeks/months where she didn't listen to tapes or want us to read to her. We kept offering and kept buying/borrowing books we thought she might enjoy.
 She was a competent reader - reading fluently any website she was using - she would pick up and read leaflets when we were out and about and she would read a few pages of a book. She said it hurt her eyes . We discussed it and decided to get them tested and she wore glasses for a short time, but that didn't increase the amount of reading she could do. We then tried the overlay sheets for her - again - no difference. Milly would have like to read but she wasn't upset about not being able to - nor did she see it as a problem.
 My thought was that she found the amount of written word in a book daunting and that she just wasn't ready yet.
 Before Xmas we had some cash ( saved in a Terramundi jar and exceeding the amount we thought was in there! ) and I thought it would be worth trying out a kindle. I had researched it and you can change the font size and I knew it would read aloud. We listened to a youtube clip and it sounded ok and she was quite excited - Milly does love her gadgets :-) I believed that having only one page at a time in a font that she chose would help enormously.
 It came and we downloaded a couple of books by an Author she loved - from memory I think it was Cathy Cassidy . The voice on the Kindle had no expression and was a definite no go for Milly. Quite disappointed that wasn't an option for her but she went to bed with it and she read nine chapters late into that first night. She was very excited and pleased - if somewhat tired :-) - with herself the next day. I thought we had cracked it and found the *key* for her.
She then read a few more chapters and it got left in her room and not touched again for months! I tried not to make a big thing about it, but casually mentioned it on occasion to see if she wanted a new book downloaded. I have to be honest here and admit that I became anxious she would *never* read again! After a few months I suggested that I would be able to use the Kindle if she didn't want it. I wish I hadn't said it - I didn't want to coerce her and it felt like a threat. Luckily she didn't see it that way and said she would get round to finishing the book. It took quite a few more months before that actually happened. She had been talking with Amy about how much they loved Cathy Cassidy and before I knew it she had finished the book. She lay in bed and over two days read the whole book staying awake til the early hours. Then she read the next book in a day sitting up til 4 in the morning reading it!She then read two actual paperback books and at least 3 more on her Kindle.
Over the last few months she has not read or listened to story tapes. Music has been her thing - her ipod has stories on, if and when she would like to listen to them and her Kindle has a range of books on for her to dip into, we also have many, many books for her to choose from. Am I pleased she has read a book - yes I am - because she has enjoyed it and has gained confidence in her own ability.
 My Nephew suggested a series of books she would like and lent her one and she asked me to read it to her. I didn't make a big deal of it - I accepted that at this time she wanted me to read - I am enjoying the times we snuggle whilst I read to her.

Over the years Milly has followed a very similar pattern in her writing and spelling - we have no input apart from spelling a word if she asks - this is happening less and less. She writes when she wants and does so with confidence - there is non of the shame or embarrassment she used to feel about how her writing looks. She has on occasion attempted cursive - she tends to type more than write by hand. She has hundreds of stories - at various stages of completion - on her laptop. She just started a new one today, but that is the first I have seen her doing for many months - she often has her laptop upstairs and I imagine she has written some but not mentioned them to us.

 Milly came out of school being able to *read* according to the school. The forced learning and coercive methods used  had got her to a place - where according to the critera they used - she passed the *test* of being a reader. She couldn't spell and writing caused her physical pain . The *reader* that left school really didn't want to read and more importantly wasn't ready to read!
What have I learnt from this process she has gone through since leaving school?
I have learnt that natural learning does happen :-) It has reinforced the belief ( gained from reading many, many books, websites and other peoples stories online ) I had in the beginning that if a child is happy and relaxed and is read to, is surrounded by the written word and has the opportunity to listen to stories on CD or other media ( if they choose to ) - if they are supported ( all children are different and your child's path may be different to Milly's. I believe we are there to facilitate and help to find a way that works for them,  not to impose our ideas of how it could be done ) and allowed the freedom to go at their own pace - they *will* read when they are ready. They may not become bookworms but they will read what they need/want to read.
I also learnt that it is unlikely be to our timescale ;-)


from the bottom of my broken heart said...

Hi, Mumma, I love you your the best mum ever you helped me soooo much I love you vair, Vair, Vair much xx Best mum E-V-E-R xxxx I can now write!!! And draw :) I'm very HAPPII!! (Thats my way of spelling it!!) LOVE YOU!!! Love Milly x

rosieposie said...

Hi it is the first time I have left a comment here, I am a home educating mum to 2 children one boy aged 11 (going on 18!) and a girl aged 9 I haven't read all of the post yet as it was quite a comprehensive update but I felt compelled and a little comforted by what you wrote. My son didn't last long in the school system. We have had and still do have the same problem with writing, I have laid off worrying about it over the years but he feels the same amount of frustration when writing or trying to write more than a few words. He is getting there slowly, most of his work seems to be computer based anyway but if at times when I have tried to coax any written work out of him a very similar meltdown occurs he seems to struggle to even hold a pen comfortably. I know for sure he will get there eventually thankfully not being in the school system he isn't comparing himself to other children - typing seems to definitely be the thing and as my husband says it is all based on the computer now anyway - we got a garfield typing package relatively cheaply for him from amazon - it might be worth a try if your daughter feels like it. I love reading your blog by the way our children are very lucky indeed to be in a supportive home environment where they can grow in their learning at their own pace.

Lynn said...

Milly.. I love you too :-) I helped being there but you did all the work hun - what a ringing endorsement of what *we* have
done :-))

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Lynn said...

Hi Rosieposie *waves* nice to see you :-) Glad you enjoy the blog!

It was rather a marathon post - I really wanted to show the journey.

I think that given support children will find their own way - some children just seem to take longer on that journey than others - I think they are soaking up and enjoying all they see along the way ;-)) xxx

Colleen said...

Hi Lynn! It's been so long since I've visited your Blog (or anyone's, really!). It's so nice to hear your story about learning to trust Milly and I love that I get to watch her grow from afar. :)

Lynn said...

*Waves* Hi Colleen :-)) How are you all doing? I have found myself writing regularly again after a period away... Just felt I had nothing to say really - we were just living it - and now that Milly is older the *learning* she does does not always involve me or provide any evidence, so harder to blog about ;-)) How is Jerry! xxxx