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“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.
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:
#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.
#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…
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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.
I am a big believer in teaching mathematics from a Constructivist perspective, which means enabling children to develop their own meaningful strategies for solving problems, instead of just blindly teaching traditional algorithms. It also means giving children time, space, and materials to explore mathematical concepts and create their own understanding, before you start imposing your own thinking upon them.
One of my favorite at-home curriculums for teaching math is Right Start, but I have always been curious about Singapore Math because it so popular with homeschoolers. It is also popular with families who are Afterschoolers, even if they have never heard about that term before.
Even just a casual internet search will tell you that many parents who are confused about Constructivism, or unhappy with how it is being implemented in their children’s publics schools, choose Singapore as the at home alternative to help get their children “back on track”. I have even seen a blog that is very much dedicated to how much better Singapore Math is than current Constructivist textbooks.
The problem that I see with all of this public school curriculum bashing is that when I look at the Singapore Primary Mathematics Standards Edition textbooks, I see a lot of Constructivism. In fact, there is enough of a Constructivist influence in the 4A book, that I have no problem with my son Bruce(6.5) using it on an Afterschooling basis. Here are the main, Constructivist elements that I like about the 4A book:
- Metacognition: There is an emphasis on helping students think about thinking. There is also guidance through the thinking process. This is very Constructivist!!!
- Spiraling Curriculum: Most concepts are taught, and then revisited again and again throughout the year. The Constructivist public school curriculums that I have seen also use this spiraling method.
- Visualization: There are a lot of pictures and modeling. A good Constructivist classroom would also encourage pictures, drawing and modeling to help reach visual learners.
- Multiple Strategies: Again and again I keep seeing examples of more than one way to solve a problem. Alternatives are shown beyond just traditional algorithms.
This is really surprising to me because some of the most vocal critics of Constructivism I have seen online are also parents who choose Singapore as their children’s math program. They tend to keelhaul Constructivism and hail Singapore as their mathematical savoir. This is really bizarre, because comparing Singapore with a public school Constructivist curriculum like Dale Seymour Investigations is not like comparing apples and oranges; it’s more like comparing apples and pears.
If you were to think about math as a continuum with Back to Basics “just-teach-her-to-borrow-and-carry” on one hand, and pure Constructivism “she will discover every new bit of knowledge herself” on the other, then in my opinion, Singapore would not be considered a Constructivist program nor would it be considered a Back to Basics program. It would fall somewhere in the middle, like Houghton Mifflin’s Math Expressions. Falling closer to the Constructivist end would be programs like Right Start, Dreambox Math, and Hands on Equations. Saxon, Horizon and Life of Fred would be closer to a Back to Basics philosophy.
So what do I think of Singapore Primary Mathematics Standards Edition? I think it’s pretty good, but for a complete homeschool program I still prefer Right Start. For Afterschooling though, I can see the benefit of using a cheaper, more colorful program like Singapore, if your child preferred it. The pages are smaller and easier to complete, so if your kid gets a “buzz” from completing pages, then Singapore would facilitate that.
If you do use Singapore Standards edition for a homeschooling program, then you really would need to buy the complete program, including the word problem book. As a former public school teacher I have to say that there are not nearly enough word problems in the textbook alone to adequately prepare kids for state standardized tests.
Our own experience with Singapore remains limited. I brought the 4A textbook home for my son Bruce in the middle of Christmas break last week and he completed 23 out of 161 pages in about three days. Part of this is because the Singapore 4A geometry section is much easier than the third grade Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions work Bruce has been doing. The multiplication section was all review for him too, because he has completed Dreambox 3rd grade. But Bruce liked the Singapore textbook. It is a lot more “fun” to look at than Right Start Level D, and he willingly plowed through pages in 4A.
For a more experienced opinion of Singapore, I’d like to include my friend Claire’s earlier comments from my K-1 Summer Bridge page:
For parents who have sticker shock at the price of RS, I would recommend Singapore Primary Mathematics. Note that these are *NOT* the “Singapore Math” workbooks sold at Barnes & Noble (those are by a different publisher and are substantially “dumbed-down” from the original program). I prefer using a “hands-on” program like RS to a workbook-based one like Singapore in the primary grades, but RS is pricey and very parent-intensive. Also, Singapore is easier to accelerate and/or up the challenge level for a bright student.
I would recommend getting the Primary Math textbook and either the workbook or the Intensive Practice book (depending on whether the student is average or advanced). The Intensive Practice book is only available in the U.S. edition but it is very easy to match up the topics in the Stds. ed. text with the ones in the IP book. The Stds. ed. text is full-color and has more of a “cartoony” look to it. I actually prefer the “cleaner” look of the US ed. books myself, but overall feel the Stds. ed. is better. The books are available at Singaporemath.com, Christian Book Distributors, and Rainbow Resource Center.
Thank you Claire! Finally, I would like to add my own thoughts about Singapore Math and gifted children. Just because my six year old can burn through 23 pages of 4A in a few days doesn’t mean he should. Gifted children deserve instruction too. The deserve attention. They deserve good teaching, and they deserve experiences. They do not deserve to have their curiosity or love of learning drowned in busywork, endless workbooks, or too much isolation.
I think that parents of gifted children should have a clear and consistent message. Too often society says: “Oh, that child is so smart. Just send him off in the corner with an advanced book and he will be fine.” In my opinion, that does a huge disservice to gifted children. I would hope that nobody reading this would use a curriculum like Singapore that way. Instead, here are some of my favorite 4th grade level activities that you might consider combining with the 4A Standards edition, to “jazz it up” a bit:
- Reducing Fractions
- Fractions in Nature
- Multiplying Fractions
- Fraction War with Homemade Fraction Cards
More to come!
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 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.