Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 2014 Favourite Read-Aloud Roundup

Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day was JJ's favourite read-aloud this month. A little boy called Peter plays outdoors in the snow all day. The story goes through all the wonderful things little children find for themselves to do on a snowy day. This isn't just for three-year-olds, though. All of us enjoyed it. SA (5) never can quite conceal a secret smile at Peter's disappointment when the snowball he put into his pocket disappears. 

Eric Carle is a favourite author in our family. I picked this book up for free at a second-hand store, and SA really loves it. For a while after we got it, he was asking us to read it to him a couple of times every day. Like many of Eric Carle's books, The Tiny Seed combines fact (the life cycle of plants) with fantasy (the flower grows taller than houses and trees, for example). You might think this is not a good thing, but as far as I can tell, my children have not had a problem sorting out what is real and what is imagined. 

We took a break from poetry at our teatimes for two weeks this month and read Winnie-the-Pooh. SA especially enjoyed it, in fact, he wants me to start at the beginning and read it again. I was encouraged that my boys' attention spans are starting to grow a little bit, because these chapters aren't short! 

I picked up The Harp and Laurel Wreath last month, and I am so pleased with it! It contains a collection of poetry and quotations for enjoyment, memorization, copywork, and dictation. Of course, at my boys' ages, we're just doing the first two things. I use it daily at our poetry teatimes. SA and JJ have memorized "Once I Saw a Little Bird" and "There Was a Little Turtle" this month. This book has poetry for every age. I'm sure I'll be using this resource for years to come.

These are just some of the books we've been enjoying this month. I'm linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word blog.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Commonplaces 7

Random notes from my week...

Yesterday, SA:
"So is it the twenty-fourth? Or the twenty-threeth?"

MM (17 months) has been going around singing "Happy, happy, happy." I'm not sure if it's from "Trust and Obey" (To be happy in Jesus) or "There is a Happy Land." He also sings "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Up above the world so high" from "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." The fun thing about the latter is that the tune is recognizable. I've waited a long time for a musical baby...

Stephen and I have been watching Poirot on Netflix. There's something sweet and gentle about it. It doesn't try to hook you in or manipulate you to watch just one more episode. It is clean, and that's something very rare. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

The boys have been enjoying Songs for Saplings as they learn their catechism. I wasn't sure about the songs at first... the rhythms seemed complex, the lines long. There is a lot of repetition, and that's good for memorization. It is clear to me now that even for my children (who can't really carry a tune yet), memorization with music sticks better than memorization without music.

I've been reading Charlotte Mason's volume 1 along with a reading group at Ambleside Online. I'm still hoping to write about what I'm learning soon. I may have to drop some perfectionism first and just type my notes as they are.

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Awesome Mystery of Growth in Reading

Something has happened over the last few weeks.

My eldest son has caught the reading bug!

He is working with a will now in our reading lessons. Eager, interested, proud.
He is asking to read his vocabulary cards and play games with them.
He is showing off what he can read to his Papa.
He is asking for his reading lesson before breakfast is over.
He is finding books everywhere that he can actually read, and he is reading them.

Now, I must admit that these are not difficult books. There is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Hop on Pop, Who is Coming to Our House?, and a few Bob Books and A Beka Readers. His ability has not taken a huge jump. Yes, his reading vocabulary has been slowly and steadily increasing with daily work, but this is not the difference I'm noticing. The real difference is that he wants to read now, and that he realizes he can do it.

How did this happen?
The truth is, I don't really know.
We have worked away steadily at the mechanics for several months now, learning phonics, memorizing sight words.
Charlotte Mason taught me to keep the lessons short and interesting. We have tried never to have a boring or a frustrating reading lesson. And yet, he would have liked some of those short lessons to be shorter yet.
But not anymore.
What is going on here?
Why is it that this sudden growth in interest seems to have little to do with the slow and steady work we've done up to this point?
And why am I getting the feeling that it really doesn't matter what I teach him from this point on? He will read, no matter what I do next. Oh, I'm sure I can still help the process along, but even if I don't, nothing will stop him now.

The mystery of growth in reading seems a lot like physical growth to me. You feed children meal after meal, day after day. You make sure they get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. And yet, they stay about the same height and weight for months at a time. Then suddenly, in the span of a week or two, they shoot up by an inch and a half! (This is often accompanied by eating everything in sight.) It's mysterious and a bit unpredictable, this process of growth.

And yet, would healthy growth have occurred in the same way without day-to-day nutrition and exercise? Our daily lessons, our games, our little motivational record of "Books I Can Read All By Myself," our newly instituted "Quiet Time" when he could choose to read or rest quietly...they were all healthy nutrition to support this growth spurt. And I will continue to supply him with his daily "meals," which will be taken in all the more voraciously now that he's so very hungry for them.

I've been trying to make the lessons a joy.
Now, they are a joy.

This, my friends, is success!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bird Feeder Joy

I have been planning to buy and put up a bird feeder for months now. I even chose birds as our nature study focus for several months in a row as I anticipated finally buying a bird feeder that month. The thing with having three little children is that you don't tend to go to any more stores than you absolutely have to on your weekly grocery expeditions. I just didn't happen to go into a store that carried bird feeders in all that time. However, the wait is now over. I installed it where we can see it from our living room window. We have a buffet of sunflower seeds, mixed bird feed, and a tube of suet/peanut butter/bird seed that seems to have been a is very solid in the cold. We'll see.
We noticed our first visitor yesterday. A little, dull grayish bird with striking black and white wing and tail feathers. We searched through our bird books, then started looking through the Cornell Ornithology Lab website. It took some looking and thinking before we realized that it was a female American goldfinch in winter plumage (which is why I hadn't noticed any yellow). Three more came to visit this morning, and since we were looking for it, we noticed a yellowish tinge to some of them. I don't know how long it will take for other birds to visit, but we will always remember our first little visitor. The goldfinches first went for the sunflower seeds, but also moved on to the mixed bird feed.

Math Game of the Week: Bean Count!

This term, we have been doing a "math game of the week" together on Mondays. Then we do the same game whenever we feel like it throughout the week. This week's game is from Peggy Kaye's Games for Math. In the book, it's called "Star Count", but since we used beans, we call it "Bean Count."
I got out a few papers, the pencil crayons, and a Dice. I divided a paper in two with a pencil crayon and wrote "SA" on one side, and "Mama" on the other. Then we took turns rolling the dice. For the first roll, we made large circles or squares. For the second roll, we put that number of beans in each circle or square. The person with the most beans won that round.
We actually started by drawing stars in the circles, but switched to beans when I noticed that drawing stars was taking more mental effort than the game. We played four rounds. I won twice, and SA won twice. He had the last win, and it was a good one, so we quit while he was ahead.
You can see that this game is meant to get him started thinking about the concept of multiplication. We didn't use any multiplication terminology "times" or "groups of." I just let him play the game and let him make whatever connections he's ready to make at this time. Later, when we do study multiplication, he'll think, "Hey, I know what this is!"

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

{Big Red Barn Reading Lessons} Lessons 5, 6, and 7

We are (more or less) back in routine, and are continuing in our reading lessons from Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. If you are new around here, I posted my introduction to this series here.

One thing that's new this new year is that I got a new resource! I'm hoping that Peggy Kaye's Games for Reading will give me some ideas to add some variety to our reading lessons while I continue to follow my own course. I also received a package of Scrabble fridge magnets for Christmas. I've been making crosswords on the fridge myself, but I'm thinking the letters may be useful for a reading lesson or two as well.

Lesson 5

This was the first lesson following our Christmas/New Year's break. I decided to start off by finding out how much SA had retained of our first lessons. I used an activity called "Word Ladder" from Games for Reading. I quickly drew a ladder with twelve steps on a sheet of paper. Then I wrote fifteen words on index cards:


I got a little tiger out of the toys, and we used it to climb the ladder. For every word he read immediately and correctly, he moved up one step. We put these words into an "easy" envelope. He got ten of them. We put the words that he didn't get immediately into a "hard" envelope to work on later in the week. These are the five words that went into that envelope.


SA enjoyed this game, and the whole lesson took about five minutes or so.

Lesson 6

For this lesson, I decided to teach SA the suffix -ing. I made several words on the refrigerator using my new magnetic scrabble letters.
I had him read the words:

learn (this was a new one for him)

Then I told him the sound the letters -ing make, and put them behind each word in turn. He read the new, longer words with no problem.


This lesson took probably three minutes. He clearly continued to think about it, though, as later in the afternoon he came to me and said, "Mama, singing has -ing in it."
"Yes, it actually has two -ing's in it," I replied. "Let's go make that word on the fridge."

And we did.

Lesson 7

I did another lesson using the scrabble letters. I didn't do a phonics lesson related to the word "course," as I really couldn't think of another word where that particular combination of letters (-ourse) make the same sound.
First, I wrote "OF COURSE" in scrabble letters on the fridge. I asked SA to read it.
"Of cowrse?" he read hesitantly.
"Of course," I said.
Next, I asked him to look at the word very carefully, so that he could see the letters in his head.
Then I mixed up all the letters and asked him to spell it again.
He did not do very well: "OF CORUSE"
I quickly put the words in the correct order again (I didn't want the incorrect spelling to register in his brain, especially as he seems to be a very visual learner.).
Then I mixed up the letters again, and I had a turn spelling it correctly.
I gave him another turn, and this time he spelled it "OF CORSUE."
I corrected it again, but didn't prolong the lesson. I'm starting to realize that he "sight reads" words so quickly and easily by sounding out the first and last sounds and guessing what's in between. He has also mixed up "green" and "golden" occasionally, which would indicate the same technique. I'm not sure how good or bad that is at this stage. For now, I just encouraged him to look very carefully at the letters.

One interesting thing, though. He can read the word "course" now. He hasn't missed it since this lesson.

Big Red Barn Reading Lesson 1
Big Red Barn Reading Lessons 2 and 3
Big Red Barn Reading Lesson 4
The Awesome Mystery of Growth in Reading

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday Commonplaces 6

A newsletter with random thoughts and happenings from my week.

I was putting MM down for his nap yesterday morning. Before I went upstairs, I told the boys to clean up because it was almost teatime. Well, I took so long up there that my boys decided to take matters into their own hands. I came down to this:

The teakettle on the table was the work of my five-year-old, and the bananas and pickles were carefully prepared by my three-year-old. He carefully got out our pretty china plate (we use it every day for teatime). He peeled a banana and cut it into fourths. He left the other piece off the plate because there were only going to be the three of us at tea. Then he got the pickle jar from the fridge and speared three fat pickles and put them beside the bananas. Yum! I was properly grateful, and only added some cheese and crackers to eat with the pickles.

Outdoor Life
I debated not admitting this here, but I have to be honest. We only spent three and a half hours outside this week. My excuse was the sheet of ice everywhere after Monday's rain. Tuesday I sent the boys out (kept the baby in with me) and spent the time in fear as they boldly scaled the hard-as-rock mountain of snow with their sled and went hurtling down towards the sheet of ice at the bottom. I greeted their return indoors fifteen minutes later with barely concealed relief. Wednesday I bundled up the baby and went out with them, but even so we only stayed out for half an hour. MM actually loved holding my hands and sliding. Thursday I finally decided to embrace the ice, since it was what we had, and put the boys' new skates on them. We hauled a kitchen chair out to the ice, and they had their first ever experience on skates. SA was very keen on it, and we did it again on Friday.

I've been thinking, though, a year ago I would have used the ice as an excuse to spend the week indoors. Though I didn't reach anywhere near my goal this week (ten hours), I did better than if I had no goal at all.

I was planning to work on the habit of attention this month, but some more urgent things have come up. Persistence is something I've had to teach a lot about this week. I prepared SA well for learning to skate. I told him he'd fall a lot at first, everyone does. He'd just have to get up again. He accepted this wholeheartedly, and is counting up his falls. ("How many falls until I'll be able to skate, Mama?" "I don't know...maybe twenty?") So far he has counted six falls. (He's still using a chair.) Another habit we need to start working on is self-control. JJ has a quick temper, and is in the habit of throwing things the instant he feels upset. He calms down fairly quickly afterwards, but somehow we have to work on that moment when he first loses his temper. I'm not sure how to help him get ahold of himself (any ideas?), but I'm sure we'll learn together.

I've done some more reading lessons with SA that I hope to put up soon. I'm also working on reading Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series following a discussion schedule at Ambleside Online. I'm going to try to post my notes for that. So much to post, so little time... but of course real life comes first.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Quote

I opened a book at random yesterday at my parents' house and read a wonderful quote. I just had to look it up on-line today and share it.
"There was a secret between them—a secret proclaimed on the house-tops, a secret hidden, the most precious of pearls, in their hearts—that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; that its work is the work of the Lord, whether the sowing of the field, the milking of the cow, the giving to the poor, the spending of wages, the reading of the Bible; that God is all in all, and every throb of gladness His gift; that their life came fresh every moment from His heart; that what was lacking to them would arrive the very moment He had got them ready for it. They were God's little ones in God's world—none the less their own that they did not desire to swallow it, or thrust it in their pockets.

Among poverty-stricken Christians, consumed with care to keep a hold of the world and save their souls, they were as two children of the house. By living in the presence of the living One, they had become themselves His presence—dim lanterns through which His light shone steady. Who obeys, shines."
-George MacDonald, The Elect Lady