Sunday, December 27, 2009

What I Wish I Had Known

Lately, I have encountered some smart homeschoolers-to-be--that is, parents of toddlers or preschoolers that are starting their research now. I have noticed that when these parents post questions about homeschooling preschool, most of the answers include, "Slow down! Don't worry about it. Let them play. Give them crayons and paints. Sing with them. Read to them." Now, in my mind, the type of parent that is asking about homeschooling preschool is probably already doing all of these things. If this is you, then this post is for you.

Unfortunately, I was not so smart. I thought that all I needed to do was order a few books the summer before we started, and I would be set. So I have joined the ranks of all those homeschoolers that are less than pleased with their first year curricula choices. I have discovered a few things along the way that I wish I had known about when Grasshopper was younger.

  1. Five in a Row: We are doing Five in a Row with Grasshopper now, which is a literature program designed for 4-8 year olds. I cannot say enough good about it. (For more details, see my blog post entitled A View of Our First Year.) I wish I had known about Before Five in a Row for 2-4 year olds when Grasshopper was 2yo. She has always loved books, and this would have been a perfect fit for her personality. I am going to try it with Cricket in a year or two.
  2. Cursive First: This handwriting program is exactly what it sounds like. It bypasses printing altogether and goes straight to cursive, eliminating the need for the transition from printing to cursive. By the time Grasshopper was ready for kindergarten, she had already been printing for a year. I felt that she needed to reap the benefits of her efforts for a while rather than making the transition to cursive early, so I am not using it with her. In spite of my interest in the program, I do have one concern with regard to gifted kids. An average child would be learning his letters, phonics and handwriting all at the same time. If I had tried this with Grasshopper, she would have already known her letters, and this program would have required her to learn a new set of letters. So while I am unsure of how this would work with a gifted child, I am still intrigued with the program and will consider this program for Cricket when the time comes.

Food for Thought
  1. Memorization: I loved the theory in The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer to "fill your child's mind with beautiful language." But when I came to memorization as one of the ways to do it (even for preschool), I was pretty cynical about it, because rote memorization has always been so hard for me. However, it was laid out so simply that I couldn't help but try it. Just read the passage to the child once per day until the child has memorized it. I tried it with Grasshopper, and I was amazed at the results. It took her only two weeks to memorize an 8-line poem. And she would recite it all the time, even when playing or conversing. We have since done the Pledge of Allegiance, various poems and scriptures, and lines from songs and books. I let her help me pick what she wants to memorize, and this increases her interest and resolve.
  2. Work together: I started out trying to get Grasshopper to do chores on her own (simple things like putting laundry in a basket). I quickly discovered that while she was an obedient child and would do as she was told, she really hated it. In the meantime, I recently discovered myself that any work we do is easier if good feelings are associated with it. (See My Holiday Epiphany.) So now Grasshopper and I (and Cricket, too, where possible) do everything together. I invite her to help me put dishes away, do laundry, cook, grocery shopping, etc. Now she is excited to do "our" chores. And as an added bonus, I have found that she now spends more time playing by herself instead of begging me to play with her. I believe that this investment now will make it easier for her to work later on in life.
  3. Practice Child-Led Education: I am not a big fan of a completely child-led curriculum, as I think that children need to have some structure to make sure they are meeting certain minimum standards. But to the extent that the child has chosen what they are learning, they will be more invested and learn it better. As a teacher, it is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced, and preschool is a great time to do it. Practice finding books and activities that go along with your child's interest. As we have done this, I have discovered Grasshopper's interest in musical composers, history and geography, all things I have never had an interest in. She tells me who or what she wants to study, and I find the resources, and we are both learning so much.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Great Children's Literature for Christmas

Before our recent move, we did not live in a library district. I did not know what I was missing! Our family has been really loving the wonderful children's literature available through our local library. And we have especially enjoyed the Christmas stories. I don't want to forget some of those stories, so I decided to start a list here. If anyone has any suggestions for books to add, please leave them in a comment!

A Christmas Like Helen's: This book beautifully illustrates what Christmas would have been like if you lived on a farm in Vermont in the 1800's. DH and I both were sobbing as I read this to our family!

Voices of Christmas: The author insightfully imagines what the various characters of Christmas would have said at the time that the birth of the Savior was unfolding. What was the angel Gabriel thinking as he prepared to appear to Mary? What was Mary thinking upon Gabriel's departure? What were the thoughts of the wise men as they approached the child, the Messiah?

Grandma's Lost Gift: A Christmas Story: A story about a Polish girl whose family flees the country during WWII. She takes only one thing of value to her--a gift from her grandfather--but loses it during their hasty escape.

A New Coat for Anna: Following the war, Christmas is approaching, and Anna needs a new coat. Her mother cannot afford one, so she visits a farmer for wool, a spinner, a weaver and a tailor, and she has her coat by the following Christmas.

The Road to Santiago: A family in Cuba is traveling from Havana to Santiago on the other side of the island for Christmas Eve dinner with their extended family. Following the rebels' demolition of the train tracks, the family is forced to find an alternate route to be with their family and manages to arrive in time for midnight mass. This book utilizes a lot of Spanish words, giving it a more authentic feel.

One Small Lost Sheep: A shepherd boy in Bethlehem spends the night looking for his lost, lame sheep, missing the choir of angels that come to announce the birth of the Savior. I won't give away the ending but will just say that it made me cry!

A Carol for Christmas: The story of the composition of the beloved carol, "Silent Night," told from the perspective of a church mouse.

The Donkey's Christmas Song: Each stable animal greets the new baby with its own song. This is a great book for toddlers.

The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: As a boy learns about why we make Christmas cookies, he discovers the true meaning of the Christmas season.

Prairie Christmas: An 11yo Nebraskan girl accompanies her mother on Christmas Eve to assist with the birth of a baby. The story has beautiful parallels to the Nativity story.

Great Joy: A little girl discovers that the man on the street corner does not go home at night, and she invites him to her pageant.

Tree of Cranes: A Japanese mother teaches her son about Christmas in America.

The Third Gift: A wonderful Nativity story told from the perspective of a family that sold the gift of myrrh to the wise men.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Holiday Epiphany (Traditions and Hard Work)

I am a strictly practical person (practically to a fault, he he!). I don't like to decorate, because it always feels like so much work for what you get out of it. I don't use serving platters, because the pans the food was cooked in seem just as good to me. And I don't send Christmas cards, because I am either going to see you at Christmas, or I will never see you again, and in either case, I just can't summon the energy necessary to send the card. But I was given an insight into the meaning of traditions as I was making homemade pierogi for Thanksgiving.

I come from a Polish-American family. My great grandparents arrived in this great nation around the turn of the 20th century. I grew up calling my grandparents Dzia Dzia (grandpa) and Busia (grandma) and hearing them speak Polish. I loved them dearly, and I have done family history research on their families in Poland. One of the few traditions that have stuck is the making of homemade pierogi. It takes most of the day to make, and is physically taxing, but the result is scrumptious. My husband, as my practical other half, is quite puzzled by the tradition, as he just cannot see how they are any better than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As I was making the pierogi, I was well aware of the time commitment, which this year was lengthened by the presenced of Cricket, our 21-month old. (My husband tried to keep him occupied, but Cricket just could not stand the thought of leaving mom alone for the length of time needed.) But I realized that although it was going to take up most of my day, and my back was going to hurt by the end of it, I did not feel like I was working. I just thought of how grateful my mother was when I was old enough to help make them. I thought about how she learned from her father how to make the pierogi, because her mother was sickly her whole life and could not do it. I remembered how all of us--aunts, uncles, cousins--always were together for the holidays when I was a child. There was so much of nostalgia tied up in this activity that all those good feelings cancelled out any dread of the work to be done.

I knew that traditions could bind families together through the generations, which is why I have tried to keep them alive. But in that moment, I learned something else, too. The difficulty of hard work is removed when good feelings are associated with it. When I harp on Grasshopper to separate the laundry, it is hard work and takes forever. But when I jump in, and we do it together, it is pleasant for her. I recently made this change, and now she looks forward to doing laundry together. She has even started to beg me to let her help with other things. So by giving her an extra ten minutes of my time, I am ending up with a child who loves to help. And I am not really sacrificing ten minutes, because I probably spent that much time getting her to do her job in the first place. It is my desire that when she is grown, doing laundry will not be the chore for her that it is for me, because I hope that doing it will remind her of sweet and pleasant times working together.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Attachment and Homeschooling II

I just finished reading Gordon Neufeld's Hold on to Your Kids, and it has really inspired me to deal differently with my children, especially with reference to homeschooling. Neufeld postulates that most of what is wrong with our youth today is due to them getting more attached to their peers than their parents, and that the fix to these problems is to find ways to strengthen the adult-child bond. Now, I want to preface this by saying that Neufeld does not endorse homeschooling as the answer to these problems, recognizing that for so many, this is just not a feasible course of action. However, for those of us who can homeschool, we need to make the most of it.

I went into the world of homeschooling thinking that I was providing my children with a superb education. In my mind, that included reading, writing, math, science. For a while, I was rather taken in by the curricula that endeavor to turn children into independent learners. I found myself trying to get Grasshopper to do some of her work and chores on her own. But after reading this book, I understand that I have a great opportunity to cultivate warm attachments between my children and all of the adults in their lives.

The basic premise embraced by Neufeld is that children will naturally want to be good and do what we tell them if they are sufficiently attached to us emotionally. If they are sufficiently attached and do not at least try to be good, then they are yet too immature to be able to do what is being asked of them. I realized that the times that Grasshopper was not doing what was asked were due either to immaturity or a lack of attachment with me. Considering she sometimes did what I asked of her and her frequent begging for time with me, I had to assume that the problem was more with her attachment needs.

So I have started to view my role very differently. Instead of having her do a worksheet while I do laundry, we do laundry together and then do the worksheet together. I don't usually help with her work, but I find things to do at her side so we can talk about the work while she is doing it. Instead of leaving her home with Dad when I go grocery shopping, she comes with me, and we go to lunch together afterward.

However, I was drawing the line at playing on the computer with her, and she was really fighting me on it. She wanted that to be something we could do together, and I maintained that this was a half hour that I should be getting something done. Yesterday, we had the same discussion, and I told her that I needed to make some phone calls while she was playing. She responded, "Then make your phone calls in here!" Well if that is all that she needed, it seemed a reasonable thing to do. I made my phone calls, and she respected my time on the phone. When I was done, she was able to say, "Look, Mom, isn't this cool!"

Now, on the front end of this endeavor, I was left with less "me time." But I am finding that as I go out of my way to spend time with her, she is more likely to go off and do her own thing. So while I have less control over when I get my "me time," I am still getting it. At any rate, a little less "me time" now is a great investment into my child's future. And I see that her education is more than just academic.
Latter-day Homeschooling