Bruce is a big fan of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. My grandma purchased the companion diary for Bruce a couple of months ago, and he loves it. He’s filled out almost all of the pages already, in his little Kindergartener handwriting. This is going to be such a treasure later on! It reminds me of the Ramona Quimby Age 8 Diary that I have from when I was little. Reading this series has also inspired Bruce to create his own graphic novels.
I’ve posted about this before, but for those of you new to my blog I wanted to share pictures of how I organize my home library. I bought some white boxes at IKEA that are supposed to be for organizing dresser drawers. They are a bit flimsy, but really affordable. Each box has a different sorting category like “Newbery Award Winners”, “Science Fiction”, “Fantasy”, or “Beverly Cleary”. Jenna even has a box for herself, with all of her homemade books in it.
The reasoning behind the sorting boxes is to make the library seem less overwhelming to Bruce when he is choosing books for himself to read. It helps him select books that he knows he might like, and introduces the concepts of genres. This is a trick that you will see over an over again in classroom libraries in elementary schools. It takes a lot of work to get set up at home, but once you’ve put in the elbow greese it is really the effort.
For more information, you can read my previous link at: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/02/28/not-your-typical-home-library/
Jenna and I bought these ABC stickers at the craft-store a few days agof for $3. They are absolutely awful for toddlers, in that they are hard to take off the sheet, and have little holes to punch out to make the letters look right. Oh yeah, and they are choking hazards! But if you get past all of that, then it does become a fun activity to do with a 22 month old. We sat at Jenna’s little table and chairs for about twenty minutes punching out letters and sticking them places, including her paper on occasion.
I started out trying to make simple words with her, like her name and some -at words. Clearly she wasn’t ready for this, so I moved to to simple letter and sound identification. On that, she totally rocked! Jenna now knows almost all of her uppercase letters, and can supply their sounds if you sing the song from the Leap Frog Letter Factory video. “The A says ah, they A says ah, Every letter makes a sound the A says ah.” This turned out to be a really good way to conduct an accurate assessment of what she knows. I feel like this was $3 well spent!
Five minutes into any cooking activity with my childnren, I am invariably checking my sanity and asking myself, “What was I thinking?” But as a teacher, I know that cooking is one of the best ways for children to learn math skills such as counting, adding, dividing, and working with fractions. Here’s our picture from this morning as Bruce and Jenna baked chocolate chip cookies. And here’s the after picture too!
I’m a big fan of all of the magazines from the Cricket publishing group. Here’s a copy of “Ask”, which is the perfect level for a 3rd or 4th grade reader to enjoy independently. We also get “Babybug” for Jenna, as well as “Odyssey” and “Cobblestone” for Bruce to read together with me. At $30 a year they are a little pricey, so we buy multi-year subscriptions which make them a bit cheaper. Cricket is really good about letting you switch your subscription from one magazine to another for free, as your child outgrows each level. For example, I’ll switch the “Babybug” subscription to “Ladybug” in about six months.
Independent reading is definitely possible for toddlers, and is in fact an important part of their learning experience. I try to make sure that Jenna sits down and looks at books on her own at least five minutes a day. To help facilitate this, she has her own box of books that she can “read” all by herself. I put in familiar favorites, as well as all of our homemade books featuring Jenna personally. She is just at the age where she is starting to memorize passages from books, and so those are good choices for her box too. Having a box of “just right books” is a good idea for kids of any age, so you can adapt this idea for older children too.
Bruce gets kudos for alerting me to this game. PBS kids has a great tangram activity for kids. Check it out at: http://pbskids.org/cyberchase/games/area/tangram.html
Jenna is 22 months old right now, and very interested in counting. We are working on counting in three ways; spouting off “1-2-3-4-5-6-7 etc.”, counting with one to one correspondence, and counting in quantities. We count all sorts of things of course, flowers in the garden, dumps of water in the bathtub, etc. But today we counted with little unit cubes. This is a great fine motor activity for small children, and builds up muscles that they will later use for writing.
If she’s just spouting off numbers, Jenna can count up to twelve, and sometimes even thirteen.
With one to one correspondence, she is consistent up to the number two.
I have to heavily facilitate counting in quantities. I say: “This is one. This is two. This is three. This is four, etc. ” We always count left to right, even when counting her toes!
It’s the middle of May and it finally decided to be sunny today. We get a lot of rain where we live, so it was a big treat to be outdoors. Bruce has been responsible for planting almost our entire garden this year. I can’t say that I tie as much science into this as I should, but he did understand the concept of crop rotation when we were reading a Kid’s Discover magazine about the Industrial Revolution.
Notice our various compost contraptions in the background. The tumbler on the left is by far my favorite. Perhaps this could be a science project this summer? Which one works best? I’ll need to clean them all out first.
Getting our garden to the state that my six year old can do so much of the work on his own, has taken a lot of advanced planning, money and elbow grease. A couple of years ago we bought the raised beds, although I’m not too happy with them so please don’t copy me! Raised beds in general are excellent, just these ones, not so much. We also had to buy tomato cages and the composters. The pea fence was a gift from my MIL and is so convenient! Three or four years ago we planted the asparagus and artichokes, and have since added rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes. All of our strawberries need to be taken out because the raccoons get them. Having perennials on the periphery is nice, because then we only have to actively cultivate the three raised beds.
Jenna’s contribution to the garden right now is mainly as an eater. I have to keep my eye on her because today I saw here eat fresh spinach from one bed (great!), but then immediately try to eat a potato leaf (poisonous!!!) from the bed next door. Rhubarb leaf is also extremely poisonous. It will get easier this summer once the raspberries start, and then she’ll stay over in that part of the yard and forget about everything else.
When people talk about vegetable gardening as a great way to save money, I laugh because a garden can suck up and extreme amount of cash in the beginning. But once you have your beds built, the equipment in place, and a nice set of perennials growing, then your expenses aren’t very much. The best part is that your family begins to think more closely about where food comes from and gets excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
You might have seen the advertisements for the BBC for children language program called Muzzy. It’s really expensive, but (they claim) worth the price. Well, I don’t know if it’s worth the price or not, but it really is quite good. At least it was a great refresher for myself, as I sat there next to Bruce for hours and hours of his 2, 3, and 4 year old life watching Muzzy Espanol 1 and 2. Whether or not this was a worthwhile use of Bruce’s time is debatable.
But here’s my secret. I got both Muzzy sets for just $100. Our library system happened to have Muzzy 1 on DVD, and I bought set 2 on Ebay. So for just $100, I’d say this program is totally worth it!
Last week I uploaded Scratch to our computer, and introduced it to Bruce. http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/04/28/scratch/ He’s worked with it several times since, and is interested in it, but not yet obsessed. Bruce really wants to be able to use Scratch to create his own video game, but he still needs to get through the learning curve of how to use it first.
So far, he has made the cat move and say meow, and has also mastered the paint feature. He really likes how the commands are lego based, meaning you snap the opperations together to make a complete unit. (I’m sure there are correct computer programing terminology for that, but I have no idea what those vocab words would be!) I think Bruce would be more interested in Scratch if it weren’t for his current fascination with “Stack the States“. Right now, that’s his first choice to play when he has earned screen time.
It’s been a while since I summarized what exactly I’m doing with Jenna at this age. I’m using this term loosely, but our “program” consists of doing the Morning Message each day, making and reading homemade books, playing with letters in the bathtub, and watching Super Why and the Letter Factory videos on an every-other-day basis. We also read books together for at least an hour every day.
Of course, we do lots of other things too, like play outside, play dress up, engage in imaginative play, sing songs, attend a play group etc. But I am actively teaching her letters and sounds, and she has shown a lot of improvement in just three short months. Jenna knows almost all of her upper case letters, close to half of her lower case letters, and an can put sounds together with letters if you prompt her. Eg: “The k says /k/, the k says /k/, every letter makes a sound the k says /k/.” We haven’t done sound boxes in a while, but that’s mainly because I’ve been so busy. That’s next on my agenda.
Here’s a follow up on the Ipod Touch App, “Stack the States”, that Bruce played while on our trip to San Diego. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stack-the-states/id381342267?mt=8 Actually I should use the present tense here, because he’s still playing it under our usual two pages of math = 30 minutes of screen time agreement. I wish I had a picture of Bruce playing this game on the airplane, but since my husband and I were so occupied with walking Jenna up and down the aisle of the airplane for three hours, I was too harried at the time to think of it. (Yes, we were that family!)
Stack the States is simple but awesome. Bruce really enjoys playing it, and has already learned a lot. The other day he saw a torn piece of paper and remarked, “Hey mom, this looks like New Hampshire!” He was right, it did. But how many six year olds know that? Learning states and capitals is traditionally a third and fourth grade skill, but this game is appropriate for any child with strong reading skills. Bruce is constantly mispronouncing things, but he’s still learning. He’ll probably have all of his states and capitals memorized in another month. For $.99, this was totally worth it.
(Don’t buy this!)
When Bruce turned four and was still going to Montessori, I decided to begin formal math instruction with him at home. He was (and is) so energetic and inquisitive, that I thought his behavior would improve if some of his energy was channeled into academic pursuits. I looked around blindly for a curriculum to get him started on, and discovered the Horizons math program through Alpha Omega Publications. There are two workbooks in each curriculum year, for a total of 180 lessons. There is also a teachers guide to go with it, which I did not purchase, and I suspect a lot of people do not buy either. (That may have been a big mistake!) Bruce took the online placement test which scored him as being ready for the first grade.
The first grade curriculum was pretty good, and Bruce sailed through it in about six months. It is a spiraling curriculum, so there is a lot of coming back at topics previously covered for review and practice. I also liked that the workbook pages were very colorful, and had pictures. The workbooks seemed to be very equation heavy, with not a lot of word problems, which is okay for first grade because that way reading skills do not hamper math progression. ( I have since found out that the Teacher’s Guide includes a lot more word problems.)
The first grade workbook has a lot of drill-and-kill. Often times Bruce would get tired of actually writing out the numbers (since he was only four), so I’d be the secretary and he would solve problems in his head and then tell me what to write. Near the end of each book the lessons were getting too easy and repetitive, so we just crossed off big sections of them and skipped to the next page.
When Bruce started Kindergarten I bought him the second grade program thinking we would continue to chug along. (He was also doing our school district’s second grade curriculum, Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions.) I purchased the Horizons math, reading and spelling kits. This was all a big mistake. By the second grade book it was clear that the Horizons program was designed for back-to-basics home school families, which certainly doesn’t describe my teaching approach!
The second grade math program has a strong focus on traditional algorithms such as borrowing and carrying, to the point that pages are set up with little “carry the one” signs. They have kids doing 4 digit addition and subtraction by the second or third month of second grade, which is only possible if you are mindlessly solving equations with algorithms but are not doing the deeper work of creating true number sense. By contrast, Bruce has finished the Hougton Mifflin Math Expressions second grade program, is now half-way through with Right Start Level C, and is only now capable of solving 4 digit equations in his head, meaning he really understands how to do it. Teaching kids to crank out algorithms is not teaching higher order mathematical thinking.
The Horizons Second Grade reader was truly bizarre. It was an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe written at a second grade level and broken into 90 chapters, interspersed with excerpts from a second grade reader from the 1800s. After about ten chapters, Bruce was bored out of his mind and refused to read any further. It was the exact opposite of the high interest reading material necessary to inspire young children into becoming self motivated readers.
To be fair, I didn’t have the Horizons Math Teachers Addition, which the website clearly states in an integral part of the program. But based on the workbooks, which have 2nd graders cranking out 4 digit subtraction with regrouping problems using traditional algorithms, Horizons did not seem to be a program I felt comfortable using for Bruce. We have switched to Right Start, and have been much happier.
The Horizons reading program seemed to be from the standpoint of “If it was good enough for my great-great-great-grandpa, then it’s good enough for my son.” Um… no in fact, it is not good enough at all. I just wish it hadn’t taken me almost $300 to figure that out.