Early Learning Calendar Board!

Since my oldest graduated and my next two are in middle school, I am re-entering the early learning phase with my three-year-old! Over the last 17 years of homeschooling, I have learned so much about what works for our family and for each child. It’s been a lot of trials, errors, and triumphs, but I am looking forward to starting again. This time, though, it will be more relaxed.

I am a firm believer in waiting until a child is developmentally ready for formal education. I believe young children should have lots of free play time and time to discover their interests. Our three-year-old is one who loves music and singing. She sings all over the house and remembers words to songs very well. So, what better way to introduce her to topics than through song? She asks me every day what day of the week it is, so I knew she was ready to start learning the days of the weeks, months of the year, and calendar. Pinterest is one of my favorite spots to find great ideas, and it was here that I stumbled across this adorable calendar trifold board. The credit for this idea goes to Amber from her blog From ABC’s to ACT’s!

I love laminating fun little activities, and putting them on a trifold board was a perfect condensed way to work with her, so this was right up my alley! All of the printables were free. I laminated them, cut them out, and affixed velcro to the back. I then positioned them on the board and put the opposite velcro where I wanted them to stick. The headings, days of the week, and months of the year are secured with clear packing tape. I also made pockets out of two sheet protectors. Then I bordered the whole thing with fun duct tape. All in all the project cost about $10! She really loves it and sings the songs all over the house.

Her schedule this year consists of morning time with me and her older siblings, where she plays while we do memory verses and some poetry. Then I do her calendar board with her. After that she has free play, story time, and outside time, and sometimes does a sensory craft with mama. That’s it!

Early learning doesn’t need to be stressful. Keep it simple and open ended. Let them play and explore.

Resources:

Calendar Board Printables – Free

Trifold board and velcro were purchased from Walmart.

That Moment When

I remember when my oldest child, Ethan, who is now 17 years old, was a tiny thing and I thought about everything I was going to teach him. I was going to do it right, too, I tell you!

I’d armed myself with all my books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Books like Better Late Than Early and the annotated version School Can Wait, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, Home Grown Kids, and many more.

I was ready!

To WAIT!

And, wait I would. Because I wasn’t going to force my children to learn to read.

Then, while I was waiting, Ethan did something unexpected.

He taught himself to read.

But, seriously! The only thing I did, quite selfishly, was purchase a LeapPad for him to play with in the car. In fact, I wouldn’t let him play it anywhere else other than in the car because I didn’t want him to a) lose the parts (there were books and cartridges that went together) and thus have nothing to do in the car, or b) get bored with it and thus have nothing to do in the car.

After playing with the books, he would ask me these questions – out of the blue – like, “Mom? Why don’t you pronounce both these letters [referring to vowels]?” Pointing to the A and the E in the word SAVE.

“Oh, that’s because the second vowel is silent so that the first says its name.”

Several days later, he’d challenge, “Mom? This word doesn’t follow the rules,” pointing to the word SIGHT. “The letter I says its name even though there’s only one [vowel].”

“Nope,” I’d answer. “That’s because there’s another rule that says…”

Or, “I guess that one breaks the rules,” in the case of most of the sight words.

We walked our way through the phonics rules in this manner — me explaining one, Ethan identifying either one that followed a new rule or a rule breaker. That’s what he called them, “rule breakers.”

And, just like that he was reading! Before the age of six! By not-quite-eight years old, he was reading chapter books.

Boy, did I think I was good.

Actually, I kind of felt like a fraud at this homeschooling thing. I was supposed to be teaching him, but instead he was managing quite well without me.

In retrospect, I was so glad that he was my first child and not Lowell.

Lowell was a completely different story.

Lowell wasn’t reading by the time he was eight. He showed no aptitude by the time he was 10. At 12, I started second-guessing myself, second-guessing my methods. And then I would look at my son who, had he attended traditional school, would have been diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, SPD, with Asperger’s and dyslexia.

And, instead of being labeled, instead of believing himself to be “disabled” or stupid or a whole host of other less-formal labels, my son was a little oblivious — blissfully oblivious to what others thought of him. I was the one who fielded questions or looks from those who thought he should have been reading long before then.

My poor mother was almost beside herself. She’s a very in-the-box thinker, and she was not so certain about this whole homeschooling thing, at least not the way I was going about it. Unschooling, indeed!

And then one day…he was reading.

I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t because I sat him down and worked with a curriculum. It wasn’t any one specific thing I did. Except that I waited.

I waited for him to find a reason to learn to read. And write. They came hand in hand since his motivation to read – and write – resulted from playing games on a server with his friends. The only way they could communicate was by a rudimentary instant messenger program.

My oldest daughter, four years younger than my youngest son, wasn’t reading at the age of six, or eight.

This child! Oh, I have to laugh. THIS child was the one that the other homeschooling mom at our church — one of the leaders — had to corral and explain to her that it made homeschoolers look bad when she went around announcing that she didn’t read because she was homeschooled!

My kids are long on confidence, short on nuance.

And so I waited with her too. Of course, it didn’t help that our youth pastor’s wife is a fifth-grade school teacher…who doesn’t appreciate the fact that my children are late readers…and that I do nothing about it.

Waiting has had a different feel to it this time. It feels a little like a subtle chess game punctuated with awkward silences where conversations aren’t had. Even when it’s just she and I, standing there, pretending that we aren’t not crazy about each other. It’s the silence instead of the “Good morning,” or “Happy Sabbath.” It’s dodging into rooms off hallways and seeing her do the same.

And, I smile. Because fundamentally, I know that she believes strongly in what she does. And, I know that I do too. I guess as long as I avoid the pitched battle, I should be thankful, no?

Until one day, my daughter knew how to read. Just like that. No fuss, no muss.

I used to tease this daughter, “Wait a minute. You can’t be texting. You don’t know how to read!”

Predictably, she would just roll her eyes, smile, and say, “Oh mom…”

I have one last girl child who is almost 10 years old. She’s not reading.

Since we now live in a neighborhood replete with little girls her age and younger who are all reading with ease, she’s made lots of noise about wanting to learn how to read. And so, I do what I’ve done with all my children. I encourage her. I purchase reading programs, just like I did with Ethan all those years ago. And, I’m not above bribery!

I’ve told Laurie that once she learns to read, I’ll start her in voice lessons. She was interested and excited for precisely one day.

I guess I’m just sitting here writing with a firm knowing in my chest that, one day, I’ll look up and this girl child will be holding a baby of her own. She’ll start on a journey where she’ll decide to allow her children to learn at home. Or she’ll homeschool them. Or they’ll head off to school each morning.

But, one thing I know: She’ll be reading long before then.

And, I’ll wait. I’m not in a hurry.

A couple of months ago, I took the kids with my mom up into the mountains to look at the fall colors. We went over a pass called “Guanella Pass” just outside Denver.

As we were driving, Mom and I were chatting about the name, wondering if it were an early explorer to our state.

“Lowell. Google it on your phone.”

Several moments later, he began reading about the history of the area.

In that moment, I had one of those times of clarity. I liken it to the commercials where the action stops. The man or woman has leapt in the air during a rainstorm and everything freezes. The raindrops hang suspended as does the main character in the scene.

Suddenly the camera swings around to a different perspective — from the side and behind to directly in front — and a second later the action continues.

I had one of those moments, with my mom, lately a believer, and my three younger children driving along a pretty mountain pass.

“Mom,” I said quietly as Lowell paused mid-sentence, “Lowell’s reading.”

Warm, Responsive Parenting and Delayed Academics

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In our family, we chose to follow the Moore Formula approach to education. The focus on work, study, and service helped us keep a balance in our family life while presenting the value of learning to our children in every facet of our lives. I believe that the Moore approach, possibly more than any other, allows learning to become integral to the whole child and the complete family system. With this approach, education is not placed in a box. Instead, the entire world is open to the child in a way that most other types of educational systems cannot replicate.

Sometimes parents who choose to follow the Moore Formula find that they can feel like a fish swimming up the stream instead of going with the flow. That’s because they are thinking and teaching outside the norm. Our culture and the educational system are creating learning environments that take the parent out of the educational formula at an early age (preschool). One goal of the present public system of education is to do this at increasingly earlier ages. As homeschool parents, sometimes we forget that these are external, artificial pressures, and we take them upon ourselves.

Research shows that children whose parents practice delayed academics rather than early academics, catch up with and exceed peers who have been educated formally and starting at a young age. Not only are delayed-study children beneficiaries academically, but research shows that they exhibit more skills in inquiry and higher-level thinking than their traditionally educated peers. Traditionally “schooled” AND traditionally “schooled at home” children who are not taught by the work-service-study model of delayed academics that Dr. Moore promoted have been found to exhibit signs (across the board) of burnout by fourth grade. These are only a few examples of the excellence that results in children who receive an education with delayed academics.

School Can Wait is an example of a very well documented and highly researched book which proves Dr. Moore’s educational philosophy. This book is highly research oriented and the result of a $257,000 federal grant which documented the importance of unbroken continuity of parental attachment wherever possible, and the dangers of formal schooling until at least eight to ten. In it Dr. Moore states that:

“The preponderance of evidence indicates that the key role of a parent throughout the years of childhood is simply to be the kind of warm, responsive, and relatively consistent person to whom a child can safely become attached. Early development and learning are actively dependent on this relationship. Parents are chiefly responsible for a child’s early learning by their attitudes and responses to the child in frequent interactions,” (School Can Wait, p. 47).

The Moore Formula encourages warm, responsive parenting and a delay in formal academics until eight or ten years of age. It is a plan that has proven itself over and over again. It really does work!

Castles in the Sky

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We have based our homeschooling methods on Ellen G. White’s counsel and the Moores’ principles and research. We delayed formal education with our son, we used life experiences as teaching methods, we helped him with business opportunities, and we read to him all the time. Always, the idea of unit study study approach kept popping up, and finally we decided to give that a try too.

I sat down with my son and explained the concept of unit studies and asked him if that was something he would like to try. When he showed enthusiasm, I asked him to tell me some areas of interest so we could narrow it down for our first unit study. His answer held all the usual interests of most boys: war, pirates, ships, airplanes, etc. The list also included the one we finally decided on — castles.

With excitement, I dove into the preparation. I ordered books from the library, scoured our bookshelves, looked on the internet for places to visit and things to do, the whole deal. I had books on unit studies, and we used a form from one of these to map out our strategy. He was so interested, and this was so fun and exciting. I put all our resources in a plastic file box and we were ready to go.

Now, just so you know, we had already read innumerable books on castles, watched videos on castles, and crafted our own castles. Still, this time it was going to be with learning as the goal. I gave him spelling words related to castles, writing assignments, and art projects, and we read lots of books together. We were really doing this, it was really great…at least for a few days! Then it became old, repetitive, and a little boring, but there were still books to read and materials to be used. We couldn’t quit now, but we did. Right there, in the middle of the unit study, we quit. I knew it was a done deal the day I emptied the box and put everything away, even my good intentions and hopes. I guess the unit study approach wasn’t our thing after all.

Then, amid all those wonderful, fill-up-your-box-and-overwhelm-you, homeschool emails, was one for a free monthly timeline. I looked it over and printed it all out for February, and enthusiasm returned for both my son and me. My idea was to include it in our homeschooling each day and explore a little farther than just what the timeline mentioned. So again, off to the library for resources. I was ready for this, with my file folder marked timeline and a new burst of enthusiasm. Banner paper, tape, scissors, and markers were going to make this happen. The good news is we finished February’s timeline, but not in February — even with the extra leap day! It was actually April when we finally put it to rest, so I hope there aren’t any major historical events in March, because we missed the whole month!

I learned something as I failed at these two approaches to learning. I learned that they weren’t really failures, but stepping stones. I realized that we have probably been using unit studies all along without realizing it. In fact, we probably started when my son was about four (you know, before formal education or homeschooling) when my husband said, “Let’s pick a subject that he’s interested in each month and read books about it.” It continued when we would research and explore things that caught our attention. And, it even happened when we tried the timeline experiment, as we delved further into some of the events or people that were mentioned.

So, I guess we will continue with the Moore philosophy of learning from and for life. We will continue with unit studies, whether it be the traditional approach or our own twist on it. We will keep following where my son’s interests lead, and just hope that it’s not down the path to another castle!

*Special thanks to WriteBonnieRose.com for the wonderful timeline and free materials included with it.

Know Yourself… Know Your Child

“You’re not doing him any favors…”

How many times have I heard that sentiment? So many people think they know better than I do how to raise or school my sons. In the last year at least two separate people — professionals, parents of friends — have said it to me… So, I ask myself, AM I helping him or harming him in how we “school”?

My boys have special needs. Getting those needs diagnosed and treated can be more challenging when you are homeschooling. In particular, I’ve experienced a lot of difficulty getting people to even look at my younger son for assessment, and when I finally found someone to assess him, they were so focused on the fact that I homeschool, I didn’t feel they truly did their best assessment — they simply didn’t know how. When I went to them and asked for an assessment, I stated that I observed and believed that he had ADHD, anxiety, and a learning disorder of some type that I needed help identifying. At the end of their assessment, they diagnosed him with ADHD, anxiety, and “learning difficulties”…and then they decided that he should be in school so he could be assessed in two years. They intimated it was my fault he wasn’t reading at a third-grade level, and that I “wasn’t doing him any favors” by reading to him. (Recently had him assessed by a speech-language pathologist, and her advice was to read to him until he could do it for himself.)

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How is he to learn how to do math and other subjects if I don’t read to him, since he doesn’t read for himself? Am I to simply let every other subject fall to the wayside until he can read for himself? How is that “doing him a favor”? For me, I read the questions with words in math, and I read his science and social studies work to him so he can continue learning in the areas he is excelling in. He’s advanced in math by at least two years. Shall I halt that process simply because he has a learning disorder in reading? That is the joy of homeschooling him. If the task is to work on reading, to learn how to read, then HE does the reading, but if the task is to learn something else and reading gets in the way, why restrict him? Why should I hold him back from learning what he is interested in simply because he is not at that reading level?

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My eldest son has ASD (autism) and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). This means that he struggles with gross and fine motor control. When we aren’t home, he walks into walls, trips over carpets, and stumbles into light switches, etc. He feels like he’s always getting hurt. In addition, it’s simply exhausting for him to maintain a pencil grip. DCD affects his hands, his legs, his arms, his posture, his eyes. We work with an occupational therapist, and a behavioural/developmental aide. Last year I was able to get him to write three to five words before he gave up. He was more willing to draw — squiggly lines, curves, trucks… But, he tires easily and it’s evident in his work.

I was feeling pretty proud of him because the amount of handwritten work he can do has increased by three to four times…until a friend’s parent saw us working on school — and all of a sudden I’m “not doing him any favors.”  What made her comment? I do most of his writing. He does all his reading, he does all the work, I am simply a tool to help him complete the work and get it done. I don’t like using computer programs — he tends to figure out a way to guess or cheat for the answers, and he doesn’t learn as much as he does when I write for him. It’s a teaching opportunity and it helps him focus better. Sometimes I hand him a voice recorder so he can dictate his answers for me to transcribe and mark later. He’s learning typing, he uses an iPad, and I anticipate that when he’s of employment age almost everything will be electronic. I don’t want him to rely on that, though. I want him to believe and to know that he needs to have the ability to write. He knows I can’t always be there to be his pencil. I can’t always be his voice. We’re working on those things, and, in the meantime, I don’t want his struggle to write to interfere with his ability to learn. He absorbs knowledge like a sponge…until he has to interpret or express it with his hands; then writing absolutely interferes with his comprehension. He writes when the task is writing and penmanship. We’re building his endurance. In the meantime, I don’t mind being his pencil.

There is always going to be someone who thinks they know better than you do, someone who will imagine they have a better method of teaching your child, someone who can’t understand how what you are doing could possibly work…

KnowYourChild

The message today? You know your child. You know how they learn; you know their struggles and their strengths. You know where they need to be challenged, and you know where they need to be helped. It’s good to get feedback from others, it’s good to see where maybe you could offer a little more challenge to your child, but FIRST you must trust that your instincts are right. First you must believe in yourself and your ability to teach your child what they need to know. When we lose faith in ourselves and our children, everything becomes a bigger struggle, a harder challenge than it needs to be.

Know your child. Trust yourself.