Fall Semester: Building Blocks

When I began homeschooling my seven-year-old last year, it was a slow start. We attempted a few methods before finally landing on what worked well. At the end of winter, Mickey should have been completing kindergarten. Instead of reading like a first-grader, he read at a .03 reading level. For those who may not know, that number means he was reading as if in the third month of kindergarten. Now, I’m no stranger to changes mid-game, and this was another time when I had to stop, assess, and reroute our homeschooling journey.

New Plan
We planned to school year-round, but as my son still struggled so with letters, phonics, and penmanship, my husband and I discussed our upcoming plans. Since Mickey was excelling in math and science, we decided to only work on reading for the summer. He has been working on his daily challenges and assigned lessons three days per week through the summer, and he has exploded with excitement, reading road signs, subtitles, and books (unassigned). As his excitement has grown, so has mine. I saw him experience a whole new world that I remember discovering, and still love: the world of reading.

Progress Report
I haven’t kept a close eye on Mickey’s grades this summer, mainly because teaching my kids to read has always been a point of serious anxiety for me. I know Philippians 4:13, though — and I claim it, and I think it, and sometimes I may shout it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Because of my anxiety over it, we didn’t monitor his progress through the summer. When I began to plan for Mickey to begin first grade, I had him take the reading assessment offered by the academic program we use. He tested at a 1.08 reading level (almost second grade). This was a shock to me. Even though we read together, even though he reads everything, and even though he writes stories and letters and cards, it was a shock that he improved so much so fast. It was a shock, even though I’ve prayed over it and fretted over it, and God has given me the tools to teach my children.

Building Blocks
It turns out that since Mickey’s reading has improved, he is able to excel in the other subjects. He doesn’t have to ask me to read the questions every two minutes. He doesn’t have to click on the little microphone that prompts the computer to read to him. He can read, sound out, and understand everything I put in front of him!

It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t teach my son to read, when I love to read and have always been a reader. Reading is the the first building block for the rest of first grade in our house. Now that he can read, the possibilities seem endless.

And, now that I remember that God answers prayers, the possibilities are endless.

Summer Reading Program and a BookList!


We really enjoyed this school year and I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of this homeschooling lifestyle. We love taking a “one-room schoolhouse” approach and have enjoyed learning together with a range of ages this year, from two years old to almost eight.

We are getting ready to move this summer, and so I have been struggling to keep up with my best efforts on homeschooling regularly. We do more of a relaxed year-round schedule, but I am a person of regularity and I definitely am struggling in this area at present. I was brainstorming what to do as a focusing theme for the summer to keep us going, and all my children have really been enjoying our read-aloud times, so I decided to make that our “school program” as we move into summer. I want my oldest to read 20 minutes/five times a week with me, and that way we will have focused one-on-one time as well as be learning and keeping our reading skills up! I plan to continue to read to my youngest in her room before naps. I also plan to move to reading with my middle son after that. My middle child often jumps in on both read-alouds with brother and nap time stories with sister, but I am looking for opportunities to read to him one-on-one as well. (The challenges of being a middle child!)

We sat down and made a list of things my oldest wanted to read about or specific books we have yet to read around the house. I’d like to work this list for my middle child as well. We also have taken a habit of evening family reading time, which motivates us to be home and ready for bed on time more regularly during the longer summer days. And, for those days we are in the car in the evening house hunting or heading home from a fun outing with family or friends, we have our audio books so we don’t miss out on that special time to read as a family.

I would love to hear what others are reading with their young readers that deepens your time together and their thirst for knowledge as they grow in their understanding of Christ.

Here’s some of our favorites so far, as well as wishful reads for this coming summer.

AUDIOS:

Pilgrims Progress (great for longer road trips)

Christian Heroes Then and Now series

READ-ALOUDS:

True Education Reader (we bought the third-grade set)

Singer in the Sand (mission family story)

Stories Worth Rereading (highly recommended by a friend)

Cabin Boy

Brave Men to the Battle

Waldenses

Old-Fashioned Camp Meeting

Wilderness: an Interactive Atlas of Animals (Costco find!)

other books on animals…

Hope you are encouraged to pick up a book with your child this summer to keep their interest in learning a positive one. We are always eager when August rolls around to get out our math manipulatives and start back into our other subjects. Praying your time spent with your children in your summer adventures is blessed, and I hope to hear what other families are doing to keep the love of learning alive while they take their summer break…

Blessings, Allison

Teaching Reading



It is vitally important that children be taught to read, and to read well. There is shocking evidence that 60 million individuals in the United States, or one-third of the entire population, cannot read. This high rate of illiteracy prevents individuals from reaching their full potential in life and in the job market. It is a frightening reality, especially for parents of school-age children. As a home educator, the teacher-parent may find that teaching reading is one of the most daunting tasks that takes place in a homeschool. It takes time to give children the building blocks necessary to teach them to read. For most children the ability to read does not happen overnight, but rather is a process that takes place in stages as they are offered tools for learning and time to internalize and apply what they have learned. This ability is the foundation of all future learning. It is possible that children can read and read extremely well!

It becomes the responsibility of the parent to teach their children to read. Some key elements in teaching reading:

  • Talk to the child a lot from birth and as they develop and grow. This provides the foundation of linguistic information. By listening, a child absorbs the language, accent, and grammar of those who surround him.
  • Preparation for reading starts at a very young age. Sensory stimulation is important. Whether it be in the form of a red, black, and white mobile that hangs over a child’s crib, or something as simple as turning a light off and on to stimulate the pupillary reflex, activities that encourage development assist in developing overall intelligence and ability. Geometric shapes and the contrast of black and white are some of the first visual items that an infant recognizes. Studies also show that crawling is very important for babies. An infant should be allowed to be on his stomach, on the floor, as much as possible. Crawling helps a child develop neurologically, and it is instrumental in the development of visual pathways to the brain. As children grow, other forms of physical activity, like swinging, climbing, bouncing, jumping, rolling, and gymnastics also assist in neurological development. The development of gross motor skills is vital for youngsters. Strong neural pathways assist the child in becoming a good reader.
  • Make sure that words are visible to children of all ages. Small words on a book are not always easy for a developing youngster, so care should be taken to provide opportunity for children to see words in large print and in bright colors. Expose children to written words in their daily life at an early age, just as you surround them with verbal information. Point out signs, words on cereal boxes, notes on the fridge, and so on. Make them aware that words exist and that they are a valuable part of life.
  • Read to your child, starting from infancy. Books can be either commercial or those that you write yourself (large, colorful words). Make reading a daily routine. This establishes value and importance on the task. This example teaches your child what books are for. Read to them with enthusiasm, changing your voice to express the personality of each character in the book. Use your finger to underline the words as you read out loud, as this teaches the child that words flow in a certain pattern, going from left to right, and from top to bottom of the page. Read frequently and for as long as you keep a child’s attention. Reading is one of the foundations of an intelligent individual. Reading to your child is a key component in creating a good reader.
  • Tie together the importance of sounds (language) and reading (words) by teaching children phonics. Instead of teaching the alphabet, skip that task and instead teach the child the letter sounds. You can go with the same sequence of A, B, C. But, instead of saying the name of the letters, model the sounds of the words instead. If a letter has more than one sound, give them both in sequence. For example, say the sound for soft-sound A then long-sound A, then the sound for the letter B, and sound for soft-sound C and then long-sound C.  Continue through the alphabet. This is an activity that can be set to the music of a favorite song and it should be a routine that is established daily and from a young age. As children grow and you prepare them for more formal reading, the phonetic foundation will have been established. After the alphabet sounds are learned, move on to the more advanced phonograms and teach them with their phonics rules.
  • Encourage initial reading experiences using books that are phonetically based and have been written so that the child recognizes the phonograms learned. A phonics reading program such as this free, online reading resource helps the child flow naturally into putting sounds together into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Reading becomes a natural process with this approach.
  • Give the child opportunities each day to read out loud to you! Short periods of time throughout the day will be more productive than one longer period of time. For the best in productive learning, always quit the activity before your child is ready to quit! Diminished interest on the child’s part is never productive. The key to a pleasurable reading experience is to keep the child motivated and eager. Taking turns with the parent in reading a story is a great way to teach a child to read.
  • Pace the learning experience according to your child’s needs. If a child was interested in learning, and then you see a diminished interest, it is a cue that the child is experiencing boredom and that it is time to quicken the pace and teach him new concepts. Boredom can indicate that the child already knows the information. But, be aware that there are other reasons for boredom, making it clear that you need to keep in tune with your child and their needs. Boredom can also result when a child doesn’t understand the information being presented. It can also mean that your child sees no useful application for the information being taught. Thus, it is important to clarify concepts as you go along and to help the child see their importance and how it applies to daily life. Interest in a subject goes a long way in helping a child focus their attention.
  • Remember that all words a child is being taught to read should have meaning to him. If a child doesn’t know that Istanbul is the name of a city in Turkey, it will have no meaning to him. Explain the meaning of words they may not understand. Make reading meaningful. Start out with familiar words and move on from their. Words don’t have to be simple to be meaningful and read at an early age. If the child has a dog named Liberated, that becomes a good reading word even though it is not generally a word the beginning reader uses, because the child can associate the word with something that is meaningful to him. Introduce new words at a pace that prevents boredom but that does not overwhelm.
  • Games and drills can be fun for a child learning to read! Phonogram flashcards can be laid flat on a counter top with pennies, nickles, quarters, and dimes underneath. Take turns with the child in selecting a card and verbalizing the sound of the letter or letters being presented. If the sound given is correct, the child gets to keep the coin below the card. See who can collect the most money (teacher-parent, child, or sibling). If you don’t want to use actual money, school tokens could be made instead. Other games like Go-Fish, flashcard games, or pocket games can all be used in teaching phonics and/or sight-see words.  Reading game ideas can be found online if you have trouble coming up with ideas on your own.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Reading aloud to your child is as important as having your child read back to you. Read throughout the day, not just from books but from signs, packages, posters, and more. Make reading fun for both you and your child. Make reading a delight! Not only will you be creating happy memories with your child, but you will be establishing a foundation of learning that will serve your child well for years to come.

Homeschool to Entrepreneur Writer

The love of reading

Katie is the youngest of four children, all homeschooled by their mom. From the time Katie was a baby, she loved books. Her older brothers and her parents read to her every day. Bible stories and Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories were among her favorites. She also loved stories about animals, as well as children’s books such as the Dr. Seuss books.

As her reading skills grew, so did her love of reading. She loved the internet, as it gave her an endless amount of material to read on all subjects.

young-girl-computerDuring her younger years, Katie also discovered she enjoyed writing as much as she loved reading. Although she was quite adept at most of her school subjects, she wrote with great enthusiasm. Her mother noted that whatever Katie’s future held, her writing skills would be a huge asset to her. As a teen, she explored possible career paths, most of which included college. Her mom helped guide her, but Katie was not yet sure what direction to take.

The skill becomes the career

While on the internet one day reading some blogs, Katie came across a blog on how to become a blogger. She searched for more information on blogging, then on other forms of writing. Her mom said that Katie was so immersed in what she was reading that she didn’t notice the time. When her mom came in the room to remind her they needed to leave for the youth group meeting, Katie could not stop talking about what she had discovered.

Katie’s mom laughs that Katie didn’t seem to stop for a breath the entire drive to the youth group meeting that night. Her excitement over her new-found career path just seemed to bubble from her.

Katie spent the next couple of days on career exploration centered on an online writing career. She discovered that while blogging was certainly a good possible choice, many other options existed, too.

College at least delayed

Katie decided that she would try a career in online writing before considering college. Never excited about spending time and money on college, she felt an enthusiasm for being able to jump into a career without that expense. Some of her friends encouraged her to consider college now, with them. But, her path was different.

Fast forward two years

While some of her friends chose local or distance colleges, others chose vocational schools, and still others pursued jobs, Katie poured herself into writing. She began with writing articles for others, usually at no pay. She was just gaining experience. Soon, she had offers for paid content.

teen-girl-computerAlthough she already had a computer and basic necessities for writing, she used her income to purchase a few more necessities, and even invested in an online freelance writer course.

One of her favorite memories is when a few of her close friends came home on break from college. While they were quite happy with their chosen college route, Katie’s writing career truly impressed them. She showed them her office, a remodel of her schooling area, where she was able to write. When the reunion was over, Katie quickly made notes about the stories they told of their college experiences. She used those notes to write more freelance articles for pay!

Freelance Entrepreneur

Katie did not truly make much of a profit the first year, as much of the small amount she was paid was reinvested. But, before her college-educated friends received their bachelor’s degrees, Katie’s monthly income was quite impressive. She has decided that the freelance entrepreneur lifestyle is perfect for her, though admits it would not work for everyone.

She credits her homeschool years and the freedom they allowed her to pursue her own path. While she might have found this path from any education, Katie believes that the encouragement from her mom and dad, as well as the homeschool education, helped her refine her career choice. She states that without the reading and writing through the years, her life might be quite different.

Katie recently started writing a book, in addition to her content writing. Now engaged, she plans to continue her online business when married, too. She is sure that it will allow her to homeschool their own children in the future, too.

 

 

Square One

 

There’s a reason that trial-and-error has long been a system of experimentation. It works in science, math, multiple choice. We’ve found that it works on the farm. Which end of the garden is the best soil for tomatoes? How much water do the plants need during the hottest month? What food helps the chickens lay the best? What kind of boxes do they like to roost in? If we make this fence higher, will the goat stay in the pen? No. If we add barbed wire? No. I think trial-and-error is exactly how some goat farmer long ago figured out that only electric fences will keep goats in the pen 100 percent of the time.

It’s all well and good when we’re talking about farm animals. We have the time to make adjustments. We have the resources to build, maintain, and redirect our animals. We have time to replant, time next year to try again, a grocery store to buy produce in the meantime. Trial-and-error is helpful on the farm. It works. Square One isn’t a huge threat on the farm.

What happens when our homeschool hits Square One? I never expected our homeschool to be a trial-and-error experiment, and even now, I am dissatisfied with the view from where we sit at square one.

It all started when my son’s disinterest in reading began to manifest into him not reading, refusing to sit quietly to learn, and conveniently forgetting his sight words just minutes after going over them and over them. Instead of yelling at him, making him sit longer, and more often, or starting over with the curriculum I knew was not working, we went back to square one.

The important first step? Assessing our child.

The program we were using was reading-only for the first year! When your kid isn’t interested in the reading, this can be a problem. So, I wanted a curriculum that included more than reading at his age. Although he wasn’t too interested in reading from a book or going over sight words on flashcards, he did love the computer. Games, typing letters, drawing, and more, he loved the computer, so I went to work finding a curriculum that was computer-based. I’m largely unorganized with recording homeschool hours, scheduling homeschool hours, and saving examples of work, so I searched for a program that had a built-in record-keeping system. 

When it was all said and done, I chose a program that my son loves. It is 100 percent online, but offers printable worksheets. It tracks time, grade level, and progress, as well as offering incentives and games. It’s exactly what I wanted and what he needed.

So, what’s the problem? 

I don’t like surveying the “race” around me and standing at the starting line with my kid. I feel like picking him up and carrying him through the race, when I should teach him to run it on his own. I want to skip through the alphabet and phonics, and buy him chapter books. I cannot remember not being able to read. As a five-year-old I would read my Granny books at bedtime until she fell asleep. I read and followed hymns in church. I don’t remember a time when I looked at a word and sounded it out. Ever. It’s hard for me to walk along with my son hand-in-hand, waiting patiently for something to click the way you’d expect a runner to find his stride just before he goes on to win the race. I’m not satisfied with waiting.

We have been in our little cabin in the country for exactly a year and a month now, and it seems I am just as impatient with farm life as I am with homeschooling. If I start the hens on layer feed, I want them to start laying right away. If I plant a seed, following the specified instructions, I want it to produce a plant at the very least, but would love to also have it bear some kind of fruit or vegetable. But, life doesn’t happen that way.

Everything we do seems to be some kind of trial and error, and only one thing is certain. King Jesus. If I teach my kid that Jesus is his Savior, and teach him to love, and to have a loving relationship with God and others, but never succeed with reading, do I succeed?

I wish I could come up with an answer to these tough questions. I’m praying that I can.