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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.

night stand

#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!

Children, Blogging, Privacy and Balance

20150604_154552Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child.

As my life continues to bleed over into the public sphere with my newspaper column, book deal, website, and InstagramTwitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts, I’ve reigned back on what I share about my children “Bruce” and “Jenna” who are now 10 and 6 years old.

I know for many of you, Teaching My Baby to Read has been a source of lesson-plan ideas and a vehicle to connect with other parents who are equally committed to education. I am thrilled every time somebody emails me or leaves a positive comment. Parenting can be isolating, and for me, blogging has been a way to share what I learned as a teacher and a parent.

Now, I’m in a tough position because there is so much about education I still want to share. I want to tell you about Bruce’s life in fourth grade, or Jenna’s experiences in Kindergarten. I want to tell you specific data about how they are succeeding academically, or in some cases, falling behind. I want to share how I feel burnt out after approximately 1,800 hours of Afterschooling. I want to explain why, after all these years, I’m more committed to Afterschooling than ever.

But at the same time I want to protect the sacredness of my children’s privacy for what little bit of childhood they have left. The years go by so fast. I blink and another school year is gone.

Can you teach your baby/child to read? Yes. Here’s how. Can you make math fun? Absolutely. Check these ideas out. Did my ideas work for my own children? You bet–even in the face of giftedness and a potential learning disability. Both my kids were reading ahead of grade level by the end of Kindergarten.

When I first started blogging I wrote new posts every day. Now I barely post once a week. That’s mainly due to of self-censorship. It’s also because I’ve shifted my focus into studying Young Adult fiction. If you are a parent of a teenager who struggles to screen what your kid reads, please check out my website The YA Gal or my YA Gal Facebook Page. You can always ask me the “clean-teen” rating of a particular book, and if I haven’t read it one of my YA Gal followers probably has.

I am still blogging. I am still here. I’m just a lot more careful about what I share.

My daughter’s breakthrough with “All About Reading”

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Last Saturday my daughter ran around the house saying “Pinch me. Is this a dream? I can read!” It was the cutest thing ever, but it also broke my heart a little bit. Two months ago we realized “Jenna” needed glasses. Now, we’re still regrouping.

First self portrait with glasses.

First self portrait with glasses.

One thing I know for sure is that Bob Books weren’t working for Jenna. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob Books and have blogged about them often. But they weren’t working for Jenna, probably because she had developed an aversion to them because her eyes were hurting.

Since we already owned All About Spelling I decided to buy the All About Reading readers. (Full disclosure: I am an All About Learning affiliate.) All About Spelling and All About Reading are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which means teaching kids phonics in discrete, multisensory lessons that build upon each other. It’s the gold standard for helping kids with dyslexia. To be clear, I’m not supposing my daughter has dyslexia, but if she did, All About Learning products would be a recommended intervention.

Doing All About Spelling with my daughter has been a completely different experience than working through the program with my son.) You can read about “Bruce’s experience here.) Bruce blew through each step in a couple of days. Jenna does better spending one or two weeks on every step. She is fabulous at spelling out words with the tiles. Dictating words on paper is also a strength. But when it comes to flashcards, or simply reading the words from the book, she needs more time. I have to be patient.

So honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when we first opened RUN, BUG, RUN! Would this be a good fit?

It turns out, it wasn’t only a good fit, it was a home run. (And yes, I’m mixing metaphors!)

Every time Jenna reads a story we give her a star sticker. This picture shows how many stickers she’s earned in five days. Forty stickers!

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There is a combination of things going on that are contributing to Jenna’s success:

  1. She finally has glasses!
  2. The stories are at the exactly right level for Jenna. They don’t include any spelling patterns she hasn’t learned yet.
  3. The illustrations by Matt Chapman, Donna Goeddaeus and Dave LaTulippe are beyond charming.
  4. Reading focus cards seem to really help.
Fanciful pictures delight.

Fanciful pictures delight.

 

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

The other thing I should add is the $1 I spent on those star sticks was totally worth it Getting a star sticker is incredibly motivating and we’ve been celebrating every time Jenna earns ten stars.

As a mom, I feel a tremendous amount of relief to have a program that works. Sure, I have my whole litany of free strategies to teach kids to read but for some reason Jenna needed something different. I’m not sure if it was the undiagnosed vision problem, or something else. But now I feel like we are solidly back on track.

Go ahead and pinch me. I’m living the dream!

“You Have a Brain” by Ben Carson, MD


Chalk this down as one of the most unusual YA books I’ve read this year. “You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.” is the memoir of pediatric neurosurgeon and presidential hopeful Ben Carson, co-written by Gregg Lewis and Deborah Shaw Lewis. It tells Ben Carson’s personal story of growing up on the streets of Detroit, being labeled a “dummy” by his peers, working hard at school and eventually attending Yale and the University of Michigan. He went on to become a famous neurosurgeon who performed ground breaking surgeries on conjoined twins.

What particularly interested me about this book was Ben Carson’s mother’s approach to “Afterschooling,” which is nearly identical to my own. For starters, Sonya Carson required her sons to read two books a week of their own choosing, and then write book reports that they read aloud. This push to read more, write more and think more, directly led to Ben and Curtis’ success.

I’m not sure what teen readers will think of “You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.” It’s marketed to young adult readers, but is probably also serving as a tool to further Ben Carson’s political aspirations.

I gave aspirations too, primarily to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education. That’s the mission of my blog, “Teaching My Baby to Read.” For me the take home message of Ben Carson’s book was that without his mother Sonya overseeing her boys’ Afterschooling, their story might have been very different.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

 

Five-year-olds can write nonfiction

Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.

Directions:

Give the kids three choices to write about.

  • How to brush your teeth.
  • How to plant a seed.
  • How to make a sandwich.

Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.

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Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.

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In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.

See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!

 

What we do Afterschool

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In our state, half-day Kindergarten is only 2 hours and 4 minutes long. That’s why Afterschooling is so important for my daughter. Here’s a brief look at what we’ve been up to these past couple of weeks.

Kid Writing: "A bee is just right."

Kid Writing: “A bee is just right.”

 

Dot-Letter-Writing

Dot-Letter-Writing

 

Piano Lessons

Piano Lessons

 

Handwriting

Handwriting

 

Spatial Thinking Skills

Spatial Thinking Skills

 

Science experiments

Science experiments

 

More Science Experiments

More Science Experiments

 

Art Class

Art Class

 

Cooking--works on math!

Cooking–works on math!

 

Library visits and lots of reading

Library visits and lots of reading

 

Barbie Phonics

Barbie Phonics

 

Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs

 

We’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to blog! Btw, If you’re interested in any of these resources, here are some Amazon links to get you started.


Mead 48166 Learn to Letter Tablet, 10″ x 8″, 40 Sheets

Phonics Fun with Barbie (Barbie) (Phonics Boxed Sets)

The Magic School Bus – Chemistry Lab

10 Pack FROG STREET PRESS SMART START K-1 STORY PAPER 100

Afterschooling at the beach

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Half-day Kindergarten is only 2 hours and 40 minutes in Washington State. So every day after Kindergarten my daughter and I do “Mom School”. (Check out my full plan here.) On Tuesday we took Mom School to the beach.

What flotsam completes the square?

What flotsam completes the square?

 

Digraph practice. In retrospect we should have made "sh" for shells.

In retrospect we should have made “sh” for shells.

 

Reading practice. So much more fun in sand!

Reading practice. So much more fun in sand!

 

One of the great things about sand is that it works on fine motor skills as well as gross muscle work. So even though my daughter wasn’t doing handwriting worksheets, she was still learning. Plus, practicing your a-b-c’s in sand is a whole lot more fun!

 

Giving “blood sugar” new meaning

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The kids and I had a lot of fun with this one. Be warned, it’s sticky! Thanks to Morning Hugs and Goodnight Kisses for the idea.

The sweetest science book ever!

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What’s so great about doing science experiments at home with your kids? Watching them fall in love with science. What’s even better than that? Sitting on the couch reading a book while your spouse leads the activity. 😉

For the past few weeks my husband and kids have been obsessed with a book called Candy Experiments by WA author Loralee Leavitt.

Every evening when Dad comes home, he brings new candy from the office vending machine. They’ve done over twenty experiments so far. I don’t necessarily have blog-worthy pictures of all of them, but my husband did snap a few shots:

Red and Yellow Make Orange--Or Do They? experiment

Red and Yellow Make Orange–Or Do They?

Watery Stripes experiment

Watery Stripes

Halley's Comet M&M's experiment

Halley’s Comet M&M’s

Mentos Soda Fountain experiment

Mentos Soda Fountain

Right now Taffy, Tootsie Rolls and a Peppermint Patty are dissolving in water on my kitchen counter. Apparently chocolate won’t dissolve in water but caramel, sugar or mint will. The kids have also experimented with cutting candy in half and then trying to dissolve it.

Really, the possibilities for experimentation are endless. Now for an extra good brush of the teeth!

Candy Experiments

Keep Kids Busy this Summer

Summer Rules

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

Magic School Bus Science Kit, Mold and Fungi

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Can I just say “Eeew”??! When I set off this year to do a better job helping my kids learn science at home after school, I didn’t know it would involve mold and dead rodents.

Actually, maybe I should blame this on Santa. He bought my daughter a subscription to the Magic School Bus Science Club  through a 50% off deal from Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Here’s our latest kit:

Mold and Fungi

Mold and Fungi

This is the first kit we’ve gotten that is next to impossible to recreate at home. It came with a bunch of things I wouldn’t know where to buy: petri dishes, test tubes, Agar solution, etc. I guess you could find that on Amazon, but it would end up costing a lot more than $12.

Anyhow, here’s a look at some of the experiments we did:

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

This tray lived on my kitchen counter for almost two weeks.

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

After 2 hours, yeast blew up the balloon!

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

Normal, dirty hands touch side A, Clean hands touch side B.

A week later something is growing on the A side!

A week later something is growing on the A side!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

Hard to see in the picture, but stuff is growing in this dish too. Yuck!

The great news is my kids will hopefully have a better time remembering to use soap. 😉

For more posts about our Magic School Bus science kit adventures, click here.

 

What Parents Can Learn from Bronies

Why should I give a hoof?

Why should I give a hoof?

I’m Generation X which means I’m old.( sigh) I guess that’s why I never heard of Bronies until the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony popped up on my Netflix screen. For the uninitiated, Bronies are tween, teen and adult males who LOVE the television series “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” created by Laruen Faust, (NOT the previous shows from the 1980s.)

I’m not a Millennial, so my first reaction was “What the heck?” But then the third grade teacher in me had an epiphany. Social Emotional Learning–how to get along with our fellow human beings– is one of the hardest things to teach. For some reason, young men who have previously felt excluded from typical boy society are connecting with this show. They are learning social skills, making friends online and through conventions, and expressing themselves through art, music and charity. Their lives are better, and all because of a cartoon.

I wanted to find out why…

To be honest, I’ve overheard “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” dozens of times while I’m making dinner, but I had never sat down with my four-year-old daughter and watched it with her in its entirety until this week, when she’s been home sick.

From the very first episode, I can see the appeal. The series starts out with Twilight Sparkles being her own worst enemy. She is so lost in books and learning, that she ignores all of the conventional steps needed to make and keep friends. It’s hard to tell if she doesn’t know how to make friends, or just doesn’t care.

Any parent who has struggled to teach kids social skills can relate. “When somebody hands you a book, say ‘thank you’. When you ask someone for a favor, say ‘please’.” Some kids come out of the womb already knowing these things, and others need to be taught explicitly. It’s easier to teach a child to read than to be charming.

As “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” moves along, the episodes sprinkle social emotional learning lessons with other aspects that hold an adult’s attention. There are huge vocabulary words, alliteration, and creatures pulled from ancient mythology. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, although there’s a lot of that too.

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

The Easiest Way to Teach Social Emotional Learning

I talk a lot on my blog about Afterschooling, which is when parents provide meaningful, structured instruction to their children at home to help shore up learning gaps, or provide extra enrichment. Sometimes, for certain children, learning deficits are social. I’ve shared ideas for promoting social emotional learning in the past, and would like to add “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to that list.

It turns out, “My Little Pony” is something to neigh about.

Static Electricity Science

The Young Scientists Club, Kit 26

The Young Scientists Club, Kit #26

I’ve got two new Young Scientists Club kits to review:#26 and #36. I ordered our subscription in 2013 with a steep discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Now we get a new science kit every month for a total cost of about $9 a kit.

Kit #26 is about static electricity and is pretty cool, #36 was about famous scientists through the ages and was awful. If that had been our first experience with The Young Scientists Club, I would have been asking for my money back.

Kit 36 was a bust.

Kit #36 was a bust.

The main problem with #36 was that a lot of the experiments needed clay, but the clay the kit came with was all dried up and worthless. That meant that almost every experiment failed, which caused a lot of eight-year-old frustration, which caused mommy-frustration, which pretty much ruined a perfectly good Saturday morning. It was like a chain reaction of awful.

So if you engage in this science-by-mail adventure, don’t order kit #36.

#26: Static Electricity

#26: Static Electricity

Kit #26 however, was pretty good. Some of these experiments you can try at home for free. All you really need are balloons, cereal, and a comb.You just won’t have the nifty script that the kit provides.

Important science fact: When you rub a balloon on your hair, all of the negatively  charged electrons from the balloon jump to your hair. Then the balloon has a positive charge. When the positively charged balloon comes into contact with something that has a neutral charge, like cereal, water, or the wall, electrons from the new item will jump to the balloon.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the balloon on your hair and then pick up rice cereal.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Rub the comb on your hair and then hold it next to a stream of water to make the water bend.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens.

Tie two balloons onto a string. Rub them both on your hair. See what happens when they touch.

There are lots of other static electricity experiments you can do with balloons. Use your imagination and have fun.

The Giggly Guide to Grammar

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One of the “I’m-a-mean-mom” Christmas presents I gave my son last year was The Giggly Guide to Grammar by Cathy Campbell. My eight-year-old would have much preferred another Lego kit, but I had my eye on the Common Core. I know Bruce’s teacher does a lot with grammar at school, and I’d like to support that at home.

I can see why The Giggly Guide to Grammar gets great reviews. It has fun drawings and even funnier sentences. Here’s an example from page 107: “Aunt Sylvia believes Elvis lives because she thinks that she saw him on a commercial for Levis.” (That’s a complex sentence with an anagram, btw.)

Unfortunately, I was hoping this book would be a good fit for Afterschooling, but it really isn’t. The Giggly Guide to Grammar would be great for public school, and it would be awesome for homeschoolers, but for an Afterschooling family it requires too much paper and pencil practice. That would be fine if we were using it during the summer, but for the school year it’s too much work. My goal with Afterschooling is not to load my kids up with extra duties, but rather to encourage them with fun enrichment.

A more passive approach to grammar would be the Royal Fireworks Press book Sentence Island by Michael Clay Thompson.

Perfect for bedtime read aloud.

Perfect for bedtime read aloud.

That being said, I keep finding The Giggly Guide to Grammar all over the house. On the kitchen table, laying in the hallway, in the bathroom (yuck); Bruce is clearly reading this book for enjoyment.

Would YOU read this on the toilet?

Would YOU read this on the toilet?

I’m not exactly sure how much Bruce is learning. I asked him about the book and he said he likes reading the funny sentences. I guess that’s why the full title is “The Giggly Guide to Grammar, Serious Grammar with a Sense of Humor”.

The Giggly Guide to Grammar