Teaching My Baby To Read

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Michael Clay Thompson and Royal Fireworks Press

Last week when we were snowed in and had major cabin fever, I took a very expensive leap of faith and ordered the Level 1 Michael Clay Thompson curriculum from Royal Fireworks Press. I had never heard of RFWP before, and shelled out my $150 (plus shipping) based solely on the recommendations of two people I “knew” on the Well -Trained Mind Message Board. I am relieved to report, that they did not steer me wrong. WOW! These books are really amazing.

MCT is the first curriculum I have ever seen that is specifically written for gifted children. Would neurotypical children enjoy it as well? I would think so, but they might need additional paper and pencil practice. Since MCT is written with gifted children in mind, there is basically no “drill and kill” involved. The RFWP catalogue explains this philosophy by saying:

“We do not use worksheets. We believe that they are the neutron bombs of education; they kill all intelligent life while leaving the textbook intact. Coping with a worksheet sends a child in search of a short answer that will fit on a short line. We would prefer children to seek large panoramas of ideas and relationships. To worksheet a subject is to trivialize it.”

You really have to see the text of these books yourself to understand how they are so different. If you click “view online” on the following link, you should be able to see inside the first book, Grammar Island. In the teacher’s edition of Grammar Island it says the following on page 164:

“Grammar Island is based on a profound conviction that the bad things sometimes said about grammar are not true–that grammar is fun, incredibly useful, and extraordinarily high level, perfectly appropriate for challenging even the brightest elementary children. Grammar Island is founded on very high expectations of children’s ability to learn, and on a high opinion of the value and fun of grammar.

“Grammar Island is not meant to take a whole year; on the contrary, it is intended to be studied quickly early in the school year, making it possible to use and apply the valuable knowledge for the remainder of the year. Many pages of Grammar Island contain only a single sentence, so a month or less should be plenty of time to move through the whole island! Grammar Island provides a compact approach to introducing grammar; rather than being a grammar unit, it is a grammar launch.”

The Basic Homeschool Kit which I ordered also came with instructions on how and when to introduce each book. You are not supposed to do them all at the same time, but rather work through them on an overlapping spectrum. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture above, but I laid out the level one books on the floor to match the instructions. I am hoping that Bruce (6.5) will be able to complete level one over the next eight months, and finish in time for second grade.

So far Bruce and I have snuggled up on the couch and read almost half of Grammar Island together. We both think this book is really cool. Last night we also read the first 38 pages of Building Language, which is even harder to describe than Grammar Island. Once again, you really need to click “view online” and see this book for yourself. For a child who has read through Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1, this book is even more engaging. Since I have no intention of teaching my children Latin, this type of book provides the benefits without the wasted time (in my opinion).

Some final thoughts about all of this is how much this curriculum has made me think of my fifth and sixth grade San Diego Seminar Program teacher, Mr. Dick Gray. Oh my gosh he would he love this! In fact, I’m wondering if we might have actually had The Magic Lens in our classroom. I searched online but couldn’t find a picture of what the book use to look like in the mid-1980s. As a teacher, Mr. Gray was passionate about Classical Education (although I don’t think we called it that back then). He taught from the Socratic method, made sure we knew how to diagram sentences, ensured that we memorized Shakespeare, and led us through all of the Junior Great Books. He was also very willing an as educator to roll the dice, and try something different, especially if he felt it would meet the unique needs of gifted learners. I don’t know why, but somehow reading through the RWFP catalogue, and looking at the MCT curriculum, really overwhelmed me with how lucky I was to have Mr. Gray as my teacher.


9 Comments

  1. Claire H. says:

    We love MCT materials in our homeschool as well. One thing to be aware of is there is a pretty steep jump in difficulty between the 3 levels, especially in the writing portion. A student who starts MCT on the younger side may not be ready to move on to the next level immediately upon completing the current level. My oldest did the 2nd level (“town”) spring semester of 2nd and fall semester of 3rd and now in spring semester of 4th she’s still not ready for Essay Voyage .

  2. Stephanie says:

    I’m curious: did you buy both the TMs and student books, or just go with the basic package?

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I bought the basic package. The TMs and the student books are really similar, but the TM also has some additional information at the back of the book. At least that’s true in Grammar Island, for which the basic kit included both copies.

  3. Kristen says:

    I keep hearing about “Much-Cuddle-Time”. You WTM folks are costing me a lot of money. 😉

  4. Cheryl says:

    We are finishing Grammar Island in 3rd grade this year. My daughter has loved it. I totally agree with the Poetics comment written by Cathy Duffy, “If you want to instill in your children a love of poetry but find most teaching resources less than inspiring, you will likely love Thompson’s approach that includes poetry study at every level. ” My daughter felt inspired to write! It helped her think about the words chosen in a such a new way. It really was like having a teacher gently inspire us both in an area that I don’t find easy to inspire!

    We are thinking about Grammar Town for 4th grade. Yes, lots of cuddle time. : )

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Glad you like it! We have finished Grammar Island and are almost done with Building Language. We’ll probably do more over the summer.

  5. Kelly says:

    Hi. I am a year late to this post, but I had Mr. Gray in 1980. He is my favorite teacher of all time. What a wonderful man. :0)

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