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
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.