reading vs. television

Television has always been a difficult issue for families.  In our family we avoided broadcast TV and watched only parent-approved DVDs while our son was little.  But those rules began to relax when he started to visit his friends.

It felt like TV was a Pandora’s Box; once we let it in, it grew more and more distracting.   But what to do about it?  We didn’t feel quite ready to toss the television set out the window…

To our complete surprise the problem solved itself when we got away from English language programming and traveled.  Like the budding TV addict he was, our son complained bitterly for the first few weeks but then something remarkable happened: he discovered books.vaticanstairwayreading

We let him follow his own curiosity and select books at the English bookstore in Rome.  He found the ‘Horrible Histories’ series from UK author Terry Deary and from then on he was never without a book.

Which made waiting in line, riding trains and planes and all those boring parts of traveling much, much easier for everyone.IMG_0887.JPG

tubereadingIamSpartacusTry it at home – turn off the TV and explore a book with your kid.

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the power of positive disruption

Traveling is a disruptive activity.  It eliminates your usual routine.  The scenery changes along with your state of mind and your curiosity muscle gets a workout.  So when you travel with kids, I think it’s a natural opportunity to experiment with homeschooling.

Our experiment came at a time when our son Angus was struggling at school; he seemed to be a bright boy but he just wasn’t reading.  We started to hear phrases like learning disability, special education testing, intervention programs, Attention Deficit Disorder and medication therapy.  The pressure was mounting when we got two very lucky breaks: an offer to live and work in Italy for 6 months and a supportive school principal who allowed Angus to take a long absence, as long as he studied while he was away.

We hadn’t planned it but homeschooling away from home was the best possible ‘intervention program’ for Angus.  Traveling disrupted his routine, gave him time out from the pressure at school and brought him into a world of new things to be curious about.  He started reading – voraciously – because he was really curious about ancient myths.

It’s well known that tailoring a meaningful curriculum and creating a comfortable learning environment for each individual child is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling.  What we didn’t expect was that – even though it was brief and we were inexperienced – homeschooling away from home had significant and lasting effects.  When Angus rejoined his class for the last half of fourth grade he had become a strong reader.  In middle school he chose Latin classes, tested into selective high schools and now he studies Cognitive Science at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

I call that a very positive disruption.

books are a key…

zeusD’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was the key that opened up reading for my son – a children’s classic with spectacular artwork.

The first few weeks in Italy were difficult.  We all had a lot of adjusting to do.  Angus deeply missed his friends and pined for his school.  He was disturbed that the only television available was in Italian and convinced I was unqualified to be his teacher (he was right about that).  I was shocked and disappointed that we’d traveled to this magnificent place only to hear him complain that he was bored!  How ungrateful!   And what about me?  Was I going to be a prisoner of curriculum prep and those home school workbooks every spare minute and never see Italy?  How unfair!

A battle of the wills ensued.  Angus was sullen and uncooperative for two solid weeks.  He nearly had me convinced we should give up and go home when I noticed he was sneaking peeks at the D’Aulaires’ book.  He was not a strong reader yet so I think the strange and wonderful illustrations mesmerized him (just like me when I was his age).  A few days later he found The Odyssey by Dorling-Kindersley among keybooksthe books I’d brought along.

He kept it with him wherever he went, reading and reading and reading…

Suddenly the crisis was over. We had stumbled on the solution to our troubles.  Angus had cured his boredom with books and I had the inspiration to move our lessons out into the city; the myths he was so curious about were everywhere – decorating the buildings and fountains, in the museums and street names of Rome.  Bellissima!

PS: to this day Angus is never without a book, sometimes he brings two or three along on the subway to visit a friend.