Archive for the ‘Readin'’ Category

Well, after more than three months away from the blog, we’re back.

In that time, we’ve moved into a new house and started homeschooling in a more official manner.  Also, Julia turned three just a few days ago.

We’ve begun teaching Nora with the Math-U-See (MUS) Primer to hone her math skills.  She is doing wonderfully.

She can:

  • do simply addition and subtraction problems in her head
  • handle units/hundreds/thousands both conceptually and in addition/subtraction problems
  • write simple equations on paper and solve them
  • create her own simple problems and solve them
  • build numbers and equations using the MUS manipulatives
  • etc.

Her reading is also coming along well.  She looks for things to read and sounds them out pretty well.  More importantly, she accepts correction easily and fixes her mistakes.

We are in the process of setting up our homeschool classroom.

This weekend we put up a giant (4’x6′ + two 4’x3′ wings) magnetic conference-room-style whiteboard made by Claridge.  We found on Craigslist for $200.  Apparently, they retail for between $1600 and $3500!  Quite a steal.  =)

We also have a student desk my sister gave us which Nora uses during class time.  (My mom has another desk we are going to procure one of these days so Julia can be like her sister. ;-)

Nora has become fascinated with bees and other insects.  Since our knowledge of such things was limited, we have shown her that the Internet can be used to look up all sorts of information to satisfy her curiosity.

We’re also going to make an ant farm for her to study how ants do their thing.  (Unfortunately [or maybe not!], keeping bees is explicitly prohibited by our HOA! Too funny. =)

Julia seems to have an interest in and gift for brainteasers (just like her Dad =).  She can already solve this puzzle from ThinkFun!.

What was really funny was when she showed her cousin how to do it.  (Remember, until a few days ago, Julia was only 2! ;-)

Next steps:

  • Get some racks and bins to put daily studies into (similar to this though not that system exactly)
  • Explore the new A2 (Accelerated Achievement) CD we just got to determine if we want to pursue these K-12 classical curricula

If you happen to have any experience with A2, please let us know what you think.

Thanks for coming by!


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Short Reading Update

Nora is doing great; on lesson 88 . . .

She understands what she reads and can answer questions.

She reads with inflection on the right word.

She handles dipthongs well.

She reading things spontaneously as we go about our daily lives and she’s writing things we didn’t know she knew (like her last name! ;-).

All in all . . . we’re very happy with her progress. =)

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Catching Up . . .

Well, Nora is doing well on her reading lessons. Mom and Dad are learning almost as much about what it takes to educate a young child.

(How much easier would all of this be if she were just 15 already and we could focus on adding to knowledge rather than building a foundation?)

She has gotten to the point that she gets upset if we don’t do the lesson, which we took as a good thing™. ;-)

Right now, she is on Lesson 73 and is reading things she sees around the house and around town. This morning she was reading the ads on the shopping cart as we travelled around the grocery store.

So far, we’ve come to realize that homeschooling isn’t nearly as hard as we thought. It’s been mostly a matter of deciding and doing. Once you pass that hurdle, the rest is just execution.

So . . . how’s that execution working out for ya?

Yeah yeah yeah . . . I know. We’ve only done reading so far and we’re not even finished with that. Lots more to cover over a much longer time, you say. That’s true.

I’m not saying there won’t be hard parts – that we’ll sail through and never even notice that we’re homeschooling from here out. I know things will come up that we don’t anticipate and that we aren’t prepared for.

So what?

Hell, if that was my threshold for deciding whether or not I’d do something, I’d never do a damn thing.

Instead, we took the plunge and here we are. Got a four year old who can all but read and a two year old who will likely outpace her sister by six months to a year.

And we’re making our plans for curricula and subjects, for sports, music, art, socializing, etc. When we miss something, we’ll improvise and move ahead. Who would do anything else?


Speaking of subjects, we’re closing in on a math curriculum. Right now Math-U-See is the frontrunner.

We really like the presentation. The DVD lessons, combined with manipulatives, teach the concepts and present the material well. It offers something for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

Gina is great at math and science . . . taught up through calculus, physics, chemistry, etc. . . . but she feels a bit anxious when trying to teach some basic concepts. Given this, we feel that this course will offer our kids good instruction (at a fair price, too).

As soon as reading is in the bag, math we see is next.

Now we’re looking into grammar, language, etc. Anybody have some experience they’d like to share on what works for them?

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Hitting our stride

We are technically very behind with Nora’s reading lessons. I’m not sure how much, because I stopped keeping track of it, but I know that we were supposed to be nearly done with the 100 lessons now that we are approaching her 4th birthday. We are currently on lesson 30. Nevertheless, I’m quite pleased with our progress.

I was as ambitious as anyone when we started the lessons; I thought we would do two a day, follow the rules to the letter (no pun intended), and have her reading in no time. I gradually learned that while that might have been possible, it would only have been at too high a cost of family relationships, play time, and general happiness. After all, she’s just a kid, and doing a lesson half an hour past bedtime while out of town is not doing anyone any favors. So, we did fractions of a lesson at a time, did lessons at random times of the day, often just before bedtime, skipped lessons completely many times, and habitually left out some tasks of lessons that we didn’t feel were so useful.

This could have backfired. None of the above solutions were recommended; in fact, most were explicitly discouraged.

But it worked splendidly.

Tailoring the lessons to the child is one of the benefits of homeschooling, and we’ve had our first taste of it. By skipping past some bits and repeating other troublesome ones, Nora has become more comfortable with her lessons. For the past couple of weeks, we have done whole lessons in a sitting, and she has started looking forward to the stories. She can “sight read” (as opposed to sounding out) some words such as cat, is, a, and in. She has also learned the virtue of persistence, even when something is difficult. I no longer feel stressed about convincing her to start or continue a lesson, because I know that she is excited about learning to read, and has enough confidence to learn a new sound or word.

As a side note, something that was not mentioned at the start of the book, but would have been helpful to know: The most difficult lessons have been those introducing new sounds that Nora can’t pronounce. Like most 3-year-olds, she speaks with a few of those endearing speech impediments, like w for l and d for th. (When she says love, it sounds like wuv, and when she says that, it sounds like dat. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that that might be a problem when teaching a phonics system. This problem first presented itself with the letter r. She couldn’t seem to say rrr but would say urr. Admittedly, this is difficult even for an adult. Sometimes we have let the discrepancies slide, other times we have coached her on pronunciation. Sometimes it’s a problem, sometimes it’s not. I don’t know what would be the recommended way to overcome these bumps, but in the end, I think I would prefer the way we’ve done it: repeat and coach when you can, and let it go when it’s only building frustration. Waiting for her to grow out of the speech problems would have been more of an excuse than a solution. How long would that take? How does it improve if not with help?

Anyway, besides the lengthy side note, the bottom line is that I’m so excited! My almost 4-year-old can almost read!

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The New Year

Nora’s reading is progressing apace.

We’re twenty lessons into Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Nora is starting to read words spontaneously outside of the lessons. She’s transferring the phonics and using context to read things like the name of the sports team on a jersey or a word from a title of a book.

She’s also showed more interest in reading the books we “read” together during the day or at night getting ready for bed.

Julia is learning everything we can throw at her. Colors, numbers, etc. She’s gotten really good at puzzles and put together a 24-piece puzzle she’d never seen before in about 4 minutes. You may not care but we thought it pretty good. ;-)

On another note, we are investigating Coram Deo Academy in North Texas.

They have a “Coram Deo @ Home” program which helps homeschoolers. It provides the curriculum and assistance as necessary with lessons or other issues.

We still haven’t decided if we want to follow that route . . . but it might be just the thing we need to get out feet wet in full homeschooling.

(Not to mention that it would be much easier to sell to our relatives who will likely freak out once we tell them of our decision to homeschool.)

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Good old-fashioned parenting wins again!

Although we are technically several days behind schedule in the reading lessons, I think we are doing swimmingly. Since the last post, wherein Nora was resisting her lessons, getting discouraged, and discouraging us, her lesson tonight was decidedly wonderful. For the last few days, we did just a couple of tasks a day, but tonight we did all eight tasks in the lesson!

Parenting skills involved:

  1. Do not be a pushover. We refused to stop the lessons completely. This is also known as giving up.
  2. Negotiate. This encourages the child by giving a sense of control. The deal was that we would make the lessons shorter if she would sit still for them.
  3. Re-evaluate expectations. How long do you think a 3-year-old will sit still when the lesson fails to be fun and there’s no reward? We are already pushing things with trying to teach her to read at such an early age.
  4. Follow through. The single-most important thing a parent can do. Keep your word. We really made the lessons shorter. We really didn’t let her skip.
  5. Reward. After a good lesson, however brief, she was rewarded with either praise or chocolate, and specific reasons such as, “because you kept going even when it was tough.”
  6. Emotional awareness. We sometimes let her change the timing of the lesson or give her ten minutes notice when it’s about to happen.
  7. Encouragement. Have an underlying attitude that of course she can do it, it’s ok to make mistakes, and it will take lots of practice. Iterate these often.

I’m sure this is just a partial list, but these are the things that come to mind. Again, I think the most important is #4, that you do what you say you will. I’m thinking about writing a book about it. Almost everything can be tied back to that one imperative. For one thing, it teaches your child that you are honest and you can be trusted. I’d better stop there and start a whole other post.

[J here: I think a big part of it is she can tell that I simply expect her to both do it and do it well. That’s just a basic assumption on my part and it comes across in my tone and attitude during the lesson. She understands that, no, I won’t let her skip out on the lesson and yes, I do expect her to get it right (but it’s OK if it takes a try or two to get there).

And she’s learned 6 words in Latin, too: Pater, Mater, Frater, Soror, Avus, and Avia. =) ]

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Reading Lesson Analyzed

After calming down and thinking about how things went with the bad lesson, I don’t actually think it was a mistake to try it at all.

There must be some merit in consistently doing a lesson every day, even if the time is different, because it gets easier and easier to excuse oneself, and then things are forgotten, etc. I think the mistake was in trying to do too much. We knew she was tired, uninterested, and going to resist. The plan was to just quickly review a few sounds, for about 5 minutes, to help retention.

Unfortunately, the saying “stop while you’re ahead” is easier said than done. Sure you’re ahead, but could you be more ahead? Like the stock market, it’s hard to sell when you’re up, because optimism makes us continually hope it will go up more.

After 2 tasks (out of 8 for the lesson), I said “ix nay!” but J said, “She’s doing fine, let’s do a little more.” Within a minute, she was squirming and got in trouble for it. (We decided she had to learn not to interrupt the lesson.) So then she was crying, of course, but since J didn’t want to teach her that misbehavior earns a free pass from reading, he explained that she had to finish the lesson, meaning the task. Anyway, it was just a power struggle from there on, and when released, Nora was all tears just from the relief of it.

I thought things went well right at first, and that it was the stress of being in trouble, not anything about reading, that made her upset. So, as the mom, I consoled her, told her she was doing a good job with the reading part, explained why Daddy got mad, listened to her side, and all that. She said she didn’t want to learn to read. (eek!) But who would, if that’s how it went every time? So I made a deal with her; I’ll make the lessons shorter if she will sit still the whole time. She quickly agreed and cheered up.

I really think this will work. My plan is to do the lessons in 2 or 3 shorter pieces throughout the day, or maybe even together, with breaks and run-around time in between. The lessons are already divided into several tasks, so this should not be a problem. The book does warn against breaks and interruptions, but I think my only alternative is to give it up altogether and wait 6 months for her to mature. If this plan doesn’t work, I don’t think it precludes the give up and wait plan, so that’s still there as backup.

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