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!
Latter-day Homeschooling