Monthly Archives: November 2014

Reading is not natural — but that’s ok

Maryanne Wolf is a “neuroscience of reading” researcher at Tufts who herself has a son who is “dyslexic”. She is comfortable with using that term as a sort of umbrella term for learning-reading difficulties. (The estimates I see seem to be that roughly 5% of people are dyslexic.)

To me that makes her uniquely qualified to speak on the subject of learning to read and I was pleased to hear that she agrees with what I have been reading on the subject which is that “dyslexia” is a brain difference that has both advantages and disadvantages, and one disadvantage is that learning to read is more difficult.

Her book:

An interesting interview:

Anyway, my take-away as the parent of kids attending a Sudbury school is that it isn’t useful to believe that all kids will magically “get” reading and that reading difficulties are due solely to traditional school instructional problems. Certainly “almost automatic” reading does happen with most kids (Let’s call it 95%.) But with one of our kids (yes, surrounded by people reading and huge amounts of social conversation at home and at school) that isn’t what is happening. So reading is something that they have to explicitly work on (and want to work on!) And so we do. That’s what everything I have been reading and what Maryanne Wolf says in the video… explicit instruction and practice with decoding, etc.

I guess that is the obvious problem with traditional schooling and reading. The kids with certain brains will be just fine (or very bored) with the pace/timing of the reading instruction in class. And the kids who are “dyslexic” to varying degrees (since the researchers understand that there are different issues involved depending on the person) then run the risk of the labels/frustration/falling-behind cycle if they aren’t able to get enough extra help. I mean, 95% of school is reading, so if you are not ready to read yet (“cerebral diversity” I’ve heard it called) then you are going to have a problem.

If kids had more individualized attention (tiny classes, or homeschooling) or given the freedom to do and learn what they want (Sudbury schools) then it wouldn’t be an issue.

It certainly hasn’t been for us. Our dyslexic kid went from not being able to get through very simple books because he would get stuck too often, to being able to read at “grade level” (roughly 5th or 6th grade — Sudbury schools don’t have grades but that’s what he would be in based on his age) in less than a year of 2-hours-a-week tutoring (which he LOVES, btw). Again, your mileage may vary — our dyslexic kid is probably mildy dyslexic — but just wanted people to know what a joy it has been for him to learn to read on his own terms.


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Filed under dyslexia, reading, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Our kids at school

“During my visit I could see that most of the students at SVS are in general a happy bunch due to, among other things, the freedom and responsibility that the community affords to them. The younger students, who have never attended a traditional school, settle in quickly and embrace the freedom to move around the campus unencumbered. In particular, there were three students (aged 4 to 6), which were almost inseparable. I observed them on numerous occasions, e.g. playing in the sandbox, playing on the swings, hanging out at Monkey Tree (it is one of the trees that the students like to climb) and eating lunch together. Most of the time they were engaged in pretend-play or busily chatting, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company.”

(This was written by a person who is starting a Sudbury School in Hong Kong and so was invited to observe at Sudbury Valley for a day. It sounds like it is about one of my kids and his friends. If not, it sounds just like it as I have occasionally heard about fun in the Monkey Tree…)

Update 6/2016:
A fairly recent photo of Monkey Tree can be found here. Just this morning I happened to be walking down to the school, and overheard one of L’s friends say to him “Hey L, when you are ready, meet me over at Monkey Tree”. Trees are important.

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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

How do you stay sane with so many choices?

And I am not talking about choosing which item of dozens on the grocery store shelf or Consumer Reports review. Though that is a problem too. (All correct answers: Whatever is cheapest, most expensive, second cheapest, or weighs least.)

What I mean is… in general.

With great freedom comes the possibility of great existential angst. It’s the flip-side of the exciting possibilities.

One can do anything. Live anywhere. Youtube. Online degrees. Work from home.

Having limited or no options is no good either of course, so I think we are left with learning how to deal with this increasingly common reality. Kids have to confront this at school, and I think SVS is good because it embraces this, but I think it more comes from a culture in the family.

Related: It’s dangerous to go to college far away because you might meet a spouse and then guess what, your parents/families will probably be far apart and that’s a HUGE pain.


Voluntary Simplicity

Stuck in Place

Pulling a geographic

Welcome to the Failure Age
“We are a strange species, at once risk-averse and thrill-seeking, terrified of failure but eager for new adventure.”

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Filed under freedom, globalization, local, place, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Resilience of boys vs girls

Girls have more resilient brains with respect to neurological errors/mutations

Are girls more resilient to environmental trauma?
“girls are four times more resilient than boys in overcoming such adverse events”



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Learning self-control

“Miss Sabatini, my third-grade teacher in Queens, made us sit with our hands crossed on our desks and our feet flat on the floor, all the time insisting that we ‘must learn self control.’ Although clearly if we had any real measure of control over ourselves and our lives we would be out in the playground, running and screaming.”

Barbara Ehrenreich
(Living With A Wild God, p. 42)

As seen at the SVS Facebook page

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ADHD brains

“Consider the case of John, who in 1949 attended Eton College and dreamed of becoming a scientist. However, last in his class, he received the following comment on his report card:

“His work has been far from satisfactory… he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way… I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can’t learn simple Biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time on his part, and of those who have to teach him.”

This was Sir John B. Gurdon, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his revolutionary research on stem cells. Like so many other highly creative, competent individuals, he might have been referred for testing and given the label “attention deficit hyperactive disorder.”

It’s time to stop letting this happen.”


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Playing with your child is not “play” unless you are both having fun.

Playing with your child is not “play” unless you are both having fun.

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Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, person: Peter Gray, play