Here I am, age six, in our house in England. Engrossed in a book, as usual.
And here I am, two years and a move to Canada later, still reading and– although I didn’t know it– I am learning how to write.
Now, as a mom to an eight year old, I’m watching my son explore the world of books and words and stories. He doesn’t go to school– in fact, reading was one of the things that made us decide to pull him out of school at six. He started kindergarten already able to read, and going over the letter sounds repeatedly bored him. Having to read the same books over and over also bored him. And not being able to choose what to read made him furious. Being a rather resourceful little guy, he brought his own science books magazines from home to read during the dreaded daily “book bag time” but he was told that wasn’t allowed. He had to put those away now to read the levelled readers that were in the ziplock bag with his name on it.
He wouldn’t do it.
And in hindsight, I’m glad he had the independence and strength to object.
He still loves books, both fiction and non-fiction: fantasy novels, science books, graphic novels, and– especially– Calvin and Hobbes comics. I’m not convinced that he would love books if he was still in school.
Until recently, he hasn’t been interested in writing. In fact, it’s something he’s generally avoided. If he were in school, he would no doubt be seen as “behind” in writing. One of the lovely things about unschooling is that regardless of your interests or abilities, you are never ahead or behind– you are exactly where you need to be.
Over the last few months, I’ve been watching his interest in writing gradually emerge.
We’ve had great conversations about books. He’d comment on characters (“It’s hard to believe Harry, Ron and Hermione aren’t real people. It’s so strange that they’re just text!”), motivation (“What do you think about Snape? Dumbledore trusts him but he seems bad. I guess sometimes a character can start out bad but maybe underneath they really want to be good…”), structure (“It’s kind of an ABC pattern, isn’t it? Have an adventure, get into danger, escape…”), and interpretation (“Do you think Hobbes is real? Or is it just Calvin’s imagination that he’s alive? I’m pretty sure he’s real.”)
Then he started to see stories everywhere. We’d come across a science story (genetically modified babies, for instance) and he’s say, “Hey, that’d make a great book. Imagine if a future government decided…” and he’d be off, spinning out ideas. He started wanting me to write these ideas down for him. Then he wanted me to write the stories with him. He’d dictate; I’d type.
Handwriting is slow and uncomfortable for him, as for many kids his age, so the computer opens up worlds of possibility. Thanks to his passion for Minecraft, his typing is getting faster and his spelling is improving (spawn, nether, kick, zombie and teleport may not be on your standard BC curriculum grade two spelling list, but given his interest in sci-fi and fantasy, Minecraft vocabulary is probably more useful to him anyway).
It’s fascinating to watch the natural learning of a child driven by his own curiousity and enthusiasm. And it has made me reflect on my own relationship with reading, writing and school. Although I had at least two great teachers (Mrs. Virgin and Mr. Lister, if you are out there somewhere, thanks for two good years!) I don’t think I learned much in school that really helped me as a writer. I learned to write by reading voraciously, and I became an author because I loved books and stories so much so much that I wanted to create a few of my own.
School has a way of turning reading and writing into work when they should be play. As my son commented at the end of kindergarten, “Work is when you do something because someone makes you. Play is when you do something because you want to.”
Which is something I need to keep in mind for myself, as writing has turned from my part-time hobby into my full time job.
So– off to play with my latest manuscript!