Monday, June 24, 2013

unschooling Russian

Usually, the conversation goes something like this: you're Russian? Your husband is Russian? Do you speak Russian to your kids? HOW COME you do not speak Russian to your kids? All of this is followed by a long tirade about how good it is to know more than one language, and how the speaker wishes to speak another language or how their sister/cousin/neighbor talks to her kids only in Spanish/German/French.

I have a few responses: 9 yo unambiguously told me before he was 2 that he only wanted to know the names of objects in English. If my kids are to pick up another language, I much rather it be Hebrew. We are not going back to Russia, so that is not the language I want my kids to be fluent in. Both my husband and I think in English, and talk to each other in English, so switching over to Russian would be artifice. Finally, if my kids would want to learn it, I would teach them.

Yesterday, I got a firsthand glimpse of how it would work.

DO you know what this is?

It is a kids' atlas that I grew up with. It is also the atlas that my husband had as a boy. We have it lying around, together with a bunch of other books. Yesterday 9 yo pulled it out and looked at it. He has done it before, but never asked any questions about it. Yesterday, he sat down on the couch, next to my husband and opened up to a page with explorers. He asked the name of each man, and tried guessing from their routes who is who. Then he opened to a political map. He knows that the atlas is old, but he checked for how old by looking for Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Mind you, the atlas is in Russian, and he does not know how to read Russian, but he knows what the borders of countries are supposed to look like. Then he opened up to each continent. The typical page has the countries labeled, with the flags on the side, and some select nationalities wearing traditional costumes. He went on to match the flags of the countries to the nationalities and the countries. That required reading the names. My husband was helping him with the letters. He had to sound out the word, look on the map for a country with a similar name, and then match it to an English translation that he knows. I do not think he would be interested in doing this were it not for geography. If he did not know his maps so well, this whole exercise would have been painful. However, they way he was doing it, it was more of a fun game.

He went continent by continent, all the way to Australia. He noted which nationalities were portrayed with daggers and swords, and which were shown almost naked. At the end of the day, he got a great lesson in reading Russian. (I got a lesson in how unabashedly biased the atlas is: there is one Korea, with capital in Pyongyang, and Arab territories, occupied by Israel are listed before Israel proper. Also, in North America, the only national costumes shown are those of Mexico, Eskimo (Canadian) and Cuba. Of course, if it's written down, it must be true...)

Is 9 yo going to be interested in continuing his Russian studies? Will he become a Russian speaker? Will he read fluently? Not likely, unless he continues to see a point in what he's doing.


  1. I loved that atlas as a kid! My girls also skimmed through it till it fell apart-its quite old. Im amazed to see how well yours is holding together.
    Great experience'

  2. How would you translate unschooling into Russian? Is there a word/term for this concept?