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Learning to read

Although we have had many adventures over the past year, I have to say that watching Emma learn to read is probably the most exciting thing I've seen in a long time. When she was learning to talk as a baby, I was counting the words she knew: 4, 5, 6, 10, 20, 50 and suddenly her vocabulary exploded beyond counting. Reading has been exactly the same. A few months ago we were working with flash cards on "sight words" and now suddenly she's sitting down and reading entire books all by herself.

Tucson Emma reading.jpg
Emma reads a book to her grandmother over the phone

As a writer and editor, it's gratifying to see her absorbing new words and learning the pleasure of reading. At this point I can see that she is running with it, and now our major task is to assist her and give her opportunities. She'll do the rest.

It's also nice to see how this aspect of home schooling has worked. Despite our busy travel schedule, Emma's education hasn't suffered -- in fact, exactly the opposite. We've been able to share with her the words and ideas of every place we've visited, and she's absorbed them.

I can admit to you now our little secret: the first words she learned to read came from billboards on the highway. I remember the first sign she spontaneously read to us: CRACKER BARREL. At the time we were mortified, but now that she's reading books, we don't have to worry about her vocabulary being limited to STEAK'N'SHAKE, EXIT ONE MILE, and PEDRO SAYS VISIT SOUTH OF THE BORDER.

We are facing a decision point soon. If we don't find a house by mid-April, we will run out of time to close a deal before we need to start moving again. We'll have to postpone the search until next fall. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but it does force us to either get serious about making some offers now if we want to make a deal.

We have decided that the school we've selected for Emma is worth waiting for. Right now she's on a waiting list, and it could be a long time before a slot opens up. Having some presence in the local market (a rental, a seasonal RV spot, or a house) will give us the option to come back anytime we want, when the school is ready. So even if we don't buy, we'll do something to establish a base.

If the waiting list means another year in the Airstream, traveling and homeschooling, we can (easily!) live with that. In fact, running down the list of things we want to do, we've already got tentative plans that could keep us busy well into 2009. There's always something interesting to go see & do in this great big country of ours.


It is very normal for a child to read street signs and store logos as they begin to take an interest in reading. It's what they see as they take a closer look at what's around them. Teachers call those types of words 'environmental print.' Many teachers and parents cut out logos from magazines and cereal boxes for a child to look through, sort, analyze, and read. It's one way for a child to feel successful with beginning reading skills.

Go to for beginning reading activities.

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