During the break of the English speech competition where I was a judge, a student asked me for advice on what to do if he needs to memorize reams of English words. I told him that it’s more useful expanding one’s vocabulary in context, meaning to keep reading books in your field of interest and acquire the words naturally. It’s the least boring, most exciting way to do it.
But why don’t I practice what I preach? Why do I expect my six year old child, Joshua to read words out of context, in a random list floating in an ether of nothingness? Why do I encourage my university students to use context and discourage them from memorizing context-less words, but when it comes to my children, expect them to remember words unrelated to anything. Why?
Because my six year old son still doesn’t know how to read and I’ve been gnashing my teeth in frustration finding effective ways to get him to read. I made power point flashcards using Star Wars and Ninjago photos since those were his favorites. I bought Star Wars writing workbooks that were notches above in keeping his interest. The ordinary workbooks were like pulling out our teeth – too painful for both of us with the ensuing whining and pathetic attempts to use reward as bait. “C’mon finish this page and I’ll give you chocolate.” I read to them every night and as much as I can so why isn’t that enough? Why can’t I trust the process and have faith that they will eventually learn to read naturally thus it will all be about context. From then on, I can get them any book they like, smooth sailing, no agony of phonics and sounding out letters like a lunatic – k – k – k – k – a – a – a – a – t – t – t – t.
A part of me wants to trust this organic process and what I read about respecting each child’s development pace but a part of me stresses over what other people say “What? He’s six years old and he can’t read? You’re obviously not doing your job.” Nobody has actually told me the last sentence — that one comes from my own imagination but still, like any mother, I worry when I shouldn’t. I have this new idea of doing a power point story book so instead of flash card words, we’d be working on sentences and produce a book. I guess the worrying keeps me on my toes and I have to merely outsmart it.
I’m getting a tad obsessed with my thesis proposal, pondering about it, working on it every free time I have in between classes, when I get home, driving, strolling, the moment I wake up and before dozing off. The irony is not lost on how I’m doing a dissertation on alternative education and my two kids are stewing in a Chinese kindergarten, imploring me almost every night not to go to school. I don’t know how a kindergarten cannot be fun but the one here in Dagang where we live has managed to do that.
Everyday, I feel guilty I get to do something I love, enjoying the classes I teach, multiplying opportunities for students to bring out their talents, plus I’m working on a dream dissertation but my own two children are languishing — is that a fair word? – in what seems to be a not-so-enjoyable school. Since I have Thursday and Friday off and since I had been spending too much time on my thesis, I decided to bring Joshua to the Science and Technology Museum in Beijing and walk the talk of unschooling.
We had three days of fun riding subways and his eyes lit up recognizing the names of the stops being announced and counting how many stops before our station. When I was too tired to go to another exhibit after exploring four large floors of interactive presentations, he still wanted to listen to the Charles Darwin robot. He still has to learn about being more gracious sharing gadget time with others lining up but I’ll make sure there’ll be more days like these.