Dear Annie: My 11-year-old niece, “Molly,” just spent a week with my kids and me. My sister and brother-in-law home school her. I was floored by Molly’s poor academic skills.
When the kids played hide-and-seek, she could not count to 100. She couldn’t figure out how many hours it was until dinnertime (it was 1 p.m. and we eat at 5). She could not count money. She could not read simple phrases. When the kids made postcards to send to relatives, Molly could spell “Mom and Dad,” but not her last name or Ohio, the state where she lives.
Molly is a bright girl. She has a great vocabulary and a wonderful memory. My sister told me they follow a child-centered curriculum where my niece’s interests drive what she learns. When she was interested in underwater life, they spent a week at the beach and learned about waves and marine mammals. Molly can tell us details about these things, but she couldn’t read a book about fish if her life depended on it.
Every year, state law requires my sister to submit a portfolio of Molly’s work to a certified teacher who evaluates it and determines whether she is making adequate progress. The teacher is another mom in their home school group who follows the same curriculum.
My sister said I worry too much, and my brother-in-law told me to “butt out.” I am concerned that Molly is illiterate and may not develop the basic skills to function in daily life. What do I do? – Molly’s Aunt
Dear Aunt: We understand your concerns, but this is truly not your business. There is nothing wrong with a child-centered curriculum, although it behooves parents to encourage basic reading and math skills at the same time. This can include bedtime stories and baking cakes, which would not be part of the daily curriculum, but rather normal parent-child interaction. Since Molly is a bright child, she will eventually want to read and, we hope, make the necessary effort to do so.
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