Stella loves to lay in the hammock. I'd say it is her favorite summer pastime this year. I spent about an hour laying in it with her one morning this week, and I taught her to read and write. Here's how:
- As we were swinging gently back and forth, I looked up into the tree and saw that a spider had made a web and the sun was catching it just so we could see every line. Having finished reading Charlotte's Web the night before, I asked Stella if she imagined that Charlotte's webs looked that way? Could she see the orb lines and the radial lines?
- I reached for the drawing paper and pens that were available in our little outdoor studio space and invited Stella to draw the web she saw. This is a difficult task, but she gave it a try.
- When she finished, she wanted to write, "From Stella" on the bottom of the paper. She asked me how to write "From". So I told her the letters and she wrote them down.
- Then she wanted to write "I love you". So we started with "I". She wanted more letters so I explained to her that was the whole word.
- She asked if she could write a heart and I said yes but that wouldn't be the word. She would need letters to make the word "love". So she asked for the letters.
- This time, I made the sound /l/ because I knew it was a sound she had in her name. I told her it was the sound in Ste -- ll --and she blurted out happily, "l"! And then she was tired out, so she decided to stop the writing.
- We laid back in the hammock for a little more snuggling and swinging. A squirrel hopped along the top of the fence but got startled when it saw us and ran away.
- We checked on the web again and Stella noticed a tiny moth flying around it. She wondered if it would get caught and the spider would eat it. We considered the patience it takes to be a spider.
- I looked up on the tree and noticed a bit of sap running from a knot hole. I remembered that Stella had asked about making syrup very recently, and took a moment to make the connection for her.
- She hopped up and cleaned the raspberry bushes of berries, then hopped back in.
- We noticed that the spider's web had broken. And we took a little more time to consider the patience and feelings of spiders. Stella spent a few moments trying to talk to the spider in spider language, which I, like Fern's mother, could not understand.
- Stella decided to add the spider to her drawing. She asked me how many legs it had and I told her. Stella's spider got 8 legs counted carefully -- on each side of the spider's body.
- We noticed a second spider building a web behind the first, and we were reminded of Charlotte's babies.
Okay, so Stella doesn't yet read and write independently. But an hour spent like this, in the context of good books and materials at hand and making conversation in the wide world -- an hour spent snuggling and connecting and considering the feelings of spiders and squirrels -- an hour spent noticing and wondering and making meaningful marks on the page -- this is how she will learn. Experience offers her a chance to find her place in the family of things. She, like all human beings, wants a way to participate.
And it is oh, so much more fun than flashcards.