Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spell to Write and Read: Two Years Later

Three years ago, I started homeschooling a 4.5yo Grasshopper, who was already reading. I had no idea that a child who was an advanced reader would not be advanced in everything else. I know. Duh! But I thought that I could look at someone's recommendations for a 1st grade spelling program and apply that to any child who was spelling at that level, regardless of age. Alas, I was wrong. I quickly learned that a workbook approach was not a good idea for a 4yo, and most especially for this particular child. That first year, we ended up adapting Spelling Workout A by doing most of it orally and doing tests using SpellingCity. I knew that I needed something that required more interaction on my part.

I ended up finding Spell to Write and Read (SWR). We made a very rough start of it, but I want to tell the world that SWR meets head-on the challenge of teaching thorough, explicit phonics to students who are not learning at grade level (meaning they are either ahead or behind). You see, this is the big problem with workbooks. They are so very tempting, giving us the illusion that everything a student needs is right there in that book. But this is a huge problem for a student who is not at grade level. I mean, what 3rd grader wants to be treated like a 1st grader, even if it is for the purpose of spelling? And who in their right mind would hand a book designed for a 6yo to a 4yo? (That would be me!)

SWR eliminates the hassle of determining what level to buy or how to adapt a program up or down to suit the writing abilities of an individual student. All programs suited to adapting to a differently-abled learner have one thing in common--they are flexible. SWR is flexible because it contains all levels in one. All word lists are in one book: The Wise Guide. You give your child a diagnostic test to determine placement in this one book. Then you adapt all activities to your child's needs. Very young children may only work on 1-2 words per day and may not participate in spelling tests at all. Older children will work on up to 40 words per week. Each spelling list has several suggested activities to go with that list, some for emerging readers and others for more advanced readers. Yes, it is a lot more work than handing your child a workbook. But if your child is not reading, spelling and writing at his age level, SWR makes adaptation as easy as it gets. Your child will never feel like the program was meant for an older or a younger child.

When I started SWR, I was still learning about giftedness and how to teach young gifted children, so it has been a long road trying to figure it all out. SWR actually has a reputation for helping struggling readers, and although I am sure that it is wonderful for that, it is unfortunate, because I believe that every child should learn such thorough phonics. Yes, it is certain that some of them will end up being natural readers and spellers and not need such an intensive program. But I don't think anyone should wait until their child is behind to give him all the tools he will need to read.

Yes, the SWR manual could make it easier to get started. But if you can get past the first 2-3 months, everything will begin to be quite open-and-go. My struggle to get started with SWR was more than worth the effort. I now have a program that is based on a very sound philosophy and will last us for as long as we need and for as many children as I teach. I am now starting my 4yo Cricket on SWR, and I can already see the wisdom in this program compared to that workbook approach that three years ago I thought was the best way to go.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Help for My Distractible Child

Have you ever asked your child to do something and found you had to ask several more times before it got done?  Well, at first, I considered Grasshopper to be disobedient.  I started to come up with charts and games and incentives to help.  We had a chore chart with stars for her morning tasks.  When she filled her chart, she got to go out with either mom or dad.  I had a marble jar for clearing the table after meals.  I put marbles in the jar each time someone cleared the table, and they got a big candy bar when it was filled.  They loved these things and participated eagerly, and I patted myself on the back . . . prematurely. 

Eventually, I found that these things worked well for Cricket, but not for his older sister.  After all this encouragement, Grasshopper still could not seem to do anything unless I was right there beside her.  I decided that it was me that had the problem.  She is the sort of kid that tries really hard to do what I ask, so if she was consistently not obeying, then it must simply be beyond her ability.  I told myself that it would come with maturity and what was needed was more patience on my part. 

However, the problem got worse and not better "with maturity."  And that patience I sought seemed more and more elusive.  I still did not consider any sort of learning disability like ADD.  After all, she was advanced in every single subject area in school.  I told myself that I just needed try harder and be more prayerful. 

But then it began to become more her problem than mine.  She started to come to me and say, "Mom, when I read, I don't remember what I read."  Or, "Mom, I was going to do this craft, but I got distracted and did a bunch of other things that I didn't really want to do as much as the craft."  One night, I checked in on her at 10:30pm, expecting her to be asleep, but she was awake writing a letter to her grandmother that she had promised to write but had forgotten.  She would cry sometimes about these things, and I didn't have any answers for her. 

Meanwhile, my friend asked me if I was going to the Illinois Christian Home Educators conference.  I told her that it was the last weekend my husband was working (he is a teacher), so I couldn't come since I did not have someone to watch my kids.  (Honestly, I didn't really want to pay for it, anyway, didn't want to make the 3-hour round trip twice over two days, and didn't want to go alone.)  This very kind friend told her mother about me, and she invited my kids to her house so I could go to the conference.  Seeing as how I would at least have someone to go with, I immediately accepted her offer and registered for the conference.

I then discovered that the conference was being held the weekend after my husband was done with school, and he would be available.  As it turns out, I did not need my friend's mother to help.  But were it not for her, I would have continued in my mistaken notion that it was at an inconvenient time and would not have gone. 

I felt very strongly that I needed to attend a session called "The Distractible Child," as the description mentioned not only those kids that couldn't sit still, but also those kids that could sit still but were always in their own world.  The latter was my Grasshopper.  (It was a good thing it was not entitled "The ADD child," because I never would have gone. 

When the session began, the speaker started by saying she had two kids that were ADHD, and I thought, "Oh, no!  This is not going to be about my kid!  She is not ADHD!"  Well, I was wrong.  While she is definitely not hyperactive, and may not even be ADD, there were enough similarities to pay good attention.  I cried through the entire session, looking around wondering why I was the only one choking back tears.  As I sat there, I knew that God had led me to this session.  I am so excited at all things that I can do to help my Grasshopper--things she won't even realize I am doing for her.  She won't know that I am putting a curtain in front of the sliding glass door so that she won't look out the window while she is doing school work.  She won't know that I am buying a special chair for her to sit in that will help her not to fidget at the table, because both kids will get one.  She won't know that I am keeping the table clear for her sake (to minimize distractions while doing school work), because I always try to do that.  I will just be doing it better than before. 

For anyone that is interested, the name of the speaker was Melissa Boring, and she has a website called Heads Up Now!.  I bought a weighted kitty, which is a 4-lb. stuffed animal that she can hold in her lap while she is doing her school work and is supposed to help to remind her to stay in her seat.  We are also going to come up with some small, quiet items that she can fidget with while she is doing school.  Apparently, this helps some distractible kids to focus better.  We won't be needing all of these things until August, but I will let you all know how it goes!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Making of the Butter Churn

Grasshopper is a complete history buff. I always find myself wondering if I am pushing her too much when we should be concentrating on the 3 R's right now. I recently got my answer when she picked out a history book over a dozen other books I had chosen for her. The book was about kitchens in colonial times, and I thought it was a little dry. But as we were reading, the butter-making activity caught her eye--you know, the one where you put cream in a jar with marbles and shake it until it becomes butter? As I was envisioning myself putting that activity together for her, she exclaimed, "Mom, I don't want to do that. I want to make a butter churn!" I laughed, hoping she would get the hint that this was a fantasy and not something this activity-phobic mom could even imagine doing. "No, mom. I really want to do it!" was the reply. And my standard response to any type of activity requiring creativity is, "Well, you better ask your dad."
So there began the making of the butter churn. I am so blessed to have a dh who can think of ways to make Grasshopper's ideas a reality. Here is what they did:
Round potato masher
Frosting container w/ plastic lid (or other similarly sized can w/ a plastic lid)
Water-resistant tape
Cut on the radius of the lid's circle from the outside to the center.
Cut out a hole in the center just large enough for the potato masher to be inserted.
Put the cream in the container.
Insert the potato masher through the hole in the lid.
Put the potato masher inside the container and put the lid on the container.
Seal the cut in the lid with the tape.
Churn the butter by moving the potato masher up and down until it turns to butter. (It took us about 20 minutes. I suspect it would take less time if you start with the cream at room temperature.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What is CSMP Math?

After being hung up with various illnesses and getting behind with math, we have finally finished! It was nevertheless a very fun and exciting first year with CSMP (Comprehensive School Mathematics Program). It is a very dull and boring name for a program that maintains that "the usual drill techniques are, unfortunately, dull, stultifying and sometimes even counterproductive." In other words, it designed to be fun.

I understand that CSMP was created during the "Space Race" era in order to help American students to better excel in mathematics. Apparently, some research was done to determine how children best learn math, and CSMP is what they came up with. The now defunct program has been made availabe on the Internet for free. That's right! It is absolutely FREE!

I began looking for a new program for Grasshopper when she was 5yo. We were using a worksheet-based math program, and all she could say about math was that she hated it. Yet I knew that she was good at it. So why not do something to make it more enjoyable?

I was first introduced to CSMP at Mark's site. Mark has taken his first child all the way through 6th grade with CSMP, and he is nearly finished with the second. There were two things that really drew me to the program: (1) Its use of stories and discussion, and (2) its introduction of traditionally higher level material to younger children on their level.

Following is a description of the program:
  1. It is a spiral program. But the spiral is a fairly loose one. And each time a topic is revisited, it is also built upon. So there is repetition built in to the program, but the child never has to repeat the exact same lesson or worksheet. Consequently, I never felt that I should skip an entire lesson. There were portions that I skipped if I thought it was overly repetitive, but there is new material in every lesson.
  2. The manual is very well scripted. I always know exactly what to say, what to write and what to do. However, I never feel tied to the script. If Grasshopper wants to delve more deeply into a topic, we do. And if I feel that the material is too easy, we skip it.
  3. The program uses the Socratic method, meaning that the teacher does not lecture the students or even demonstrate the material. Rather, the teacher guides the students to figure out the concepts on their own.
  4. Mental math is very much emphasized.
  5. CSMP seeks to integrate math with other subjects and areas of life. Each lesson contains suggestions for supplemental assignments, such as books to read, writing assignments, center activities, etc.
  6. The program is teacher intensive. Every lesson is to be taught by the teacher. Worksheets are merely supplemental and cannot take the place of the lesson.
  7. CSMP is adaptable to all types of learning styles--auditory, visual and kinesthenic. The stories and discussion are geared to the auditory learner. There are lots of pictoral representations of math concepts designed for the visual learner. And there are manipulatives and opportunities to draw concepts on paper or on a board for the kinesthenic learner.
  8. My favorite aspect to the program is that it presents higher level concepts at a younger child's level. In the first grade program, Grasshopper was introduced to concepts such as probability, adding negative numbers, multiplication, and fractions (even multiplying by fractions!). I highly recommend it for a child that is gifted in math.
Because CSMP has such a unique way of teaching, it might be difficult to jump into the program with an older child. But both the Kindergarten and First Grade materials assume no prior exposure to CSMP. But if you have an older child that hates math, I wouldn't be afraid to try it out. After all, it is FREE!

In spite of the nice pricetag, however, there are a fair amount of items to be printed, namely worksheets and storybooks. But I still think it is a great deal!

To get a feel for the program, you really have to look at some lesson plans. Check out the First Grade lesson plans and just randomly read through a few. (Watch out, it is huge document. You want to go to Section Four.) It is amazing how they manage to touch on many different concepts, even within the same lesson.

If you have any questions, leave a comment, and I will send you an e-mail.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Duh!! My Scheduling Epiphany

For some time now, I have felt that I wasn't quite getting everything done. An art lesson skipped here, a science lesson skipped there. It seemed that we could barely get the basics done, which for us is just math and spelling. And I also feel a lot of guilt for letting piano lessons go.

Well, one morning over breakfast, I pulled out my math manual to look over the lesson for that day. Grasshopper says to me, "Let's do math now!" My gut told me to say, "No." After all, we hadn't even had our devotional yet, which is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the day. But Grasshopper persisted, and I relented--just this once. But then we got math done before we finished breakfast, and we were still able to start school around the same time--only with one subject already tackled.

I started to think about all time that we spend on meals. With littles, they are eating five times per day. And they are soooooooo slow! So I figure that is at least 4 hours per day minimum on cooking and eating. No wonder we had trouble getting things done! So now we are doing math every day at breakfast, and the devotional from the previous day is just going to have to cover it. And I am now adding in some read-alouds during meal and snack times. I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and I can't believe how much we are getting done!

And it took me almost two full years of homeschooling to figure it out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Speech Therapy: What We Have Learned

I want to take a little time to write about our family's experience with speech therapy for Cricket as he approaches his 3rd birthday and ages out of our state's Early Intervention program. At Cricket's 2-year pediatric exam, we were referred for speech therapy. Shortly thereafter, his expressive speech was assessed at about a 15-month ability. (And that took into account about 50 ASL signs that we had taught him.) We were fortunate to end up with a fabulous speech therapist, but I am sad to say that the philosophy that she uses and teaches is rarely used in the Midwest, where we live. I write this with the hope of educating other parents seeking help with their speech-delayed children.

Our initial experience with speech therapy was not a good one. By the third session, the speech therapist was asking my 2yo to make his own schedule and mark off each item as they completed them. When she asked him what he wanted to do, he would tell her; but then she would tell him he couldn't do that activity. In other words, she already had her own plan, so I could not understand why she even bothered to ask him what he wanted to do.

My other concern was that she refused to use activities that were of high interest to Cricket. As a typical boy, he absolutely loved sports and vehicles. However, she never brought those sorts of activities. I also advised her that he really loved the alphabet and phonics. Although this may be an unusual interest for a 2yo, I thought it would be very easy to integrate this interest into a speech therapy program. But she made no effort to satisfy his needs, but rather, she kept to her own agenda. I also discovered later, that the sounds she was working on with him were not appropriate for his age.

We very quickly requested a new therapist, and we had the very good fortune of getting one that was Hanen-certified. We did not know then that is was good, but our experience has told us that it is. With this approach, speech is integrated into all of life--not just one or two sessions per week. This means that the speech pathologist becomes a trainer and teacher to the parents, which substantially speeds up the child's progress.

The first thing we were told was to stop asking the Cricket questions and telling him what to say. You see, when our children are learning how to speak, we parents get very excited and ask all sorts of questions to spur conversations with them, and we give endless commands to, "Say XYZ." But for a child that struggles with speech, this is a very heavy burden for them and usually results in the child "shutting down" and ignoring the parents or refusing to speak. Instead, dh and I were taught to model the words that Cricket might want to say.

So, for example, if Cricket were point to the milk to indicate that he wanted some, we were not to tell him to say, "Milk, please." Rather, we are supposed to say, "Milk, please," and leave it at that. If Cricket wanted to imitate, he could, but he had the option not to. The speech therapist promised us that within a week or two, he would begin to imitate words on his own. And she was absolutely right. Once we gave Cricket control over his own speech, we saw a huge leap in the frequency with which he spoke.

From this point, the speech therapist helped us to walk Cricket through each developmental speech step that he had missed, in the order and at the time that it ordinarily occurs in typical children. Some of the steps included putting the -ing on the end of verbs (I'm eating, I'm jumping, etc.), negation (I don't like, I am not, etc.), using articles (a/an/the) and practicing nasal sounds (/m/ and /n/). As the parents, we are never to require correct speech, even if we know he is capable of it. Instead, we train his ears to recognize how things are supposed to sound. We constantly model what he wants to say. When he says something wrong, we are supposed to model the correct way without requiring him to say it. But most of the time, Cricket will correct himself when he hears us model the correct way. He also often self-corrects before anyone identifies the mistake for him, so I know that this approach is working.

The speech therapist's help was absolutely critical. It was vital that I know at what point to teach each step. If you try to teach it before a child is developmentally ready, everyone will get frustrated. If you wait too long, then the child develops incorrect habits that are difficult to overcome. Cricket is now doing very well. He is still only at about a 24-month level in terms of intelligibility, but he has made about a year's worth of progress in about 8 months.

Before this experience, I was very cynical of speech therapy in general, because there is no way to know whether it is working, or whether the same progress would be made without it. I also had speech therapy in kindergarten, which I absolutely hated. It made me feel completely incompetent, and I wanted to crawl under a rock. After my experiences with Cricket, I am still cynical of traditional speech therapy, but I know that this particular approach works wonders. I would encourage anyone needing a speech therapist to seek out one that is Hanen-certified.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Does Freedom Mean to a Home School?

As a citizen of Illinois, I am reeling in the wake of SB 136, which proposed to require every home schooled student to be registered with the State, and left all registration requirements up to the State Board of Education. Since my children are not yet old enough to be required to be in any school at all, I was really caught off guard. Now I feel that I really need to wrap my brain around what our educational freedom in the state means for my family.

My original intrigue with home schooling developed when I worked as a legal secretary (before kids) and met a receptionist from a neighboring office who was only 16yo. A young person attending a brick & mortar school could not have worked in a law firm at that age simply because of the hours. I saw that home schooling gives students the freedom to take advantage of educational opportunities that would not otherwise be available.

As I had my own children, my next thoughts were about all of the bullying and teasing that I endured as a public school student. People say that schools provide socialization and prepare children to work with others as adults. But as an adult, I have never had a job whose only requirements were geographic location and age. Furthermore, I have never had a co-worker make fun of me. Not for my clothes, my body, my hair, my lack of athleticism. Not for anything. Home schooling gives me the freedom to protect my children from bullying and assaults.

As my oldest grew, I could see that she was not going to be academically ordinary. She was reading by 4yo. And at 6yo, she can read years beyond her age. If she were to go to school, we would have to choose between putting her with her age-peers or putting her with her academic peers, or something in-between. Home schooling gives me the freedom to challenge her academically while allowing her to be a 6yo. That means that math can be done on a white board, because her handwriting has not yet caught up with her math ability. It means that I can let her make maps of each kingdom of ancient history by using typed up labels, again because of the writing issue. It also means that she does not have to participate in a reading program, because she is already reading quite well. It means that I can choose not to teach her grammar (even though she is academically capable of learning it) simply because 6yo's shouldn't have to worry about grammar. While b&m schools often have gifted programs, I don't believe that they can fully meet my dd's needs the way I can at home.

Then as I started home schooling a year and a half ago, I started to educate myself on the different educational philosophies. Home schooling gives me the freedom to teach my children cursive first (before manuscript). Home schooling gives me the freedom to teach history in a chronological order while integrating literature from the time period we are studying. Home schooling gives me the freedom to teach a foreign language to my rising 1st grader or Latin to my middle schooler. Home schooling gives me the freedom to teach diagramming sentences to support their writing and foreign language skills. Home schooling gives me the freedom to use the Socratic method in teaching, a method used almost exclusively in law schools, and a method whose effectiveness has been proven over many centuries. Home schooling gives me the freedom to abandon textbooks in favor of living books.

When I was in high school, I thought I was getting a good education. By my senior year, I was getting a 3.8 GPA while taking almost all AP classes in a suburban school that was considered to be a good school. Looking back, I can tell you that I took no history courses except for some 20th Century Modern History survey courses. (I am really glad that I took Art History, because it was the only exposure that I had to history before 1900.) I took one and one half years of literature classes and read the sum total of about 450 pages of classic literature. I took a dance class that counted as an English credit. I took four years of Spanish yet could not speak it. This is abysmal! And things are so much worse in the schools now. All you politicians out there that want to check up on me and my children, please rest assured that I can do a better job than was done with me.
Latter-day Homeschooling