Category Archives: Unschooling

Please do NOT read to your child for 20 minutes a day

I always thought the “20 minutes a day” guideline was lame. How many books take precisely 20 minutes to read? If a children’s author is pitching their new book, would they have better luck if they wrote it so that it could be read in 20 minutes? Maybe with a built-in timer or something… What’s a parent to do at the end of that 20 minutes, if the book isn’t over? If they decide to finish the book and end up reading for 23 minutes tonight, then do they only need to read for 17 minutes tomorrow?  If reading is such a wonderful thing, why are so many adults “forced” into doing it? What does it teach children to have their teacher at school sending home a tracking form to monitor their parents?

Unschooling reading
Kids can learn to read from books, not from reading lessons

Where did they come up with the 20-minute figure? Maybe it’s because they once did a study of families whose kids were great readers and averaged out the length of time each family spent reading to their kids and decided that a standard of 20 minutes was the bare minimum.  Now, everyone is striving for that minimum.  I’m just guessing, I really don’t know the origin of the 20-minutes-a-day reading guideline.  All I know is that it’s difficult to lose yourself in literature when you’re watching the clock.

I think the root of the issue was originally that families were “too busy” to read to their kids.  How on earth they’d ever get them to bed, I will never know.  Reading to my girls is often just the elixir they need to hold still and relax long enough to drift off to sleep.  I don’t read to them every single day and I’m not sure how long we read because we don’t look at the clock. Ever. I read until I find myself skipping words or spacing out between sentences.  Sometimes, if I’m falling asleep while I read, I’ll accidentally add random words to the story (the kids love this and it’s usually their laughter that wakes me up).  We read until everyone’s story has been read. The younger girls usually get their stories first. If a chapter book is chosen, it’s usually last and we read one chapter before deciding if we want to go further. Sometimes it takes us months to finish one chapter book, sometimes it only takes days. Sometimes we never finish and that’s OK.
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First Grade, Psychology, Physics, Chemistry and Food

Sometimes when homeschoolers or unschoolers are trying to explain how life and learning are naturally integrated, they use the example of cooking. I tried to intellectualize it in the article Cooking with Kids, but last night’s dinner hour was particularly good example of this “in action.”

All my girls love to cook. In fact, I was telling a friend the other day that sometimes we don’t have official “meals” because there’s someone cooking something all day long. A plate full of crackers with melted cheese, a blender full of fruit smoothies, a recipe someone saw on TV or invented from scratch. With so many people who like to cook, dividing our meals into specific menus really made it more work than is necessary.

Maddy (6) & Gabriella (8) like cook and serve food. When I am in my room working and the older girls are upstairs doing whatever t is older girls do (gossip, watch TV, write stories and song, dance or listen to music…) Maddy & Gabriella like to come around and offer everyone food.

Last night I was making dinner and Maddy came in, saying “I need a pan… the noodle-y kind”

In the past, I may have said “what for?” or otherwise grilled her, and come to the conclusion that since I’m making Dinner, she doesn’t need to cook. Instead, though, I just accepted that she needed a pan and decided to work on dinner alongside her, as equals.

So I opened the dishwasher (they rarely get a chance to cool off and get put away until we need them again) and I showed her all the clean noodle pans, she rejoiced with so much enthusiasm, saying “You are a master.” I thought that was pretty cute, but the conversation just kept getting better.

So we’re cooking together, she told Emilee that she’d make her a Top Ramen (blech) She knew how to prepare it all by herself. I wanted to carry the pan full of water for her, but we settled on having me bring it down from the sink. (me, being a control freak)

So she carried it to the stove, not missing a single drop. (physics in action; water volume, balance, momentum…)

Afterward, I said “Wow Maddy, I underestimated you. You really kept that balanced well” and she said “thank you. I know how to cook things because you showed me. I can just see you doing things and it makes me see that I can do them, too.” (self awareness, love of learning, gratitude, communication, ass-kissing)

I was unloading the dishwasher when she said those words and it was so relaxed and easy just being together. She was so proud, so articulate. (LIFE- kids are wiser than we give them credit for)

We made jello together, too. It was her first time making it. She was surprised that it was made with hot water because when she eats it, it’s cold. We discussed how the hot water melts the crystals and makes them swell up and the refrigeration glues them back together. (chemistry, physics) We measured water (doubling the recipe, that’s math and using the wrong size measuring cups so we had to do a little extra calculating. Four halves is equal to two cups)

Both Maddy and Grace wanted to pour the crystals into the bowl. It takes 2 boxes for our family, so Grace (4) poured the first one and Maddy poured the second one. I pointed out that the pink Jello mix was the same color as their jammies. When we poured water into it, the girls pointed out that the red liquid was the same color as my shirt. We discussed the idea that everything pink turns red when wet and decided that it depends what it is. Pink toys won’t turn red. pink paint won’t turn red and their jammies would just look darker but construction paper is still up for debate (science, math, communication)

When the noodles she was making her sister were ready, I brought them out with a fork and asked “does she like the noodles with a lot of broth or a little? Maddy said a little and we both agreed that she preferred more firm noodles rather than mushy ones. Although Maddy likes them better mushy and I don’t like them very much at all. Maddy said “Everybody likes different things mommy, and that’s OK” (scientific observation, communication, Psychology)

Then she said “nobody would like cabbage and radish and (list of yucky things) in their noodles” so I said “there are some things everyone agrees upon, huh” I reminded her that perhaps in some country, some people eat that every day and it’s their favorite thing (social studies) because maybe that’s what they were raised with and maybe they have never had it another way (psychology, perhaps?)

She carried the soup upstairs to her sister, brought down a dirty dish and said “Mom, I love cooking with you.” (honest and reciprocated. I love cooking with her, too.)

These are the times that I wish more people understood that there’s no need to “make learning fun” because it already is. All we need to do is relax, and share our lives with our children. imagine- trying to pack all of that into a lesson plan for a first grader. Look at the insanity of standardized education. Look at what we would NOT have learned if I had said “I’m making dinner, sweetie. get out of the kitchen.”

Upstairs, while we were cooking dinner and the three oldest were watching a movie, Emilee asked Gabriella (8) what she should put as her facebook status.

Gabriella’s response:
” follow your heart, your heart will lead you to where you want to go.”

4 comments to First Grade, Psychology, Physics, Chemistry and Food

OK, I am asking you this out of desperation. I have a 3.5 year old who we are planning to homeschool. I’ve tried the sit down, work on your letters thing and it is not his style. He tries so hard to please me, bless his heart, but learning shouldn’t be about pleasing mommy. I am fascinated by the way you teach your girls, but I’m almost too scared to try it. So, here’s my question, how do you teach a preschooler ABC’s, numbers, etc. without a forced sit down “learning time”? I want to just let learning happen but I’m terrified it won’t.

  • Administrator

    Hi Annita. I think the last sentence summed up your perspective a bit. You’re terrified. Terrified is a really extreme amount of fear, right? If we’re rational and take a deep breath and try to find reasons to justify the fear. My guess is because it’s uncharted territory, a new idea for you. Making decisions based upon fear is generally not a good idea. I’m sure that when your son learned to walk and talk you didn’t sit down and have “lessons” right? You looked for signs, you saw him trying and you worked with him, at his own level, right? Same thing with letters, shapes and numbers. They’re everywhere. Alphabet soup, shapes in the clouds, on street signs, and signs all over town. Your son may be pointing things out and you can point things out, too. Some families like to hang up posters in the house, from school supply stores. You can write his name on his jacket tag or his other belongings if you want him to see it more often.

    The point is, that learning really does happen. Do you want to teach him fear or confidence? You can still play all your flashcard games if it makes YOU feel better, but it’s not necessary to test him on it or give him your stress about learning. I remember when I was a kid, I learned more about reading from watching Sesame Street than from preschool. is a good website for kids to play with letters and sounds. Just talking together, singing songs and playing games and just BEing together allows you the opportunity to notice when he IS learning and to help him interpret the world in ways he can use.

    For example- you’re building with blocks and he needs a cube, or you need a cylinder. You must communicate that to one another. The words just come out, without ever discussing dimensions or geometry or coloring in worksheets or anything else.

    ANYTHING worth learning will be represented in real life, and doesn’t need to be faked.

    For me, in the beginning, I needed to immerse myself in the perspectives of families who had a no-stress approach to learning. Dayna Martin and Joyce Fetteroll were the very best for me. I hope that you enjoy them, too.

  • Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. What you said makes sense, he is already noticing letters and numbers everywhere and getting excited about what he knows. We sit down at his desk and his eyes glaze over. I’m off to check the sites you suggested, thanks again!

  • Great post. I love what you said about not needing to make learning fun because it is. After about 6 months of unschooling, I’ve stopped trying to turn things into a learning opportunity and am realising that *they already are*!!