Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The times are a changin'

My friend Marjorie posted this on her Unclimber blog. Someone has compared the 1961 and 1991 versions of Richard Scarry's "The Best Wordbook Ever". I got a real kick out of this as I remember my brother really liking them. I did read some Richard Scarry books with the boys, but they were not my favorite...I guess I prefer picture books with stories!

Anyways, check it out for a chuckle (I know that you will get a kick out of it Mom!)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Simple Machines

I love my homeschooling email lists. You never know what neat thing you will come across.

The Edheads website was posted on the Baltimore/Washington Home Educators list and the boys and I had a lot of fun with it this afternoon. We spent most of our time in the simple machines section...the boys now know a heck of a lot about levers, pulleys, gears, inclined planes, screws and wheels and axels. The Edheads did a great job of helping us identify all the simple machines around us...did you know that a car windshield and shoelaces are both simple machines? (An inclined plane and a pulley). And we did not even get through the whole website. There is still much more to learn about complex machines as well as more info on weather and a virtual knee surgery section (go figure!).

Lots of fun!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Jason yesterday. All in all we enjoyed it. They obviously had to cut a lot and change some parts of it, but we knew that going in and I think that knowing helped. I did get the feeling that they were trying to cram a lot in...jumping from one important part directly to another without much transition. But the movie was long as it was, so I guess they had no choice. It was definitely darker...scarier overall. Jason was fine with it, but definitely would have been too much for Kyle.

I did feel that they captured the overall feel of the book...that is one thing that I have liked about the movies. I love the kids who play Harry, Ron and Hermione. I am not thrilled with the new Dumbledore. I read an interview where he said that he has not read any of the books and does not think that he needs to. I personally think that he is missing the essence of Dumbledore which is a shame. I do think that they got the graveyard scene dead was very much like I had pictured it. They did mess up the wording of the incantation to bring Voldemort back to life...seems like a simple thing to have gotten right, but what can you do. I did miss that Harry did not win gold by winning the tri-wizard cup and therefore did not offer it first to Cederic's dad and then to Fred and George, I missed seeing the Winky story line and how they had to switch quite a bit around to make it work, I missed seeing more of Snape and Sirius, I missed the Rita Skeeter as an animagus story line, I missed seeing the blast-ended skrewts and seeing Hagrid and the kids' relationship develop.

I do hope that the kids don't grow up too fast and will be able to do all 7 will be interesting to see. In my eyes, Ron is getting a bit old already (he had stubble on his face in the opening shot!) but maybe that is because I know that he is 18 already.

One thing that the HP movies have really helped Jason understand is that the book is almost always way better then the movie. We talked a lot about what they changed and left out and why they probably had to. What I really miss is the development of the characters...we never really saw why Harry, Ron and Hermione became so close and we never really saw why Harry and Snape are at odds. In the books, this comes across more slowly and much better. In the movie, they don't have the time to get into it in much detail. They just kind of assume that folks know the background and go from there.

Considering the amount of pressure there is to bring a loved favorite book, I do think that they have done a good job overall. Jason came out of the movie saying that he can not wait for book 7...and neither can I.

Greetings from Virginia Beach

We made it! All in all the trip was not bad...I spent the day packing and mowing the lawn (had to get those leaves now since we are going to be gone a week...I cringe to think of how many would have been there when we got back...actually I still cringe but it won't be nearly as bad). I had resigned myself to the boys playing video games all day so I could get everything done (Jeff was not due to return home until after we left) and what did they go and do?? Surprised me. Came out and jumped on the trampoline for quite a bit while I was mowing. Then when I went inside I found that they had found the battleship game and were playing with each other! And not fighting at all! Wonders never cease. And they were big help with packing...making sure that we had everything and reminding me of quite a few things.

So after gassing up the car and a quick trip to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte and hot chocolates, we get on the road at 4:30 (only half an hour behind schedule...good for me!). We hit a lot of traffic getting out of Northern Va...I tend to forget how bad it can get at times. But soon hit open road.

The boys are very good at car long as we have a good audio book we are in good shape. We are listening to Dragon Rider by Cornelia absolutely wonderful story (thanks for the recommendation Kathi!). This one is definitely worth getting on CD...the voices are wonderful and it is incredibly well read. The boys were just about beside themselves while we were going through the Chesapeake Bay tunnel, laughing hysterically. And I consider myself lucky to be able to discover some wonderful books right along with them. There are some great books out there! Makes me doubly glad that I did not get the DVD player option when we got the new car. I debated, but I thought that we would miss out on enjoying our audio books. I figure for very long car trips we could always play a dvd on Jeff's laptop, but for shorter trips, like those to the beach, books do just fine.

We got to my in-laws a little past 8. The boys wound up staying up pretty late as they were too excited once we got here. I realized quickly that it would be futile to try to get them to fall asleep. But they did eventually. All in all, not a bad day...especially one that was spent mostly packing and traveling. As the boys get older, things are definitely getting easier. They are getting downright enjoyable. :o)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Breaking dishes

Why is it, when you break a plate, it is never the one that already has a chip??

Rare day today...the boys were over at a friend's house and Jeff is on a "guy's weekend" so I was in the house absolutely alone! Got some more raking done (still sort of on top of the leaves...although it is a bit disheartening to realize that I am re-raking the same areas for the 3rd week in a row and there are still tons of leaves left on the trees), pulled together some birthday/Christmas ideas for my dad, cleaned up a bit. The problem when you have the whole day "free" is that it can be overwhelming to decide what to get done...and then you spend the whole day doing a little bit of everything and feeling like you got nothing accomplished.

Well, I am determined to make it to bed by 11pm tonight. We (the boys and I) are driving to Virginia Beach tomorrow afternoon to spend Thanksgiving week with my in-laws (Jeff will be joining us on Wednesday). Another perk of homeschooling is that we can go and do what we want, when we want. :o) I am hoping to go to a few museums, squish a few pennies and see Harry Potter IV with Jason.

Off to pack some more and then to bed!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I never thought this would work

But it has! A few weeks back, completely out of frustration with the amount of name calling going on, I told the boys that we had a new house rule. That anytime you called someone a name, it bounced off them and stuck back on you. (Original, huh??) Well, dang it if it did not work! Whenever one of the boys calls the other one a name, I just have to ask him why he is calling himself a name. They actually get mad at themselves and immediately stop. Who woulda thunk?

If only everything was this easy....

Monday, November 14, 2005

More on reading

As I mentioned earlier, Kyle wants to learn to read, so we have started using 100EZ lessons. I wasn't 100% sure that he was quite ready yet but I figured that it couldn't hurt to give it a try. We are on lesson 19 and I am amazed at how well he is doing! And I am also amazed at how differently he is learning when compared to Jason. It is obvious that they really do process things differently (Jason is a more right brained, big picture kind of kid where Kyle is more left brained, sequential kind of kid). Really neat to see...

With Kyle, I can see how he really does see each individual letter...sounding out words makes total sense to him. He sits there and sounds out each letter, blends them and gets the word. Jason, on the other hand, takes in the whole word and has to work at breaking it down into letter sounds. He does a lot more "guessing", using the context and beginning sounds as a clue to figuring it out. I can tell that Kyle is totally focused on each letter and does not realize exactly what he is reading until he sounds it out and puts it together. He needs all the pieces before he can figure out the word.

The other interesting difference is that Jason seems to learn words takes him fewer times before a word is "his", stored in his sight word memory. Most likely because he stores words as pictures, making it easier to recognize. Kyle will come upon the same word and not recognize it until he sounds it out. And often even immediately after he has read it, he will not remember it and needs to sound it out again (I have noticed this with myself as well with words that I do not know). Kyle stores words as groups of individual letters and as he gets more practice with translating the letters to sounds he will get faster at recognizing words.

The neat thing is that neither way is right or wrong...they are just different. And a reminder of how critical it is to work *with* the strengths of each.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

We are loosing our marbles!

As I mentioned yesterday, the boys discovered a marble book and all of a sudden are into all things marbles. So today, Jason wanted to know how marbles are made. What would we do without Google! We found a neat article on how they are made as well as information on the different types of marbles. Who would have known that there is a whole marble subculture out there on the internet! The boys have decided that their favorites are the bloodies (scroll down a bit to see the red, white and brown marbles).

Kyle especially has been doing a lot with them. He seems to be a collector by nature, so he has been sorting, building (he used them to make his footprint, go figure), lining them up and deciding which ones are his favorites.

I have to admit they are rather soothing to run your hands through. Uh-oh. Just what I need...another collectible....they even have a newsletter....

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Nothing to do days

It is really nice to have a nothing to do classes, doctor's appointments, no places to be. It has worked out that Fridays are our only totally "free" day. And people worry about my kids being stuck in the house all day with no interaction with kids or people. Sometimes I wish that we had less interaction! But they do really enjoy their classes and activities and it helps me appreciate our "home" days even more.

Yesterday was a fun day...I guess that it was not a totally "nothing to do day" because we did get our hair cut (and man did we need it!). Jason and Kyle have both decided to let their hair grow long, so they just got a trim around the ears. I got a couple of inches off and it feels great. I love Stefano, the guy who has been cutting my hair for probably close to 12 years now. He gave both the boys their first haircuts and even Jeff has been going to him for quite some time now.

After haircuts, we stopped to pick up food for the guinea pigs (we have 4 - I think they go through more veggies then we do) and came home. The boys found a book on marbles that Kyle had gotten for his birthday last year that had been lying around the bookcase unnoticed. I caught Jason reading it to Kyle. ;o) So then they wanted me to dig out the marbles sets we had. They played together with those for quite some time while I tried to clean up a bit. After that, Kyle wanted to work on his reading (yes, this kid begs me to do his reading. And math. Try not to feel too jealous.) I gave Jason the choice of doing some math or writing another thank you note (he only had one more to do from Halloween). He choose the thank you note. Kyle and I did about 3 lessons until he started getting goofy...he did not want to stop, but I told him that he needed to take a break and let what he learned sink in.

So then I had Kyle write his thank you note while Jason and I worked on some math. I mentioned in an
earlier entry that things had just recently clicked in math for him and it is nice to see that he definitely still gets it. This stuff is easy for him now and I think that surprises him. What surprised me today was that he also now gets how to add things in columns! I have tried many times over the past year to explain how you could add the ones column and 10s column but it just did not click for him. Well, we were working on 3-digit addition in his workbook and it once again showed how to line up the numbers and it clicked! He got it. No problems at all. My theory again is that he needs to understand in his own way how the big concept works then he can more easily fit the details in. So he had to understand first how to break numbers down into their components (245 being 200+40+5 etc) before he could understand column adding (completely backwards to the way I remember learning this stuff). The great thing is that once Jason gets something, he owns it. We were flying through things today, no struggles, no arguments.

The boys also went through some catalogs today to get some ideas for their Christmas lists. They seemed to be circling most everything, so I asked them to put a star next to the things that they really wanted! I have some ideas for them, but it is always interesting to see what jumps out at them. I had some phone calls to make, so they ran off to play Mario Party 7 on the gamecube. It just came out on Tuesday and they had saved and combined their money so they could get it. It is great that Jason can read his games without any help (and that is where a lot of his reading practice comes from..shhhh...don't tell him!) New games are also a source of frustration for my perfectionist and we have had to have several talks about taking breaks when the frustration gets too much. But for the most part the boys are having fun with it and have been learning lots from playing.

We had dinner (Jeff is out of town until Sunday) and then watched a Wallace and Grommit dvd we got from Netflix. I really am glad that we have kids...there is a lot (books and movies) that I probably would have missed out on including Wallace and Grommit! After that it was reading and bedtime and I got to watch my own movie, Oceans 12.

All in all a busy, filled day. These are the days that I enjoy. We had a really good balance...some "school", some free time play, some gamecube and lots of time together. I need to make sure that we get plenty of these "nothing to do days"....

Friday, November 11, 2005

Right brained learner links

As I have mentioned before, Jason is a right brained learner (also known as a visual/spatial learner). The realization of this was a huge turning point in our homeschooling journey. It totally changed (for the better) the way that I approach things with him and has helped me understand him and where he is coming from. I have also learned a lot about myself (as I am a left brained learner but never realized it). I have realized that I am not a visual person, but rather a feeling/relationship person, which is kind of a cool thing to know about myself. (I always wondered why I could never relax while picturing myself on a secluded wasn't until I focused on how I felt (or would feel) while on that beach that it actually worked...but I digress...).

Since I seem to constantly be talking about right brained learners, I figured that I would list some of the resources that helped me. An online friend Cindy was the person who pointed me in the right direction and I am eternally grateful to her for that. She started an email list called Homeschooling Creatively to talk about homeschooling these creative kids. The list can be quiet, but over all it is a great place to talk about and appreciate these awesome kids and Cindy is a wonderful resource.

If you are wondering if your kid is a right brained learner, there is a good article that gives an overview of how these kids think as well as a great list of right brained traits. If you see your child in this description, then check out Linda Kreger Silverman's book Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner. A very good overview of visual/spatial learners and how they learn differently then what is traditionally taught in schools. This book gave me a lot of insight into Jason's learning style. The only thing that I didn't like about the book is the emphasis she puts on IQ testing...even though she admits that testing does not always give good results with right brained kids! She also focuses on highly gifted kids and that can be intimidating (especially if your kid was not making maps of the neighborhood at age 2!) But that is where she is coming from so she spends a fair amount of time on the subject. There is definitely enough good info in the book to make it worth reading though.

Another good book with practical suggestions for helping right brained learners learn is Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child by Jeffrey Freed. Although it is subtitled Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child, this is more of a book about right brained kids then it is about ADD (Freed makes the point that most ADD kids are right brained and that is the type of kid he worked most often with). Jason does not have ADD but I found much that was applicable to him in this book. It really helped me better understand how Jason thinks.

I had always thought that right brained people were more traditionally creative types like musicians, artists, dancers, etc. None of which I really identified with Jason. He has never really been drawn towards any kind of musical instrument, he has fine motor issues and hates writing/drawing/coloring and does not really like painting or other art. Yet, once I started looking into it, I recognized a lot of Jason in the descriptions. Since then I have realized that there are many ways to be creative...although Jason has shown no interest in playing an instrument (yet), he is actually extremely musical. He notices music and often makes comments on how it makes him feel. He will go into the extras on his video games and play the different music themes and pick his favorite (it drives Kyle crazy when he does this!) He has a definite sense of rhythm and likes music with a strong beat. He notices the music in movies and how it is used to make you feel...our favorites happen to be Star Wars. There are other things that I have noticed, now that I am paying attention and I am seeing that creativity can take very many forms.

Learning about this right brained/left brained thing has really expanded my outlook on so many things.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The results are in....

Well, Virginians did not take the bait of negative campaigning - they rejected Republican Kilgore and elected Kaine (52% to 46%). Yea! I can breath a bit easier. Hopefully that will make future politicians think twice about negative campaigning. Unfortunately the democrat Leslie Byrne did not have as good luck with her bid for Lt Governer (lost 51% to 49%). And the jury is still out for Attorney General (50% to 50%).

So none of the wins were a huge victory...let's hope that they get the message that we need to find a common middle ground...(but I will say I am glad that it is a Dem in the top position!)

So now I just need to find out why Virginia has a one consecutive term limit for our governor...I would have loved to have kept Warner for another 4 years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election day in Virginia

Well, it is election day. Virginians are in the process of choosing their governor, lt. governor and attorney general and some state representatives. I have to say I have been really appalled at the negative campaigning by the republicans...way too many attacks and misrepresentation (do people really believe what they hear about the opposition in political ads?). But I guess that they think that it works. Let's hope that it doesn't. I am just tired of all the there a middle to be found anymore?

I volunteered to work at the polls for 2 hours today...basically checked off names from a list of potential democrat voters as they came to vote. Folks who had not voted yet would be called and reminded to vote. We also serve as "poll observers" which usually means nothing, but I did get to officially observe (with my republican counterpart who happens to be my neighbor) when they had to shut off and re-calibrate a malfunctioning machine to make sure that no votes were changed or added. I feel so official. :o)

Great time in Annapolis

Yesterday we had a doctor's appointment in Annapolis (an hour away) and instead of coming straight home we decided to spend some time down on the city dock. Talk about bringing back memories! I spent the summers of my college years running sound and lights for the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. It was interesting to see that many of the same businesses were there including Storm Brother's Ice Cream Factory (which the boys recognized from the photograph we have hanging in our family room). I love the history and the colonial look and feel of the city dock area.

After hitting Starbucks (yes, I admit to my guilty pleasure!) so I could get a gingerbread latte and Kyle could get a chocolate milk (Jason does not like their chocolate drinks there...says they taste too much like coffee) we strolled down the dock looking at all the boats and wishing that we were back in Ocean City. :o) I had forgotten how much I love being on the water. I got some great pictures of seagulls on the pylons that I am hoping to enlarge and frame to hang in the beach house. We checked out the schedule for the bay cruises and I think that we may need to give them a try this spring. The boys found it very cool to be able to see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from the dock...they have driven over it many, many times but have never gotten this kind of view. There are several nautical gift stores which we browsed and I found some really cute hand-made pottery bowls with crabs (I have a thing for crabs) and the boys got some polished hematite rocks...they love the silver color.

All in all, a very nice afternoon and gave the boys some definitely needed time to stretch their legs before heading back. I think we may need to do this more often and start exploring some of the other areas around the dock.

Monday, November 07, 2005

By Jove I think he's got it

OK...So being a right brained learner, Jason is not good with rote memorization. It just is not one of his strengths and it frustrates him. So I have been looking for ways to help him with his math facts. He does fine with the smaller numbers (e.g., 2+4, 5-3 etc) but gets stuck with the higher numbers (e.g., 8+7, 14-6 etc). He has no problem understanding math concepts (like adding/subtracting negative numbers) but when it comes to remembering his math facts he struggles. We have continued on with math, but not knowing these facts slows him down and also has started him thinking that he is "bad" at math. I tried showing him different ways to figure them out, including grouping by 10s (e.g., figuring out 14+7 by adding 3+7 to get 10 and then adding 10+11 to get 21), but nothing seemed to really stick. I had just gotten the Home Educator's Guide for the Singapore Math program that we have been using and one of the first things that it had was an overview of the many different ways of adding/subtracting (counting up, number line, grouping to ten etc). I figured that it could not hurt, so I showed Jason...not sure what it was (probably that they broke it down somehow more graphically) but it clicked. He totally gets it now. It is so cool...instead of looking at a problem and trying to guess what the answer is, he has a method he can use to figure it out. What is great about this approach is that it utilizes his strengths (puzzle solving and logic) rather then his weakness, memorization.

For figure out 14-8 he subtracts 8-4 to get 4 and then subtracts 10-4 to get 6. I will have to ask him for more examples, because I can't really remember how he does half of it. LOL! But what counts is he knows! Basically he breaks the equation down into smaller equations that he can do easier. And he is completely able to follow it. There have been a time or two when I really could not follow what exactly he was doing (he still talks out loud as he figures it) but I kept quiet and he came up with the right answer.

I found previously that a similar approach worked when it came to adding double and triple digit numbers. Breaking things down into 10s and 1s really helped. For example, to add 34+55, he breaks it down into 30+50 and 4+5 to get 89. And we actually realized that he understands negative numbers because he would solve a problem like 54-26 as 50-20 and 4-6 to get 30-2 or 28.

The neat thing is that I can see that the light is back on...he sees that he can do this stuff now. He sees it more as a puzzle then this mysterious thing where he was just supposed to know/remember the answer. I can see him manipulating the numbers in his head and he is getting getting faster at it each day.

I have to say...I am not big on formal "curriculum" but Singapore Math has really been a wonderful resource for us. It is really great for explaining concepts to him in a way that he understands. One of the reasons that it works for Jason is that it is very starts with the "real life" of objects and talks in English about combining them (they call them number stories). It shows several different ways of figuring out an answer and then gradually introduces the symbolic notation. It also seems to be able to explain things in a way that makes sense to him much better then I can! I swear, when it comes to math, we speak two totally different languages and Singapore seems to be able to bridge the gap. I know that I learned this stuff by rote memorization (which luckily I am good at, but even now I still count on my fingers periodically to double check myself). I am so glad to learn that there is a way besides flash cards to figure this stuff out.

And actually I have been starting to use some of these "tricks" myself lately instead of using my fingers....

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The write motivation

This afternoon Jason came to me and asked me for paper and a pencil. After I picked myself up off the floor (this is the kid who has never, and I mean never written anything unless asked to and who thinks that writing is pure torture) I pointed to where the paper and pencils were. He preceded to ask me how to spell "Kyle is not allowed in my room". As I spelled it for him, he wrote. Yes, actually wrote! While this was going on, Kyle came in and wanted to know what was going on. When he found out, he asked for paper and a pencil and asked me to spell "Jason is not allowed in my room". When they were both finished, they took their signs and taped them to their doors.

It warms a mother's heart. ;o)

How Kyle is learning to read

The first memory I have of Kyle and books when he was about 6 months old and I had this moment of realization that I was not reading to him! Jason had loved books at that age and I felt like a very neglecting mother for overlooking this critical activity. So that night, after Jason went to bed, I pulled out a board book and snuggled up with Kyle and started to read. Kyle wanted nothing to do with it! He had just learned to crawl and he was too much on the go to want to sit and read. Made me feel much better! I wasn't neglecting my poor second born.

So I continued to read to Kyle periodically as much as he would let me. We gradually progressed to Dr Suess and Go Dog Go somewhere around 3. The interesting thing is that Kyle not only wanted to listen to the story, he wanted know more about the characters and would ask tons of questions on each page. My favorite was when we were reading Go Dog Go...he started telling me how the green bird was best friends with the green dog. Sometimes it made getting through the book rather difficult! I found it very interesting how he saw a story as a springboard to his own imagination...always wanting to know more about the characters or why they were doing things. I still worried because we did not read as much with Kyle as we had with Jason, but I realized that this was by his choice. And I also realized that he loved books and being read to just as much as his brother, just in his own way.

When Kyle was 4, I decided to try reading a chapter book and picked My Father's Dragon, but I could tell that he was not quite following it, so I went back to the longer picture books that Kyle really enjoyed like Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel. During this time we also played around with letters and letter sounds a bit. He did not at this time know many of his letters although we talked about them often, they just did not seem to "stick" so I did not push him. Kyle enjoyed rhyming games and some games from Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye.

Around the time he turned 5, something seemed to click. He got interested in learning his letters and really liked to play a version of hopscotch where I made a board of various shapes on the driveway with chalk and put different letters in each box. Then I would call out the letter and he had to jump to it. We also put letters in the bottoms of muffin tins and threw pennies into the tins. If he could name the letter, he got to keep the penny. Around this time I also started reading My Father's Dragon again and he really enjoyed it. He still loves his picture books as well so we would read one chapter from My Father's Dragon and 2 picture books before bed.

Kyle is now 5 and a half, and he does know all his letters. He is very interested in learning to read and has been asking me to show him how, so we have started 100 EZ Lessons. I was not 100% sure he was ready, but after about 8 or 9 lessons, he is doing great! And he wants to do the lessons (we only do 1 or 2 at a time and not every day). He is very proud that he can now tell me what sounds different letters make and is constantly pointing out sounds/beginning letters of different words he comes across.

What amazes me is how natural this whole process has been. Every once in awhile I would panic about not doing enough with Kyle (like when he turned 5 and still did not know his letters) but I have to say now that, like his brother, he learns things when he is ready. And the other interesting thing is that his path has been completely different then that of his brother! At this point, I do not really think that he has too many sight words (maybe a few from his video games) but he is not having any problems picking up the phonics we have covered so far. It seems to make sense to him.

I am not sure exactly when Kyle will make the leap to reading. But he is definitely on his way there. And I am glad that I am along for the ride.

How Jason learned to read

When Jason was younger, I never really set out to "teach him to read". But he has always liked books and being read to so we did that a lot. He loved board books starting at around 6 months. We moved on to Dr Suess and short picture books. At around 2 he would easily sit through Cat and the Hat and longer picture books. Around 3 or so we started on chapter books...Thomas the Tank and Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne not Disney). He loved them! During that time we also played around a lot with letters...had the refrig magnets and read alphabet books (Dr Suess again was a fav).

Jason loved anything that rhymed. We would play rhyming games in the car...I would call out a word and he would give me something that rhymed...sometimes a real word sometimes a goofy made up word. He knew the names of letters somewhere around 3 (maybe 4??) or so. That, coupled, with his love of books led me to believe that he would be reading "on time" if not early. I was in no rush though (I have always believed in letting kids do things in their own time) and in my research into homeschooling had learned that kids can and do learn to read without being pushed or formally taught. So I continued to read to Jason and we played around with words (he was really interested in how words that sound the same can be spelled differently or how words that are spelled the same can have different meanings). He slowly started picking up sight words..his first being stop (from seeing stop signs) followed later by play and exit (from his computer games). Occasionally I would try playing a game from Games for Reading by Peggy Kaye, but he pretty much was never interested and I never forced the issue.

Sometime around 5, we were talking and he told me that he was afraid to try to learn how to read because he thought that it might be too hard. I reassured him that when he was ready, he would learn just fine and that everyone became ready at different times. He has very perfectionistic tendencies so I did not push the issue (not to mention he was only 5!).
So I kept reading to him and talking about letters and letter sounds and words etc. At 5 he was thoroughly infatuated with Harry Potter and the Redwall series. Jason also picks up words incredibly easily...he has always had an awesome vocabulary...if he hears a word in a story it becomes his and he will go on to use it appropriately (my favorite was telling me that his little brother "cut a comical figure" when he was 5 and my mom loves to tell the story of how at 2.5 he told her that the puddle had evaporated!).

So we pretty much went on in this manner for the next year or so. I continued to read to him (and he also LOVES audio books...we go through so many of these..thank goodness for the library). He gradually picked up more and more sight words. I would talk about/point out letter sounds and sometimes try to show him how to break down words into phonics but it never seemed to click and he honestly was resistant to hearing it. I could tell that he was not ready. I will admit though when he was 7 I started worrying about if he would ever be ready! Luckily I had heard many stories on homeschool email lists about kids who read "late" and caught up quickly so I just kept doing what we were doing. One nice thing about homeschooling is that his not being able to read did not stop him from learning...I just kept reading to him about the subjects he was interested in and we also watched a lot of discovery/science channel shows. Not reading did not slow his learning down but I do know that it bothered him to not be able to read...he was very aware that other kids his age and younger could read. We had lots of conversations about kids being ready to do things at different ages.

Somewhere around 7.5 I realized that he actually had amassed a pretty large number of sight words that he could read...mostly from seeing them in books we read and from seeing them in video games. He did not consider this reading, however, even though I did. I also realized that he seemed to not quite understand that there were rules for figuring out how to sound out words (despite my talking about and showing him phonics informally throughout the past years). He seemed to be struggling a bit at pulling the whole thing together. At this point I thought that he could benefit from something that explained phonics in a more structured way. At first I checked out Phonics Pathways from the library. It was an utter focused very much on letter sounds and letter blends. Jason hated it and did not see the point...he did not want to sound out letters...he wanted to read words! We did not stick with it very long.

I then decided to check out Teach Your Child to Read in 100EZ Lessons. I was a bit turned off by the strange notations they used and the directions to the teacher that said that I had to read the text exactly as written or it would not work! Needless to say we ignored that. Actually we ignored a lot of the directions and just took what we needed from it...we did not do the writing section, I stopped doing the reading comprehension questions after the first couple of ones when it became clear that Jason had no problems understanding what he was reading. We did not do the number of repetitions they recommended either because Jason did not need them (and had no patience for them). Basically we used it to explain the basic phonics rules and as practice in reading words and sentences. It got him reading words in the first lesson or so and sentences very quickly so he could see results while still giving him the phonics info. It also turns out that since he is such a visual kid, the strange notations they used were just what he needed and he progressed naturally from needing the visual cues to reading normal text.

I would say that his reading has really clicked only in the past year or so since he turned 8. But now that it has clicked he has be progressing very fast. He still is not reading books for pleasure but that is because his reading comprehension is well above his reading level. He wants to be reading Star Wars, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, the Spiderwick Chronicles, Redwall, and Harry Potter, not "easy readers". One easy reader that we have found that he enjoys is the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen. He has absolutely no problems reading his video games now and he is constantly catching me off guard by reading something that I know just a few months ago he could not (menus, signs, posters etc). I have no doubt that he will in time become a voracious reader...he loves books too much not to. He goes through audio books like water...I just brought about 10 home from the library which will probably last us a bit over a week.

One thing that I notice also is that even though he does know phonics, it is NOT his reading method of choice. He very quickly stores sight words (as opposed to me who has to sound out an unfamiliar word many times before "knowing" it) and is awesome at using the context and look of the word to figure out what it is saying. He is a visual/spatial learner ( also know as a right brained learner) and as I read more about his learning style, his journey towards reading makes more and more sense. He sees things in pictures, not words. So he needed more time to be able to recognize and make sense of words (in the beginning I noticed that the words he had the most trouble with remembering were words with which he could not associate an image...the, and, what, here etc) Basically he is a big picture/concept break down type of learner (as opposed to a learn the individual parts and build up learner). He needed a large number of sight words in order for phonics to make sense to him. Traditional phonics made no sense to him until he had a context in which to put it into...learning the "building blocks" made no sense until he knew what he was building. But even now that he knows the building blocks, he still prefers not to use them! And it is not holding him back. I am amazed at how quickly he adds to the words he knows by sight...there are many words I know that I have never shown him that he has just picked up from the context of things that he has read.

It has been a very interesting journey and I am not sure who has learned more...him or me! Although he did not follow a traditional path when it came to learning to read, he followed the one that works best for him. And knowing him, I am sure this won't be the last time he takes a different route to get where he is going!

Beautiful fall day

Today was absolutely beautiful! Spent a lot of it raking and mowing the lawn. I actually do like doing yard work when I have the time (need to work on finding the time more!). It can be very zen for me and there is something satisfying about cleaning things up, be they weeds or leaves. Add to that the wonderful smell and sound of the crisp leaves and you have my favorite time of year.

I am bound and determined to stay on top of the leaves this year. We are on 1.3 acres with over 16 mature trees (one of the things that drew us to the place) so we get tons of leaves. They have only just started coming down, so today it was not too hard to get all of them. Thank goodness for our mulching mower (which we own along with 2 of our neighbors).

I am hoping that it does not cool down too quickly. We tend to only get a week or so of really nice fall weather before it gets cold. Looks like it should be nice all week...let's hope so!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

My first letter to the editor

This past September, someone wrote a letter to the editor in a Fredricksburg newspaper.

While I definitely get and appreciate the sentiment of this, this was not a message on an email list between homeschoolers, this was a public letter to the editor by someone who is not even hsing yet (and not even very original as I have seen many versions of the same idea throughout my 3 years of homeschooling). I have to wonder, did he really think that this would reflect positively on homeschoolers? I think that homeschooling has enough to offer on its own merits that we do not need to go publicly bashing the school system. This did nothing to promote acceptance or understanding of hsing. In fact, it made us look very close-minded and judgmental. I was not alone in my perceptions as can be seen by the 2 responses that it generated:

Why slam our public schools?
Homeschool if you like, it is your loss

These letters illustrate how much homeschooling is misunderstood, an impression that the original letter did nothing to help. It bothered me so much, that I actually ended up writing
my first letter to the editor. Kind of exciting to see it in print (although I was annoyed that they put hyphens in all my references to homeschooling!)