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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.

Why I want everyone I know on the Internet to Read “Faking Faith” by Josie Bloss


Faking Faithby Josie Bloss is like the website Homeschoolers Anonymous in novel form. It tells the story of a teenage girl from Chicago named Dylan who faces high school hell after a sexting incident. In her despair, Dylan becomes obsessed with fundamentalist homeschooled bloggers, and most especially a blogger named Abigail. After starting her own blog using the pseudonym “Faith”, Dylan is eventually invited to Abigail’s farm for a two-week vacation where she gets a whole new type of education.

Faking Faith never mentions the Advanced Training Institute by name, but ATI is written all over Abigail’s life. At seventeen and a half, her formal education is complete and she prepares for life as a professional “stay-at-home-daughter”, or else must submit to whatever husband her father chooses for her, whether that be the boy next door, or a creepy twenty-eight year old molester.

In addition to showing all the negatives, Bloss does an awesome job depicting the seductive nature of the ATI lifestyle. To Dylan as the outsider, she’s a bit jealous of Abigail’s family dinners, well-behaved siblings, and the fact that Abigail’s parents are concerned about guarding Abigail’s heart and making sure she doesn’t fall in love with the wrong person.

I loved Faking Faith so much that I read it start to finish in one day. Half way through my mind started churning with all the people who should know about this book: R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables, Jerry at Hersey in the Heartland–the entire Recovering Grace community. If I was Josie Bloss’s publicist I would mail out a case of copies to Homeschoolers Anonymous and let them distribute at will.

Every time I turn on my computer it seems I see another news article about how “cute” and wonderful the Duggars are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is brilliant.

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

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I hope you are enjoying the third annual Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour. The following is a guest post from a homeschooling mom:

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

Being the antithesis of a Tiger Mom and embracing a completely ”go with the flow” philosophy toward education, I was completely caught off guard when our family’s babbling brook homeschool turned into a confused chaos of babbling brook, flowing river, multi-level white water rapids, and trapping eddies.

It all started rather innocently. I was baking cookies with my son, then 6. As we were putting the cookies on the cookie sheet, he looked up at me smiling and said, “Did you know if we put them in 5 rows and we put 4 in each row that there will be 20 cookies?” It was a startling conversation.

Educationally, I had been so focused on how little progress he was making in reading that I had never even noticed that his first grade math book wasn’t even the slightest bit challenging for him. So our babbling brook entered into the white water world of 2E.

Those two words, twice exceptional, unlock a unique combination of amazing gifts combined with significant struggles that our son both possesses and has overcome. While his uncanny visual-spatial skills and constant questioning shout exceptional talent, when he was young, they were often over-shadowed by an equally visible deficit, dyslexia, and a real struggle in learning to how to read.

The advantages of homeschooling rise quickly to the surface when teaching a 2E child. I could read advanced word problems for him to solve while he was still working on basic decoding skills. As he progressed quickly through mathematical concepts, he equally slogged through phonics, decoding, and spelling. He could discuss complex science concepts while still unable to write on grade level because his reading skills were so lacking.

Learning how to select appropriate resources became a necessity. Literature intense language arts programs were not going to work because he couldn’t read on grade level selections, yet neither would simple lower grade level materials work because intellectually he was ready for far more complex materials. It became a balancing act of selecting on-his-level readers combined with audio books which actually matched his abilities. So while he might have been reading a 5th grade level reader, he was listening to the Iliad.

By the time his reading level finally caught up to his grade level when he was around 10, he was already completing algebra. His writing skills were radically behind because of his spelling and reading skills. When he was finally ready to write something that was decipherable, his instruction needed to be significantly beyond introductory level writing. Because he was used to discussing and analyzing literature, he was able to quickly move beyond basic writing skills to analytical writing. By the time he was in high school, he was functioning above grade level in all areas, but he still faced, and continues to face, the major obstacle of slow reading speed.

As he approached college applications this past fall, he kept his reading speed in mind. He opted to not apply to many of the schools that appealed to his math and science side. He was concerned that schools that function on the quarter system versus the traditional semester system would overwhelm his ability to keep up with the reading.

The entire college application process was a roller coaster. The mantra is to find a university which fits the student. Reality, being what it is, means that the school also has to fit a family’s financial situation, not just student abilities. Our family’s situation matches what is described as the “donut hole.” The donut hole means we make too much money to qualify for much financial aid, but we don’t actually have the financial resources to pay for our expected family contribution. So, finances ended up driving our son’s decisions. Because I am sure our situation is not unique, here is what our son learned through this process.

Financial safeties are schools which a family can afford. Many universities are financial safeties because they offer scholarship money to top students to attract them to attend their institutions. These schools are not the top universities in the country, but they offer unique opportunities to attract top talent. These opportunities range from honors colleges to specialized honors programs. Our son was accepted into a specialized honors program which provides research opportunities for the 40 students accepted each year. The program guarantees the individual students the opportunity to participate in research in a field of their choice. Since our son’s goal is grad school and research, this program really attracted his attention during the application process.

When he traveled to the finalist weekend, he came home impressed. He said the students he had met during the finalist weekend were every bit on par with the friends he had made at The Summer Science Program. He felt the upperclassmen already involved in the program and the high school seniors there interviewing were definitely his intellectual peers and that collectively they represented a wealth of talent. The awards that participants in the program have received testify to the accuracy of his assessment. The program has Hollings, Goldwater, Mitchell, and Truman scholars. So, while this school might not have been at first glance a “fit” intellectually, through this honors program, our son is convinced that it is.

In addition, our son has been blessed by the generosity of this university. It allows students to stack scholarships. Stacking means that additional scholarships do not decrease the value of other scholarships. Not all universities allow stacking and will reduce monetary awards when other scholarships are earned. All in all, our son won four different scholarships from this university which translates into him attending full-ride. The cost differential between attending this school full-ride versus higher ranked schools with partial scholarship or institutional aid was between $100,000-$160,000 over four years.

Another factor that advanced students need to weigh is how universities view college credits earned in high school. For students like our son, those cumulative hours may be considerable. Since our son has completed numerous upper level math and physics courses, he will have enough credit hours transferring in that he is only a few hours short of being a college junior. In choosing a college, understanding how different schools view dual enrolled credit needs to be considered. Since the school our son has chosen allows the transferring in of credit, it opens the door for him to triple major without undue burden because he has already completed so many of the “in major” requirements.

Looking back over the past 13 years of our son’s homeschooling venture, I could never have anticipated the journey we took. I know that homeschooling allowed our son to thrive and never feel like he was incapable of succeeding. He never felt like a failure because he struggled. He was allowed to be himself and thrive where he was. Dr. Seuss penned, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Homeschooling has allowed that to be true for our son.

Don’t be confused by Reading Levels

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How do you know what reading level your child is on? For parents that’s a tough question but for teachers it’s easy.

Parents are bombarded by books from the library that all have their own system. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these books are great. But “I Can Read” is different from “Step into Reading” which is different from  “Bob Books”. So saying your kid can read “level 2” is pretty meaningless. Level 2 of what?

Teachers are bombarded too. There are a gazillion ways to measure reading level. But if you have the right tool, it’s easy. Here are some examples:

As a former teacher/parent, I’m most interested in my kids’ Guided Reading Level. I even have many of our books marked. If my kid can read a book marked J, then I immediately know he’s at the J reading level.

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But let’s make things even easier! Here are some guidelines to help you ferret out your child’s reading level in general.

Entering Kindergarten: Knows many letters and a few sounds.

Exiting Kindergarten: Able to read about 25 words. A good goal would be to be able to read Level 1 Bob Books.

First Grade: Able to read simple sentences. Not a lot of stamina. A good goal would be to read Bob Books Levels 2-4 or some of Dr. Seuss.

Second Grade: Working on stamina. A good goal would be to read “Frog and Toad are Friends” by Christmas, and “Magic Tree House” by June.

Third Grade: This is a BIG year! Third grade is when kids jump from “learning to read” to “reading to learn“. By third grade, kids should be able to read chapter books like “Ramona Quimby Age 8”.

Fourth Grade: Chapter books with deeper complexity. The books are harder and the critical thinking capabilities are too. Check out The CIA Approach for more ideas.

All kids progress at different levels. So don’t freak out if your child is progressing in a way that’s different from the spectrum I just presented. But if you do have further concerns, click here for help.

Why ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal

Have you ever heard of Bill Gothard? If you answer “No” to that question, don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either, until recently. I’m just an ordinary SAHM, sending my kids to public school and taking them to my nice, friendly United Methodist church on Sunday.

But how about this… Have you heard of the Duggar family from TLC’s popular show “19 Kids and Counting”? You have? Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. You know all about Bill Gothard only you didn’t know it. Gothard is/was good friends with the Duggars.

What we’re really talking about is a group of fundamentalist Christians (some people would say cult), who have a huge impact in the American homeschooling movement today. The name of their organization is the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI, for short. Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.

Right now ATI is going through a major scandal. Bill Gothard, the former leader, has been accused by over 34 women of sexual harassment of minors. The allegations include fetishes, grooming, and in one case, groping. These stories are being shared on a website called Recovering Grace. Here are some examples:

The trouble is, most public school families like mine haven’t heard about any of this. Why should we? Hmmm… Maybe because the Duggar girls are on a book tour right now, promoting their ATI lifestyle. We know all about the Duggars; we just don’t know the whole story.

Let’s start with something really horrible: Blanket Training.

Never heard of blanket training? Me neither! Apparently, it’s when you put a young infant on a blanket and then hit the baby every time she puts her hand off the blanket. You train the baby through physical discipline to stay on the blanket. More about blanket training.

If smacking babies isn’t enough, here’s something else to make your blood boil: Stay-at-home-daughters.

That’s when parents give their daughter such a horrible education (or no education), that she’s unprepared to get a GED, go to college, land a paying job, or even move out of the house. She’s stuck at home forever, doing housework and taking care of her siblings, until her father allows her to enter “courtship” with a man he selects. More about stay-at-home-daughters here.

FYI, some of these links are from a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, where former homeschoolers are sharing their stories. A lot of the accounts come from growing up ATI, but not all of them. Also, some of the people share really positive views of growing up homeschooled, including one of the website founders, RL Stollar.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is also related to two other websites: Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Their goal is to make sure that America doesn’t forget about children like Hana Grace-Rose Williams, and to help create simple laws that would protect homeschooled children in the future.

The Coalition is suggesting regulations for homeschooling that include:

  • Parents homeschooling their children should have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Homeschooling parents should not be sex offenders.
  • Parents should teach the same subjects as public schools, but be free to use any materials they would like.
  • Children should not be forced to be at grade level.
  • Parents should be required to maintain academic records for the homeschooled children (so they could later go to college.)
  • Parents should be required to submit birth certificates to the state. (Btw, in the case of Hana Grace-Rose Williams, nobody was certain when she died how old she was, and her body had to be exhumed during her parents’ murder trial.)
  • Progress should be assessed each year with an exam of the parents choosing.
  • There should be a yearly portfolio review.

To me as a public school person, these ideas seem like no-brainers. But to the homeschooling community, this is a big deal. Check out this thread on The Well Trained Mind message board to read the vitriol.

My understanding is that some homeschoolers view any regulations as a potential threat to their rights to homeschool, and therefore are against any oversight whatsoever. There’s also a libertarian vibe running through all of this, that is hard for me (personally) to understand.

It’s really important to note that not all homeschoolers in America are religious. Also, many families who are religious, choose to homeschool for primarily academic reasons.

When it comes to schooling, I am Pro Choice. I’ve taught at a really horrible public school before. If my children were living in that district, I would want to be able to homeschool too. So I fully support the right to homeschool and want that option to be protected.

But whoa! How are we as a society to protect kids from people who are so brainwashed that they would hit young babies and burn their daughters’ birth certificates? How do we protect the next Hana Grace-Rose?

I think the people running Homeschoolers AnonymousHomeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, are really brave for speaking out. That’s why I’m adding them to my blogroll.

So the next time you see the Duggars on television, pay close attention. Those smiles you are seeing? They might be forced.

P.S. Interested in finding out more? Check out Free Jinger.

Judy Blume Mocks Homeschoolers

First off, I looooove Judy Blume. She was one of my favorite authors growing up. But somehow (motherhood, perhaps?) I was unaware that there was a new Fudge book, until I picked up an audio copy of her 2007 book Double Fudge from the library.

Blume reads the book herself and does a fantastic job with character voices and expressions. Both the plot and her narration are very entertaining.

However… a huge part of the book revolves around mocking the Hatcher family’s homeschooled relatives. Blume doesn’t give the homeschooled characters guns or religion, but she gives them every other stereotype in the book, right down to matching lavender prairie dresses (in 7th grade!) Two of the girls break out into spontaneous song, the little brother bites and licks people, none of the family watches television, and the parents have never even heard of the Weather channel.

I’m not a homeschooling Mom, but if I was I would be livid.

As it was, I had a lot of guilty moments listening to this book in the car. By the time the homeschooling bash-fest began, my children were too invested in the book to turn off the CD.

If the story had been making fun of people from different religious, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, I of course would have turned off the book immediately. But since this was Judy Blume we are talking about, I kept thinking there would be a redeeming moment at the end where the main character felt guilty about judging homeschoolers so cruelly.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how a moment like that would have helped.

😦

Announcing the 2013 Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour

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Teaching My Baby to Read  is very excited to be participating in the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2013 from June 14th-21st.

This international blog tour is organized by parents who met on The Well Trained Mind Message boards.

We come from different parts of the world, different school choices, and different social and economic backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common. We know that parenting a gifted child can sometimes be as challenging as it is rewarding.

If you have ever woken up at 3 AM in the morning wondering “What am I going to do with this child?” then this blog tour is for you!

From June 14th-21st the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour will discuss some of the most pertinent issues facing gifted education today:

 On June 14th Sceleratus Classical Academy will kick off our tour with “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.”

On June 15th Only Passionate Curiosity will share “Maturity vs. Ability; It’s a Big Deal”.  Childhood Inspired will write about “Nurturing Other Aspects of Giftedness Besides Academics”.

On June 16th Teaching My Baby to Read will feature “Harry Potter, Muggles, Mudbloods, and Giftedness in Family Trees”.

On June 17th Homeschooling: or Who’s Ever Home will write about “Nurturing Musical Talent in the Gifted Child”.

On June 18th Strader Spiel  will discuss “Homeschooling a Gifted Child with Special Needs” and The Washington Collation of Gifted Education will share “I’m an Advocate and So Are You”.

On June 19th Northwoods Classical Academy will write about “The Making of a Mathlete”.

On June 20th Homeschooling Hatters will share “Just Let Him Be a Kid”, and Sceleratus Classical Academy will end our tour with a guest post titled “When a Flower Blooms”.

There is still room for more contributions, so please email teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com if you are interested in joining the tour!