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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:

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Bing Snip

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

candyland

Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

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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.

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

Keep Kids Busy this Summer

Summer Rules

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

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.

Killing time becomes “learning time”

This purse is packed for action!

This purse is packed for action!

The curse of the younger sibling: always being dragged along to something. Soccer, baseball, guitar, talent show rehearsals; you name it, it’s boring.

As an Afterschooling mom on the go, I try to be prepared. Killing time can become learning time with the proper materials.

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Right now our kit is stocked with Bob Books, money, an abacus, tally sticks, counters, a pad of paper and a pencil. This is enough equipment to do lots of fun things.

I know December can be crazy. It’s easy for us all to feel stressed…

But sometimes the thing that you really want (your child’s mind to be enriched) can also be the thing that makes life easier (keep your kid busy).

All you need is a Ziplock bag!

Math through Osmosis

Try to ignore this while eating breakfast. I dare you!

There’s nowhere to hide from learning at our house!

Here’s a quick trick to help promote learning at home. If your kid is learning a new vocabulary term, post the definition somewhere he’ll see it during breakfast.

In this example, I’m including some Greek words for numbers that will be helpful when learning about decimeters.

Btw, there’s already been a debate at our house over whether or not I spelled these words correctly. In my defense, I copied the Greek straight from the math textbook. So If I spelled something wrong, blame Math Expressions.  🙂

Afterschooling Over Spring Break

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If you are a regular Teaching My Baby to Read reader than you will recognize this current get-up on my family room wall as being vaguely reminiscent of a system I used over Winter Break. The main idea is the same; give my son Bruce(7) a sense of control over his own day, schedule, and destiny, while at the same time eliminating all arguments about when he is allowed to watch TV or play on the computer.

In this latest incarnation of our token economy system, Bruce can earn “Bardsley Bucks” by doing a variety of activities. He stores the tickets in his piggy bank, and then places them in the appropriate envelope when he is ready to cash in.

Lest you think I am a slave driver, I need to mention that during Spring Break I give Bruce as much down-time as he would like. If he wants to spend the whole week in the backyard looking for worms, that’s fine by me. But if Bruce wants to play Wii Resort, then he can earn that privilege by playing Dreambox Math, working in his pink math book, doing a spelling lesson, playing Solve for X, writing a letter, cleaning his room, playing with his little sister, etc.

My mantra over vacation is “Give Bruce choices and keep Bruce busy.”

Make My Child Smarter

I apologize for the horrible title of this post, but as a blogger I have to think about the zeitgeist we live in, which means thinking of search words people might look up on Google. The real title of this post is “Channel Factors for Success When Educating Your Child at Home.” Yup. Nobody’s going to search for that on Google.

For those of you who aren’t Psychology majors, a channel factor is something that makes a behavior easier to do. If you go to sleep in your exercise clothes for example, it might be easier to wake up the next morning and go to the gym. If you put your computer and briefcase in front of the garage door in the evening, you might be less likely to forget them when you leave for work in the morning (heh, hum, Mr. Bardsley). If you cut up a bunch of carrot sticks and put them in the refrigerator, you might be more likely to eat vegetables the next time you get the munchies. Those are all channel factors.

Right now in our household things have been totally crazy. We have relatives in town, swimming lessons, Bruce’s science project and book report due, new mattresses being delivered, volunteer projects spread out over the kitchen counters… Normally things aren’t so chaotic around here, but right now everything is in an uproar. Doing something fun with Bruce like playing Hands On Equations is out of the question at the moment. But thankfully, Afterschooling is still going on, just in a bare-bones fashion. I’ve built channel factors into our regular operations to make that happen.

Every morning at breakfast, Jenna(2.5) clamors to do the Morning Message because she knows she will get a few chocolate chips afterwards. This only takes about three or four minutes, and starts the morning off with a mini-reading lesson tailored for my two year old. Right now we are working on recognizing her name, and some simple consonant-vowel-consonant words.

Our word a day calendar is located on the desk in front of the kitchen table. Bruce sees it while he’s eating his cereal, and usually asks what today’s new word is. SAT prep for my six year old, before 8AM? Can’t beat that!

The presidential flashcards are located in the cabinet right above where I pack Bruce’s lunch. So it is really easy to stash one in his lunch, on the off-chance that he might read it.

Once we hit the car to race to the bus-stop (if we are really late), or head off to swimming lessons after school, I turn on the CD player and it is time for Carschooling. There is always a CD loaded, ready to go.

Those are my favorite channel factors for adding some extra education at home. What are yours? I’m always looking for new tips and tricks!

Afterschooling = Two Extra Years of School?

Can 2 hours and 20 minutes a week of meaningful, parent-led instruction lead to 2 extra school years of education by the time your child leaves for college? Do the math for yourself.

Think about how long your son or daughter is in school each day. Then, subtract lunch, recess, snack, library, PE and school assemblies. What number of instructional hours do you end up with? In our case, this number is about 4 hours a day of solid, prepare-my-child-for-college education. (That’s not to say that recess, snack, lunch, music, and PE aren’t important, because of course they are!)

4 X 180 school days = 720 hours of instructional time in a school year.

720 hours x 2 school years = 1440 hours in two school years

1440 /12 years of Afterschooling = 120 hours a year of Afterschooling you need to do to reach the two extra years of school mark.

Here are some ways to accomplish that:

  • Year-Round Model: 2 hours and 20 minutes a week
  • School Year Only Model: 3 hours a week
  • Summer Heavy Model: 1 hour a day for 50 days of summer + 1 hour and 45 minutes a week while school is in session (This is what our family does.)

What counts as Afterschooling?

Opinions vary on what counts as Afterschooling and you are free to define this for yourself. In my view:

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.

For me, the litmus test of Afterschooling is: Will this activity someday help my child past an AP test in high school? Reading, spelling, handwriting, math, critical thinking, fact gathering, scientific experiments… all of these things would pass that litmus test. Does that mean giving up other things like soccer, music lessons, and playing outside? Heck no! Those important activities are incorporated into our lives, but they just don’t count as Afterschooling.

Where to Start with Afterschooling?

  • Don’t have a lot of time? — Try starting out with Carschooling.
  • Need ideas for Math? — Check out my Cheap Math page, or consider investing in a good homeschool math program like Right Start, Miquon, or Singapore. Hands On Equations is also a program I love for teaching beginning algebra skills to young children. Dreambox Math is an online option for grades K-4.
  • Need ideas for Science? — Check out the free lesson plans at Science Without a Net.
  • Are you ready for some History? — I recommend Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Series Volumes 1, 2 and 3.
  • Does your child struggle with Spelling or Phonics?All About Spelling is really amazing!
  • Concerned that your child is behind grade level? –Check out my Sylvan Learning Center Alternatives page.
  • Wondering if your child might be gifted and in need of enrichment? — Check out my Gifted page for information and resources.
  • Are you really ready to Geek out? — Check out my Inspired By Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 1 and Part 2.

Need More Inspiration?

Although there are a ton of homeschooling blogs out there on the internet, Afterschooling blogs seem to be few and far between. Here some of my favorites:

  • Enchanted Schoolhouse Blog Fairy Tale Mama writes “My daughter attends a public Montessori school so we do what some call “afterschooling” with extra activities. My son stays home with me and does not attend preschool. We’re all avid readers so I blog about what we’re reading (kids and adults alike), what we’re learning, what projects we’re working on, and our quest to improve our lives and hopefully those around us too.”
  • Post Apocalyptic Homeschool Blog Jennifer Arrow’s education focused blog could very well qualify as an Afterschooling blog, since her son is not yet old enough for regular school! She writes “This blog is called Post-Apocalyptic Homeschool because I obsessively collect and stockpile used children’s books just in case I need to personally educate a small village after some sort of catastrophic scenario where all the other books and technology and book-obtaining means of all kinds have been destroyed, such that the only reading materials left for miles around are the piles of books in my garage.”
  • AfterschoolingTAH This blog’s motto is “blending parenting, school & community”, and includes a lot of resources and ideas for third grade students on up.
  • Mama’ing Again Pamela Afterschools all of the birth, adopted, and foster care children that flow in and out of her house. She goes the extra mile to make sure all her kids get on grade level and beyond, no matter how far they have fallen behind before they reach her family.
  • Enrichmints “The purpose of Enrichmints is to share ideas for educational enrichment and to encourage and empower parents to teach their children and be actively involved in their education, whether they’re homeschooled or public- or private-schooled..” Fabulous!

Finally, if you have never before read The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, you are in for a treat because it is full of ideas for taking a more active role in your child’s education at home. This book is not just for homeschoolers! You can also check out The Well Trained Mind Message Board “Hive Mind”, specifically the Afterschooling board for more ideas.

Afterschooling Over Christmas Break

Do I want Bruce(6.5) to have fun over Christmas break? YES! Do I want him to have time to chill-out and relax? OF COURSE! But do I also want to keep him occupied so he doesn’t tear the house apart and drive me crazy YOU BET!

I’ve taken a possibly contentious issue between the two of us; screen time, and have attempted to make it a non-issue. Everything Bruce has to do to earn screen time is already up on this board, nicely taped to the wall. With any lucky, he will be able to manage it all himself. He can have as much screen time as he wants over the next two weeks, so long as he earns it. If he completes the whole chart, I’ll make a new one.

What is not on this chart is playing outside. But that is a given in my household, and not something that I felt the need to include.

This next idea I ripped off from Bruce’s elementary school! The great thing is that I can use it for both Bruce and Jenna(2.5). The idea is to “catch” my children exhibiting one of the five PRIDE traits: politeness, responsibility, integrity, diligence, or empathy. The positive reinforcement is that they get a “hoof print” for the chart. 10 hoof prints will win a night out alone with my husband or me. (Regrettably, not a night out for me and my husband. 🙂 ) I used brown paper grocery bags to cut out the hoof prints.

Here are the charts side by side on our family room wall. With a little advanced planning, I have hopefully set us up for success this winter break. But if things get too crazy, I can always blow up the bouncy house.

Heat Experiment #1

(Playing with steam.)

I don’t know what I was thinking, because we hosted a dinner party for twenty relatives this weekend, but in the midst of all of this also begin our new investigation on Heat, taken from Science Without A Net. Our topics for today were insulation and conduction.

We began this by talking about insulation and the pumpkin I was cooking for dinner. How long would it take to cook? Would it cook faster in a casserole dish? Why don’t people cook things in pumpkins all the time?

Next, we began our official experiment on conduction using three knives, three pats of butter, and a bowl of hot water. Unfortunately, the experiment did not work at all! The butter didn’t melt, even after ten minutes. Was the water not hot enough? Was the knife too long? Did the fact that the knife was stainless steel make a difference? Were the pats of butter too big? We decided to try again, this time with spoons.

This time we did the experiment with a stainless steel spoon, a sterling silver spoon, and a plastic spoon. We used hotter water and smaller pats of butter.

After just a minute, the butter in the silver spoon started melting!

A few minutes later, the butter on the stainless steel spoon was melting too. Metal seems to be a good conductor of heat, but some types of metal conduct heat better than others.

In the midst of all of this Jenna(2) lost interest and started rearranging the dining room table that I had just set for company. When I went outside to cut flowers for the center piece I found a bunch of Indian corn in my boot. Then when I came back into the house I discovered she had ripped the cushions off of all of the bar stools, and was dumping punch into a water glass. While I was cleaning that up, Bruce started drinking the melted butter. It’s like living with mischievous elves…

SAT Prep For Kids

 This is an old newspaper clipping from high school about the National Merit Scholarship awards.  I’m including it because even now, it really bothers me that I am the only girl in the picture.  How come an affluent community such as the one in which I lived produced eight students who received National Merit Commendations or higher, but only 12.5% of those students (me!) was female?  As a parent, teacher, educator, and woman I find this fact shameful.  It is almost twenty years later and I am still seething about this.  Why were the other girls at my high school not scoring higher?

But let me step off my soapbox for a moment and tell you the other thing that bothers me about this picture, which I understand now only recently.  The National Merit Scholarship is based on the PSAT, which I took only once in the 9th grade, having not studied for it at all.  I only received a commendation.  Please somebody correct me if I’m wrong here, but I could have kept taking the PSAT all the way until 11th grade, right?  If I had taken in it 11th grade, my score would have been a lot higher and I might have actually gotten a scholarship.  Why didn’t anyone tell me this at the time?  Or for that matter, why didn’t anyone help me study for the PSAT in the first place?

When I look at this group of boys on the quad I have to tell you that each one of these kids was a great guy, and the ones that I have stayed in contact with all went on to do wonderful things.  Quite unfairly, some of us were being better prepared for academics at home than others.  One of my friends in this picture came from a blue collar family who really left him to his own devices.  He ended up scoring 1550 right off the bat.  Talk about raw, unguided talent!   My parents by contrast, were well educated and literally drove the extra mile throughout my entire school career to make sure I got the best schooling they could offer me.  But my experience was probably different from the guy whose dad was a Ph.D. and who was able to help with math and science homework past the eighth grade.  This kid went on to score a perfect 1600 on the SAT.  We both tied for Valedictorian, but I only achieved a measly 1450 SAT score by comparison.  Of course, that score doesn’t seem so shabby knowing that as a girl, I was lucky to be in a picture like this at all. 

So what are the lessons learned?  It seems pretty obvious to me now, but parents and teachers need to help their children work the system.   I’m going to be studying the rules of the PSAT and National Merit Scholarship when my kids are in high school to make sure that they take the test at the right times to give them an advantage.  The other thing that occurs to me, is that it is never too early to start filling my children’s’ minds with the knowledge they will need to do well on standardized testing.  How much do you want to bet that the son of the Ph.D. was hearing higher level vocabulary words at a young age, then the son of the security guard?  Both guys are equally brilliant as it turned out, but they weren’t really launched into college at the same level of advantage, were they?

Officially studying for the PSAT and SAT is a long way off for my children, who are only 6 and 2, but I’m laying down tracks now, for their future success.  At present, this means incorporating a rich vocabulary into our everyday life and conversation.  One way we do this is by playing a game my third grade teacher invented called Magic Word.  My six year old also has experience with logic and analogies thanks to taking the CogAT, and is getting hands-on experience in geometry through our time with Right Start Level D this summer. 

I try to sprinkle all of these activities into my kids’ lives in a fun, engaging way.  I’d never sit down my six year old and drill him on SAT words.  But I’m not above asking him to do a few geometry problems in order to earn computer time.  You can be sure I’ll be doing my utmost to give equal attention and preparation to my daughter when she is old enough.  I’m just hoping when she is in a picture for her school newspaper, that there will be some other girls sitting next to her.

Lists of Great Men and Women to Cover from The Well Trained Mind

 Wow.  That picture came out really awful, for which I apologize.  But my main point in taking it was to exemplify for those of you who do not yet own Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s book The Well Trained Mind, all of their wonderful lists of famous people to study with your child over the course of their education.  The authors have eight lists of people to know, divided into era and and categorized in both the Grammar and Logic Stage. In layman’s terms this means “Here’s a list of people your child should know about when they are in first grade, here’s a list for second grade etc.”

As an Afterschooling family who loosely incorporates a Classical Education model of learning, these lists of people are a good reference for me as a parent to look at from time to time, to keep us on track.  When we read about a famous person during bedtime read aloud, or listen to a CD about Abraham Lincoln, I make a little annotation in my copy of The Well Trained Mind.  I write a “B” next to the name for when Bruce has been exposed to the famous person in question, and I’ll write a “J” someday when Jenna is old enough to participate too. 

Homeschooling families might want to take this even further and create a giant timeline in their living room with pictures of each famous person studied, as suggested in The Well Trained Mind.  But we are a bit more low-key than that, primarily because any history study we do at home is just a supplement to the excellent education my children are already receiving in public schools.  Who knows what we might get up to this summer though?  🙂