This is a guest post from Erin Wetzel. She is a painter and a poet who lives in Tacoma, WA with her husband and daughter. You can connect with her on instagram @ekwetzel. Earlier she wrote Unschooling Starts the Day Your Child is Born.
Tonight, as Phoebe was getting ready for bed, she turned to me and lamented, “I only know how to read one book, Mama. I only know how to read “Maisy Big, Maisy Small.” She looked longingly at her bookshelf.
“Do you wish you could read your other books?”
“Ok, Phoebe. We will start learning tomorrow.” Right then it was time for bed.
I remember learning to read with my Mom. The memories are golden—me on her lap in a shiny mustard armchair, sunlight pouring over our shoulders. We were reading Sally, Dick and Jane. I pronounced “Dick” as “Duck” and made her laugh. Then I read “Sally” the first time I saw it, without hesitation, and she was so pleased she called my Dad in to fawn over me.
Growing up, when I made my parents happy, I felt safe. I didn’t make an effort to pursue my own happiness, because I spent most of my energy trying to please them. By the time I was in college, however, I was depressed all the time. I blamed my parents for my adult unhappiness, thinking that I didn’t know how to live my life on my own terms. But the truth is, it has always been my responsibility to find happiness.
All the same, I don’t want Phoebe to repeat my mistakes. I want her to know my happiness doesn’t not depend on her. Each of us are responsible for our own happiness. It’s important to me that curiosity and learning are joys all her own.
Maybe that’s why I’d always assumed, when the time came to teach Phoebe to read, that I would step out of the equation. I figured I’d start by downloading a phonics app so she could teach herself by herself.
But I underestimated how much a love of reading for some of us is related to sharing a good book with someone you love. I underestimated how much Phoebe’s desire to learn is tied to her desire to learn from me. My desire to step away from teaching her was reactionary.
We fill our home with quality stories, and we enjoy sharing them with her. Whenever we snuggle up with a book, maybe I’m inspiring a passion for literature, but maybe she is learning is that reading together is a way to say, “I love you.”
Maybe the reason homeschooling works is because, when you are with your kid all day, every day, for her entire life, it creates consistency and intimacy. And, when those deep emotional needs are met, it frees the child’s mind to explore and grow.