Tag Archives: Homeschool

Learning to Read

We’re all very excited around here because Cam is learning to read. She really started to show some interest a few months ago when she began memorizing the names of the letters and identifying them when she saw them. 

This is most exciting for me because I have plenty of experience with abilities later in the process. All my years working in lower school, and particularly in second grade, I have seen fluency really come together and skills strengthen. But I haven’t seen the start of the process and quite frankly it’s amazing. 

Some resources 

I’ve been looking for resources to help support her and here are some things I’ve discovered. I tend not to like worksheets and things like that, but she’s motivated and interested so I’ve been using them.

First, she needs lots of practice working out the sounds each letter makes. I downloaded a bunch of printables that have her practice letter sounds both by themselves and as initial sounds. Scour Pinterest for these free resources. Here’s a link to a Pinterest search for some of those activities and printables.

Next, she needs to be able to identify the upper and lower case letter as the books she reads in have different cases and different fonts. I bought this game on Amazon that is a memory-style game. It’s nice and she likes Memory so I figured she would be willing to play. Also, here is a search on Pinterest for matching upper and lower case letter games

Then we needed some little books for her to read. Costco has a four or five BOB book collections for $11. I just bought all of them. Many of them are way above her ability right now. One set is called the Pre-Reader Collection and it goes through some skills readers need (like pattern recognition) and also all the letters of the alphabet with their sounds. I find the BOB books totally boring, but Cam likes them a lot. She is also able to read the first few in the first collection. Which brings me to my next point. 

Let’s talk about easy readers

There are a lot of really great easy readers out there. You know them. They have a smaller trim size than picture books, but are bigger than an actual chapter book. They’re kind of short and have large print with spaced out lines on each page. They’re books like Frog and Toad and Little Bear and Cat in the Hat. The thing is, even the easiest ones require a fair amount of skill and ability to read. The vast majority do not use simple short vowel patterns and CVC word patterns (consonant-vowel-consonant). Add to this the fact that a bunch of companies publish them and their reading levels are not consistent across brands. Kids learning to read do quickly put spelling patterns together in their minds and memorize sight words (words you know on sight without having to sound out or look more closely), but it takes some time and practice. They do eventually get to a place where they can really read those types of books, but where Cam is now she needs super basic readers. That’s where the BOB books seem to have the market cornered. 

Waiting until the time is right

So one thing I am trying very hard to balance is pushing her to practice and actually read with not killing the interest she has. I know the more she practices the better she’ll get and the easier it will become. But right now it’s hard and laborious and fatiguing. I’m glad I allowed her to pick the time she actually began to work through it. It’s coming quickly and she’s incredibly motivated. Hopefully she can sustain that interest while her skills catch up. 

A final thought. I know the concept of your child learning to read can be incredibly stressful (as is nearly everything with parenting). Will they ever learn? Will they want to? Will they struggle? What if it happens later than all the other kids? The thing about reading is that by fifth grade, it’s all a wash. With very, very, very few exceptions teachers in the upper grades do not know who read first, second or last. (Well, maybe last. There are children with learning disabilities that continue to struggle.) But those super star readers in kindergarten and first grade? They are not always on top and frequently become totally indistinguishable from their peers. Repeat after me: it all becomes a wash. What does that mean for you right now, with a young child? Enjoy them as they are. They will get there. They do all learn to read. It’s an amazing thing to watch as this whole new word opens up to your child (remember how the world opened up when they learned to talk and to walk? it’s like that all over again, but with a more cognizant person). Enjoy that and don’t worry so much. 

Science Weekly: Yeast Experiment

I was recently making soft pretzels at home and realized I have a huge tub of yeast. Since the dough was rising while Cam was asleep I thought she might get a kick out of experimenting with the yeast by itself.

Our question was, what are the best conditions to get yeast to activate? I set out a number of bowls and put yeast in each of them. I also set out some salt and some sugar. Cam added salt and sugar and nothing to the yeast in the bowls. Then we poured in hot, cold and warm water. Technically you don’t need to have sugar in the water, but without adding anything else the yeast never activated. 

It took a good five to ten minutes to really start seeing results, but once it got going, it got going. She had lots of questions about what was going on and wanted to start mixing sugar, salt, and yeast to the bowls and doing a little experimenting of her own. She realized the more sugar you add, the quicker you see results and the more foam you get. 

I think the most interesting take away from this was an interest in our own digestive system. Cam asked where the gas from the bubbles was coming from and I explained that the yeast was eating the sugar and producing gas. That was funny to her because it’s basically a fart. :) But it lead to A LOT of questions about how our bodies work to process food. I explained a little and then got out our Eye Wonder Human Body book to read more. 

Science Weekly: Making Crystals

I kind of fell apart this summer on Summer of Science. Oh well. I’m picking up the thread and instead of trying to do one thing a day I’m going for one thing a week. Last week (as this series will run a week behind) we did a little experiment with making crystals. If you follow me on Instagram you will recognize the pictures and the activity. The series here on the blog is intended to document what we’ve done and make it possible for you to recreate it at home. 

Why I chose this project: Cam found her rocks and crystals and has been playing with them. We started talking about minerals and rocks and reading up about them a bit. I thought she might be interested to see how crystals form. 

img_3553 img_3555 img_3582

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we did:

The set up was pretty simple. String tied to a stick and dangled in a jar. I mixed equal parts hot water and three different substances: table salt, sugar, and Borax. I had Cam help mix up the solutions and then dip the strings into the jars.

We left them out for a week and she would check them periodically throughout the day, every day. The top right picture shows the Borax crystals after about 30 minutes. The picture on the bottom shows them after a week. The sugar solution only developed mold, no crystals. I think next time I would go for another type of salt, kosher or sea, instead. Either that or made the sugar solution more concentrated. 

I had Cam draw pictures of the results in a journal and dictate comments to me about what had happened. She enjoyed that part of the experiment too. Next up is talking about how this relates to actual rock and crystal formation.

Summer of Science

100dayspledgeI recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late (which they still encourage you to do) and use it to frame my summer. For this blog I will be doing #100daysofscience with Cam. It will be 100 days of a simple, easy, and fun science exploration each day. 

I have the first week planned out and I think I will try and center weeks around a theme or concept that way it doesn’t feel like a bunch of disjointed projects. It might also allow us to hit on something Cam is interested in and explore more deeply. 

I will be posting (hopefully!) a picture each day on Instagram. I kind of hate taking pictures daily and I also don’t really like having yet another social media platform to check in on, so we’ll see if I can manage. You can see my latest in the widget in the sidebar over there. ———> I haven’t quite decided how to balance Instagram and the blog, but I’m thinking of writing a weekly round-up post where I share the pictures and a brief explanation of what the experiment was (and how successful and popular it was) so anyone interested can recreate it. 

In addition to these posts I am going to try and have a Friday Five book post each week this summer. While I enjoy sharing about our urban farm, our parenting successes and failures, and food, I am most passionate about books and I want that to come through here more. I haven’t been all that enthused about blogging lately (see my previous comment about a full plate this spring), and I want to find that passion again, because I do love it when I do it. 

One last note, I am also going to be doing this with my library/book review blog so if you’re following me on Instagram you’ll be seeing those photos coming through too. That one will be #100daysofdiversebooks. Quite frankly you may wish to see those too. Many of them (most) will be picture books that I test out on Cam and am looking at with an eye toward adding them to my library’s collection so they’ll be relevant here as well. 

Here’s to one more week in school and summer on it’s way!

Letters!

A few weeks ago, maybe even a month ago now, Cam suddenly took an interest in letters- learning their names, their sounds and writing them. She was carefully watching me one evening as I filled in a crossword puzzle in a puzzle magazine I had just bought. I can’t remember the exact question she asked, but I responded that one day when she learned her letters she would be able to do puzzles like mine. She went back to whatever it was she was doing. She must have been chewing that over in her mind because a few minutes later she got out some index cards and a pencil (or grabbed them off the table, I can’t remember) and started to write what looked like capital “e”s. After a few attempts she turned to me and asked if I would help her write letters. 

From there I began showing her a picture of the letter and how to form it and she would then copy the letter onto the page. She’s been a letter and word fiend ever since, asking to write names and words. While I think this is great practice I also thought she might benefit from being able to form words less laboriously (it takes a lot for her to write any given letter since she has to really think about how it’s formed and what it looks like, not to mention keeping the letters all about the same size and in a line).

IMG_2992I pulled out a cookie sheet I had bought at Wal-Mart several years ago for just this purpose. I also got out our magnetic letters which until this point she hasn’t been overly interested in. Now she tells me words she wants to spell and I tell her the letters in order. She finds them in the bin and arranges them on the tray. I ended up having to buy more letters because the set we had didn’t have nearly enough letters for her to keep a few words on the tray while spelling more. 

I also have some letter cards that have the upper case letter nice and big on the back. They are awesome for showing her what each letter looks like. On the back there is a labeled picture for each letter and both the upper and lower case letter. Thankfully they have appropriate pictures for the letter sounds (I HATE it when alphabets have, say, a giraffe for the “g” since that really reinforces the “j” sound not the hard “g” sound which is too much information for a child just learning the letters). I only wish these cards didn’t have the picture label spelled out in lower case. 

I did make a conscious choice to do only capital or upper case letters. They have a lot more straight lines and it seemed a little easier for her to form. Plus I didn’t want to quash her enthusiasm by making it more a of school lesson than something driven by her own interests. Requiring her to learn both upper and lower case letters was probably going to derail her. 

It took about two weeks, but she has learned to correctly identify each of the letters and say the sound they make. Plus she’s applying those skills to writing words. In another few weeks I suspect she will be sounding out words. Which of course will eventually lead to her reading and that’s pretty exciting for her!

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 2

A few good articles to share this time:

From The Mindshift blog from KQED, an article looking at how unschoolers turn out once they hit college/adult life. It’s a small study, but the results are interesting. There’s a mix of outcomes, but overwhelmingly positive. How Do Unschoolers Turn Out? Certainly worth a read if you are thinking about unschooling or are curious.

I really love how this blog post shows how to use books in the early phases of provocations and projects. They pique interest, spark ideas, and introduce topics. The children in this classroom didn’t gravitate toward the bird watching provocation (binoculars and guide book by the window) until reading a book about birds. Of course, as a librarian and bibliophile, I love this and it’s certainly a default for me to turn to books. I’m glad to get a little validation seeing others do this too. Becoming a Birder on Searching for Sparks blog. 

I know I link a lot to Racheous, but I often love what she has to say. Here’s a great post about unschooling and how it means not worrying about ensuring kids learn specific facts. It’s Not All About Learning. As she puts it:

“I don’t care if my child doesn’t learn about certain arbitrary facts associated with a life cycle we’re observing or specific elements of numeracy we’re exploring through play. That specific, testable knowledge is no longer the endgame. It happens regardless – but it’s no longer the top desired outcome.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want her kids to learn information, it’s simply that any given information and the emphasis on it’s necessity to learn it is totally arbitrary. The endgame of education is to learn how to learn and enjoy it. 

Activity in the Hive: Here Is the Beehive…12345

While Cam has shown some interest in letters, she is really drawn to numbers. She learned them very quickly (both identification and counting to ten) without any prompting from me. Personally I prefer the laid-back approach to “teaching” this stuff and came up with a few passive ways to help Cam explore numbers more. 

Inspiration

Reggio-Inspired Math Table from Wildflower Ramblings

Playful Numeracy: Making Math Visual and Hands On from Racheous

Numeracy Resource Learning Area from Walker Learning Approach on Facebook

Waldorf Gnomes- Mathematics from The 5 of Us

Reggio-Inspired Preschool Math Tray from And Next Comes L

Books

We have a huge bin of counting books in our classroom. A lot of the titles we’ve found used, but there are some we’ve bought too. Using books to passively teach numbers is a great strategy, especially if your child really clicks with one title and you read it over and over and over and…

  Animal 123Animal 123 by Britta Teckentrup

This has been one of Cam’s favorite books since she was less than a year. Teckentrup’s illustrations are simple, beautiful, and really engaging for young children with bright colors and clean lines and plenty of contrast. The pages fold open to reveal the next number and one more of what is being counted. We have a couple tears from less-than-gentle baby hands, but it’s a great teachable moment when that happens. Not only does the book teach the counting 1-10, but it’s a subtle introduction to the concept of adding. 

My First Learning Groovers123: My First Learning Groovers 

We came across this book at Costco. It has the numbers 1-20 and each number has grooved numerals that the child can run their finger along. I usually read this one with Cam so I can be sure she is tracing the numbers in the correct way so as not to establish any bad habits. This is a similar idea to the Montessori tactile numbers and if you can’t find this book you could look for Montessori: Number Work by Bobby and June George.

We All CountWe All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett

We have tons of these counting 1-10 books in our number books bin, but I adore this recent purchase. Part of the appeal is it’s diverse: it’s bilingual with a Native American language (Cree) and the people pictured inside are not the default white. But it’s all about the illustrations here. The cover has a big flock of burrowing owls, one of Cam’s favorite species, that are just darling. The illustrations are clean and modern looking too which I think makes actually counting the objects easier. It’s also a board book which makes it sturdy.

 Ten Nine EightTen, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

An oldie, but a goodie. This was one of my favorites when I was a little girl and now it’s one of Cam’s favorites which makes me happy. Ten, Nine, Eight makes for a great bedtime story, but what I appreciate about it now is that it counts backwards. Not only does this show children that numbers work in reverse (and demonstrates minus one) it also helps them break out of the order of 1, 2, 3. Essentially it plays with numbers. The illustrations are really charming and cozy. It also makes you look around your own room for things to count. Math is everywhere. The book is available in board book format and paperback (you can often find it in thrift shops and used book stores) and is translated into Spanish. 

 

Media

Montessorium: Intro to Math

This is an app for the iPad. It does a lot of the traditional Montessori math lessons like the red and blue rods and counters, but in a digital format. It isn’t very expensive (considerable less than buying all the physical materials) and is very engaging. It’s clean, beautiful, and works well. Cam likes to play it although a few of the activities are too hard without one of us helping her (which is really how kids should be using apps). 

Poems

Poems and rhymes are great ways to teach young children. Their rhyme schemes and sing-song quality make them very memorable. Cam has amazed me on more than one occasion by reciting a poem or song I’ve recited without prompting. 

1, 2, Buckle My Shoe I was only familiar with the 1-10 part of this rhyme, but it goes up to twenty. Sometimes I feel like we spend so much time working on counting to 10 that counting higher, as Cam wants to do, gets left out. 

Here Is the Beehive This is a counting down rhyme and is a finger play. The link is a great resource from BBC which includes the full lyrics and a little video. The lyrics may come up hidden, just click the arrow to open the box to see them. 

Activities

Kid-O 0 to 9 Magnatab: I thought this looked cool, but wasn’t quite sure if Cam would agree. Turns out she absolutely loves it. We brought it to restaurants, she left it out on the coffee table to play with all the time, and she’s still playing with it a month after its delivery by St. Nicholas. It essentially teaches kids how to write the numbers (there is also an alphabet magnatab in both print and cursive). You’ll need to do some front loading first by showing them and monitoring them writing the letters, but once I was confident Cam was forming them mostly correctly I let her play with it by herself. Also be careful about forming bad pencil grip habits, from a teacher’s perspective those habits are SO hard to break. The tablet features a control of error (for all you Montessorians out there). If they haven’t done a careful enough job not all the little magnets will have popped up. Just a little warning, those magnets popping up into their holes make noise. I am noise averse and it doesn’t really bother me, but be aware. 

Montessori Teens Board: Cam is really into counting above ten now. I know I sound like a pushy mom saying that, but it was all her. I decided to help her visualize these numbers better (and maybe build a bit of place value understanding as we go) and make her a Montessori tens/teens board for 10-14. I’ll make a 15-19 later when she’s more confident going that high. A teens board is essentially a row of 10s stacked on top of each other with tracks to slide in a 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. into the ones place and covering the 0 to make 10 into 11, 12, 13, etc. The actual material is pretty expensive for what it is so I decided to make one. Here’s a round up of DIY Teens Boards on Living Montessori Now. I made one similar to the La Paz Home Learning one and it cost me less than $8. It was also pretty simple to make (an hour max). But you can make it more or less fancy depending on your level of handiness, your budget, and the time you want to dedicate to it. 

Magnetic Numbers: Exactly what these sound like. They’re the number counterparts to the traditional magnetic numbers everyone has seen on fridges. It’s a super passive way to play with numbers and simply get a sense of what they look like. I bought a bin with letters (lower and upper case) and numbers for fairly inexpensive. The ones we have are these, but they don’t seem to have the set like we bought with all the letters and numbers. Go figure. This company also makes their letters color coded in red and blue like Montessori materials so it may be a good substitute for the moveable alphabet if you need something a bit cheaper. I’m very happy with the quality of them.

Red and Blue Rods with Numerals: I used the red and blue rods I made (1-9 because the box was too small to fit the 10 and because 10 takes two numerals to make) and paired them with a bowl of blue magnetic numbers to match with the rods. Cam still has to count each rod so she tires out before we’re totally done with this activity. I also have to sit with her when she does it, but that’s fine with me. She enjoys doing it and counting together. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 1, Issue 8

- I came across this interesting piece about the Go the F*ck to Sleep book (and apparently its companion). Like the author of this post, I too found the book a little bit funny the first time through because, as parents, we’ve almost all had those moments. But I agree that the fact that the book became a best seller and warranted another book, belies a disturbing cultural trend that belittles kids and gives people permission to see them as less than people and their wants and desires as unimportant and subordinate to their parents’ wants and desires. 

Here’s a snippet. It’s a short piece I recommend it. 

But the worst thing about this book isn’t how unfunny it is. The worst thing is how mean-spirited it is. Again, the first book, on first read, was worth a cathartic laugh, tapping into the awful things parents sometimes think but dare not say. But doing a second book legitimizes those awful things and says, yes, this deserves a place in our culture’s comic vocabulary. Because it’s fun to swear at kids!

Trigger warning: the f-word is used many times both in the context of the title of the book it is talking about and as a humor device. 

– On a happier note, I was so pleased to read this post on Mummy Musings and Mayhem. Jode talks about how she is waiting the extra year to send her daughters to kindergarten, giving them the gift of time. She articulates everything I feel about it and it is so refreshing and validating to hear another parent say they are more interested in their child’s well-being than pushing academic achievement too early and/or in making themselves look good with their child’s academic achievement (a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses like competition I see parents engaging in with their kids as pawns in that). 

Because of Cam’s late August birthday we are in a school gray area. She is technically old enough to go to Pre-K in the fall of 2015, but she will be very, very young and, I think, immature. At this point we actually haven’t decided what to do. We can do two years of Pre-K, but that would be expensive. We could wait, and that’s a possibility. Or, and this seems the most likely route, we put her in in fall do a year of Pre-K and then pull her out to homeschool at which point her age doesn’t really matter. 

– I know this is posting the day after Thanksgiving, but I think it’s fine to talk about being grateful and thankful during the whole holiday season. Here’s a book suggestion and review of a book that shows what people around the world eat. It really puts things into perspective. If I’m not mistaken there are other books by this author-photographer pair about food. There is also a book by the same photographer that shows people around the world with all their belongings (or most of them) outside their homes with the family surrounding them. That is incredibly eye-opening. Look for these at your public library as they are hefty hardbacks. Good for bringing the holiday season back to Earth a little bit and helping children really see that they have more than enough.

Cool Stuff Vol.1, Issue 7

I came across this post on Happiness Is HereWhat If They Ask to Go to School? I really agree with what she says and how she turns the question around from what if they ask to go to school to what if they ask to be homeschooled? I have yet to be asked any really obnoxious questions about homeschooling when I’ve said I want to homeschool Cam (actually I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses) but I know these arguments are out there and it’s only time before I encounter them.

I came across this video, The Mobile: A Reggio-Inspired Kindergarten Project through An Everyday Story. It’s an amazing 20 minutes that explores how a kindergarten class designed and built a mobile to hand in their school entry way. The production isn’t especially good (the music is all over the place and I found the kids reading quotes to be superflous and often distracting) but the content is awesome. It’s amazing to see these kids observe the space, suggest and collect materials, and design and create pieces. It’s worth the time to watch it. 

Here’s a great blog post about how student creativity can’t be turned on and off at the whim of a teacher. I think this is part of why I love Reggio. It infuses creativity into every aspect and there is no need to worry about turning it on when it’s time to have your weekly hour of creative thought. There are also some great ideas for helping kids be creative, particularly in classrooms, but I think the advice is applicable in home classrooms and in general.  

Activity in the Hive: Planning and Documentation Experiment

At the start of October I decided I really needed to come up with a planning process that involved breaking up new provocations and aligning them with a broader plan.

Ever since I read about the Intended Projects document in Working in the Reggio Way (I discuss it a bit here) I have been trying to create my own. This document is an incredibly broad document and defines the overarching themes or concepts you’ll cover in a given period of time. Because it’s such a detailed and long document I really just needed the time to sit down, think through, and then put my thoughts together on paper (so to speak). I recently made the time to do this and to come up with some other pieces of the planning process.

Part of my intention was also to encourage myself to begin documenting Cam’s thinking and learning. This is one of the aspects I really love about the Reggio approach and I think it’s one of the more powerful pieces too because it requires a lot of reflection and listening to the child(ren) on the part of the educator.  

What I have now is essentially a series of documentations that form a beginning, middle, and end. Technically there is no end, but the final document can certainly come at a natural stopping or breaking point and must come after the project has had some time to develop and begin winding down.

My new planning process includes:

  • Intended Projects: This is a document meant to cover the planning for a season or even be a biannual document.  It lays out the broad themes and concepts I want to cover and names and generally plans provocations that will go with those themes.

I identified four core areas I want topics or themes to fall into (Language Arts, Numeracy, Art, and Nature) and then I picked what I wanted the broad topics to be (right now I have Building Letter Awareness as the Language Arts topic). Of course there is tons of overlap and I make note of that. I also have a written statement at the top that addresses both the question “what do I seek to make evident?” and discusses how these topics tie in with Cam’s expressed interests.

There are different types of projects identified within the document too: Umbrella Projects (which are those four core areas), Environmental Projects (these are projects that come out of any of the play areas we have set up in the house), Daily Life Projects (these are projects that come out of her wonderings and musings that happen in the natural course of daily life), and Self-Managed Projects (these I don’t expect to see until Cam is quite a bit older and more independent). Provocations can fall into several types of projects.

Under the general project planning I have a provocation strategies section that contains places to record questions (from me or Cam), materials, scaffolding (any prior knowledge she’ll need or provocations or activities that need to be planned or need to come first), books, and provocations (these are the actual set ups I want to put out). 

I should also note that this is not a static document. I add to it and build on it as I go along. It’s not intended to be perfect or comprehensive the first time around.

  • Provocation (Monthly) Planning: In my Intended Projects I name the provocations I want to set up. In my monthly planning I assigned a week of each month to one of the core areas/umbrella projects. On Mondays I set up the one or two provocations that go along with it (many of the provocations build on each other so there is an order to them). That means each provocation stays out for at least a month and it breaks the set-up process into much more manageable chunks. 
  • Provocation Documentation: This is a final document that will come toward the end of a provocation. It will record a statement about why I did the provocation (what questions Cam had that led there or interest that she showed), notes about context and objectives, materials available, a narrative, what was learned, and follow up ideas. I will also include pictures here. I have yet to finish one of these as we are still in the throes of the our current project How Clothes Are Made. I am hoping this will be a good place to harvest pictures and information to create documentation panels. 

I know all this sounds super formalized and school-y, but it’s all based on what Cam has expressed interest in. I chose Building Letter Awareness because Cam is frequently pointing to scribbles she makes and telling me what word she has written. I think she’s ready to start identifying letters and learning how to turn those scribbles into real letters. I am really interested in keeping a good record of what she is thinking and how she is approaching learning too, so I want to have good documentation of all that. And I am prone to getting lazy about setting things up for her (I’m procrastinating setting up some painting as I type) but if I’m hyper organized and front-load in the planning stage it’s easy for me to follow through. I guess you could say this (should) keep me honest. 

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Keep in mind that I am crazy organized and a total neat freak (always have been) so this may be way beyond what any normal parent wants to do. Any one else do planning like this? How do you approach planning?