Thursday, October 6, 2011

2 weeks in 1: Knowing What Your Child Can Handle

We've started doing two weeks in one as far as the official Sonlight P4/5 with Kindergarten Readers curriculum goes. My decision to do this is based on Gilgamesh's incredibly fast progress, and his recent boredom with some of the busy work.

The funny thing about busy work is that it's not busy work unless you already know the material. Otherwise, it's just called practice. But there's nothing more frustrating for a child than being forced to do worksheet after worksheet of tedious stuff he knows backwards and forwards.... except perhaps being forced to do work that's too advanced. Either way is not good.

That's what I love about homeschooling. Who knows a child better than his mother? Especially during the early years of life! Mom-as-teacher can look at progress/past work/attitude and determine what would best motivate and facilitate learning in her child. So that's what I did.

Gilgamesh is reading at a first grade level.

Let me just say that again because I'm really proud of him:

Gilgamesh is reading at a first grade level... at four and a half years old.

I already knew he was doing amazingly well when he started asking me about apostrophes and contractions and pointing out commas whenever he found them. But Sonlight has a nifty little Quick Reading Assessment on their website. The word lists are representative of words the public school children in each grade are reading.

When I saw that they were recommending the first grade readers for Gilgamesh, I was 1) super proud and 2) really not that surprised, considering he's already reading the kindergarten readers fluently. The next steps in reading are some of the most challenging with hard-to-remember rules and big words that take some serious sounding out, but Gilgamesh will soon be ready. He's not yet, which is why I chose to accelerate the current curriculum rather than abandon it.

Since the very light preschool program we're using doesn't actually do math and definitely doesn't bog down the preschool mind, we're perfectly fine in reading more material each day and doing more writing practice. The increased rate of practice has been great for Gilgamesh, since it's always new, and kids (at least mine) love novelty. We're still doing art projects, reading about natural science, and looking things up on youtube and Google images when he's curious, so there's no feeling of being rushed, really.

But we are covering two weeks of the curriculum in one, so by his fifth birthday, he'll be all set to start Sonlight's Core A (kindergarten) with Grade 1 Readers. I'm very excited for him because of his pure love of learning. Anybody who thinks I'm pushing him to read earlier would be dead wrong. Everything he does, reading-wise, is his idea. But I definitely prepped the soil.

Here's what I have done:

  • Insisted on reading aloud with him every day, whether it's a chapter from a chapter book or several picture books.
  • Let him point out the sight words he'd been learning on the pages of actual books.
  • Purchased and used Phonics readers (Disney makes these, and so do the merchandisers of just about every kid show you can dream of, like Dora, Diego, Cat in the Hat, etc.) We got ours at Costco for under ten bucks.
  • Exposed him early and often to TV and videos that encourage reading: Super Why (Super Readers), Word World, Meet the Letters, Meet the Sight Words 1, 2, and 3, Leapfrog Letter Factory, Word Factory, etc.
  • Kept flashcards in the house and wasn't afraid to use them.
  • Let him see me reading. Encouraged his dad to let the boys see him reading.
  • Talked about new books like they were ice cream.
The rest was all him. My natural love of books shines through in my life and attitudes. That added to kids' general natural curiosity and desire to be like the adults in their lives combines to create fertile soil for learning to read. 

I'm not saying we've never had struggles, like letter reversal, dropping beginning consonants while sounding out words, or sounding out the first few letters only to guess haphazardly at the whole word (that's my favorite). Everybody has challenges while they learn to read. I'm just grateful for Gilgamesh's natural love of learning and intense interest in the written word. I recognize not all children are built like him. I hope this little list is encouraging to parents who aren't sure how to proceed with introducing their kids to reading. My suggestion: dive into the deep end and keep swimming. Kids are hardwired to learn language. The time is now. 

[end inspirational speech]

Most of all, remember that as a super-involved parent, only you and your spouse know what's best for your child. If it's skipping the first grade to go into third, ignore the judgers. If it's taking it super slow to make sure he has a stable foundation for the rest of his life, ignore the judgers. Focus on what you know is right, and if it's not as clear as a bell...

Prayer works.

Good luck and enjoy!

What does Interest-Led education mean?

From a blog called Interest-Led Learning comes a post including FIFTEEN top blogs for homeschool ideas. The connecting link? All these blogs follow an interest-led lifestyle in different ways and to differing degrees.

So what does interest-led mean in terms of education? I guess it's pretty self-explanatory... except that everyone does it differently. Like the concept of "unschooling," people take this concept and make it truly their own. That's one of the big things I love about homeschooling.

One person might consider their homeschool interest-led because they let their children choose and plan their own class titles (Bohemian History, underwater basket-weaving, or German Language Studies). Others think in order to be truly interest-led, you have to let the kids do it all. Just leave their schedule wide open to explore the world and see where their curiosity takes them.

Being a bit of a hippy at heart, this appeals to me. But if you've read my tabs across the top of this page then you know I'm also deeply in love with classical education philosophy. That means memorizing things during the "Grammar" years (grades 1-4), learning Logic next, and finally Rhetoric to tie it all together. It also includes old books (not text books), heavy doses of literature, and classic languages, both dead and alive (Latin, Greek, Hebrew).

I had fun perusing the links in the article linked above. I found an interesting mix of nomadic hippies and people like me with a curriculum that's supplemented by curiosity-led or interest-led bonuses.

We are currently using Sonlight's P4/5 (preschool for four and five-year-olds), but Gilgamesh will often take a special interest in one idea or another, even something I've only barely mentioned... like the algae in the Berenstain Bears' Big Science and Nature Book. He'll also request to redo things we've already done, like in the same book: "Can we look at the frogs again?"

For math, this is often self-directed or interest-led. He does and is learning place values, addition, and subtraction. But he learns even more when he decides to do addition and subtraction on his own (like when he's playing with his play parking cones, adding and taking away one at a time and using the terminology he learned on starfall).

Art is something I seldom have to plan because he'll find something he wants to do in the books we read or the videos he watches. Someone will fly a kite and he'll say, "Let's make a kite!" Or we'll read in his Dictionary about M words, and he'll say, "I want to make a mask." More frequently, he'll see an idea or picture that inspires a crayon and pencil picture.

Everyone does interest-led so differently. I'm grateful for all the bloggers out there sharing their experiences and resources. It's incredible the wealth of information available for the taking, if I'm just willing and motivated to delve a little. Like I've said before, the homeschool classroom has no walls. Just the world, baby.

How do you translate interest-led learning?

Berenstain Bears Paper Dolls with Seasonal Outfits

When I find something awesome, I have to share. I'm hardwired this way. Hence, this homeschool blog. :)

Today I found this: Berenstain Bears Paper Dolls with Seasonal Outfits

They're free to download and print. We like to turn ours into laminated magnets instead of using the flimsy little tabs. After all, I'm raising knights. They are not gentle on paper products.

The cool thing about these Paper Dolls is

a) they use a familiar bear family that kids associate with fun learning
b) they include outfits and accessories for every season!! (swimming for summer, gardening for spring, coats for winter, pajamas, Sunday clothes, baseball uniforms)

Here's a peek at the double-sided paper dolls...