Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ready to Read

When should a child begin reading lessons?  I think a better question is when should we start reading to our children.  And the answer is it's never too early to start reading to your child.  Find easy, short books to read to your baby.  If you can find some that are hard covered and even have pop-out pages, even better. Something baby can touch and enjoy playing with.

For toddlers, choose books about everyday experiences, like naps or visits to the doctor or grandma's house.  Toddlers also like stories about animals.  When reading, change your voice for the different characters, laugh at silly parts, comment on a part of the story, ask questions and answer them.  "What color is the bunny?  The bunny is white."  "Oh, look!  The bunny is crying.  Why do you think he's crying?"

About the time they are 4 or 5, you can start pointing out that we read from left to right.  That there are spaces between words.  That the word "Run" starts with the same sound as the first letter in his name "Robert".  That "cat" rhymes with "fat".  That each picture represents a sound.  So point to the picture "B" and say, "When we see this picture, we say "B".   As you teach different sounds, you can then start blending sounds, like m-o-p.  That's the first word my youngest daughter learned to read. I was so excited because she has Down syndrome, and professionals had told me she would only learn to read by sight, and a limited amount of words at that. Well, today she loves to read.  She reads at a 5th grade level....beyond just sight words.

With some kids, learning the name of the alphabet and then the sounds can be pretty confusing.  If your child already knows the name of the letters and you're trying to teach him to read, he may start to read 'cart' as 's-a-r-t' because the letter "C" starts with the "S" sound.  Now, my older two had no trouble with this.  But my last 2 kids did.  One caught on fairly quickly.  But with my youngest daughter we had to go back and just learn the sounds.  Every time she'd start to say the name of the letter, I'd say, "Yes, that's the name of the letter.  But let's say the sound, because the name of the letter won't help us in reading. What sound do we say when we see this picture?"

I really enjoy reading. My kids see me reading a lot.  And I enjoy teaching reading, reading with and to my kids.  Just watching the development as they read 2-letter words or just the small words as I read the bigger words when we buddy read, to reading multi-syllabic words and full sentences.  Once they showed an interest in reading, I found a good phonics curriculum that was also fun.  My main goal is always to foster a love for reading and learning.  Dolch words, though, can be harder for some beginner readers.  We've used those for vocabulary and spelling practice.I also try to find books that have these words so they have more practice in reading these words fluently.  It's okay to read books over and over again.  Especially if they are favorites. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Word Games

The title of this blog post should be Confessions of a Word Game Addict.  To begin my tale, I received an iPad for Christmas.  A few months before that, in September, I received my first smartphone.  An Android.  Yes, I know. I'm joining the technological community a little late.  Better late than never, right?

Well, I'm having a great time learning all the things a smartphone can do for me.  YouTube has been my best friend as I learn tips and hints from some techies.  I'm having fun finding apps for my iPad and my Android.  Of course, with 3 kids in the house, it's not really 'my' iPad.  I share a lot.  So on my iPad, two of our kids have added a few game apps that they like.  Fortunately, our older daughter has an iPod, so she has no need for my iPad.  

One of my greatest discoveries has been word games.  I love them!  One of my favorites is called Scramble with Friends.  I tell my husband that it's like a brain exercise that I need to do every day.   Our kids have their word games that they like to play, also.  We have found that SpellingCity has an app.  So they can either play the word games on the computer,  or they can play them on the iPad app.  Ironically, their favorite is Word Unscramble.   It's challenging for my daughter to figure out the order of the letters to make a word. I like it for her because it helps her with her spelling. I choose a set of vocabulary words, enter them into the program, and then she plays word unscramble.  As the program gives her the word with the letters all scrambled, she unscrambles them.  It's not as easy as it seems.  I've sat down with her a few times and was surprised at how even a 5 letter word can take me some time to figure out. This week she's been working on compound words.  So I added those to her different word games that she likes to play.  If they're going to play games on the computer, we try to keep them educational.  They enjoy them, and they're learning. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Preparing for College

We've been homeschooling our 3 youngest since they were old enough to start school.  In some ways it's been a long road.  In others, it's been such a short time. I'm starting to see the end of this journey with my two high schoolers. Colleges and universities have been a topic of conversation in our home recently. There was a time when I was concerned as to whether our kids would have a hard time being accepted to the university of their choice.  Over the years, though, the homeschooling community has grown by leaps and bounds. Over the years homeschoolers have proven themselves well beyond competent for colleges. Over the years homeschoolers have proven themselves to be prepared for college, the workforce, or for service in the military.  Today, some universities are actively recruiting homeschoolers.  Some employers prefer to hire homeschoolers because they are generally  reliable, diligent and trustworthy.

We live in a big city with several homeschool-friendly colleges and universities.  Of course, I'm hoping they will stay home or close to home by choosing one of these schools. In the meantime, I'm educating myself in preparing transcripts.  I'm reading up on tips and guidelines on planning for college. We're also preparing the kids for the ACTs and/or SATs they will be taking.  We're starting by signing up our daughter for a course on essay writing for standardized tests.  Our daughter has already started dual enrolling at our local college.  Unlike me at that age, she has a pretty good idea of what she wants to study.  Our son has a couple of options he's considering, but he still has time. We're praying that God will guide them as they make their choices for schools and careers. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Learning Games

Yesterday was a bit of a crazy day.  I had to take my daughter to her speech therapy and then my son to a doctor appointment.  So we spent most of the afternoon in waiting rooms.  You know how that is.  Fortunately (or unfortunately), we have years of experience on waiting rooms at therapists’ and doctors’ offices.  Our kids and I come prepared.  My son brought some reading material and I brought our iPad for our daughter.  I recently downloaded the app for SpellingCity.  She loves it.  We also use SpellingCity at home.   

Our Speech Therapist is teaching my daughter about multiple meaning of words.  So I showed her how I can use SpellingCity at home to add the vocabulary words with multiple meanings to our vocabulary list. I am then able to reinforce what she is learning with the speech therapist by using the same vocabulary list to do a sentence-writing activity using the multiple meaning words.   Once she has finished that, she then plays interactive vocabulary building games using the same list.  I love using online learning games to reinforce what we're teaching her.  One of her favorite spelling games at SpellingCity is hangman. She loves to play hangman.  I privately call it a spelling game because it helps her with her spelling.  She just thinks of it as a word game where she has to keep the mouse from catching the cat. As a matter of fact, while in the waiting room, she and I spent some time playing it together.  Another mommy in the room leaned over and asked what we were doing because my daughter was giggling each time she beat me (when I let her win). 

Friday, January 04, 2013

What About Learning Styles

As a homeschool parent we sometimes need to come up with creative ways to teach our children.  I’m not very creative.  I need a little help in that department.  I remember a few years ago, when our kids were in elementary grades, we purchased an expensive curriculum that was all hands-on learning.  The kids were able to get very creative with it. They had a lot of fun acting out skits, building things, making recipes.  We used it for a few months, but it was a struggle for me because, like I said, I’m not very creative.  Fortunately, we worked through it with two other families.  Brainstorming with the other moms made it more interesting.   But getting three families together on a regular basis was not easy. So that didn’t last long.
I’ve learned there are three basic learning styles:  Visual, Kinesthetic, and Auditory.  Now, I don't know how much truth there is to this. Perhaps it's because I'm skeptic, or perhaps it's because I don’t like labels that I haven’t done a lot of research on learning styles.  I haven’t put a lot of emphasis on learning styles in our homeschooling.  I just teach what needs to be taught, using as many resources as I can to emphasize the concept when needed.  I guess we can say we practice eclectic homeschooling.  My kids are a bit older now, but I remember when they were little, it was much easier to show them how to bake cookies than it was to have them read the directions and follow them.  It was easier to build a small model car with my son, as well as more fun, than it was to have him follow the directions.   I don’t think it’s because they are kinesthetic learners.  I think all kids enjoy learning when it involves doing rather than reading.  
Words have power.  I think if I tell my daughter she is a kinesthetic learner and her best way of learning math is with manipulatives, then it may limit her.  She may not want to learn mental math because she cannot visualize it and touch it.  Or if I tell my son he is an auditory learner and his best way of learning is to hear lessons being taught on CD, then it limits him.  But what if my son does learn best by listening to a lesson rather than reading it himself?  What if my daughter does learn best with physical movement or hands-on interaction? These things may be true, but I do my children a great disservice by limiting them in this way.
If learning styles are real, as the experts have said, then we need to also develop their weak areas, don’t we?  I want my daughter to be able to do mental math when she needs to figure out what 20% off the marked price of a $43 dress is.  I want my son to develop a love for reading, not just listen to books on CD.  After all, doesn’t a love for reading translate into learning?   So maybe there is some truth to learning styles.  Maybe I’m not a Kinesthetic learner because I’m not creative.  I said maybe.  See, I still don’t like labels.