Teaching Basic Skills Without a Safety Net

Children must learn the basic skills of reading, writing and numbers. Augustine said, “Legere et scribere et numerare discitur.” These skills temper thought and create the platform for curiosity. Learning to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic is critical especially before exposure to public school institutionalization.

Public education discourages the formation of reasoned and discriminating thought in students. Public education discourages unapproved curiosity. Parents must teach the basics because no one knows what strangers will teach at public school, or what strange curriculum they follow. Teaching the basics before encounters with public school “stranger danger” helps parents maintain standards for  learning.

This is not weird. Students learned the basics at home before compulsory education. In America that meant the people, rich or poor, arrived at school having mastered the basics of reading, rudimentary writing, and basic arithmetic. The wealthy provided a nanny or governess for instruction, but most families used parents. Most rural American people learned to read from the Bible or maybe Mother Goose. Literate families commonly read aloud from the Bible or the newspaper in the evening before television or social media. Children learned to do letters by imitation, and to count, usually with mom during the day, or perhaps in the evening with dad. Teaching children was a family engagement with priority over competing activities.

Reading

One needs a book to legere (read). Any book, Kindle, or tablet, that can be read will work. Children need books after learning to speak, so the brain can associate sounds to the marks on the page.

Not all reading methods are equal. Some popular methods in the past worked poorly. For example, the generation tortured by “See Dick run. See Jane. See Jane run,” ran away in 1965. Many were only functionally literate and spent a lifetime being misled and confused. A generation of educators and politicians were inspired by answering the question why Johnny can’t read.

It continues with new ways for teaching reading. New methods arrive with every masters thesis at every teacher’s college. When educators invent something usually it is to sell to the state or online. The Internet is packed with better ways to teach reading and much of it comes from this education mill. Many of these techniques try to solve the problem of teaching many students with one teacher. Nothing is better than one-on-one attention and repetition. Parents who sit with the child and read should ignore this noise.

Some proven methods work well. Phonics helped many Baby Boomers learn to read better than Dick, Jane or sight-sound. Phonics still works. It adds another hook for associating the words in baby’s mouth to the marks on the page. The Charlotte Mason Method served hundreds of thousands of homeschool families for most of a century. It works. The key is in regular reading to the child, eventually transitioning into the child reading to you. Patience, persistence, and attention always works.

Writing

Teaching scribere (writing) is not difficult. Learning to write should run parallel with learning to read.

Young children can draw things that they read with the parent. A narration of things that they draw can follow. Students can be nudged into good habits of clear thinking and of rational action in the process.

Copying what was read, and eventually copying what was thought, connects thinking, saying, writing, and reading, back to thinking again. Learning to write is not complicated or mysterious. Learning to read is practice. Learning to write is training.

Writing well is difficult. Writing clearly, writing with some grace to improve the thought is difficult. Most adult writers spend a lifetime running that loop from thought to the page. They all began with “Hello world,” a teacher who primed the pump. Learning to write is not difficult.

Mathematics

We get to numerare (numbers) at last. Math is hard. It is okay to find it hard. It is not okay to neglect it. Most parents today have problems with math. Parents should begin by teaching numbers and then teaching the math in daily use. Shopping, budgets, and cooking all provide opportunities for teaching math.

Young children can learn numbers along with reading and writing. Numbers, counting, putting together, taking away, that sort of thing. Later, the elements of household economy can be included. Children who can buy, sell, calculate, and keep a bank account are better prepared for modern life.

Mathematics are languages, many languages, not just one. The key to all language is drill. Drill is hard and often dull, but not impossible. As general studies progress, the other languages can be added, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Discrete Math, and maybe on to the harder things. The parent does not have to be a master. Math is slow to change and old math books still work. Beyond the overflow of textbooks at Goodwill, a number of free courses for various mathematics appear online. No skill better prepares the child for the future than math fluency.

Legere et scribere et numerare discitur.”

Grace Hooper, UNIVAC, programming
The Admiral Inventing the Future with Grace_Hopper_and_UNIVAC