My public school experience as a child was incredibly different than what today’s children can expect. For the most part, I’d say my school was much freer, due in part to the fact that it was so small and because it was long before “No Child Left Behind”. Still, free reading time was never actually free reading time. For one thing, I couldn’t read books from outside of the class library without twisting arms. I know this for a fact because I was that kid that actually read every book on the shelves before the school year ended and had to come up with something else to read, meaning I had to have it pre-approved.
Free reading time in my school was a small time frame — twenty minutes through most of elementary. They allowed us to take the books home, once we’d proven trustworthy by taking a paper home and bringing it back signed off by our parents. I’d check out a book, take it home and read on the bus, after piano practice, and sometimes while I was also doing chores. I’d walk around with my nose in a book, never managing to trip or anything else, which, given my level of clumsiness, is nothing short of a miracle. There’s a point I reach with books where I find it hard to put them down. I’m still that way today, even though my work load and mom-duties mean I read in two minute increments.
Free reading time in my school also meant a book report. For most kids, this was the toughest part. If you checked a book out, you were expected to return it with a book report. I was nerdy enough to like writing book reports. I like to write in general. I often joke that I’m a faucet writer — turn on the faucet, it pours on the page in a flood, and I’m done. I’m sitting on a few unpublished books. The first took 43 days to write and it is 126,000 words. That qualifies as a flood, doesn’t it?
Pumpkin and I don’t have much in common in the area of writing. He dislikes writing so much that it’s like pulling teeth to get a sentence out of him. When he does write, it’s amazing, but even praise and boasts won’t convince him to do it. I try to imagine him in the same school situation I was and I suppose he might have actually stopped reading books at school just to avoid book reports. He also would have hated the pre-approval requirement. He wants freedom to read whatever he wants and I give it to him.
Pumpkin and I do have something in common in our love of books. My house is a bit like a library. There are bookshelves in every room and they are crammed. And nothing is cooler to either of us than the offer of a free book. We both have huge stacks of books to read and we do read them. We also constantly add to the stacks. We also visit two libraries regularly. For an eight-year-old, Pumpkin reads fast. He usually prefers books that would be aimed slightly above his grade level, but he recently read Charlotte’s Web and it took him an hour and a half. That’s right, one sitting, cover-to-cover in one and a half hours. He reads faster than my husband.
Pumpkin loves books and I believe that is helped at least a little by the fact that I never mess with him on his reading. I don’t ask him to read specific books or to make book reports. But he often tells me about his books. Because he’s reading books above his level and he’s particularly sensitive to death in books, I usually read them ahead of him. This means we can have real discussions about the books he really loves.
Homeschooling lets me keep that free reading time really free. I don’t mind if he chooses a comic or an encyclopedia. I don’t need a book report. Occasionally the E.S. for our charter wants to know some of what he’s reading, and I just go grab a few books from the stack and show her. Free reading at my house is whatever interests him at the time, and sometimes it is some amazing stuff. I don’t think I would have picked some of the things he has read, and that’s okay, because he’s blown me away with what he learns from books. His favorite books are usually encyclopedias. He’d rather have a whole shelf of those than a thousand comics. Go figure.
Freedom fosters a true love of books, and no form of school can offer freedom more effectively than homeschool.