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Monday, April 8, 2013

Believing in Unschooling, Part 1

 allegory of Charity


I have settled on the label "Catholic CM Unschooling" to describe our homeschooling style (CM being short for Charlotte Mason). It took me a long time to arrive at this point, because I was weighing unschooling against the Christian parental vocation, and because I had to evaluate whether a Catholic homeschooler could in good conscience use the CM method. I have written about my conclusions in previous posts. Obviously I have decided that both CM and unschooling are valid, as long as they are practiced within the parameters of the Catholic faith.

Yet my transition to Catholic unschooling has been fraught with doubt. Sometimes you can simply read too much. For example, in my reading about classical education, the insistence that phonics must be zealously employed in teaching reading, or the child will eventually hit a serious roadblock, threw me into mild distress. Should we be doing more phonics, I wondered, even though I had told Beezy she wouldn't have to sound words out anymore? I looked at some phonics workbooks online, and from what I could see, Beezy has already received phonics training at least at her grade level, if not beyond. Not that I concern myself much with grade levels, but that was comforting. The problem is not that she doesn't know the sounds of the letters and blends, etc..., because she does. She just loathes sounding out words. Interesting how the word "loathe" sounds so similar to, but is so very opposite from, love. And don't we want our children to love reading? Of course we do, so being forced into "learning" exercises that she loathes is counterintuitive to learning to love reading.

The only sound (no pun intended) argument I read for emphasizing phonics as the ultimate way to learn to read is that if a child comes to a word he doesn't know by sight, he will not be able to sound it out. That's true, I was thinking, and almost took the bait. Then I remembered that I have this big, red book called a dictionary in my house, and that even though I have an English degree and am obviously exceptionally literate, I still have to look new words up in the dictionary now and then, not only for the definition, but for the pronunciation!

Many unknown words in the English language will be sight words, and phonics won't get you very far. What if Beezy is reading Greek myths and she comes across the name, "Persephone"? You can't get it right by sounding it out. I agree with Charlotte Mason that once the basics of phonics have been learned, the "point and say" method of teaching will further the child along in the art of reading most effectively. Even if the word could be sounded out, but being forced to do so inhibits Beezy from continuing to enjoy reading, does it make sense to insist upon it?

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