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Alphabet Soup: unschoolers learning letters from real life

Alphabet Soup
Unschoolers Learning Letters

By Rebecca Atherton

I am ecstatic that my three-year-old understands that there exist tiny squiggly lines that he calls, “A B Cs.” That’s all a three-year-old needs to know about reading. This is the first step towards literacy. My intent, at this stage, is to just refer to those squiggly lines as “ABCs” and to make no distinction among them. However, there are some letters that you can’t help pointing out. The “O” looks like a circle or a ball and the golden arches are hard to avoid.

At this same time, he is going through a stage where he won’t eat and I’m trying desperately to find some food that will be palatable to him. While at the grocery store, I told my children to pick out anything that they would eat. My three-year-old picked out several cans of “ABCs.” I asked him if he thought that the soup would taste good just because of the large, colorful, puffy “A”, “B” and “C” printed on the label, and of course he said, “Yes.” I warned him that it was a can of chicken noodle soup and that he didn’t like chicken noodle soup, but he wanted “ABCs.” So we bought several cans of alphabet soup.

Today, when I asked my children what they wanted to eat, my three year old shouted, “ABCs!” As he stared into his bowl, I took his spoon and fished out some letters. His big sister pointed out the “H for hhhhhhhhiney” so I dragged a refrigerator magnet “H” down to where he could see it. As he captured individual “ABCs” in his spoon he would ask, “What this one do?” and we would tell him, “That’s a W for wwwwwwwwow” or “that’s P ppppop pop.”

We did this over and over again until I thought he was finished. I began cleaning up some dishes at the sink, and he called me over again. “What this one do?” In his spoon was a green pea. He knows what peas are. I thought about telling him, “That’s a pea,” but then I realized how confusing that might sound in light of our recent conversation. So I told him, “That’s an O like a ball.” I should have said, “That’s a vegetable,” or something like that. I didn’t think that he might be asking because he knew the little green thing in his spoon was a “pea” but I had just told him that the squiggly noodle shaped like a “P” was a pea. This little inconsistency stuck out in his mind. He had to question it.

I think that’s how children’s brains learn! If something doesn’t make sense, they set out to solve the mystery or to understand it. That’s wild untamed learning. Children are scientist-detectives, naturally.

He only asked about each letter once as if he remembered which letter he had captured and inquired about. Do you think he remembered each one? I don’t know, and maybe not in the way I would prefer him to, because he later told me that “Hhhhhh is for butt.”

Rebecca Atherton was raised on a horse farm by two teachers in Port Lavaca, Texas. As a child she would play school with her teddy bears: lecturing them, testing them, and even making report cards for them. It was while obtaining her degree in education that Rebecca decided she would educate her own children. Her philosophy of education was turned upside down as she observed how much children learn the basics from everyday things. She and her husband Rodney live and learn from their three children in Victoria, Texas.

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