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