Sunday, November 11, 2012


I've learned that for any roadblock my Pippi puts up, if I'm diligent enough, watchful enough, I can blaze a detour, setting out the orange traffic cones as I go. Sometimes the detour is not a simple curve around, but a tunnel underneath or a meandering scenic route. But I must never just blast through the roadblock like a petulant commuter late for a meeting. That roadblock is there for a reason.

A collapsed bridge.

A downed tree.

A herd of cows.

Fear of failure: What if I can't do it right the first time.

Or fear leaving childhood, even babyhood, behind: If I can read, will you still read to me?

Or maybe plain old play is so much more fun than work.

But when a roadblock is thrown up, a detour is sometimes provided. Not always. Sometimes you just have to sit tight, wait for the cows to mozy on along. Waiting is hard for me. This is why I make such a bad unschooler. I try very hard to be respectful of my childrens' inner clocks and such, but sometimes I get so impatient, looking for the detour, blazing my own if need be.

Brings me to my point. Remember this? Oh, I was so excited. Brought those beauties home, took pictures of them, smelled them, offered them to Pippi who promptly did the same. (You must understand, we seldom purchase new books and that new book smell is oh so crisp and warm, so the smelling thing is not all that weird.)

We couldn't wait for Tommy to go down for his nap.

For three days, Pippi pounced as soon as Tommy was in his bed, Goodnight Guitar drifting to us from the nursery radio. "Can we do lessons?" she'd ask, primer in hand. I was so sure this was it - that final leap into mostly daily lessons.

Then day four. Tommy was asleep. Pippi was drawing. "Would you like to do lessons?" I asked. "In a minute," she answered. Thirty minutes later I asked again. "Ok," she said. Not quite the response I was hoping for but I took it. Our lessons were significantly shorter and they lacked the luster of previous days.

Day five. "Maybe tomorrow," she said.

Day six. Roadblock was in place.

Day seven. Today. I found my way around it. I coaxed her, with every bit of parental whining and cajoling I could muster, into sitting for a short lesson from her primer. Then we built Deep Valley, from the Betsy-Tacy books, with blocks, play silks, and a myriad of wooden figures. Most of the action in her version of Deep Valley took place in the local school. After a while Pippi asked if we could play school. We've done this before, but this time she twisted the game a bit. She wanted to play the teacher.

Let's just say I played this game for all it was worth. And a more illiterate pupil than me you will never meet. Poor Teacher Pippi had to help me with all but the easiest of words. We stumbled through the first part of a Henry and Mudge reader. Anytime we would come across a phonetic rule unknown to Pippi, a "memory" would suddenly come to me, the student.

"Oh, teacher! I remember this one," I would say. "You told me last week - that day I wore my pink skirt with purple swirls and my yellow shoes and blue tights, oh and that was the day I threw up because I ate too much red jello - that was the day you told me that kn says n. The k is silent. I know that one. I know that one!"

"That's right," Pippi would say, primly and teacherly. "Kn says n. That word is knew."

She may always associate kn with red throw up, but she'll probably never forget it says n.

So many things happened in that impromptu lesson. She learned at least three new rules. She began to recognize many difficult sight words such as would and said, reading them with ease. Lower case b and d finally propped up her words like a sleeper on a bed. She gained confidence. She knew that this was play and that my reading skills surpassed hers, but for awhile we were able to suspend reality and reverse roles, allowing her feel her way around the words, sounding them out as a teacher would with a hesitant student.

Pippi may never respond to traditional lessons stripped of fun and games, at least not in childhood. And that's ok. You meet a child where she is. Sometimes that means waiting. But sometimes it means taking your forehead off of the horn, getting out of the car and leaving the beaten path.

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