Monday, January 30, 2012

Here's What We Read Last Week

Amazing Dolphins by Sarah L. Thomson
Amazing Snakes by Sarah. L. Thomson
Amazing Whales by Sarah L. Thomson
Amazing Gorillas by Sarah L. Thomson
Where do Polar Bears Live? by Sarah L. Thomson
(See a trend here? We own Amazing Sharks, which advertised others in the series. Great reads for animal crazy kids!)
Jackal Wants Everything by Jacquelyn Reinach
Octopus Protests by Jacquelyn Reinach
Scaredy Bear by Jacquelyn Reinach
(Again, we own several in the Sweet Pickles series by Jacquelyn Reinach, which prompted a library scouring for more!)
The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons
Cooperation: Values to Live By by Janet Riehecky
In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Scwartz (not so scary, more goofy than anything)
Boo and Baa Have Company by Lena and Olof Landstrom

How We Do Spelling

I had some truly amazing teachers. My parents sent me to a private, Christian school from daycare through sixth grade, a public school my seventh grade year, then back to a private, Christian school from eighth until graduation.

When I think of my first and second grade teachers, I am especially impressed with the control and ease they managed our class, as well as the level of instruction that they were able to accomplish. Truly astounding, considering our first grade class had approximately 30 and our second roughly the same amount. They had no planning period, no parapro, no computer system. They alone were responsible for instruction from the moment we stepped through their door until we were safely in our cars.

I especially think of my second grade teacher, Miss Hoover, as I embark on this journey. First grade is kind of a blur except those rare moments here and there. But second grade is crystal clear, and I often think, "What did Miss Hoover do to teach us _______?"

I vaguely remember first grade spelling books- thin, bright green paperback books with a frog on the front- spelling lists complete with sight words in the front of the text with poetry in the back. My poor copy was dog-eared by the end of September and beyond pitiful by May.

Second grade's books, though, were thick, yellow and had room to practice the spelling words in various ways, as well as journal entries to write on weekly basis and poetry at the back. By second grade I'd learned to take great pride in caring for my books. It also helped that parents had to put clear contact paper on each book to help keep the consumable books in the nicest shape possible.

Enough of that little trip down memory lane.
Here's the meat of this entry: How do I teach spelling?

I was more than a little bit frazzled trying to get my first grader to spell correctly. I mean, he comes from at least two generations of good spellers. What was the problem?

Me. The teacher. (For obvious reasons at this age, I do not buy the teacher's edition for every subject. Mainly just math. I can teach all the other through reading, but math is it's own language.)

Yes, he could copy the words. Yes, he could complete the activities with ease. Still, how to get him to spell the words correctly when I call them out?

So, I thought back to Miss Hoover and my days as a second grader. What did she do?

And then after a great deal of thought, the solution became so clear:
Monday- Read the words aloud and spell them. Then copy them one time.

Tuesday- Write the words three times.

Wednesday- Do the fun activity pages and do a pretest. Any words that he gets correct on the pretest, I do not retest him on, but on Thursday.....
Thursday- Write the missed word(s) five times.

Friday- Retest only on the words he missed.
Very simple. Very straightforward. No reason to re-write and retest on material he's mastered. And our pre-tests and tests aren't always written on a lined sheet of paper. Sometimes, if there aren't repeat letters, he'll spell them out with his letter puzzle pieces. Other times, we take a big sheet of blue prints my mom gives us from her work, flip them over to the blank side and he'll write them in crayon or marker- something a little different than the standard #2 pencil.

The first week or two, he did a considerable amount of writing on Thursdays. By about the third week since we instituted this practice, he's written no more than five spelling words (out of his fifteen word list per week) five times on Thursdays. Usually, it's much less. Often we're 'done' with spelling for the week on Wednesdays.

Just thought I'd share what works for us.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What, How, Why, When, and Where We Read

Over the past several days, I've had conversations with friends over how to instill a love of reading to children, how to fit in time, what to read, when to read.

I have a degree in English education and a current English/Language Arts teaching certification for grades 6-12. I have no reading endorsement, no master's degree. I do, however, have a love for the written word and an even bigger love for my children. So, combine the two and I could talk for hours.

From my own experience, here's what I have found to instill a love of reading in my children, which, in turn, spurs a love of learning.

1. Read early. When I was pregnant with my babies, I read my favorite novel to them when they were still in utero- To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was teaching full-time with my first pregnancy and read constantly aloud. With my second pregnancy, I was reading to my oldest. I think their love of books started then. And, if the good LORD blesses us with more, I will read TKaM to them, too, as well as all the other read alouds we do.

We tried the read before bed routine the night we brought our son home from the hospital. That was a bust. He was hungry and I was recovering from major surgery, trying to hold a squirming, crying, forgotten-how-to-latch on baby while juggling a book. Instead, I talked to him and I read at different times aloud. Not a constant stream, just when I thought of it while I was nursing him. When his sister came along, I nursed her while reading to them. They both benefited from that. (I also got better at juggling.)

2. Read whatever your child is passionate about. Animals. Airplanes. Rockets. Whatever. Read it! Read it again. And again. And again.

3. Take your kids to the library. Pressed for time? Set a time limit. In and out in 30 minutes. Set a book limit- 10, say. While they're selecting books, keep your eyes opened for books they may enjoy and slip them in your 'library book bag'. This does a few things- you'll get a bit of a say in what you're reading. They'll love the surprise. You can direct them to new topics that they might be interested in. For example if he likes airplanes, a biography one the Wright brothers, might be something he'll enjoy. Young children love reading about other people, and there are SOOOOO many books written at an age appropriate level for them. If you get home with a book that's over their level, paraphrase and look at the pictures. Lots of good discussion and learning happens then, too.

If they have an author they love, check out every book on the shelf written by that author. Put holds on books that your library doesn't have. (Holds are when you want to check out a book that's either not currently on the shelf or that needs to be sent from another library. USE this resource!) If your child sees a book they'd like to read, make a note and put a hold on it from your home computer. This only takes getting a user id and password on your next trip to the library. It takes less than 5 minutes and yields so much literary goodness! Many young readers have pictures advertising other selections in a series. Read every one that piques your child's interest.

4. While you're at the library, peruse the shelves for your own reading. They need to see Momma and Daddy reading for enjoyment.

5. Start the day reading. Seriously. Lately, I've been doing this very thing with my young ones. Sure, you're thinking, you homeschool. You have that luxury of time. Yes and no. Yes, it's true that we may not have to be somewhere at a certain time most days, but there is order and routine to our days. We, too, have schedules to keep, meals to be made, a house to keep tidy, errands to run. A very dear friend who teaches full-time starts the day with her daughter reading to her. It takes 10 minutes. They may read a few pages or a whole chapter. They start the day together, wiping sleep from their eyes. They are relaxed, connected, and ready to take on the day together. Ten minutes or less. What a precious way to start the day!

6. Read at night. Now, I do not 'do' bedtime stories. We read on and off all day; plus, I'm with mine all day. That makes a difference. We do, however, read in the evenings. What time it is, how long, squirreliness level of the children dictate whether we read one, two, or ten. Turn off the television. You're tired. They're tired. The television is a quick fix, but there is nothing so relaxing as reading to your children, snuggled up. They'll be relaxed, and so will you. You're also making memories- for them and you.

7. Make comfy places to read. One thing that's on our list for Christmas this coming year for our children is a bean bag chair for each. Even if all they do is look at the pictures because they're too young to read or if they are just enjoying the beautiful artwork in a picture book, they're still 'reading' and stimulating their brains.

8. Let them listen to books on cd (or if you rock it old school like we do UTRTR- on cassette tape) as they drift off. I loved it as a child. And so does our son. Or let them listen in the car. Or turn one on as they color and you prepare dinner. We love doing this. It's also great fun listening together. We'll be alone in our thoughts listening and out of nowhere something funny in the story happens and we laugh at the same time. Priceless.

9. Don't let the reading aloud stop when they're young. Even teenagers like to be read to.

10. NEVER turn them down to read. Yes, there are times that are better than others. Sometimes it's at a moment, when you think, "Seriously? I'm in the middle of fixing dinner!" What you say is, "I want to read to you, but I can't right now. Put that and one more book by our reading chair and before bed, I'll read them to you." And follow through.

Okay, so those are my top ten ideas/reasons/compelling arguments for reading with your children. There will be more, I am sure.

I'm going to try to start compiling our weekly reading list on here. Perhaps you'll see something that interests you for your own reading or to share with your children. Maybe it'll be an encouragement in your own schooling journey with your children. Maybe it'll even be interesting to see what our family reads.

I do know this- I have not regretted one moment that I've spent reading to our children. I've only regretted the moments that I didn't when asked. I've since learned my lesson. They'll only ask for so long.

Friday, January 27, 2012

When All Else Fails.....

Two blogs in one day. I don't know that will happen again, but the mood has struck, so write I must.

If I've ever given the impression that life here is perfect, I'm sorry. It's not. If you know me, you know that I am a most flawed human who can be moody, headstrong, and confounding. So, starting and ending with me, this house isn't perfect.

My kids aren't perfect. While they are angelically beautiful, they can be quite a handful. Our son is strong-willed. We have been assured that this will serve him well in life. This isn't going unchecked.  Our daughter is coming into her own. Her little personality is a delight; she does, however, have a penchant for climbing and risk taking that her brother did not have.

And my husband. Truly, no one could be easier to live with. My only complaint is that he hoards my plastic containers at work until I beg him to bring them home.

This past month has been difficult. I've been sick most of the month of January. And, still, just as any Momma does, I've risen. Sadly, I haven't always shined.

Maybe it's been the yucky stuff in my sinuses and throat that I've had that the first round of antibiotics failed to heal and a double ear infection crept in somehow. Maybe it's the end of two and a half years of pregnancy, nursing, and Clomid for three months before stopping only to get pregnant the next month. Maybe it's the post-Christmas and New Year's blah.  Maybe it's the solar flares or whatever they're called.

Or maybe it's just me.

January always seems to be a tough month. This one is no exception and it's been particulary hard. When the second round of meds was prescribed I just said, "That's it. No school for a few days. Momma just isn't able."

Of course, as any child would be, my oldest was thrilled that we weren't going to do workbooks. He's a snuggly one, that one. His eyes glowed when I told him to go get us a stack of books. He arranged our pillows just so in Daddy's recliner. He grabbed a blanket big enough to cover him, his sister, and me, and the remote for when my throat got too raw to read any longer.

We watched lots of PBS kids that week.

We read lots of books.

But I still wasn't feeling better. I mean, physically I got stronger. Normal day-to-day things continued- kids fed, kitchen cleaned, laundry done, toys picked up. Naps or rest times enforced.

Still, I wasn't quite feeling just right. I try to read my Bible first thing every morning. I don't always do it. Often, my early risers wake up before or just minutes after me. Several mornings during that rough time, I just skipped it altogether.

And my family felt the effects. Not just a sick Momma. But a grumpy, unhappy, miserable one.

Texts would appear saying, "Have you read your Bible?" or when he'd call to check in he'd ask, "Did you read your Bible?"

When I'd mumble a no. His response was, "You know you'll feel better if you read it."

And he was right. Such an easy remedy for any day- good, bad, or indifferent.

When all else fails, read the Directions.

Polar Bears Weigh as Much as Three Tigers

A nest full of eggs is called a clutch.

If a pergrine falcon migrates from Alaska to Argentina, it will take her two months. If a human were to migrate that same distance, it would take three years.

A polar bear weighs as much as three tigers.

Jochbed was Moses' mother.

When the long hand is on the nine, it's forty-five minutes past the hour.

A sentence begins with a capital letter.

Second grade phonics is WAY more fun than first.

There are five oceans (according to our geography book, which I'm a little skeptical- there were only four when I was in school.) It's called the 'Southern' Ocean, just below the others, around Antartica. I'm not fully buying it until further investigation.

Just a few of the random things we've learned this week. And when I say, 'we' that's exactly what I mean.

I'm no animal lover. I admire them. I think they are beautiful, and their very existence demonstrates to me over and over how creative God was in designing each one so uniquely, yet with similarities that point to only one thing- a Master Creator whose intelligent design is evident everywhere.

This week, more than ever a passion has sparked in me in response to my son's passion in learning about them. Now, I, too, enjoy learning about all kinds of animals. I didn't know a polar bear weighs about as much as three tigers. I remember seeing them at the zoo, but from a distance. These creatures are mammoth, and my son is enthralled with them. And with whales. And tigers. And snakes.

Currently, we're studying out of Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day in the Apologia series. He wasn't crazy about starting with birds. And, to be honest, I wasn't either. I didn't care too much about them when I was a kid. I remember learning about them sometime in late elementary school. And we spent maybe a month on them. So, I didn't deem them that important. Still, this was the pre-requisite before we started the other animal books in the series, so 'suffer' through it we must! Or, so I thought.

At this point,we've spent several months on them now learning about how their wings work, how they find food, how they nest (there are lots of different kinds, including no nesters. Who knew?!?), how they care for their babies, how and why they migrate; as we're winding down with birds, we begin next week with bats. My son is positively beside himself to learn about bats. Mostly, I think because they freak me out, and anything that freaks Momma out is FUN!

Now I find myself watching the sky and our trees for birds. We stop whatever we're doing when we see them in our yard and watch them for a few minutes.

Our literature choices aren't limited to the textbook, which by the way is written very straightforward but not at all dry. I read it the other night before bed. It's that good.  As we finish each section, a reading list is given to reinforce what we've read with age appropriate books from kindergarten through middle school level with a description of each.

I must admit, it took me awhile to catch on, but since I have, I've been on the library site placing holds on every book that I think we might enjoy from those lists. And these books spur an interest in other topics. We've read many books that advertise other readers about different topics on the back, so what do we do? We place holds on those as well. A  random reader we picked up on one of our many library visits on sharks prompted searching for the others in the series on whales, tigers, snakes, and gorillas. Sure, they're not 'on the agenda' for this year, but who cares? Lots of extra learning is going on. We're not limited to scope and sequence for this year. We read many of the same books over and over and over. (I think we've checked out the Olivia books from our local library that we could just about recite it by heart and  still, we crack up every time.)

And the experiments, well, we've not done as many as are suggested but I like the fact that there are lots and we can pick and choose what we'd like to do and what's age appropriate. I figure I'll be teaching this again at least once more and he'll be able to do them then and his younger siblings can do those then, too.

We're still trying to work on capitalizing the first word in a sentence. But, I had middle schoolers when I was a teacher who still had trouble with that fact.

This morning he amazed me when I was doing a little review on Moses. It went something like this, "What happened to Moses when he was a baby?"

He answered, "Pharoah wanted to kill all the baby boys."


A shoulder shrug and crickets.

"Because there were getting to be too many Israelites, and he was afraid they'd outnumber the Egyptians. So what did Moses' mother do?"

"She hid him in a basket in the Jordan River."

"Nile," I corrected. "The Nile River is in Egypt. So, what did she do?"

"She hid him, then put him in a basket, and his sister watched him until Pharoah's daughter found him. Then his sister told the Pharoah's daughter she knew someone who could nurse him. Her name was Jochbed."

"No, Moses' sister's name was Miriam, and we don't know Pharoah's daughter's name."

"No, Momma, Jochbed was Moses' mother. I learned that on my Sparks' cd.

See? Not only am I teaching him. Not only are we learning together. He's teaching me.