Thursday, March 31, 2005

January’s Mid-Year Homeschooling Assessment

In January I received an emailed announcement that a local homeschool support group was having an adult evening support group meeting with the topic of “your mid-year assessment”. It dawned on me at that moment that I hadn’t done one but maybe I should! I wasn’t able to attend that meeting and therefore was not forced to think about doing a mid-year academic assessment for my children. At that moment the sum total of my assessment was that I felt that despite my intentions to have a low number of classes, sports and appointments, I had somehow let them creep into our schedule to a point that disrupted my basic plans and homeschooling goals. Too many classes, playdates and sports had taken over the schedule and not allowed us to do our homeschooling on a regular-enough basis. For example, the very good homeschoolers general physical fitness class was in the morning at a time that didn’t allow any homeschooling to get done before hand. By the time we got home the kids were starving and after lunch was made, served, and cleaned up, it was after 1 o’clock, then all the kids wanted to do was play. When I tried to force them to do some homeschooling in the afternoon it was a failure. I noted they could not do math well, son (7) forgot math facts, which he had memorized, and even penmanship was sloppy. The sum total of my mid-year assessment was to get back on track and do homeschooling lessons at least 4 if not 5 times per week and to continue the academic plans I had set in the fall. We were also “behind” the schedule that I had set up in the beginning of the school year. January was spent getting back into a routine and finding a smooth groove for our family. One thing I can say about the fall was that we were not stressed out or feeling pressured by the commitments (as we have in the past) but it was just that the outside appointments didn’t allow the homeschooling to occur.

To plan January through June, I addressed outside activities in the following manner: I allowed each child to pick one paid sport to do from January through June. Son (7) selected an outdoor spring sport. Son (4.5) chose gymnastics, which ran January through March. Cub Scouts continued for son (7), with five meetings per month, and I was busy helping the pack and planning meetings, as I am one of his den Leaders. I arranged the gymnastics class on the same afternoon as the Cub Scout den meeting. This way I had all five mornings free to do homeschooling and four afternoons free for unstructured playtime at home, playdates, and errands. As I write this at the end of March I can report that it was wonderful. We did 90% of errands on Saturdays, with my husband either doing the errands with the boys (and leaving me to have some alone time) or errands were done with all four of us doing them together. This left the weekdays for homeschooling, unstructured play at home, and for playdates. One amendment to this was that in March I found out that son (4.5) is eligible to do T-ball this spring and he has been begging to do it, so we signed him up for that as well. We did not re-enroll son (4.5) in the gymnastics classes that run March-June and don’t plan to do in the summer months either. The reduced outside paid sports classes fulfill these goals: saves us money, allows more free time for: homeschooling, unstructured free play, playdates with their favorite friends, and is less pressure and stress for the entire family.

I also restricted outside paid academic classes to just the one which we signed up for in the fall (for son, 7) which continues through the spring, with only a total of 8 classes spread over the entire academic year. We do one free homeschooling co-op per month (geography and world cultures). I have declined an invitation to join a homeschooling co-op for French. Presently we are not learning a foreign language; my children are not yet interested and I didn’t have the energy or desire to force them into it. As I write this I am considering joining a Five-in-a-Row once-a-month co-op, which would be the only academic class for son, 4.5.

As I write this it is late March and I am happy with the smoothness that we’ve enjoyed from January through now. Being in a routine is nice and gets easy to just stay in the groove. Accomplishing things feels good, seeing my children progress forward in their learning is exciting. Watching their excitement as they discover new things and make connections in the real world to things we’ve learned from books is great to see!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Children Using Writing to Express Their Emotions

I encourage communication in any form and about any emotion for all members of our family. Well perhaps I should re-phrase that to say I encourage non-violent forms of communication of emotions (good and bad emotions)! We are phasing out of tolerating tantrums when they are done by choice and instead of using words to communicate things that my sons are quite capable of communicating as per their developmental stages and ages (presently 4.5 and 7.5 years of age). I expect my children to rise up and accept new challenges including using words to articulate anger or hurt feelings, rather than hitting, throwing objects, slamming doors, shouting, or pouting. My younger son has surprised me by self-initiating emotional communication via handwritten notes (with invented spelling).

On Thanksgiving my parents and grandmother were a little surprised by my younger son’s written communication of emotions. At that time he was going through a phase when he would write his emotions and thoughts rather than verbalize them. He’d get angry about something, be quiet and retreat from the room, only to return and hand me (or someone else) a note with a message on it. He was in a stage (just turned 4.5 years old) when he was working to learn how to verbalize his emotions, especially emotions such as hurt feelings, sadness and anger.

My father had been roughhousing with him and it reached a level where my son wanted to stop and didn’t like it anymore. My son was upset when his request to stop was not heeded. He left the room and returned with a note, which stated in invented spelling format that he hated Grampy. I read it aloud then consoled him and talked to him about his feelings and acknowledged them, saying something like “you are upset because Grampy would not stop wrestling when you asked him to” and my son agreed this was correct. Both of my parents were surprised and my grandmother was not happy at all (with the use of the word ‘hate’) and she started in saying things such as “in my day children were not allowed to disrespect their elders in that manner, what a horrible thing to say, that he hates his grandfather”.

I let my son go off to cool down a bit more and explained to everyone that the use of the word hate was not meant to be mean or to hurt his grandfather’s feelings but it was just a choice of words that he thought represented his anger and I asked that they not be offended by it. A couple of minutes later my son retuned with a new note saying he didn’t hate his Grampy any more and he was smiling and they made up. I pulled my son aside and explained that hate is a strong word that can hurt people’s feelings and I asked him to apologize to his grandfather and to tell him he loves him (which he does, of course). It went over well with my parents, I think. My grandmother did leave, though; still thinking that the way children are being raised today is not right or good. Oh well. My children are turning out well so I am happy with what we are doing!

I feel strongly that we must encourage boys to vocalize their emotions. Expressing emotions such as fear and anger are good for all children but have been shown to affect boys to a great extent. This topic is covered in depth in the book Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack.I have not read the entire book but liked the beginning. For many years in America, boys were (and many still are) taught to force down their emotions, to stuff them inside and not to acknowledge them to learn to “be a man” even when they were toddlers or very young children. This is thought by many to be the cause of angry children, angry teenagers and angry men who are unable to communicate their emotions, even as adults! This may explain why so many men are not able to communicate well to their wives, causing marital discord. I have decided to teach my boys to communicate and that they have a right to voice their emotions (in a respectful manner). I choose to do what is right and best for my children even if a relative or two may disagree with my methods.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Great Math Worksheet Site (with some free worksheets)

I found this easy to use math worksheet site last year. The father of a homeschooling family created this wonderful resource. As of this writing, some of the worksheets are available free of charge. If you pay the membership fee of $2 for one month or $20 for one year, you will have access to even more worksheets. The site is clean and easy to use. It is free of ads and pop-up ads.

If you want to try the free worksheets, click on the black font such as “single digit, horizontal” under addition. It doesn’t look like a hyperlink but it is. You are linked to another page, which asks which parameters you want. After filling out each field, you click on the “create” button. The new worksheet will appear. You then print the number of copies you want of that one worksheet. Note that if you want one unique worksheet, just print one, then use your browser’s back button to go back to the “create” page and hit the “create” button again—a different worksheet will appear. I visit the site and print off a bunch by doing this process:
create
print
back
create
print
back (repeat)…

We use Math-U-See and are happy with it. When my children beg for more worksheets I use this site to fulfill their requests! I am happy and lucky to have two boys who love practicing math operations on paper and who think that practicing addition, carrying, subtrraction with borrowing, etc. are FUN activities to be pursued in their free time!

I used the telling time worksheets to teach my oldest to tell time from the basics “to the minute” with worksheets from this site and a little playing with a Judy clock. It took about 11 weeks shortly after he turned six. I have no clue why public schools drag the full time-telling process over 3 or 4 years--from Kindergarten through second or third grade!

Anyway...you could also pay the $2 fee for one month’s use and go crazy printing off as many worksheets as you feel you will use in a given time period (i.e. the whole school year). A bargain! Well, even $20 for a full year’s use is a pretty good deal!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Library Book Sales: A Great Place to Find Cheap Books for Your Home Library

Many libraries hold used book sales as a fundraiser for their library. Sometimes the sales are planned and operated by the “Friends of the Library” volunteers. Some libraries have one or two sales per year, while others have sales on a bi-weekly or monthly schedule. Volunteers usually work to plan and execute the event. The libraries that have frequent sales (i.e. every Saturday morning, or twice per month) often have space in the library where they keep the books on display, often in a basement area, which is kept closed/locked until the date of the sale. Other libraries request that local residents donate books via a book drive and sell whatever was collected during that (short) time period. Some libraries accept donations year-round and place books in storage until it is time for a large book sale. I have found that libraries who have access to a large storage facility and/or accept year-round donations hold the largest sales. The largest sale in my area has an inventory of 120,000 books! The smaller sales (3,000-10,000 books) often only do short-term “book drives” and don’t hold over much inventory from prior sales.

Prices at library sales can very greatly, from 10 cents for a paperback to $1 or $2 or more for a paperback. Sometimes the pricing methods are advertised ahead of time and other times you won’t know the prices until you arrive at the sale. There are two basic pricing methods for the regular part of the book sale. One is where every paperback is a set price (i.e. 50 cents) and every hardback is another price (i.e. $1). Often these fixed price sales will have half price for children’s books. For example: children’s paperbacks-25 cents, children’s hardbacks-50 cents, adult paperbacks-50 cents, and adult hardbacks $1. The other method is where the price of the book is marked on the first page inside the cover. These are the most expensive sales to attend. After buying a lot of books at a huge library book sale in our area, which puts prices inside each book, I came up with the following pattern:
Children’s paperbacks, poor condition: 25 cents
Children’s paperbacks, good condition but written in (i.e. inscription) 50 cents
Children’s paperbacks, excellent or new condition: $1
Children’s hardbacks, poor or good condition: $1
Children’s hardbacks excellent but written in (i.e. inscription): $2
Children’s hardbacks like new condition: $3
I thought myself quite clever for having figured that out (while sorting through books at home—at the sale the pricing methodology seemed random and confused me).

Some library sales have higher prices on the night before the regular sale (short hours) or even for a full day. The prices are often double price and/or there may be an entry fee of $5, $10 or $20. Some sales have the preview sale free for “Friends of the Library” members or for a fee to non-members. Some huge sales in our area even have lottery systems to determine order of entry for this “pre-sale”.

Very large library sales often offer discounted prices at the end of a sale in order to reduce inventory. Often the prices go to half price. Another later discount is sometimes offered such as $5 for a plastic grocery bag full of books. Some sales even offer free books on the last day of the sale or for the last hours of a sale.

Examples:
Friday: Double price day (with or without entry fee)
Saturday and Sunday: Regular price day
Monday: Half price day
Tuesday: Free books day

Any combination of hours and times can occur as well, such as half price for Sunday morning and free books Sunday afternoon. The driving force seems to be the location of the sale, how long they want that location to be open and available and to what degree the volunteers can handle the work! Some sales in my area stretch sales to 4 or 5 days!

I would like to not believe what I have heard: that some libraries throw away whatever books are left over after a book sale! I do know for a fact that some libraries place the left over books into storage until the next sale. If the library has a permanent room for the books to be displayed, these books are definitely not thrown away.

Some of the books sold at some sales are “library discards”. A friend and I have noticed an odd pattern. Some local huge library sales sometimes have loads of library discards from other town libraries, and oddly, those other libraries did not have their own books at their own sale. We wonder if perhaps the powers that be didn’t want the town residents to see that the library was discarding books from their circulation! A friend also was told by a librarian who works in a different (and wealthy) town with a wonderful library, that they were directed to place all library discards in the dumpster so the residents would not know that the staff was reducing their inventory. This pained the librarian so secretly; she was offering all the books to my friend to use for her family and to disseminate amongst the local homeschoolers. True book lovers (such as that librarian, my friend, and myself) cringe and can’t fathom the notion of destroying books so we resort to participating in covert book saving missions!

Library book sales often also sell VHS videos and DVDs as well as audio music in LP, cassette, 8 track (!), and CD format as well as audiobooks. Some sales also include jigsaw puzzles and board games. You never know what will turn up at library sales.

To find out about book sales near you (and across America), check www.booksalefinder.com and sign up for email notifications of sales in your area. You are able to select the number of miles from your zip code for which you want to learn of sales. One email is sent per week to notify you of those sales. The emails sometimes contain longer-distance sales for which the website has received a fee to advertise. This is not a nuisance and is easily ignored if you are not interested. You may also access the site and use the map to find sales in other areas. This is handy when you know you are traveling to another state and want to attend library sales in those areas. Simply click on the state then find the date and see which libraries are holding sales. This site sometimes lists other sales such as bookstores going out of business and other large book liquidation sales. The listings often have hyperlinks to the library so you can find the address and driving directions to the sale location.

Some things I have noticed are that the wealth of the town is often a direct reflection on the type of books that appear in the sales. I am not the only one to have noticed this, local friends and online friends have commented on this as well. I don’t know why this is but it is something that people across America have noticed! The only thing I can suggest is that you shop as many different sales and as often as you desire. You will probably find that there are a few favorite sales that continually yield great books while others you may leave more disappointed.

Oddly, even the largest book sales often have treasures on the “free day”. Last year a friend of mine visited the sale on day one’s double price day and on day four’s half price day. She was surprised to see things on day four that she never saw on day one. She hypothesized that she had found so many great things the first day and had spent her budget, and perhaps she didn’t look at all the books. I wondered if some books were being brought out of storage as the sale went on. I wondered why past shoppers didn’t buy some of the great finds I discovered on the free day, and came up with a theory that perhaps earlier buyers spent their budget before looking at everything, thereby missing some treasures. Who knows!

Some libraries have a small cart or bookshelf with books for sale, often near the circulation desk, which is “open” during all the operating hours of the library. These are often stocked with books that trickle in throughout the year. Treasures can be found here as well, so ask a librarian if they have books for sale whenever you visit a library!

I plan to write about the subjects of preplanning and navigating book sales and about the hot topic of book dealers at library sales in future blog entries.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Buying Thomas wooden train toys at a discount at www.traincellar.com

Our family has used this Internet storesince 1999, to buy Thomas and Friends wooden railway products at discount prices. Train Cellar is New Jersey store who also sells on the Internet. The website is not very jazzy compared to big name toy store websites, but the customer service is excellent, the owner is a friendly, and the prices are low. I browse the paper catalog received in past orders to select my items then use their site to check full retail prices versus discounted prices and to place the order. They often ship on the same day and I believe they still charge only actual UPS shipping (not some inflated price that includes a profit for them).

Check the Train Cellar if you want to sign up for free email notifications, which arrive about once per month, listing new items, sales, and items which items will be discontinued soon (so you can buy them now instead of for huge markups on Ebay when your child begs for a certain discontinued train). Knowing how expensive these toys are, I appreciated the ability to buy at a discount.

In the past I have also purchased large sets on sale, and divided up the toys to spread the gift giving over several holidays. A related tactic I used for building our large Thomas collection is to pool money from relatives before a holiday to buy large sets at a discount, then divide the toys up to give to the relatives to wrap and give to my sons on the actual holiday. (Some relatives asked me to wrap them for them, which is fine with me.) The relatives that took part in this appreciated the fact that they didn’t have to shop themselves and liked knowing my sons would love the presents they received and that they'd not receive duplicates.

I get no kickbacks from this company; I just wanted to share this great vendor with you. Sadly, past emails from Train Cellar indicated that the manufacturer had enforced some price fixing policies on Train Cellar after other vendors complained that they were discounting. For a while the discount prices had to be deemed a “sale” and were restricted to a certain number of days per calendar year. This angered me and resulted in me spending even more money at Train Cellar versus local retail shops that never run sales, have less inventory and must charge state sales tax!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Children really enjoying coloring pages

My boys are on a roll with coloring pages, much to my continued shock and amazement. I don't think they are necessary for homeschooling but if they want to do them while they listen to me read aloud, that is fine with me. They beg to be able to color with their Prismacolor colored pencils while I am reading aloud. We are learning about forest creatures right now and are using the Dover Coloring Book: Small Animals of North America by Elizabeth A. McClelland. These are high quality, detailed images which are even suitable for adults to color in.

I also have used some free coloring pages from www.enchantedlearning.com. I have not yet been able to justify the $20 annual membership fee which allows access to larger sized images due to our very tight budget, so I am settling for the smaller free images. I figured out that I could copy the information from the site and paste inside of my word processing software, I can then delete some or all of the text, leaving the image, then printing that on my computer printer. I would prefer the image to be full page sized, but this is what I have to settle for, for free.

For history, we continue to use coloring pages from within the Story of the World Volume One Activity book and also use some of the history themed Dover coloring books.

I keep a three-ring binder for each subject for each of my children. Their colored images, original artwork and narrations are kept in these notebooks as well. I'd add photos to these notebooks as well if I ever get to print the digital images which for now are stored on CDs!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Time spent in cars: Is this time being used by parents to connect or disconnect from their children?

Question to parents: What is happening when you are driving with your children in the car? What is each person doing? Is everyone happy? A better question: is everyone profiting from the experience? Is this time being used to connect with your children or are you disconnecting from each other?

Many of us spend more time in the car than we want. Some of the things mothers spend time driving to are: school, homeschooling classes or events, extracurricular enrichment activities, tutoring services, sport practices and games, and playdates. Still more time is spent driving to do errands, to attend family functions, to visit relatives, or traveling to or while on a family vacation. One thing we probably all have in common is that we want this time to be peaceful, meaning no bickering, fighting, or complaining. Some of us may want to use this time to bring us closer to each other.

Many of us consider time spent in the car as “a waste of time”. We see the car ride as a means to an end, as a way to get where we are going, where the “real thing” will happen. It wasn’t too long ago that the only car riding entertainment choices were listening to the radio with a second option for (hopefully) passengers only: reading.

Think back to your childhood: what did your family do while in the car? In my childhood years I remember clearly that what was done in the car was what the adult wanted. I, as the child, was not determining what we did in the car. When with my parents, I remember listening to the music of their choice, and talking. My grandparents would talk and sometimes listen to music. Sometimes my grandmother would shop alone and my grandfather would listen to the news on the radio while he waited, patiently, in the parking lot. My other grandmother rarely used the radio, we would talk on our 500-mile long trips to visit relatives up north, or listen to weather reports. I remember talking to my family, reading and doing various puzzle books. I also remember lots of time spent staring out the window and thinking. Free time is a good thing. Boredom can be a great thing. Time spent decompressing and relaxing can help people of all ages be excited for other activities and helps us feel grateful when we arrive at our destination and can do whatever it is we were going there to do. “Finally, we’re here. Hooray!”

The current state of affairs in mainstream middle-class America is this: many children are spending their time in cars plugged into headsets and watching a television screen. Presently these screens show DVDs of the children’s choice. Custom made entertainment, just what they want, when they want it. God forbid they be bored or be forced to listen to something not of their individual choosing. Perhaps some children and teens are looking for a way to not have to talk to their each other? Anyway, I hate the idea of these DVD players. I cringe at the idea that every minute of their time in cars is seen as a way of having constant entertainment. DVD players are becoming more and more common as permanent installations in new vehicles. If you don’t’ have one, your local Wal Mart or Costco will sell you a portable one for your vehicle. I have talked with a bunch of parents in the last few years about their opinions on DVD viewing in cars by children. I have heard a variety of opinions. Some feel that “anything to keep them happy” or “anything to keep them quiet” is desirable, or anything that “stops them from bickering” is fine and good. One mother complained that since they installed one, her children wanted it on every minute that they were in the car. She grew angry, and felt that they were good for long trips but not necessary for short car rides around town. She said since having one, more fighting has occurred between she and her children, as she attempted to set limits on their in-car viewing. She also felt that her children were less capable of entertaining themselves or being alone with their thoughts, which bothered her.

Last year while on a 15-hour car ride, we used a laptop computer with a DVD player, for the first time. It was a nightmare. My two children fought over what to watch next. They also complained about their headsets, which one hurt their ears, speculation that the other child had the more comfortable one, who had a better viewing angle to avoid sun glare, whose neck was sore from turning it toward the center, etc. We haven’t used it since. You may argue that perhaps with perseverance and parental direction, we could get our children to accept limits and not complain. Frankly it is not a battle that I think is worth fighting. We went back to our old ways: music, audiobooks, reading and talking while in the car.

Portable DVD players with small screens are another option. With these, each child can use their own set and play their own DVD and view it on their own small screen. A seven year old I know takes hers everywhere and while visiting relatives, sequesters herself to a separate room to watch her DVD alone. These represent the ultimate in personal entertainment: one set in the car is not good enough, so get one for each child. Is this evolution a good thing? Is a visit to Grandma’s house truly “quality time” if the child is not spending time with Grandma but is watching a screen instead? It somehow seems worse when a child brings their own screen to a relative’s house and sequesters themselves away from others than when the relative sets up a television show or video for the child to watch.

Other families have used portable audio players (i.e. Walkman) in the car. These have been affordable for quite a number of years. In some families each member of the family has one and they each listen to their own unit while in the car. One thing going for them is while listening one can look out the window, or at other members of the family and may even be able to think their own private thoughts. Audio books may also be played on them, allowing for various members of the family to hear books appropriate for their age and matched to their interest levels. Unfortunately the current fad of the iPod doesn’t allow listeners to listen to audiobooks. If we could download audiobooks for free or very inexpensive prices, I may be tempted to buy the iPod. For now I feel they are a “make work” project and for the life of me, I couldn’t find 5000 songs I’d want to listen to. Now if I could download a talk radio show and somehow bypass the commercials, I’d love it!

We mostly listen to children’s music or “family music” while in the car together. We have pretty much weaned from Raffi and have moved on to Tom Chapin, Rick Charette, and John McCutcheon. My sons memorize the songs and sing along with the music. Okay, I’ll admit it, I sing along too (as does my husband, sometimes). We began listening to children’s music as a way to keep our babies happy while on long drives. I continue to avoid pop, rock and country music in order to avoid mature and inappropriate language (as well as avoiding some annoying music and avoiding radio commercials). My husband continues to listen to country music while in his vehicle with our sons. I was less than pleased the day our 6 year-old began singing “I love this bar” by Toby Keith, specifically this passage, “And we got lovers, lots of lookers, and I've even seen dancing girls and hookers”. My ears perked up and I saw red. A call to my husband on his cell was immediately dispatched with a request/order to stop listening to country songs with mature themes. To date I have lost this battle; they are closet country music listeners, I suspect.

Sometimes we’ll be driving and talking and I will suddenly realize that when we got into the car, the music was not on. This allowed the conversation to happen. I noticed afterward that our times listening to good music were nice, but that our boys were quiet (as was I) and conversation was not flowing. I intentionally drive without music sometimes. It is interesting to hear their conversations with each other and of course I enjoy the conversations we have with each other.

Last weekend I attended and volunteered at a La Leche League Breastfeeding and Parenting conference. I was interested to hear what the guest speaker, Dia Michaels, breastdeeding advocate and President of Platypus Media, had to say about raising school-aged children with attachment parenting (AP) methods. There is not a lot written AP with older kids, because so many AP writings focus on specific parenting decisions for babies and toddlers. Dia concentrated on keeping connected with our children. Dia relayed that some of the best conversations she has had with her preteen aged child and older children have been while they were not face to face. She said that she has heard unbelievable and important things from her children while she was driving and they were in the back seat. She felt that driving in the dark was also a bonus, because the real nitty-gritty comes out when they are in darkness. Dia shared some of what her schooled-children report was going on in school and in their friends’ social lives. Dia said she appreciated the dark, as her children were not able to see her cringing or looks of shock or fear as they crossed her face. Another way this not-face-to-face talking occurs in their family is while she is brushing her daughter’s hair. I can attest to intimate conversations with my relatives over the phone, which I know never would have taken place if we were face to face. It makes sense that we lower our inhibitions when we know we aren’t facing the person to see their reaction. I hope to remember this car driving conversation tip when my boys are older.

Listening to audiobooks as an entire family is also a wonderful thing. As the sole adult in the car during long trips, I have listened along with my children to the unabridged Pollyanna, Pinocchio (which is very different than the Disney version), and some of the Henry Huggins books has helped me with my own boredom. Hearing Charlotte’s Web narrated by the author himself was priceless. My husband also enjoys some of the books, such as Holling Clancy Holling’s Paddle-to-the Sea and Moose Tracks. My husband and I read books aloud to our children while at home, and listening to audio books in the car together is another way to share great books with our children. Sharing experiences such as hearing a great story together builds connections.

I am also trying to use car rides as a way to learn social skills, communication skills, and certain values. I feel that avoiding personal audio devices and DVD players in this endeavor is key. Presently my sons must negotiate with each other and compromise about what they want to listen to. Either they come to an agreement on something they both want to hear in its’ entirety, or they take turns by song or by CD (depending on the length of the trip). Patience and tolerance is learned while they listen to something that is not their first choice. Hopefully selfishness is not being taught.

My children have always had access to books to read to themselves. For long car rides, we provide flat writing surfaces (presently large picture books but hopefully someday they will have nice lap desks). They are free to do dot-to-dot books, maze books, or draw pictures. Magazines for children are also available for reading or browsing. Small quiet toys are also within their reach. I found some great organizer doo-hickey’s at Target. They hook around the top of the seat in front of the child. There are many pockets, zippered and not zippered, that holds writing implements, toys, books, and even a thermal pocket for holding a water bottle. Keeping all their stuff in these hanging pouches helps keep things up and off of the floor of the car.

Our latest investment was a book light called the Lightwedge. I like the fact that this lies flat over the page and shines an equal amount of light over the whole page, rather than donning a circle of light which is bright in the middle and dim on the edge (such as with our Itty Bitty book light). I also like that there is no exposed light bulb, which children can and probably will break with rough handling. I bought three: one for the adult car passenger and one each for children passengers. These also can be used for night reading while staying in hotel rooms if keeping the lights off is necessary. I learned about the Lightwedge and purchased mine from Timberdoodle, who discounts the price.

In case you are wondering, I also ban handheld electronic games from our household. Seeing studies linking video game playing with problems learning to read, I banned them until my children could read. When my oldest could read, I continued the ban feeling they are a waste of brain cells. My son would rather choose the limited screen time for television viewing (selected/censored by me, non-violent, and commercial free content, thanks to TiVo). We are not purists: computer video games are played in the format of educational software or playing the computer version of Monopoly. I also loathe the use of handheld video games at the dinner table or at a restaurant. I feel that when eating together as a family at home, at a relative’s house or in a restaurant, it is a social event that requires full participation by all that are present, i.e. not staring at screens. Talking and eye contact are optional but listening is mandatory. When kids are staring at screens they are not engaged with sight or hearing. These handheld games are antisocial, preventing interactions. I feel at the core, these devices teach a child that every minute of every day in every place, entertainment is a must and that they deserve to be entertained above all else. God forbid they be relegated to read a book or magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office waiting room! Additionally I don’t like them to be used during playdates: here we parents make intentional plans for our children to play together and one shows up with a handheld game; unable to talk or play or interact with other children. They could sit at home alone and play them! Ditch them during playdates!

For information about the harmful effects of screen time on children, read Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It by Jane Healy. She also has another book that looks interesting that I have not read: Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It.

If parents are feeling disconnected from their children due to separation while they work, or while the children are in school, using car time for communication is easy and free. If you are skeptical about how important parent/child connectedness is, perhaps you should read “Too Much of a Good Thing - Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age” by Dan Kindlon. At a lecture I attended recently, Kindlon linked disconnectedness to poor self-esteem, childhood and teen depression, teen suicide, poor school performance, drug and alcohol use and in general, unhappiness in life.

When children are plugged into headsets and/or staring at screens, they are unable to communicate with each other and with their parents. Is this a good thing? Is a parent so deprived of news or music that they must listen to his or her own separate entertainment whilst driving? Doesn’t all this screen time teach antisocial behaviors and decrease the ability to learn to communicate with others? How about shutting everything off and just talking, at least while in the car--or at least sometimes?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Cramming history, finishing up the Ancients…

My son (7) and I are both ready to be done with Ancient History. We are in the last few chapters of Story of the World Volume One. Really, we began Ancient History the summer before his official Kindergarten homeschooling year began, by reading about dinosaurs (at his request). During the Kindergarten year we read some about mummies and pyramids (at his request). The First Grade year was spent doing in depth unit studies on Early Man, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. History was not our main priority so by the time June arrived; we hadn’t gotten any further down the timeline. So here we are in second grade…we restarted at the beginning of time by using Story of the World Volume One as a spine. We skipped dinosaurs, skimmed Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. We filled in the blanks in between and what we hadn’t studied before, we did more in depth. We are really enjoying using Story of the World Volume One and the accompanying activity guide, and supplemented with other books, nonfiction, fiction, fairy tales and myths. But we are READY to be done with Ancient History.

Both of my sons can’t wait to get to the Middle Ages and delve into knights, castles, Vikings, and explorers. Fun stuff is ahead. They so want to finish Volume One that yesterday we spent 90 minutes doing history and before dinner they begged for more and we did another 30 minutes together. I continue to be surprised and amazed at their enjoyment of doing coloring pages and coloring in maps with these great Prismacolor colored pencils—they put crayons, markers and cheap colored pencils to shame.

I hate to think of what we are doing as cramming but compared to my usual laid-back mentality where I don't stress about an exact date to finish studying a subject, this to me, is cramming.

Monday, March 14, 2005

All fired up about the Imus interview about possible link to mercury in vaccines and autism, ADD, ADHD

Last Thursday was not a good day for me at all. I woke up in a good mood and was bravely bracing myself to forge ahead with a very busy day. I had not yet finished planning a 75 minute presentation that I was to give on Saturday at a breastfeeding and parenting conference on the subject of breastfeeding past the first birthday. I vowed to not skip homeschooling in order to get the work done lest I be irresponsible and possibly inflict negative repercussions to my children’s home education due to my procrastination. I was doing alright up until breakfast time, when my husband called me to the television to see an interview taking place on the Imus in the Morning radio/television simulcast. He knew the subject was one that I am deeply convicted about.

My husband has been an Imus fan since the 1980s, before we met, way before Imus was talking about parenting tactics on his show. We were already practicing some non-mainstream parenting choices when Imus and Deirdre’s first child was born. Right from the start of their parenting journey, Imus would share with his audience, various choices they made and why. My husband would listen and think “Deirdre is just like my wife” and because they did some of the same things we did, he wasn’t criticizing them for their choices but was nodding in agreement. I still think he is surprised that someone such as Don Imus talks about these lifestyle choices on the air, when the show used to be mostly centered around politics and current events.

Apparently Don Imus has discussed his worry about an autism/mercury link in the past, and my husband mentioned it was again a topic of discussion on the show last week. I was interested in hearing the interview but it ended getting me all wound up and upset. I just discovered that the full-30 minute interview, which was done on March 10, 2004 with author David Kirby can be heard on line for free.

Kirby’s new book is called “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy”. From what I heard on the show, the book seems been researched thoroughly and cites medical studies from reputable medical institutions.

The interview was alarming and disturbing to me because it reinforced and repeated what I was already aware of, due to past articles published in Mothering magazine. (Their online archives bring up 102 hits on articles about autism and 61 hits on the topic of mercury and 89 on the word “vaccine”, so if you want additional free reading, you can start there.) When I first read this theory in Mothering, it was upsetting, but a part of me was comforted in the idea that since the mainstream was not embracing this theory, that perhaps it was erroneous. Hearing this interview underscore what I’d already read, was scary and upsetting to me.

The gist or crux of the problem with the mercury/neurological controversy is that some children/people are thought to be born with a physical defect that does not allow their bodies to process out, the (toxic) mercury that is taken into the body. When a newborn baby receives vaccines that contain mercury (in the form of a preservative with the brand name thermerisol), if the body is not ridding itself of this toxic metal, a problem may result. (For that matter any ingestion of mercury adds to the problem, such as the thermerisol in over-the-counter nasal saline sprays for babies and children or in fish). The mercury is thought to stay in the body and the levels rise as more mercury is put into the body (vis-à-vis different vaccines and booster vaccines and other sources). When mercury levels are at a certain level, Kirby said that autism and other neurological problems, i.e. ADD and ADHD may develop.

Kirby called the mercury in vaccines issue quite possibly “the largest medical mistake in American history”. Kirby is calling for national attention to this issue and calling for discontinuing the continued use of mercury in vaccines. The alternative to using mercury as a preservative is to package vaccines in single use vials, which Kirby stated represents a $4 per vial increase in cost. The cost of $4 per vial SEEMS VERY LOW TO ME when we are talking about preventing harm to children and adults vis-à-vis preventing the development of autism and other neurological problems. Kirby also stated he wondered what would happen if the vaccines that contain mercury which American companies are currently still manufacturing and are shipping to third world countries cause autism, ADD, ADHD or other neurological problems in those countries….

I got all wound up about this and could barely think straight. I was so angry about this issue. Fortunately for me, just then a friend phoned and I was able to vent about it, which helped the haze of anger, which I was surrounded by, dissipate. We had an interesting discussion which included that the only thing that saves us from rage or depression or despair—“what is this world coming to?”--is the notion that we’d like to think that any harm inflicted was not intentional. We both thought that a $4 increase in cost of a vaccine was reasonable and that if there is any question whatsoever that mercury is harmful to people of any age, that we’d prefer to have it removed completely (from all vaccines) and we would all gladly pay $4 more per dose. We also both agreed that it is best to err on the side of caution. We should all be open-minded and think critically about issues and take whatever precaution is necessary to protect ourselves and our children. I’d like to save the world but can only do so much.

Presently I am pondering how I can affect some change in this area. I remember very clearly the day when I first saw the sayings on some coffee mugs that were in a psychologist’s office that I used to work in which stated in bold lettering: “Make Something Happen”. These mugs were all over the office. I was in a pretty low place in my life at the time, living hand to mouth and desperate for extra money, to the point where I was doing what I hated most: cleaning! I was grateful for the extra money I earned job cleaning this office on the weekends. I remember being surprised by that idea that anyone could “make something happen” and wondered what kind of people lived their life thinking they were powerful enough to affect change in anything? Perhaps at the time I was in a victim mode, but I digress. Seeing these mugs and their messages each week gave me something to ponder while I scrubbed floors, vacuumed and dusted. At the time I was quite cynical and feeling pretty powerless about what I could accomplish in this world. In the 15 or so years since I first read that phrase I can definitely say that my life is driven by the notion to “make something happen”, and I am very comfortable and happy to be able to live that credo. I have accomplished a lot in my past (paying) career and quite a bit in my volunteer work. A recent adjustment to this notion is that I, alone do not make things happen or control everything, but that God works through me, with my thoughts and actions either opening the door or closing the door of possibility.

Anyway, I feel the need to do something to voice my opinion. Even if it gets nowhere, at least the venting would make me feel better. Perhaps a letter writing campaign to legislators, voicing opposition to the current problematic Federal Senate bills regarding vaccines will be the best that I can do.

A favorite saying that I have posted right on my computer monitor, so I can see it daily is: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” by Margaret Mead. The other quote on my monitor which I first read on a diner’s sugar packet by an unknown author is “It is better to have tried to do something and failed then to have tried nothing and succeeded”, which is another wonderful philosophy to live by.

ADDENDUM: I just realized that "Evidence of Harm" is ranked as #99 on Amazon's sales ranking. I would bet that Don Imus's attention to this matter is a driving force behind it! Let's hope this book gets people thinking!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Friendships affected by our parenting decisions

New Beginnings is a parenting magazine published in English by La Leche League International. LLL members automatically receive a subscription to this publication but any person may purchase an annual subscription. Selected articles and columns are available online for viewing at no cost, here. The publication is pro-breastfeeding and supports the LLL purpose and philosophy of La Leche League International. One regular column contains questions from readers and many different responses from readers. I answered the following question. I don’t know if my submission will be chosen for publication or in what way it will be edited for length.

Question: Since I have been home with my children, some of my old friends have drifted away. I am so pleased with my choices, which include breastfeeding and gentle discipline. But some of my old friends are not comfortable with those choices, and we're having difficulty not feeling judged by each other. I would be sad to lose these friends. Have other mothers experienced this? What can I do?

My Answer: I have experienced the same situation as you are going through and have dealt with it in different ways for each situation, the hardest being the long-term friendships. At first I wanted all my old friends to remain close to me through all the phases of my life, "motherhood" being one of the stages.

I decided that wanted positive relationships with my friends; I wanted to be surrounded by people that respect me and my decisions and who lift me up rather than bring me down. We are in control of who are friends are and we can make a conscious decision about which friends are in our lives.

In thinking about what I wanted from a friendship, I realized that I wanted unconditional love, and respect for decisions. No one person will ever agree with everything that we do but it is possible and healthy to respect each other’s right to make their own choices. I realized it was not appropriate for me to try to convert people to my way of thinking or doing things, just as I didn't want my friends trying to convert me to abandon nursing my child, for example.

I also realized that I didn't have to justify my decisions to friends. When I realized this, though, I realized that it also meant that I should also not judge them. The easiest way to deal with this is to not discuss certain matters with certain friends. This can be done with or without actually telling your friend you are doing this.

It is not necessary to explain all your parenting decisions to your friends, either. Friendships don’t require that you tell your friend every aspect of your life!

To meet my need for support in different areas, I have formed different friendships with different people who share common ground with me. This includes finding and making new friends to meet new needs for friendship and support. Some examples are surrounding myself with homeschooling friends (even those with different parenting styles) for homeschooling support, friends who share common breastfeeding experience, etc.

Some people say real friends are those who we don't have to talk to on a regular basis but when they do connect, it was as if they never were apart. I love this notion and know this is possible because I have some friendships like this. As my life has gotten busier since becoming a mother, I see and talk less with some of my friends less but still care deeply for them.

To have a friend, especially one who was near and dear to my heart either disagree with my choices or outright criticize me, at first, really hurt my feelings. At one point I realized that I was upset over their choices also. I realized we were judging each other and I decided that perhaps it would be best if we didn't judge each other. I try not to think about decisions other people make. What I choose for our family may not be right for another mother, child, or family. I only give opinions and advice when asked for them. If a friend is venting to me, I listen and acknowledge her feelings. I rarely comment on the decision itself let alone say something negative about her decision.

Looking back I can also say that this issue was a bigger concern when my first-born was a baby. Now that I have two children and see positive results of my parenting decisions, I have more self-confidence that listening to my heart and making different decisions than others was the right thing for our entire family.

Additionally, in hindsight, I realized that at certain times such as pregnancy and in the first year of each baby's life, perhaps due to the high hormones, I was more sensitive to both criticisms of my choices and I also fretted over my friend's children. I remember being very affected and upset when friends would tell me things they did to their children (i.e. cry it out method of putting a baby to sleep) or getting upset over her decisions which I felt were not in the best interest of the child, such as refusal to feed "on demand", when the newborn was showing body language indicating hunger, followed by hunger cries. In the past I have lost sleep thinking about these issues.

I finally came to accept that different friendships serve different purposes. Friendships are first formed when there is common ground. Over time the common ground may not be there any longer. Some friendships grow and shift, but others may fade away, and that is all right.

If elements of a friendship are causing you to be upset, it is all right to back off from the friendship, perhaps by decreasing the frequency of communications. If it upsets you to see a friend in person, try phone or email communications. If talking on the phone is too difficult with children underfoot, explain this and change to email. At times it may be healthiest to put a hold on the friendship for a while. You don't have to announce this decision or explain it. It is easy to slowly back off from communications.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Today our family met Michael Stadther--author of “A Treasure’s Trove”

Today our family went to the book signing held at Jewelry Designs in Danbury, Connecticut to meet Michael Stadther, author of "A Treasure's Trove" and creator of the treasure hunt.

We arrived about 15 minutes after the event began. There were many staff members there and everyone seemed happy and excited, handing out a carnation to each person, opening the doors for us, smiling and chatting with us, etc. As soon as we arrived we got into the line and there were four people ahead of us. Michael Stadther was in a small office and from outside the room it was difficult or impossible to hear what he was saying to the others. I did hear a woman ask about the plush Pook doll which was on the table with him and he said they have been a big pain in the neck for him due to overseas manufacturers, and he used to sell them on his website something to that effect. My husband overheard MS saying to someone that if he does turn a profit the monies will go to charity.

MS signed my two books and I thanked him and said we were enjoying the book. He commented on my paperback book looking worn and I said it has been handled a lot. I left a map of the continental US cut out around the border, sticking out as a bookmark, from page 46 and wondered if he’d notice it (if he did he made no comment). He seemed especially interested in knowing if my children were enjoying the book and if my older son was reading it to which he replied, yes, he was. He asked which were their favorite characters and was surprised to hear them say the spider, Pook, and the butterfly. MS stated they are getting ready to make t-shirts and hats and that he was under the impression that everyone, especially boys, like Rusful and wants his image on the shirts, to which I responded “Eeew, no, we DON’T like Rusful”. He said again boys seem to like this bad character the most and I said, “well not my boys!” He also mentioned that people want t-shirts that say the words “The hunt is on” and that they want baseball caps with the www.tweleve.org logo and some other treasure words and ciphers on the front.

MS then volunteered that he would be releasing a new clue on April 1st!

I stated I live in CT but that we are doing the hunt even though we know we can’t claim a prize. He made sure I understood the terms, and even found the rules page in my book and circled where it said that CT residents are excluded from participation. On his own he explained what was behind it. MS said this game is considered a game of skill (not a game of chance which is what casino gambling is classified as). MS stated that there was an issue with Attorney General Blumenthal and the state’s laws regarding “games of skill” being legal here. He also said that people have been contacting Blumenthal to complain and that if I wanted I should contact him to say that we are enjoying the book despite not being able to participate, because now Blumenthal is telling him that his consumers are angry that they paid to buy the book and only found out afterward that they are not able to play. (For the record I have not contacted Blumenthal.)

With only one person in line behind us and MS not seeming rushed I volunteered that I am a member of tweleve.org and another chat list on the internet and that I am having fun discussing and debating the book with others. I said I learned the hard way that I should not read the book before bed as I end up dreaming about the book and decoding ciphers, etc and he laughed.

I also stated that I have been telling lots of people about the book but people seem to not know about it. I said I hoped the book would gain popularity as I thought many people would enjoy it.

I mentioned that some debate is going on, on the Internet forums about the definition of private property versus easily accessible. He asked what the problem was with the definitions. I explained that, for example, some feel that the tokens may be at a place such as a famous home that is now run as a museum but technically is private property in a trust but it open to the public as a museum and people can access it during limited hours and only by paying a fee. He shook his head no and said they are in very accessible public places. I said that I interpreted that to mean public property such as government owned land that was open to the public in the form of a park and he said that was what he meant. Note he did not specifically say, “they are in parks” or “they are only in parks”. He said all the places are accessible to everyone. As to fees he thought a moment and said he didn’t recall even having to pay fees when he placed the tokens, but (I could see the legal disclaimer coming) that things change over time and perhaps now someplace may charge admission, and I offered, “perhaps to pay for place to park” and he said “perhaps”.

My husband took a photo of my children and I with MS. He was pleasant and friendly and easy to talk to.

Then we viewed the jewels, which were in a nice display case on the wall. A Jewelry Designs employee stood next to the jewelry case and was talking to everyone about them. He seemed excited and happy and was volunteering all kinds of information such as that when MS first approached them they all thought it was a joke and they had to confirm that this was for real. He said, “I got this call to ask me to design jeweled creatures that were characters in a children’s book that would be a treasure hunt with the creatures as the prizes and I just couldn’t believe it”. He also said that the ant was first and as they got more into it, over time, they edited the plans for the creatures to make them more elaborate, adding on extra jewels as much as they could. The spider was last, he said, and mentioned that the more creatures they made, the more excited they became, and the more they changed their plans to make the creatures more and more elaborate. I overheard him telling someone else that the jeweled creatures will remain on tour and held until 12/31/07 at which time if there are winners the jeweled creatures will be released to the winners. (I had not realized that.)

There was a video playing that showed the jewels being designed. There were also photos of some of the jewels being made. I took photos of the jewels as best I could; it worked best when I shut the flash off and used the macro setting for auto-focus.

I noticed something on the wall that I should have paid more attention to, who knows, this may mean something. On the wall was a framed print spelling out the word TREASURE and beside each letter was a photo of one jeweled creature. I thought it was interesting that there were only eight creatures in the print. Why weren’t the nine insects plus Pook shown, or all 13? I did think at the time that the phrase “treasure trove” has 13 characters. Anyway this can all be over-thought!!

When we left there were some people milling around and just a couple in line to meet MS. Most people were buying the books at the store. The hardback books were gorgeous! One family came down from New Hampshire!

We had a fun time. I was thrilled to meet MS as was my older son but most of all our children were enthralled to view the jeweled creatures.

Celebrating Invented Spelling

Invented spelling is the term applied to writing that a young child does when he is learning letter sounds and may be already learning to read but doesn’t yet know how to spell everything correctly. Children will often initiate their own writing if given paper, writing implements, and free time (and if they do not receive negative criticism). Experts recommend (and I agree) that when a young child uses invented spelling they should not be corrected or scolded in any manner for their writing. When children are older and are learning proper spelling and are writing and trying to learn proper English language usage then to me, that it is a different situation, those writers should try to spell words correctly and ask for help if needed (because it seems to me and others, although I can’t cite a study, that repeatedly looking and reading words that spelling incorrectly can actually train the brain to memorize the incorrectly spelled word). This short window when they are first learning letter sounds and are beginning readers and are self-motivated to write their own thoughts is a time when I celebrate invented spelling.

If you would like to read more about invented spelling, the book “Gnys at Wrk: A Child Learns to Write and Read” by Glenda L. Bissex, is a detailed account of her observations of her son’s “beginning of literacy from age 5 through 11”. A couple of years ago I began reading the book and felt it was a bit too detailed for me, being a journal format and verbose in the attempt to document much information about her son’s activities. Teachers and perhaps some home educators may be interested in reading this book.

Here are some internet articles about invented spelling:
1. Invented Spelling by Margaret Y. Phinney on the Natural Child websi>te.

2. A teacher’s description of what it is with examples: Invented Spelling by Mr. Shivers (a Kindergarten teacher).

3. Article: Invented Spelling and Spelling Development by Elaine Lutz on the Reading Rockets site (a site about learning to read and how parents can help)

This is an example of invented spelling created by my 4.5 year old son yesterday, a fairy tale. He saw a blank journal book of his in a drawer and pulled it out and wrote this while we were making dinner. I saw him take the journal out of the drawer but didn’t see his work until after it was finished.

page 1:
wants apon
a tim
ther was
a big
aiyeh
he wa
sckerd
then
the azy
en bygan

page 2:
two scke
r and he
aete
the
boy
and
he had
a dahck
black

page 3:
hos
and
thed

page 4:
goodilox
woohe
day goody
loox was
waling
she saw
a hous
she
swe insid

page 5
and
then

(He stopped when dinner was ready.) As you can see here he is also more concerned with getting the words onto the page, not necessarily getting one word on a line and stopping there to restart the next word on a new line. He will write until he runs out of paper then, without a hyphen, restart the word on the next line. Still more confusing is when he starts not at the top of the page, runs out of room at the bottom and moves up to the blank space at the top to continue. Thus, his homemade greeting cards often appear to begin with his signature followed by the main message!

Another example are cute notes that I am given that say thing like: “(his name) lov momoey". I keep this sweet note posted on my computer monitor). Sometimes I’ve come home from evening homeschool support group meetings more than once, to sleeping children and a sleeping husband with a note from this younger son on my nightstand saying: “I mis moma” (followed by a little heart).

I know the wheels are churning about reading, communicating, writing, and spelling. Often when I am reading aloud, this son will ask, “Where is the word ten?” (which he just heard me read aloud). I point it out and the often spells it and nods. I know his little brain is trying to memorize how that word is spelled. Sometimes when writing he will ask me to spell words for him, when he wants it to be perfect and he doesn’t want to risk a guess and possibly make an error. I simply answer. I remember reading when my oldest child was just a baby, the pleading request of John Holt that parents and adults not answer that question with “how do YOU think it is spelled?”. Speaking in that manner to children is condescending (would you ever reply to an adult in that manner, even one who was learning a new task?). I also don’t think forcing guesswork is in the best interest of the child. The child who asks that question obviously KNOWS they do not know the answer and they already think themselves incompetent (for that task). Pushing them to guess is not what they need; no one needs a reminder of their incompetence. Pushing guesswork on spelling merely point out to the child that they are incompetent. Instead, just give them the answer. They will process the correct information, thinking about it while they write it, and they may well memorize it right then and there, with no negative feelings attached.

Schools forcing invented spelling on children
A sidebar discussion that I will briefly touch upon is the role of forced invented spelling on children. Specifically I speak to schools who, in an effort to encourage child-created written expression in general and specifically, to inspire creative writing, force children as an assignment to write something, anything. Some teachers call this "journaling". A relative of mine in a public school K/1 combination classroom was asked to begin journaling in the first week of Kindergarten. He was to draw a picture of anything he wished and write something about it, preferably one or two sentences, but a couple of words was also accepted. Not all children are open to forced creative writing, especially those who are perfectionists and are not comfortable guessing and having what they know is wrong information as an example of their work. This was the interpretation as my relative (the child) conveyed it to his mother (who happens to be a government school teacher). You see, the children did not have access to the teacher to help them by spelling out words, they were to remain at therir seat and work independently without aid (yes, even in the first week of Kindergarten). This daily journaling exercise was torture for this young child. Now I ask you to ponder with common sense, how likely do you think that exercise was for this child to "inspire" him to create written communication with his own ideas? Could these excercises actually be creating chidren with writing anxiety and "fear of the blank page" aka "writer's block"? Another huge issue in this specific example was that invented spelling was being pushed on children who had been introduced to only ONE letter sound in classroom (short a) and were practicing letter identification of the letter A/a. (Teaching the full alphabet would be stretched out over almost the entire school year.) When I heard this story I felt that the teacher was pushing too much on children who were not ready for it. If the children had at least already mastered letter identification and had been learned the easiest letter sounds (short vowels plus all the consonants) then it would be more fair to the child to ask them to try invented spelling. Still, there are critics who warn that repeatedly reading and seeing incorrectly spelled words may imprint improper spelling patterns on the brain.

No forced invented spelling in our home school
So I don't force invented spelling in our home school. To encourage creating communication, we use narration or "telling back" something that I have read aloud to my children. I have not begun narration with my 4.5 year-old child yet as most would say that his chronological age is too young for this. I have been using it with my older son since he was 5.5 years old and I find that he is able to verbally retell what he has heard, including summation and adding details from other experiences in appropriate contexts. I feel this oral narration is the same as writing, that is, the process of many random organizing thoughts into sentences and paragraphs in an organized, logical manner so that another person can understand what is being said. I found with my older son and believe this is true for all children: that their intellectual capability to create fictional stories and to retell nonfiction facts in an eloquent manner is a skill that is not hard to learn, and that the ability to begin practicing this skill is far more advanced than their penmanship skills, fine motor skills and above their independent reading and spelling abilities. My plan is to encourage verbal narration of material above their independent reading level (with a higher vocabulary level), while their hand muscles get stronger, while their fine motor skills develop, while their penmanship improved and their spelling knowledge base expands. Eventually, but not quite yet, (perhaps in third grade) I will encourage the move from oral narration to written narration and to written creative/fiction writing. I don't think that my intentional avoidance of forced invented spelling when they were in the preschool years, Kindergarten or the early elementary years will have any negative ramifications.

Watching my children learn, explore and discover the world is a blessing that I continually try to not take for granted. I know these phases pass all too quickly and want to remember everything about them! I am confident that over time as he learns more about the English language naturally and during our homeschooling journey, he will absorb and apply proper spelling.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Teacher yells at students about refusing to stand during the National Anthem

My husband and I TiVo’ed “Hannity and Colmes” last night as we wanted to see the story about the high school teacher who yelled at students about standing up while the National Anthem was played. I didn’t know much about the story. I wanted to see the story to get some insight as to what is going on inside high schools today. I have concerns about children and teens being disrespectful to teachers in the classroom. I was also curious what the videotaped footage would show. This incident is said to have taken place in December 2004 but is just hitting the news this week.

What we saw appeared to us to be planned event; a student recorded what went on in the classroom, before the morning announcements came on. It appeared to us that this bunch of kids must have known this was being taped as they were laughing and snickering and smiling and going out of their way to put their faces right at the camera. The students appeared to us to be provoking the teacher. The teacher began yelling that they are expected to be quiet during the announcements (this is when they were laughing and talking) and then yelling that they will stand. What was reported was that one student would not stand and the teacher yanked the chair out from under him. No injury occurred.

I was struck by the rudeness of the students. I was disappointed that the refusal to stand during the National Anthem appeared to me to be just an excuse to do something to tick the teacher off. Additionally I was annoyed that students would not be willing to stand up for the National Anthem. I also thought the overall behavior was unacceptable. I was surprised that the teacher was yelling like that and if my child is ever in a classroom I hope he would never witness yelling in that manner. If my child was ever disrespectful in that manner, disciplinary action would be taken! The students appeared to find this humorous as they kept laughing throughout the taping. They didn’t seem to be “victims” or feeling any negative feelings, i.e. hurt feelings, humiliation, or shame.

Fox News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes” show had a conservative radio talk show host on (their March 3, 2005 show), who was over the top and was saying that the teachers should be able to “beat them about the face and head” if students do that behavior. Self-labeled Conservative Hannity focused on the student’s lack of respect for authority and unacceptable behavior. Self-labeled Liberal Colmes focused only on the right to refuse to stand during the National Anthem. It continues to amaze me how people can look at the same incident from different perspectives and how they refuse to discuss one issue at a time, they each want to push their own “hot button” topic.

Later,thanks again to our much-loved TiVo, we watched what Bill O’Reilly had to say on “The O’Reilly Factor” on his March 2nd show, also on Fox News Channel. The focus was on the behavior of the students being unacceptable.

I found this Political Gateway site tonight which has breaking news updates on the story as well as downloadable video footage (if you missed it on the news). There is also a written transcript of what the teacher said/shouted to the students. I learned from this site that there were three students, aged 17 and 18 who were involved in the taping. The tapes were given to the police (I assume to use against the teacher). However, police discovered on the same tape, footage showing the teens vandalizing Christmas decorations last year, and he students have been arrested. As I write this, the teacher will be taking “classroom management” classes and has not been charged with any disciplinary action. The site also reports that teachers and other students are rallying on behalf of the teacher. There is also a report that the previous day the teacher (Mantel) was absent and while a substitute teacher was teaching the classroom, some student used Saran Wrap to restrain a younger student to a desk. A student says that the students who did the taping planned it in advance, as they knew Mantel would be angry about the bullying incident when he found out about it.

This whole incident does not seem to me to be about the right to refuse to stand during the National Anthem. It appears to be about disrespect and provocation.

What is going on in this country? Where is the discipline? How are parents raising their children to produce 17and 18-year-old men who act this way? Where is the respect for authority? What goes on in classrooms to make teachers have to yell to get some compliance? Why does bullying continue to be a problem in our schools? These are the people that will be leading the country when I am older? I shudder to think about it.

Recommended resources for learning to read

Twice in the last month, parents in my area have asked for materials to teach reading to their preschool aged children on our local Freecycle list. Not knowing if they will get the expensive programs they requested, I chose to reply to them to tell them about these less expensive items that they can borrow from a library or buy if they so desire.

What I want most of all for parents to realize and know is that it does not take an expensive curriculum or program (i.e. Hooked on Phonics) for a parent to teach their child to read or to help their child learn to read. I commend these parents for their willingness to meet their preschool aged child’s request to learn to read. Here are the products I recommended to them and that I also recommend to you:

1. Basic how to teach your child to read guidebook:
Invaluable information, easy and quick to read, 28 pages, $4 full retail (check Amazon to see if they offer a discount) "A Home Start in Reading" by Ruth Beechik. This booklet tells you all you need to know about how to teach your child to read, from babyhood stage to the fluent reader, using only homemade materials and books (from the library if you so choose). This is the book that made me realize that teaching a child to read is not rocket science and can taught by any willing parent. This is also a good for a reference if you choose to use another method (curriculum or whatever) because Beechik boils down what the nuts and bolts of learning to read are and drives home the point that it is not hard to teach a child to read (when they are developmentally ready to learn to read). This is not a book about forcing a child to read at a young age or anything like that.

Beechik also has a bundle 3 pack, which has one booklet on writing andlanguage arts and one on math plus “A Home Start in Reading”. The bundle pack is called "The Three R's" with a full retail price of $12. Right now this is being sold with a 25% discount on Amazon (prices fluctuate). I recommend the bundle pack as there is a wealth of information in these booklets that is helpful to parents of schooled children and very helpful to homeschooling parents.

2. Learning via video entertainment: Innocent, animated cartoon videos made learning the “sounding out” concept easy and fun for my younger son who received that video for his 4th birthday. I wish I knew about these videos when my older son was learning to read. There are three in the series now, and they come in VHS or DVD format:
a. Letter identification and letter sounds video: VHS "Leap Frog Letter Factory”

b. Sounding out words, putting letters together to make one word, short vowel sound words: "Leap Frog Talking Words Factory"

c. Introducing long vowels and the "silent e" concept (I have not seen this one): "Leap Frog Talking Words Factory 2: Code Word Breaker".

3. Learning by playing Games: "Games for Reading" by Peggy Kaye. A resource book with directions to make games (with inexpensive items); for prereaders, beginning readers and anyone who needs practice; teacher-designed. A great resource, which allows the user to pick and choose which games to do with their child. Can be used to reinforce what is being taught (in school or in the home school), as a reinforcement of information the child is having trouble learning, or can be used to introduce new concepts. Games make learning effortless. (Peggy Kaye has other game books for math, writing, and other topics.)

4. Learning with a cheap phonics curriculum: I taught both of my kids to read with this wonderful phonics curriculum, Alpha Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld. They read lists of words on a page while you sit and listen and make corrections or help as needed. It works. It is easy for the parent to use, no pre-planning, just turn the page, introduce the sound and the child reads it. One of my sons finished at age 6.5 and the other finished at 4.5, both reading fluently by the end of the program. Available on Amazon for $29.95. Info about it and sample pages can be viewed on the author's website.

I hope some of this information will be helpful for you!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Book Review: The Good Citizen’s Handbook: A guide to proper behavior

Perhaps a year ago I was shopping at a book closeout store and saw “The Good Citizen’s Handbook: A Guide to Proper Behavior” by Jennifer McKnight-Trontz for sale at a deep discount. I bought it, figuring at some point I’d read it to my children and that there would be something worthwhile in it. I read it to my children last month to teach them about what it means to be a good citizen. I will admit that the inspiration to do so last month was for my older son to earn a Cub Scout academic achievement belt loop. I found the book informative, helpful and a bit funny at times. In any event this book or at least the good items in it should be taught to all children by their parents, and perhaps reinforced at school.

McKnight-Trontz explains in the introduction that both the information and images in this book were culled from civic textbooks, scouting manuals, government pamphlets and citizenship manuals from the 1920s through the 1960s. There is a lot of good information here and many different viewpoints on what the definition of a good citizen is, and how children and adults can do things that constitute being a good citizen. Some of the information seemed a bit comical to me yet other parts were things that (sadly) I had never discussed with my children before just because it had not occurred to me to discuss them, therefore the book served as a basis for some good discussion. I am happy that I read this to my children and think it could and should be re-read periodically, perhaps a few times per year! I also thought, as I read this, that I was never taught many things in this book when I attended public school, as part of social studies/civics (which is a shame). I also think that much of this SHOULD be taught to all children in school. If they can teach sex ed and programs to discourage drug use, then they can and should teach this stuff as well. I also was surprised at the high level of patriotism here. I was surprised as in public school (in the 1970s and 1980s) I did not learn any of this “patriotic attitude” and was surprised that from the 1920s-1960s this stuff was being taught in schools. I think we need a revival of this!

The book is divided into chapters covering different areas we can and should be good citizens in: with ourselves, in the family, at school and work, in the neighborhood, in the community, in our country and in the world. The section about ourselves includes personality traits, behaviors, character traits and values as well as health recommendations such as avoiding infection, how to cough and not spread germs, how to stand with good posture and what to eat. The comical parts are the examples which highlight things that someone thought to be very important such as that a good citizen eats “plenty of meat” which made me wonder if this was from a government publication connected with the USDA. Behaviors such as not talking back, controlling oneself and obeying the law are other high points. A section titled “Your Happy Family” contains good advice:

“The urge to get more and more luxuries consumes many Americans. In the “old days” the members of the family had very little in the way of luxuries or even comforts; they depended mainly on one another to make life happy and interesting. Today, we are more “gadget-minded.” We tend to think less of human relations, and more of things that we and buy and use, often to impress other people. This has had its effect in weakening the home.
Think less of what the “Joneses” are doing or buying, and more about how to have a good time with your family without spending money. Think about what really makes you and your family happy—important things such as each other’s company, a good story, exercise, and learning.”

Who would argue that this is not good advice?

The section on school and work includes what we now call “anti-bullying” advice: play fair, play with “the laws of clean play” which includes not cheating. I grinned at some of the phrasing such as “Clean play increases and train’s one’s strength, and helps one to be more useful to one’s country” and goes on to make a few recommendations about being a good loser or a generous winner and to treat opponents with politeness. It seems to me all children should hear all the information in this book.

Regarding social ills, the section on community includes a page encouraging the avoidance of being a drunkard and warns “alcoholism means death to the nation”. I am not faulting the book but will mention that missing from the book due to the fact that such things were not discussed in the 1920s to 1960s are warnings against cigarette smoking, illegal drug use, other unhealthy acts such as sniffing glue, and sex issues and warnings of sexually transmitted diseases.

The section on our country contains information about voting, jury duty, how to write our legislators and politicians to voice our concerns, and recommending that we be happy to pay our taxes. The patriotism level here is high!

I wondered what the Amazon reviewers thought of this book and saw some negative reviews which some claimed was due to non-inclusion of non-white people in the illustrations. I want to state here that this is false. Images of black Americans are shown on pages 54, 100 and 103. People of other cultures are discussed on the “good citizenship in the world” section and show Asian people on pages 130, 131, and 136. The critics were attempting to shame the author. However we should all note as described in the introduction, that this author was really an editor and the text and illustrations were taken from other sources dating back to the 1920s through the 1960s. The fact that the textbooks and government documents used primarily Caucasians in the illustrations should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with American history. Take this for what it is worth. This book was published in 2001 using old information. There is no reason to slight the author or the book for not writing in modern terms or addressing modern issues or showing people of all ethnicities. In any event this led me to ponder how anyone could possibly write a modern book about being a good American citizen as some of the entries may offend people, such as something that is not stated in this book but that I think should be part of a modern book: good American citizens should speak English being one of them!

I was curious about what other books this author may have written and got a chuckle out of one that I have not yet read “How to be Popular” which contains information culled from advice given in publications from 1960s and 1970s. My curiosity is up and I will have to check this out. It could yield either good or bad advice or may serve well as pure entertainment!