Not Meeting Expectations: An Unschooling Conversation

This discussion appeared recently on the Christian Unschooling Facebook Group:

How do you explain your educational approach to people who expect your child to be at a place academically that they aren’t? For example, I started my daughter reading at six. There was a lot of stress and frustration. I decided to let it go because she obviously wasn’t ready. So we just started up again; she’s seven now, and I always hear from a few certain people in my family “She’s seven! She should be reading!” I tell them we use a child-led approach and find greater accomplishment waiting till they are ready. I always get treated like I’m making excuses for not “schooling” my children properly. How do you handle these type of situations?


Can't Read YetCARMA: Lots of potential approaches, depending on how conciliatory or aggressive you want to be. 😉

Ask them if ALL children in school are reading well at age seven, and discuss why it is that some are not (because they are not developmentally ready). Cite the fact that in university, future teachers learn that reading readiness happens at all different ages (3 to 10 or older) and yet the lockstep institution of public schools forces them to try to teach them all at the same age, regardless of the harm it inflicts on the children. (I have a degree in elementary education myself, so I can verify this as a true fact!)

Ask them at what ages they themselves (not their kids, themselves!) learned to go potty, or feed themselves, or tie their shoes? And if they can’t remember, point out the obvious correlation that as long as it is learned, WHEN is super-duper not a big deal. There is an average age, but no one expects all children to learn to walk or potty by themselves on the dot of the average.

Read Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book “Better Late Than Early” and you will be loaded down with great points to make. (Or the Moore’s book “School Can Wait” which is the more scholarly version of BLTE.)

BRIGITTE: Awesome information Carma!

SUZANNE: For me it really depends on who is asking and why. If someone is being obnoxious about it then I give them the Mary Poppins answer: “I never explain anything.”

CINDY: My first instinct would be “bite me” but I think Carma’s response is probably better.

JULIE: I did approach it with asking the questions suggested like pottying, etc., but just hear nonsense about how she was potty trained at 18 months and reading at four. Followed up by “I learned to read” (emphasis on the “I,” like that means ANYTHING. Oh and I honestly believe she grossly exaggerated her ages of those skills). I just feel at a loss like, they get their dig in but I can’t respond to defend myself because I get nonsense as an argument from them after that.

BRIGITTE: I vote for Cindy’s suggestion. LOL

LYDIA: I don’t think it’s wrong to turn it around and say, “What would you accept as an answer? Do you really want to have an intelligent debate where we can each state what we believe (think) or are you just looking to argue with me and in your own mind prove your point?”

Sometimes people DO want to know, but maybe they are not good at asking questions. Then there are people who really don’t care, they just want a chance to stand on their own soapbox. IMO sometimes just asking, nicely of course, what it is they hope to achieve from the conversation leads to either a better understanding of one another and/or just shuts the people who are acting like jerks down.

RACHEL: I’m more inclined to follow Carma or Lydia’s line. But I’ve also been known to use the bean dip approach.

BRENDA: I encourage my eight-year-old daughter to no longer say she “can’t read.” Because she CAN read some words. She just isn’t a fluent reader yet. I don’t discuss methodology with anyone but my husband anymore.

MELISSA: Nobody in my family would say anything like that to me. If they did, I’d just shut ‘em down nicely.

JENNIFER W: You have some good suggestions to choose from, if you need another obnoxious comment to meet them with…. “and as adults, WE should have manners mastered, but “some” of us are still working on that too”… <wink> I have an almost ten-year-old who has no interest in reading fluently… so I don’t appreciate it either. If your child had a diagnosed delay, you wouldn’t hear a peep. Ugh.

LYDIA: Love it, Jennifer W!

JENNIFER W: Oh, and to truly explain it, if they REALLY cared, I simply explain to them that I have done LOTS of research (people love that) and lots of kids don’t start reading on their own until at least 8, sometimes as late as 13 … but that same research shows that they then catch up and usually pass peers in reading level … so truly, you are doing her a favor by waiting. (Okay, don’t pick on my numbers, it has been years since I cared to know the exact ages and what-not.)

VANESSA: I tell people “He’s working on it.” It lets them know that he IS learning and it would be incredibly rude to go further and make a kid feel bad for not reading yet. Honestly, I would probably get up and leave the conversation if that happened. By the way, my son is 6.

ANN: I would reply, “Presumptuous and rude of you to think you know a child more than his own parents. We are raising a loving, kind child, who when grown, will more than likely enjoy reading a book, unlike most grown men today.” I do not recommend saying it that way, but I have a time or two. Yes, I know, not the best way to make friends. I was very clear with my family on how, and who (Christ) was guiding us. Thankfully, they have been very respectful and supportive. Give the rest to God.

JENNIFER W: Not the best way to make friends, but at least you know the ones you have are real.

CRYSTAL: I have responded to “They should know …” or “What? They don’t know how to …” with something like: “I don’t see in Scripture where God said, ‘Thou shalt teach thy child to read by age 7.'” (Or whatever the infraction is.) “I DO see that God wants me to teach my child about Him when standing, sitting, walking, lying down, etc. And I should train my child in the way he should go. So for us, that is the main focus. God has a plan for each of these kids. I trust God to help these kids learn what He needs them to learn when He needs them to learn it. My job is to help them in that.”

I will also typically tell them of my now 16-year-old son who couldn’t/wouldn’t read until he was 9 and decided he wanted to. By the end of that year, he had independently read, and comprehended, the entire Chronicles of Narnia. He hasn’t taken his nose out of a book since then. So I have confidence that they will learn what they need to learn. And they’ll remember it so much better if they learn it when they are ready to learn it. My job is to provide opportunities.

TRACI: I’m not going to lie, my defense mechanism is to act like THEY are foolish for doing it their way. I take on a snobbish air. I’m not proud of it but it does seem to draw less argument and I’m guessing that’s because snobbish = confident to many people. I’ve been trying to work on this but as of right now that’s still the reaction that they get when I feel like someone is judging unfairly.

LEANNE: Yeah, it depends on who you’re talking to and how important that relationship is to you.

We have said things like this, to different people at different times:

“They’ll learn when they’re ready.”

“They’re working on it.”

“Reading hasn’t been easy for him, but he’ll get there when he can.”

“We have found that the more we push, the more anxious she becomes, and then she can’t learn anything because of the negative atmosphere.”

“Could you tie your shoes when you were five? What?! You don’t KNOW?! Then it must not have been important whether you learned it at four or at six, huh?” (That’s was my husband’s response to his sister, when she asked why our learning-delayed 4-year-old couldn’t tie her shoes yet. She openly blames me for anything they don’t know that she thinks they should.)

JENNIFER Mc: If someone is honestly being *curious* and asking a sincere question, I have no problem talking with them about unschooling, how it works, etc. 9 times out of 10, they find it really interesting, and appreciate the exchange of information. But if someone’s being rude, and saying things like, “He should be reading by now!” I really don’t dignify that with a response, and I don’t let it bother me in the least. That’s when I use the “bean dip” approach. “We think he’s doing great! Can you please pass the bean dip?”

CINDY: Leanne, my 10-year-old son can barely tie his shoes; he literally almost starts to cry while trying. I think it’s part of his SPD. On the other hand my 7-year-old son starting tying his shoes after watching me once and can do it without even looking at the laces. People are just different.

SHANNON: The simple fact is that we aren’t all the same. If we were, how boring life would be! Everybody is different, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. To say that everybody should be reading by this age or tying shoes by that age is stupid. Not every baby potty trains by 2, and not everybody learns how to bake a soufflé, and not everybody reads at the same age. Enjoy the diversity of life and stop stressing out your kids!

Image “Surprised Look” courtesy of Petr Kratochvil. Image in public domain.

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