Friday, April 30, 2010

Quote: The Meaning of Everything

We know these things, but we do not really know why so many people gave so much of their time for so little apparent reward. And this is the abiding and most marvellous mystery of the enormously democratic process that was the Dictionary--that hundreds upon hundreds of people, for motives known and unknown, for reasons both stated and left unsaid, helped to chronicle the immense complexities of the language that was their own, and that they dedicated in many cases--such as the Thompson sisters did--years of labour to a project of which they all, buoyed by some set of unfathomable and optimistic notions, insisted on becoming a part. The Thompson sisters of Liverpool, Reigate, and Bath, living an otherwise blameless and unremarkable (though moneyed) suburban life in three most ordinary English towns, left no greater memorial than the work they performed for the greatest literary enterprise of history. They became footnotes in eight-point Clarendon type in a preface to a volume of that enterprise. That was truly their only reward--and yet in all likelihood they, and scores of others like them, surely wanted no other.
Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

Career Plans

First Son says first he'll be a priest for a little while, then a paleontologist and then a garbage man.

History & Culture: The Great Depression

Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich, illustrated by Michael Garland, tells the story of a little girl's sacrifice to help her parents. What I love most about this book is how the friends and neighbors follow her lead. I choked up a little while reading it and, for the first time, First Son noticed it and commented on it. I explained that I was crying a little because I thought it was such a sweet story, even though it seemed a little sad. He accepted that and said he really liked the story, too.

Mr. Williams by Karen Barbour. A note at the end of this book explains that it is based on the recollections of the real Mr. Williams, a family friend. It tells of his childhood in the South, poor and black. I love descriptions of their simple life, a hard life raising crops and animals on the farm, but not unhappy. His large family seems to really care for each other and enjoy their time together.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small, is a wonderful story of a young girl who travels to the city to stay with her uncle, helping in his bakery, while her parents are struggling financially. The story highlights her love of gardening, her compassion for her uncle and his employees, and a transformation at the bakery and her uncle's building. Lydia Grace is courageous, optimistic, kind and joyful. This is one of my favorite books. First Son and First Daughter enjoyed it as well. First Son has even read it to himself a few times since we read it together. I particularly enjoy the illustrations by Mr. Small. They move the story along wonderfully by illustrating the reactions to the flowers that appear everywhere as the story unfolds.

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke, tells of a young black girl who dreams of playing professional baseball. In the book, she concentrates all her energy on her goal to play at a baseball camp. I love how her effort only increases when all her dreams seem lost. The story is based on the real life of Marcenia Lyle who realized her dream when she played for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns. My children probably understood little of the plays described in the baseball games because we don't watch of play much baseball around here (though we have attended one of the university games), but First Son still grasped the significance of her struggles and her dreams. These kind of stories make it easier for me to introduce topics of race and poverty within the context of an uplifting story. Personally, I think it would be just as good a story if she didn't eventually make it to a professional baseball team.

Saving Strawberry Farm by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Rachel Isadora, is another farm auction story. Davey and his sister learn the plight of a neighbor about to lose her farm and are integral in bringing out the town to help her save it. It's a nice little story, but I don't like it (or the illustrations) as much as Leah's Pony, which we read earlier. The kids did not seem quite as interested, either.

Uncle Jed's Barbershop (Aladdin Picture Books) by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome, is a wonderful story based on the author's real Great-Uncle Jed. He struggled and saved for many years to open his own barbershop. I love the how the family supports and helps each other, how Uncle Jed handles disappointment and setbacks and how the community supports him when his dream comes true.

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is a classic. First Son kept insisting the city growing around the little house was just in her imagination. I'm not sure quite why he thought that, but at least we all enjoyed it. If you haven't read this book, do and soon!

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson and James Ransome is the story of the construction of the Empire State Building. I'm not sure I love how it's written in second person, but the descriptions of the construction include enough detail to be interesting without overwhelming a young crowd. First Son and First Daughter are now enthralled with New York City and beg to take a trip there every time we read a NYC book. I guess that's partly my fault since we read so many and then talk about how First Son has been to many of the sites. Hopefully we'll be able to take a trip before too long! Not this summer, though.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Review: The Three R's

The Three R'sThe Three R's by Ruch Beechick

This little book is a reprint of three smaller books, grouped together: A Home Start in Reading (Grades K-3), Strong Start in Language: Grades K-3 and Easy Start in Arithmetic: Grades K-3

I wish I'd read this book a few years ago when I was first contemplating homeschooling our children. Ms. Beechick reveals how very easy the first few years are, despite the importance of these years in the educational formation of a child. In each of the three sections, she outlines the goals we should have for our children and gives concrete plans to meet those goals. Though most useful for the homeschooling parent, I think there's much any parent could find here to augment what children are learning in school, wherever that is.

A Home Start in Reading - You could follow the plan here to teach your child to read without any other resources (other than some good early reader books, of course), but I think most people would be uncomfortable with that approach. It would require quite a bit of effort. Personally, as I read it, I was mentally evaluating the book we used to teach First Son to read (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons) and was pleased to see how well it fit with her outline. I think the small cost involved in the book easily outweighs the preparation time that would be required to follow Ms. Beechick's method. It does seem convincing that we don't need big fancy phonics programs to teach our children to read.

One of the most useful tools Ms. Beechick provides is a method for determining how challenging a book is as a child is reading.
To determine whether a book is too hard, count off a section of 100 words and ask the child to read it to you. If he is unable to read more than five of the words, the book is on his frustration level. he can be taught a form of this test, himself, as a useful means of selecting library books. he simply reads a page and counts on his fingers the words he does not know. If he runs out of fingers on one hand, including his thumb, the book is likely to be harder than he wants. This system assumes that the page will have from 100 to 200 words on it.
She defines three reading levels: independent (reading alone), instructional (reading with help) and frustration level (missing over 5% of the words).

A Strong Start in Language - This was my favorite of the three sections. I think we're going to follow Ms. Beechick's method almost exactly in our dictation and copywork next year.
If people as you how children learn to write, here is the short, short definition to give them: Children learn to write by writing.
In a few short steps, she outlines how to introduce your child to quality writing (at the appropriate skill level) and introduce concepts of grammar, punctuation and spelling as they are encountered within real sentences and paragraphs. Eventually, we will introduce formal grammar (probably after we've had some in Latin), but I have great confidence in this method. Even now, Kansas Dad will say he can tell which of his students read anything besides newspapers and text messages because they are the students who can write complete sentences and coherent thesis statements.

An Easy Start in Arithmetic - Here Ms. Beechick again provides a simple straightforward plan for teaching your child the basics of math, including lists of what those basics entail. She gives examples of everyday life that lend themselves naturally to math problem-solving. I've read lots of  books that talk about things like how many plates we should put on the table for dinner, but Ms. Beechick goes a little farther, encouraging creating problems using real-life situations like receipts or bills. She emphasizes how much more a child can do mentally before he or she is ready for the "symbols" of math (3 + 4 = 7).

A homeschooling parent with little money or limited access to resources could assuredly teach a child reading, writing and math with just this book and a few other supplies like pen and paper. I think most parents, however, will be more comfortable purchasing more developed curricula or supplies. Reading this book will help parents evaluate those programs and provide opportunities throughout the day to enrich a child's learning.

Quote: The Three R's

Parents teaching their children at home have an exciting opportunity. Future progress in education can happen more in the homes than in the schools. One reason is that parents can use real-life situations for teaching. Another reason is that parents have the advantage of using the child's early years. As more parents become interested in teaching, society is likely to develop a new attitude toward these early years. No longer will we want to put children in classrooms earlier and earlier. Home is the best environment.
Ruth Beechick in The Three R's

Unfortunately, I disagree a little. I think home is the best environment for most children, but the push for early education programs in this country seems to be convincing more and more people that all children are best put into "educational" daycare programs and preschools earlier and earlier. Except for those of us who intend to educate our children at home well into the early elementary years, if not longer.

I understand the need for quality child care, but it makes me a little sad to see people who truly think they are doing what's best for their children by placing them in a daycare or preschool program when they'd be much better off keeping the little ones at home to play games and read stories with Mom or Dad.

My Small Successes XXII

It's Thursday and I didn't want to neglect Small Successes (again).

1. I replenished our storm shelter with new gallons of water, fresh batteries in the flashlight/radio, and a couple of diapers. (I forgot the wipes, though. Maybe next week!) We had our first tornado drill. (Schools have them; why can't we?) It was a mixed success. Partly this is because I used the opportunity to bring out the fresh supplies, so that slowed us down getting out the door. Mostly, though, the problem was Moses (our dog). He absolutely refused to go down the steps into the shelter. So the poor thing will have to be crated in the house if there really is a tornado. I'm certainly not going to fight a 50 pound dog when I've got a 20 month old to carry, not to mention the baby in utero.

2. I haven't bought anything off CathSwap all week!

3. I have not yet cracked and yelled at my six year old who definitely got up on the wrong side of the bed. He's been crying and whining and stomping for half an hour now with no sign of getting a grip in sight.

And, a bonus fourth, because I haven't seemed to get any Small Successes posted the weeks I've done the following (all in the past month): got my teeth cleaned (for the first time in over 18 months), got new glasses (the old ones were so scratched!), took First Son to have his eyes checked (alright for now, but he'll probably need glasses in a year or two) and went to confession.

Head over to Faith & Family for more Small Successes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: For the Love of Literature

For the Love of LiteratureFor the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann

I've had this book on the shelf for a few months and finally pulled it down to really read.

The first few sections discuss how the book is organized, recommendations for building a home library (or using the public one) and brief descriptions of some common homeschooling philosophies (classical, Charlotte Mason, unit studies). I'd certainly recommend reading more on any of the philosophies that seem appealing, but the introductions are straightforward and she provides a sample of titles for additional reading, all of which seemed familiar to me by name even if I hadn't already read them. (I'm beginning to feel like I've read a lot of homeschooling books...)

The bulk of the book is devoted to lists of books for Art and Music Appreciation, Math, History, Science and Books About Books. For each book (all of which were in print at the time of last editing), Ms. Wittmann gives a brief description and recommended age ranges. She provides the publisher for some of the titles less likely to be found in large bookstores. A small cross indicates the books that are Catholic. Each section has subdivisions, too, so it's easy to flip through and find books on Ancient times in the History section.

One of the best features is the At A Glance section at the back where she lists some titles from each grade, particularly helpful for someone like me with only one official student and no need for three or four books of different levels for a particular subject.

The Appendix is also full of valuable information: links to websites with book lists with different foci, websites with aids in understanding and teaching literature, used book stores, email groups for more information and even a list of blogs. It's amazing how much information can fit into a few pages when websites and publishing companies are involved!

If you couldn't tell from our history series this year, I believe strongly in vibrant, informative, living books for our subjects. Other than history, I haven't included them as part of a specific plan this year because we read books like these all the time: science, math and history picture books abound on our shelves. Frankly, if I had the money, I'd buy just about every book recommended in this one just to have them around.

To simplify my life, and because we have some flexibility in our homeschooling budget (though I may see more flexibility there than my husband at the moment), I have purchased some curricula that already include recommendations for books, living books. For someone without that flexibility or with more ambition, this book could be a marvelous resource in building a unit study or a library full of living books for art, music, math, history and science.

I know I'm biased, but I think non-homeschooling parents could use this book as well. If your child is struggling in a particular area, of if he or she is fascinated by a topic or era, this book could direct you to some quality books. The characteristics that make a book a wonderful living book for teaching and learning are the same ones that make books fabulous birthday or holiday presents.

A List of All Our Homeschooling Books

While thinking about what I'd like us to do next year, I considered writing out course guides that listed all the books and resources I intended to use. I quickly realized it would be useful to have lists like that for kindergarten. Of course, I have all the books recorded in our planner, but it's not easy to glace through the year and see everything. I started to type them out, but then decided I'd rather have them on the blog. It's always the first place I look when I'm trying to remember something we did together.

So I've written out most of our 2009-2010 resources on a new page. You can find it linked in the sidebar and (for those who use Google Reader or something similar) you can click here. I'll be updating it a bit as we finish up our year, too. I've already started the list for 2010-2011 and will post it when I've finalized the main texts. (I use the word finalized loosely as I'll probably change a bunch of them once we get started.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Query XXI

Am I the only one who wants to cry the first time the kids eat after the kitchen floor has been mopped?

First Son's Book List, the First Fifty of Kindergarten

Here's the list of the first fifty books First Son read as part of his "reading lessons" this year. He read many more books than these, of course. He loved reading to his sisters and just out loud to himself at other times of the day. Many of these books were also read more than once.
  1. The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel
  2. Tillie Lays An Egg by Terry Golson
  3. The Real Hole by Beverly Cleary
  4. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (abridged)
  5. Are You a Grasshopper? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen
  6. The Biggest Dinosaurs by Michael Berenstain
  7. Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski
  8. Are You a Dragonfly? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen
  9. Big Chickens Fly the Coop by Leslie Helakoski
  10. Are You a Butterfly? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen
  11. Today Is Monday by Eric Carle
  12. Fox In Socks by Dr. Seuss
  13. Becoming Butterflies by Anne Rockwell
  14. A Day in the Life of Murphy (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards)) by Alice Provensen
  15. Roar!: A Noisy Counting Book by Pamela Duncan Edwards
  16. Dora in the Deep Sea (Dora the Explorer Ready-to-Read) by Christine Ricci (ugh)
  17. Minnie and Moo: The Case of the Missing Jelly Donut (I Can Read Book 3) by Denys Cazet
  18. Are You a Ladybug? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen
  19. Are You a Bee? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen
  20. AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First by Alethea Kontis
  21. Into The A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet Book by Deborah Lee Rose
  22. Do Not Open This Book by Michaela Muntean
  23. Chickens Aren't the Only Ones (World of Nature Series) by Ruth Heller
  24. Storm is Coming! by Heather Tekavec
  25. Little Fox Goes to the End of the World by Ann Tompert
  26. It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale (Michael Di Capua books) by Margot Zemach
  27. Eric Carle's Animals Animals (selected poems)
  28. Egg Drop by Mini Grey
  29. Katy and The Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
  30. Boo and Baa at Sea by Olof Landstrom and Lena Landstrom
  31. Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
  32. Dinosaur Dream by Dennis Nolan
  33. Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, No. 1) by Mary Pope Osborne *
  34.  The Knight at Dawn (Magic Tree House, No. 2) by Mary Pope Osborne *
  35. Mouse Soup  by Arnold Lobel
  36. Mummies in the Morning (Magic Tree House, No. 3) by Mary Pope Osborne *
Up until this point, I really let First Son pick anything he wanted off the shelf or from the pile of library books. He didn't always choose a challenging book, but I wanted to focus on developing his enjoyment of reading more than anything else. He read so widely on his own that I thought it likely he was progressing even if I wasn't sure myself of the rate. It was also much easier to use this approach when I was in the midst of all that first trimester unpleasantness. Once I was feeling better, in January, I started researching some ways I could direct his reading to more challenging books. The hardest part for me was finding books that would challenge him just enough. I didn't even know where to begin.

After much searching on the web, I found some leveled reading lists that gave me a place to start. I searched for books that were a bit challenging for First Son when we read them together and pulled ones on the same lists that I knew we had on the shelves or that I'd read and liked from the library.

Then I discovered the Lexile Framework. I can't say whether it's an adequate measure, really, but I have found some helpful suggestions using the Find a Book feature. Again, I searched for books we were already reading, then used the same range to find new books. What I like best about this particular site is the ability to refine the results using scales on the list for not only reading ability, but age. While not everything they think is appropriate for a six year old is something I think is appropriate for my six year old, it's wonderful to be able to eliminate a great many books we all think are inappropriate for him.

Moving forward, I was still very lenient with what First Son selected to read, but I tried to keep a shelf stocked with books I believed were close to a level that would be challenging (with me sitting beside and helping with any difficult words).
  1. Mercy Watson Fights Crime by Kate DiCamillo
  2. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover)) by Paul Goble
  3. Hot Fudge Hero by Pat Brisson
  4. Attack of the Tyrannosaurus (Dinosaur Cove, No. 1) by Rex Stone (This was actually a bit too hard when we first read it together.)
  5. Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House, No. 4) by Mary Pope Osborne *
  6. Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House, No. 5) by Mary Pope Osborne *
  7. Bertie's Picture Day by Pat Brisson
  8. Midnight on the Moon (Magic Tree House, No. 8) by Mary Pope Osborne * (He read numbers 6 and 7, too, just not during our reading lessons.)
  9. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
  10. Squids Will Be Squids (Picture Puffins) by Jon Scieszka (selected morals)
  11. Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields
  12. Ghost Town at Sundown (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne *
  13. If I Had a Million Onions by Sheree / Yayo (selected poems)
Kindergarten isn't over yet (though I'm certainly slowing down...) so I'll probably post another list showing the rest of the "official" books in a few months.
    See here for my thoughts on the Magic Tree House series.