Teaching My Baby To Read

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Dreambox Confessions

A while back I posted my impressions of Dreambox.com, a math program which Bruce has played sporadically for over two years.  Bruce’s very nature is to become passionately interested in a subject or activity to the point of obsession, and then move on to something else.  So the way he has approached Dreambox might be a little bit out of the ordinary.  We usually sign up for Dreambox for one or two months at a time.  Bruce is usually beyond excited to play Dreambox in the initial weeks, and then his focus changes and he moves onto something else.  The last time I signed up Bruce for Dreambox was six months ago at Christmas, when I wanted to keep him busy over winter break. 

Remember how I titled this post Dreambox Confessions?  Well summer vacation starts this week and so I decided to sign Bruce(6 years old) up for Dreambox again.  He was very keen to play it, and I’m personally motivated to keep him occupied and busy this summer.  So on Monday, I signed him up.  Knowing his past history with Dreambox, I figured I’d let him him play as long as he wanted that first day (within reason).  As a former teacher, I was curious to see how much he really liked it, because it does cover some hard core math standards.

Here comes the really embarrassing part.  So Bruce is there at the kitchen computer playing Dreambox and Jenna (who’s 23 months old) and I were going about our day.  We read books…we counted blocks…we did a puzzle…we went outside…Jenna ate sand…I cleaned her up with the hose…we watered the garden…Jenna got all wet…I put her in clean clothes… You get the picture. 

Then I realized that through all of this Bruce was still playing Dreambox for three hours!  Which is so not okay in our household!  We have very strict rules about screen-time, and they usually involve reading or doing math to earn 30 minutes of PBS.  We also don’t own an Xbox or DS or anything.  So Bruce having 3 hours of screen-time (even though he was doing Dreambox) was a big goof on my part.  I was so distracted with Jenna that I wasn’t paying good enough attention.

But wait, it gets worse…  So an hour or two later my husband got home from work, our family ate dinner together, and then I took off to go for a run.  I came back home only to discover, you guessed it– Bruce playing Dreambox again!  Then came the very uncomfortable explanation to my husband.  Um… I had already let Bruce play Dreambox for three hours that day, bringing his current screen-time count up to four.  If I was the nanny, I would have been fired!

Not to redeem myself at all, but out of curiosity I went into the Parent Dashboard in Dreambox to see what Bruce was working on during my four hours of delinquent parenting and here is the cut-and-paste of what it said:

What’s Bruce learning now?

Bruce is skip counting forwards and backwards, for example jumping on a number line by threes: 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. This work will be helpful later when multiplication is introduced and common multiples are explored.

Bruce is using a fun tool called the Human CalculatorTM! DreamBox gives your child a column of numbers to add in a way that helps him look for patterns among the numbers and find pairs of numbers that equal multiples of ten. After mastering the Human CalculatorTM, Bruce is adding and subtracting 2- and 3-digit numbers. Our curriculum provides extensive scaffolding (support for gradual learning) and carefully crafted problems that develop powerful mental arithmetic strategies.

Bruce is learning a strategy that involves splitting numbers into friendlier pieces. When presented with challenging problem sets (like 43 + 36) he splits the numbers and rearranges the parts into tens and ones. Following this strategy, Bruce is learning a strategy to make addition problems friendlier by using our tool, Compensation BucketsTM. For example, initially turning the problem 29 + 64 into 30 + 63, and later adding 3-digit numbers with sums up to 200.

In general, I think that Dreambox is an excellent program, and highly worth checking out.  But I will definitely be setting the kitchen timer the next time I let Bruce log in.

Dreambox Math Review

Dreambox math is something that has really made a difference for Bruce.  http://www.dreambox.com/  It helps kids learn math skills by visualizing numbers as dots, sets, and ten frames.  Kids get to choose their own character, and progress through adventures of increasing difficulty.  Parents get to see what standards their kids are learning by checking out the parent dashboard.

Bruce started playing Dreambox before it was officially online as a beta tester when he was three.  Back then, the concepts were the right level for him, but he got bored with having ten problems in each set.  After three problems of the same type, he wanted to move onto something else.  He played Dreambox off and on around this age, but never consistently. It didn’t matter at the time, because as a beta tester, Bruce got to play for free.

Then the summer Jenna was born and Bruce turned four, I signed him up for a couple of months.  By that time, Dreambox was online and cost about $15 a month, with the first two weeks being free.  Since I was sacked out on the couch nursing a newborn, I let Bruce play as much as he wanted.   He polished off the Kindergarten and first grade curriculum over that summer, and then lost interest and we canceled our subscription.

By Christmas of his Kindergarten year, at age 5, Bruce expressed interest in Dreambox again so I signed him up.  It was a great activity for him to do over Christmas vacation, and he worked on a lot of second grade skills.  After about a month, he was more interested in playing with his new Christmas presents, so I canceled our subscription.  I might sign him up again this summer if he is interested, so he can work on the third grade content.

All in all, we only spend about $30 total for Bruce’s Dreambox experience, and it was totally worth it!  It’s definitely worth having your child try it for the first two weeks, which are free.  It is really easy to cancel your subscription, and they don’t give you any grief.

Afterschooling for dyslexia with All About Reading

eggs“Never put your eggs all in one basket.” How many times have you heard that expression?  As a former teacher, this is how I view educational methods. My children are too precious to trust their brains to any one teacher, curriculum, or program.

This is especially true for my child with dyslexia.

If you are a parent of a dyslexic child you’ve probably heard promises before. “Spend $20,000 at our institute and your son will be on grade level!” Or what about that mom in your book club who says, “I heard cranial manipulation can solve dyslexia. Have you found a massage practitioner?” Yikes!

When you are trying to get help for your child with dyslexia it’s hard to know what to do.

My guiding principal is to spend time and money on evidence-based solutions my family can afford. That means no, we will not refinance the house to pay for private dyslexia school, but yes, we will forgo family vacations so we can pay for two hours a week of  tutoring with a certified Orton Gillingham and Wired for Reading teacher. No, we will not waste money on some crack-pot theory. Yes, we will flood our child with audio books via our subscription to Learning Ally.

But what if all that support still isn’t enough?AAS - Symptoms of Dyslexia Checklist

I’m a credentialed teacher, but a lot of the teaching methods I tried with my dyslexic child were not very effective. However, whenever I brought out the All About Spelling and All About Reading materials, they seemed to make a difference. Once I started researching dyslexia I realized why. Marie Rippel is an expert on dyslexia! She’s a member of the International Dyslexia Association, and incorporates a lot of the Orton Gillingham approach into her curriculum.

“Okay, great,” I thought. “All About Learning Press is helping my child but I have no idea how to fit this into our busy lives. We are not homeschoolers. I’m not going to start homeschooling anytime soon, so don’t even suggest it.” Instead of radical life changes, I went for easy modifications instead.

Here’s how to incorporate All About Reading into your everyday lives in a way that has produced real results for my child:

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#1: Read the Teacher’s Manual cover to cover and then give yourself permission not to follow it exactly.

What makes All About Reading a fool-proof homeschooling program is that it’s scripted. Marie tells you exactly what to say, word for word. Follow her instructions and you won’t screw up. But my kids are already in school all day. When they come home we have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, gymnastics, ballet, guitar lessons, and dyslexia tutoring, depending on what day it is. Plus they need to do stuff like eat dinner, walk the poodle, and play.

When I first started incorporating All About Reading into our schedule, I tried to follow the Level 1 manual exactly, just like I do with All About Spelling over the summer. But there was never enough time to finish a lesson, and it was hard to be consistent without stressing the whole family out. So I decided to go off script, and that’s when it became a heck of a lot easier to turn a homeschooling curriculum into something practical for afterschooling.

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#2: Smoosh All About Reading into your child’s bedtime rituals.

We read at bedtime no matter what. Generally we have a fun chapter book going, like the “Cupcake Girls.” (Do those girls ever pay taxes? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.) Before we get to the read aloud, we do kid-reading first. There are two possible choices: the primer book or flashcards.

Right now the primer book we are working on is “What Am I?” It’s always there, right on the nightstand, ready to go. Easy! The flashcards live on the nightstand too. The reading glasses are often lost somewhere in the house, but that’s another story…

star stickers

 

#3: Repetition is your friend, and stickers make repetition fun.

Every time my child reads one of the short stories, a new sticker pops up in the table of contents. This helps us keep track of progress. We try not to read the same story two nights in a row so that memorization doesn’t remove the need for phonics. When the entire book is finished there is a major reward like a new toy.

Astute All About Reading veterans will probably wonder, “How do you know what lesson you are on in the teaching manual?”  The answer is I don’t. Shock! Gasp! Horror! I can kind-of tell from the flashcards, but I don’t pay that much attention.

What I’ve discovered is that the All About Reading materials are so well crafted, that my child can’t progress through the flashcards unless she’s ready. She can’t move up in the short stories unless she’s capable. The two components work together to keep her at the right pace.

flip books

 

#4 Prep the workbook activities and store them in your purse.

My purse is a giant mess of fluency worksheets, flip books, and other scraps of paper I intend to work on that week. We squeeze out time when we can. Waiting during the guitar lesson. Waiting in the car to pick a sibling up. Waiting in line at Costco. If we have five minutes to spare, then we work those five minutes.

For our situation, this means I also have to have a set of my kid’s reading glasses in my purse. I actually bought a cheap pair on Zenni for this exact purpose.

Do we try to do the activities that correspond with the stories and flashcards? Yes. Sort-of. I do the best I can to be consistent, but I give myself permission to not be perfect.

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#5 Don’t forget about the spelling board!

I am such a horrible speller (with a potentially undiagnosed spelling learning disability) that there’s no way I would risk going off scrip when it comes to All About Spelling. I keep that teacher’s manual right by our white board. The trick is fitting in spelling lessons each week. Generally we save these for the weekends.

Summer is when we hit All About Spelling hard. Whenever I feel like I’m failing as an Afterschooling mom, I remember that in summer we’ll rack up major learning hours when other families are watching TV.

 

BetterBingo

 

#6 Bring out the big bucks because bribery works!

The best way I’ve found to keep our schedule chugging along is by posting a new bingo board on the wall every week. Complete a row and earn a prize, it’s that simple.

Notice how our bingo chart mixes in All About Learning Press materials with the Handwriting Without Tears App, Learning Ally audio books, Dreambox Math, and Nessy. Margaret the tutor is also on the chart! This is a reflection of my guiding principle, don’t put all my trust in any one solution. All About Learning Press is wonderful and I love it so much I’ve been an affiliate for years, but it’s not the only method I’m using to seek help for my child.

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Conclusion: Is All About Reading making a difference?

Yes! A resounding Yes!

I’ve been saying “my child” instead of “my son” or “my daughter” because over the years I’ve become more conservative about what I reveal publicly about my children. I write a weekly newspaper column so I need to be extra careful about their privacy.

But…I have some pretty astonishing before and after pictures of writing samples I could share, as well as Dibels results, and sight words assessments.

My child is at grade level and does well at school. My child is achieving so much that the school district will not offer any special education services, only a 504 plan for disability. All of this success is directly related to help that happens afterschool.

Grandparents are also noticing a huge difference. Last summer they listened to my child painfully read from “Run, Bug, Run.” Now “What Am I?” is a comfortable reading level. That’s flippin’ awesome!

Finally, my child’s confidence is huge, and that’s a worth that is difficult to measure but the foundation for a happy life. Believe and achieve.

As I mentioned before I am an All About Learning Press affiliate, but I didn’t share any of this out of a desire to earn money. I typed it up because I know how scary it is when you  desperately want to help your child overcome dyslexia, and you don’t even know where to start. If you’d like more information about the specifics of my Afterschooling plan, please click here. To find out more about All About Reading or All About Spelling, click on the links below.

Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.

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Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.

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Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.

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Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.

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The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:

bing

Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:

candyland

Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

Mall 2

Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.

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At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

When School Isn’t Enough

When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool

Quick question: What do handwriting legibility and mathematical ability have in common? If you think like me, your answer would be “Nothing at all.” That’s why it can be especially frustrating for parents of gifted children to see their son or daughter’s academic progress held back because of poor penmanship.

Yes, an eight-year-old boy could try harder in cursive. Yes, being able to write about your mathematical thinking is important occasionally. But in my mind as a former public school teacher, handwriting and expository writing should have nothing to do with a child’s grade in mathematics nor should they impede his learning progress. For gifted children, this is like throwing a wet blanket on a crackling fire.

Unfortunately, in teacher credentialing school I received almost not training in dealing with gifted children. So it is probably a safe assumption that the regular education teachers you encounter in your own child’s public school experience will have a similar lack of training in gifted education. They will most likely care very deeply about your child, but they might not fully understand how to best meet your gifted child’s needs.

This is why gifted education programs in public education are so critical. I myself and a testament to their effectiveness, having grown up in the San Diego Seminar Program. Now my own son is thriving in a similar program for gifted children in our school district. Sadly, not every gifted child in America is as lucky.

When I taught school in Northern California the prevailing belief seemed to be that “All children are gifted in some way.” There was also the opinion out there that “If Johnny is so smart, then why can’t he behave and make friends?” Or back to the math example, “If Katie is so smart at math, why can’t she write about her explanation, and why can’t I read her handwriting?”

Even now almost ten years later, I am extremely frustrated to think about how regular education failed two of my former students who I am sure were gifted. I advocated for those children and accommodated their needs as best as I could, but in a regular education program I could only do so much. Homogeneous grouping would have allowed them to feel normal, but I couldn’t give them that peace.

So if you are the parent of a gifted child in a school district that does not offer gifted education services, what can you do? The first thing is know that homeschooling can be a viable option. Check out Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well Trained Mind for a virtual how-to manual for giving your child a rigorous, quality education at home. But homeschooling is certainly not for everyone. It is not a choice that would work out well in my own household for example. A better choice for us is Afterschooling.

In simplest terms, Afterschooling is when your children attend a brick and mortar school, but you augment their education at home in a structured and meaningful way. For gifted children, Afterschooling can be a sanity saver. While public school might be unintentionally stamping out your child’s natural fire for learning, you can fan those flames at home with appropriately paced instruction and keep their spark burning.

When my son was five he was in a regular-ed AlternateDay Kindergarten program which was created due to the school district’s severe budgetary constraints. My son benefited from all of the social interaction school provided, and loved his teacher, his friends, PE, library time, and music. However, the Kindergarten curriculum itself was extremely simple for him, so in our off hours I worked with him on math, reading, and science concepts that were at his appropriate level, and which he was enthusiastic about learning.

Many parents of gifted children are already doing this intuitively but are unfamiliar with the term “Afterschooling”. Mistakenly, they might mention to their friends that “Little Suzie goes to school but I am homeschooling her in the off hours.” But if you said this to an actual homeschooling parent, they might be very offended. Homeschoolers have to deal with an entirely different set of legal challenges than an Afterschooling family. Homeschooling and Afterschooling are similar but not the same thing, so be careful to not accidentally put your foot in your mouth!

If you are new to the concept of Aftesrchooling, where should you start? Well, maybe it’s easier to explain where you should not start. Do not go to Costco and buy a workbook. Ditto with Barnes and Noble. What your child does not need is more of the same thing he or she might be getting at school, and chances are, your accelerated child has already spent a lot of time in the corner of her classroom doing advanced worksheets.

A better way to go would be to start with your child’s interests. Does he like science? Check out the free science ideas at Science Without A Net. Does she like math? Sign her up for Dreambox Learning or consider purchasing the abacus kit from Right Start Math. Is he interested in engineering? Buy a Snap Circuits kit for Christmas. Does your whole family enjoy history? Try listening to Story of the World, History for the Classical Child in the car. Let’s not forget to add Royal Fireworks Press to your radar, where Michael Clay Thomspon has created a novel curriculum designed specifically for gifted children.

For those fortunate enough to live in well performing school districts, or a school with a gifted education program, Afterschooling might be something you would choose to do over summer, in a light-handed way during the school year, in the car, or through carefully chosen read alouds at bedtime. If you live in a low performing or struggling school district, the role of Afterschooling becomes more critical. (For more ideas on where to start with Afterschooling, click here).

You the parent are ultimately in charge of your child’s education. Make sure his or her fire for learning doesn’t flicker out.

Half-Day Kindergarten Afterschooling Plan

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In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

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Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

*** Alternative*** One Reading Eggs lesson combined with 30 minutes of parent read aloud

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Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

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Math, 30 minutes

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Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

The Working Mom’s Afterschooling Plan

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Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

Keep Kids Busy this Summer

Summer Rules

Looking for ways to keep kids “edutained” this summer? Here are my favorites:

New ways to learn math (that have been around a long time)

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column about Common Core Math in today’s Daily Herald:

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140601/BLOG5205/140609980/Common-Cores-math-method-is-different-not-evil-

If you’re looking for ways to support your children’s math development at home, here are some of my favorite activities:

Rotational symmetry

How to simplify fractions

Hands-on Algebra for third grades

Fifth grade Algebra and candy

Part-Whole-Circle math

Marshmallow math

Helping kids understand place value

Square numbers with crackers

Math without worksheets

Math for two and three year olds

Reducing fractions with peanut butter

Multiplication Memory

Cookie cutter geometry

Using a math balance to develop number sense

Area of triangles with geoboards

Area of polygons on geoboards

Dreambox math review

For more of my thoughts on math, click here. If you are interested in learning more about my educational and professional background, click here to read the snobby stuff.

 

Afterschooling Plan for Working Moms

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Afterschooling isn’t just for stay-at-home parents. There are a lot of ways you can provide meaningful instruction to your children using what would otherwise be dead-time.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer teens yet, but here are some ideas for K-8:

  1. Carschooling –so easy, so effective. Ask the grandparents to buy CDs for Christmas, or else check them out from your local library.
  2. Dreambox Math –perfect for K-5. Have your kids play Dreambox while you get dinner on the table. Consider making 15 minutes of Dreambox a requirement to earn screen time.
  3. ClickN’ Read Phonics— K-3 phonics curriculum on the computer. I haven’t tried this, but it gets good reviews.
  4. Bedtime read alouds –be sneaky! For young readers, Bob Books can “unlock” stories you hate. For older readers, try using the CIA approach on your next chapter book.
  5. Hands On Equations –definitely worth the time. For older kids, if you can find an extra twenty minutes a week, Hands on Equations is really worth it. It will give them such an advantage in algebra, that you won’t believe it. Of all the math things I’ve blogged about, this is the curriculum that impresses me the most.
  6. Science Kits by mail— be a cool science mom, without having to plan anything. Seriously, almost everything you need (including a script) comes in the mail, ready for 30 minutes of fun. The catch is the kits are expensive, so you should wait for a Groupon or good deal on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op. Sign up for my Facebook page, and I’ll keep you posted.
  7. Highlights Top Secret Adventure Kits –project based geography that come in the mail. Your 7-12 year-old solves puzzles, looks for clues, and reveals the villain while learning about that month’s county. Unfortunately, like the Young Scientist Club Kits, these are really expensive, so you’d want to watch for a special deal.
  8. Story of the World Audio CDs –history kids probably won’t get at school. SOTW is a borrow from the homeschooling world. A college professor named Susan Wise Bauer has written four volumes of world history specifically for children. They cover ancient times to the present century. These CDs can be used grades K-8. I want my kids to listen to them every two years. I have a strong suspicion SOTW will help with AP tests someday.
Don't feel guilty that you're strapped for time!

Strapped for time but with a plan, that sounds like an awesome mom to me!

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

In our neighborhood, full-day Kindergarten costs $3,600. Half-day Kindergarten is free, but is only two hours and 40 minutes.  All of the research I’ve read says that full-day Kindergarten makes a difference. I have an “I Brake for Moms” column coming out next Sunday, explaining the issue.

If you’d like to take a look at the research yourself, here you go:

Education.com’s Full-Day vs. Half-Day

Fact Sheet from the Children’s Defense Fund

Full-Day vs. Half-Dad Kindergarten; In Which Program Do Children Learn More?

In our neighborhood, if you take out all of the minutes from lunch and recess, full-day Kindergarten means 5 hours and 15 minutes of instructional time per day. Half-day Kindergarten is 2 hours and 25 minutes. (Please note, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the importance of recess. Children learn a lot on the playground.)

So if we were to chose half-day Kindergarten, could I somehow Afterschool enough to get in the extra 2 hours and 50 minutes a day? Yes; definitely! Here’s how:

An Afterschooling Plan for Half-Day Kindergarten

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Language Arts Block, 60 minutes

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Choice Time, 30 minutes

  • Full-day kinders would likely be getting this at school. This thirty minute block would be a chance for my child (and I) to unwind while I got the next activities set up.

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Math, 30 minutes

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Specials, 30 minutes

Homework (from school), 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME = 2 hours and 50 minutes!

The cost of this Afterschooling plan would be about $350, including the uber-expensive science kits. I could splurge and get the Highlights kits too, and still come in way under $600. Or I could go the other way, and do the whole plan for practically nothing. I’d just swap about the math section for this page of free activities here.

What’s half-day Kindergarten like in your state? Are you stressing out about registering your child for Kindergarten too?

Ko’s Journey Review

On Monday I signed up my eight-year-old son Bruce for Ko’s Journey.  We got a great deal through Homebuyer’s Coop that’s good until June 30th (link here that gets me points or something.)

Bruce has just finished Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions 4th grade, so I figured Ko’s Journey would be an appropriate level for him.

It turns out that it is and it isn’t.  I’d say Ko’s Journey is falling into the easy range.  I did have to stop and teach Bruce how to multiply extremely large numbers like 2,500 X 380.  He also needed to review multiplying decimals, and figuring out percents.  So that’s all been great.

But Ko’s Journey isn’t so challenging that I feel like Bruce is learning a ton Take that opinion however you wish.  That might be a good thing for a child who is math-phobic.  Ko’s Journey isn’t so hard that it’s scary.

Bruce has probably played Ko’s journey about 4 and a half hours by now.  (Yes, that’s a lot of screen time.  No, I’m not evil.)

Today was the first day of summer vacation and he begged me to play.  I figured, what the heck?  It’s educational and it’s summer.  Plus, that freed me up to read library books with my daughter.

The weird thing is that Bruce has already completed 75% of the online portion of the game.  It’s supposedly a 15 hour program.  But I guess the time allotment is different for every child.

There’re also some hands-on activities that come in the educator’s guide with Ko’s Journey, but we haven’t done those yet.

If you’re familiar with Dreambox, Ko’s Journey is really different.  I don’t think this could be a stand alone program (although I don’t think Dreambox should fly solo either.)  But I would say that Ko’s Journey is a great supplement.

Bruce is really enjoying Ko’s Journey a lot, but he’s almost done.

Is there anyone who could please tell me what Descartes’ Cove is like?  😉

Kindergarten to First Grade Summer Bridge

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Summer should be fun, full of lots of free time, and enriched with the opportunity to experience boredom. But you can also use summer as a way to give your child the one-on-one targeted academic attention she might be missing out on during the regular school year.

Here is what I would do for a neurotypical 6 year old:

Morning Message

  • I sound like a broken record on this one, but writing a daily Morning Message on a little white board while your kids eat breakfast is a great way to teach phonics, reading, writing and punctuation. Use your own intuition to level this activity according to your child’s individual needs.

Homemade books

  • Go to the store and buy a whole bunch of paper and special art supplies. Put them in a big box or bag, but don’t let your child use any of it. When he is asleep, staple together a whole bunch of homemade blank books. The next day, tell him that he can each make one book every day all summer using the special art supplies.
  • The trick will be that you need to heavily facilitate the writing of the books. The child is the author and illustrator, but you are the secretary. (This is like the grown up version of the homemade books I’m making with Jenna.)
  • Make sure you are writing sentences that your child will be able to read 95% himself. At the end of the summer you should have a big box of 50 or 60 books that your child has authored, and is proud to read independentely, or to Grandma and Grandpa.

Structured Math Lessons

  • If you can afford it, I would use summer as a way to teach structured, hands-on math lessons to your child every day all summer. I think that Right Start, is a great way to go. (Oh, how I wish they were paying me money to say that!) There is a really good online placement test to help you pick out which kit to get.
  • Right Start is a bit of an investment, because you’ll need all of the math manipulatives, but you can use those tools later on to help your child understand their public school homework all the way up to at least fourth grade. Right Start would be a substantial improvement than any regular “workbook” you could buy at Costco.


Computer Time

  • I can’t say it enough, but those darn Reader Rabbit programs really helped Bruce learn math. I like them a lot better than the Jump Start series. For entering first graders, I’d recommend “Reader Rabbit 2nd grade math”, which has a good range on it, even though it has 2nd grade in the title.
  • It would also be worth checking out, at least for the first 2 week free trial, Dreambox math. Bruce has really enjoyed Dreambox in the past.
  • There’s also Houghton Mifflin’s free online Eduplace math games.
  • Here’s an extra sneaky trick we use in our house. Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time. Then the computer things he plays are all educational. What a racket!


TV Time

  • Television? Yes, because you’ve got to be able to make dinner sometime! If you haven’t already seen it, set your DVR to tape PBS’s The Electric Company. It’s a big step up from “Super Why” in terms of plot line, but still teaches a ton of phonics. It really helped solidify Bruce’s reading skills when he was four and five.
  • If you still sense a weakness in your child’s phonics skills, check out “Leap Frog Talking Words Factory #2” from the library. It goes over lots of serious phonics rules in a fun way.
  • Once again, in our house Bruce has to do 2 pages of math to earn screen time! But you could modify this to 30 minutes of independent reading time, or whatever you need.

DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read)

  • Studies have shown that the more words on a page your child is exposed to and tries to read himself, the better his reading level abilities will be. High word count and practice is a better predictor of reading success than even teaching phonics or reading aloud to a child. So if you have an emergent or reluctant reader, it’s imperative that your make sure your child does Independent Reading every day, even if you have to resort to bribery!
  • Set up a cozy reading corner somewhere in your house, and stock it with a box of books you know are at an easy reading level for your child. You could even let your child munch on crackers or something, while she reads. Set the timer at 10 minutes, and slowly build up to 30 minutes by the end of summer.


Read Aloud

  • If I could recommend just one read aloud book for the summer before first grade, I’d suggest reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. You could read it together at bedtime, or check out the audio book on CD and take it with you to listen to in the car on your next camping trip. I’d choose this book for so many reasons, but mainly because it’s an American classic, and also because I think boys especially should be hooked on to this series before they think it’s too “girly” and refuse to read it.

Those are all of my main ideas, but I’m sure there are lots of other good ones out there. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, and to forward along the link to this page to anyone you think might be interested. Have a fun summer!

Afterschooling Plans for Second Grade

If my son wants to watch “Johnny Test” on the weekend, I’m going to make him earn it!

This is how we prioritize:

  1. School
  2. Homework
  3. Playtime/Free time/Outside time
  4. Limited extras like soccer or piano lessons
  5. Afterschooling
  6. Screen time

Here are our Afterschooling Plans for 2nd Grade:

Language Arts and Social Studies

We are doing a yearlong look at diversity in America, including an appreciation of our political system. This will be accomplished through carefully planned read alouds at bedtime. Hyperlinks coming soon! Here’s what’s on board:

Math

Spanish

Do you want to read about my failed attempt to teach Bruce Spanish in the past? Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment; maybe I’m just crazy. But Ann Cameron told me about this great Spanish program created right here in Seattle by All Bilingual Press.

Bruce and I are slowly working our way through the Espanol para chicos y grandes Level 1 textbook, and Jenna is following along too. It’s amazing how quickly Bruce is remembering vocabulary that he learned three years ago. There could be hope for him yet!

Science

What are your Afterschooling plans? Feel free to leave a link or your comments below.

Afterschooling your Gifted Child

When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool

Quick question: What do handwriting legibility and mathematical ability have in common? If you think like me, your answer would be “Nothing at all.” That’s why it can be especially frustrating for parents of gifted children to see their son or daughter’s academic progress held back because of poor penmanship.

Yes, an eight-year-old boy could try harder in cursive. Yes, being able to write about your mathematical thinking is important occasionally. But in my mind as a former public school teacher, handwriting and expository writing should have nothing to do with a child’s grade in mathematics nor should they impede his learning progress. For gifted children, this is like throwing a wet blanket on a crackling fire.

Unfortunately, in teacher credentialing school I received almost not training in dealing with gifted children. So it is probably a safe assumption that the regular education teachers you encounter in your own child’s public school experience will have a similar lack of training in gifted education. They will most likely care very deeply about your child, but they might not fully understand how to best meet your gifted child’s needs.

This is why gifted education programs in public education are so critical. I myself and a testament to their effectiveness, having grown up in the San Diego Seminar Program. Now my own son is thriving in a similar program for gifted children in our school district. Sadly, not every gifted child in America is as lucky.

When I taught school in Northern California the prevailing belief seemed to be that “All children are gifted in some way.” There was also the opinion out there that “If Johnny is so smart, then why can’t he behave and make friends?” Or back to the math example, “If Katie is so smart at math, why can’t she write about her explanation, and why can’t I read her handwriting?”

Even now almost ten years later, I am extremely frustrated to think about how regular education failed two of my former students who I am sure were gifted. I advocated for those children and accommodated their needs as best as I could, but in a regular education program I could only do so much. Homogeneous grouping would have allowed them to feel normal, but I couldn’t give them that peace.

So if you are the parent of a gifted child in a school district that does not offer gifted education services, what can you do? The first thing is know that homeschooling can be a viable option. Check out Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well Trained Mind for a virtual how-to manual for giving your child a rigorous, quality education at home. But homeschooling is certainly not for everyone. It is not a choice that would work out well in my own household for example. A better choice for us is Afterschooling.

In simplest terms, Afterschooling is when your children attend a brick and mortar school, but you augment their education at home in a structured and meaningful way. For gifted children, Afterschooling can be a sanity saver. While public school might be unintentionally stamping out your child’s natural fire for learning, you can fan those flames at home with appropriately paced instruction and keep their spark burning.

When my son was five he was in a regular-ed AlternateDay Kindergarten program which was created due to the school district’s severe budgetary constraints. My son benefited from all of the social interaction school provided, and loved his teacher, his friends, PE, library time, and music. However, the Kindergarten curriculum itself was extremely simple for him, so in our off hours I worked with him on math, reading, and science concepts that were at his appropriate level, and which he was enthusiastic about learning.

Many parents of gifted children are already doing this intuitively but are unfamiliar with the term “Afterschooling”. Mistakenly, they might mention to their friends that “Little Suzie goes to school but I am homeschooling her in the off hours.” But if you said this to an actual homeschooling parent, they might be very offended. Homeschoolers have to deal with an entirely different set of legal challenges than an Afterschooling family. Homeschooling and Afterschooling are similar but not the same thing, so be careful to not accidentally put your foot in your mouth!

If you are new to the concept of Aftesrchooling, where should you start? Well, maybe it’s easier to explain where you should not start. Do not go to Costco and buy a workbook. Ditto with Barnes and Noble. What your child does not need is more of the same thing he or she might be getting at school, and chances are, your accelerated child has already spent a lot of time in the corner of her classroom doing advanced worksheets.

A better way to go would be to start with your child’s interests. Does he like science? Check out the free science ideas at Science Without A Net. Does she like math? Sign her up for Dreambox Learning or consider purchasing the abacus kit from Right Start Math. Is he interested in engineering? Buy a Snap Circuits kit for Christmas. Does your whole family enjoy history? Try listening to Story of the World, History for the Classical Child in the car. Let’s not forget to add Royal Fireworks Press to your radar, where Michael Clay Thomspon has created a novel curriculum designed specifically for gifted children.

For those fortunate enough to live in well performing school districts, or a school with a gifted education program, Afterschooling might be something you would choose to do over summer, in a light-handed way during the school year, in the car, or through carefully chosen read alouds at bedtime. If you live in a low performing or struggling school district, the role of Afterschooling becomes more critical. (For more ideas on where to start with Afterschooling, click here).

You the parent are ultimately in charge of your child’s education. Make sure his or her fire for learning doesn’t flicker out.