Friday, September 29, 2006

How I Increase My Children's Literacy After Teaching Phonics Is Finished

A common question after parents finish teaching their children to read with a phonics program is, “Now what?”.

I used an intensive, systematic phonics method to teach my children to read and I am a firm believer that it is a great way to teach reading. I used the Alpha Phonics program.

But the question is, what do we do after that?

This is where some parents get confused. After speaking to many homeschoolers I have heard three methods about what happens AFTER a curriculum was used to teach reading.

Method One
The child loves to read and initiates their own reading and reads a lot. Some parents get angry that their children read so much as they would prefer they were playing or doing other kid-like activities. These children often progress right to chapter books without complaint. Many are reading way above grade level very quickly. These are true bookworms. I don’t understand why but some parents actually complain about this situation (to me it would be a dream come true).

Method Two
Some parents want children to love to read and they want them to initiate their own reading. These parents refuse to make/force their children to read for practice, fearing it will take the fun out of reading. Yes, they did teach them to read, but they feel their ‘coercion’ ends there. All parents I’ve spoken to with this situation claim their children do read good books on their own. Most of these parents also can be quite judgmental about anyone who uses Method Three. The children are either reading above grade level and find reading easy or they don’t read much but the parent states they are not worried at all (I’d be worried).

Method Three
This is what I did and what some other homeschooling parents do. This method is used when children CAN read but choose NOT to read if left to their own devices. These parents (me included) want their children to continue to practice to read in order to not forget the various phonetic rules. We want our children to read more to get more fluent reading, that is, to read faster and better over time. We want them to be able to progress to reading huge font to smaller and smaller font. We want them to read something other than a board book or a simple picture book. We want them to be able to read a book without an illustration on the page. We want their vocabulary to increase. We want them to be able to sound out a word they’ve never seen before. We want them to read good books not just junk. We want them to start on an easy level and progress up through higher levels of reading ability. And when they read aloud we want it to sound normal, the way a person would talk, with proper pauses after commas and with the proper enunciation for the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. And of course we want them to comprehend and retain what they have read. We hope they are not tortured by this experience but if they feel they are tortured we parents console ourselves knowing that we are fulfilling our legal obligation to instruct our children in reading and also that the so called torture is only 20-30-40 minutes of their day (not too much to endure). (Actually if we make good book choices the children stop complaining of the mandated reading and they actually enjoy themselves and stop complaining.)

Since our children are not doing Method One or Method Two on their own, we resort to making reading practice a lesson in our home school. For my children this meant a mandate of reading a certain number of minutes per day of the books of my selection.

The general method is that I select good quality books in certain reading levels and place them in a big basket or on a special shelf. The child is allowed to select their reading material from those books only. As the unread books lessen in number, obviously their choices dwindle. The books we use, we own, most are from library sales, and others are borrowed form the library. When the child is reading very fluently in that level of easy reader, I move them up to the next level.

Here is the progression:
Level 1 readers
Level 2 readers
Level 3 readers
Level 4 readers (they may make it through one or two in that time period)
Picture books with easy text (as many as can be read in that time period)
Picture books with longish-text (as many as can be read in that time period)
Easy chapter books (i.e. Magic Tree House series)
Chapter books for age range 9-12 (publisher’s estimation)

For each child after they finished their phonics program, for year one they began reading 20 minutes per day of the easy readers, level one. This was for the first year following them finishing their phonics program.

Year two increased to 30 minutes

Year three increased to 40-45 minutes.

Each of my children learned to read at different ages. I began teaching them to read based on their reading readiness combined with my estimation of when they were ready. Each of my children was different in how quickly they grasped the phonics reading instruction. Each progressed in their reading ability afterward in a different manner also. I am convinced that every child is different. So this is why I can’t tell you that my method is to do X in Kindergarten or X in First Grade. For your homeschool, I advise that you tailor the lessons and plans to your child’s ability combined with an awareness of what the public schools teach and to try to at least keep your child at grade level. I never recommend that a parent intentionally do things to keep their child’s performance below grade level, I don’t see the point in that and it could be argued that this actually harms the child or hinders them, so I just don’t get it when I see parents intentionally not moving their children forward with intellectual pursuits in their home schools.

My older son wanted no part in learning to read. Well that is not entirely true. He asked to read and said he wanted to read but then when it came down to learning he rebelled and begged not to do it. He also was unable to grasp the concepts easily. I repeatedly shelved the phonics program and tried it again later. He finally only did it at my instance as at that point I feared that I was not fulfilling my legal obligation to homeschool him if I did not spent 5-10 minutes per day teaching him phonics (which to me was not a lot but with the one teacher to one student teaching ratio a lot can be done in that time period). The serious phonics instruction began at the end of Kindergarten (age 5.5) and after a summer break we resumed in first grade and he finished the program in February of that first grade year. So this “lessons to teach reading after phonics” began in the second half of first grade.

My younger son began to teach himself to read at age 3.5. For his fourth birthday a homeschooling family gave him one of the Leap Frog videos “Letter Factory” and that set him to reading immediately. When we began our homeschooling lessons in September he was aged 4 years and 3 months and I started him on Alpha Phonics. The concepts came very easily and he loved it. He would beg to do the lessons for 30-45 minutes at a clip. I was shocked. Once he learned a sound and letter combination it was memorized. He finished that program in less than four months and so this next phase of learning to read by practicing reading began for him in the first half of his official pre-K-4 year. To be honest I suspected he’d be my last baby and I was in no rush at all for him to mature prematurely or to be precocious. But he is what he is and I can’t stop him from learning!

Despite what other homeschoolers have told me, I do not feel that mandating that my children read for a certain number of minutes per day for practice is torture. I feel that reading practice five times a week (Monday-Friday) is not a lot to ask. In their non-lesson times they are allowed to read whatever they want. I do limit books which I feel are complete and total trash or that are bad influences, morally corrupt or age inappropriate.

I love books!
Books are a huge part of my life and they make me happy. I love to read about books, to learn about what books are available. I love to browse the stacks in libraries and bookstores. I love to book hunt in used book shops and at library sales. I love to talk about books with other book lovers. I love to read books and think about the ideas in them, to enjoy and savor them. I like to write book reviews to share my opinions about books. I love to chat with others or write blog posts about books that I have read. I love to figure out what the great books are and then to find them to have in our home library. I like to think about homeschooling plans and method and approaches to educating my children, to think about what materials and books to use and then to find them, buy them, and then to finally use them.

At present our family library numbers over 5400. I prefer to own books rather than to borrow them from libraries. Some of the books we love are out of print and must be sought out from used book sellers. I also am annoyed when I want a certain book and it is not available at my library, or if we don’t finish it by the due date, or if I goof up and must pay a late fine. I’d rather pay pennies for a used book then resell it or donate it to charity when we are done with it.

As to easy readers being silly or dumb, they are what they are. Their purpose is to practice reading at the ability level of the reader. I don’t expect easy readers to be stellar literature. The best I could do was match the content to my children’s interests. My older son preferred nonfiction topics to fiction topics. You may not find a ton of easy readers to match your child’s interests. Don’t worry about it, they are quick reads that serve a purpose. Have your child read them and be done with them.

I educate myself about what books are on what reading level. I plan and organize my books such that I am able to put my hands on the books that I need to access to give them to my children for their reading practice. I always have to be at least one step ahead of my older son in order to get books lined up for him to read in the near future. For example if he is flying through the level 2 readers I then get together the level 3 readers, etc.

To find out about the levels of books I read book list books and websites. I read the publisher’s information about the books such as is listed on Amazon. To find information especially about out of print books I chat with other homeschoolers on a book chat list. I ask friends who have older children what good books are available in print or out of print for a certain reading level. For example I may ask, “Once they are done with Magic Tree House, what books are good next?”. I find out what the content of the books are. I am not happy with the content of some of the most popular easy chapter books for children and I won’t allow my children to read many that school kids are encouraged to read (Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones come to mind immediately.)

It is my goal that my children are reading on or above grade level. Therefore I don’t spread out or prolong what they are reading at a certain level. For example if they fly through level 4 readers I don’t keep making them read level 4 readers because the publisher says it is for their grade level, I move them up to the next level. Basically I go at their pace but make sure that they are at least not falling behind on their reading ability, when compared to their peers in public school.

With my older son I also did use some old textbook readers which I bought at library sales. My son read books from the 1910s-1970s which are leveled. It is very convenient to use those ‘limited language’ or ‘controlled language’ readers. My younger son refused to read these textbook readers and since he was already above grade level I saw no reason to force him to read them against his will. I myself enjoy the antique illustrations and the wholesomeness of the stories. I may have been a school teacher in a past life, using these readers. I have a hard time letting go of them even though we aren’t using them. There is something about them that makes me want to keep them and to collect them. I am speaking of the Dick and Jane readers and those type of antique reader textbooks.

Fiction or Non-Fiction?
For now pretty much all of the reading material I give to my children to read for practice is fiction. Soon I think I will switch to incorporate nonfiction materials such as the Childhood of Famous Americans series of biographies.

Assessing Reading Ability
I use the Blumenfeld Oral Reading Assessment Test by Samuel Blumenfeld to test my children’s reading ability. You can read about and order the program from the author’s website (presently it is not sold on or I'd link you to that).

I tested my children in June 2006 and I was shocked to see how their reading ability has improved since 12 months prior. I was very surprised to see they were both reading above grade level. I won’t share the result here as it may be perceived as bragging. But suffice it to say it told me that what I am doing is right and best.

Also since the spring of 2006 my children have greatly increased the reading that they initiate on their own. They are reading all the time, during the day, while in the car, while at relative’s houses, while in waiting rooms, and before bed. At this point I can’t stop them from reading.

So to the people who warned me that if I forced my children to read for practice----you were wrong---they do not hate reading, they DO read on their own. I allow them freedom to choose what they read, whether it be mail order catalogs, children’s magazines, Calvin and Hobbes comics, Far Side comics, chapter books, picture books, nonfiction Eyewitness books or whatever. I do limit their access to morally corrupt or pure trash reading. I know the comics border on twaddle but there are much worse things out there.

Over the hump
I am overjoyed and a little bit in disbelief that at this point I have successfully taught two children to read all by myself, that they have progressed after that to be able to read numerous grade levels above their grades. I am ecstatic that the move to lots of pleasure reading has taken place. I have succeeded in developing two bookworms which was my heart’s desire.

I feel the key to knowledge is reading. I feel that books and reading opens many doors of opportunity to people of all ages.

I think my children are on the right path.

Coming soon….
I will write about how public schools have changed their reading instruction to NOT model what I have done with my children and will give some real life examples. I feel that without systematic practice and without a constant challenging and moving forward to progress to more and more difficult reading material can lead children to the road of reading problems in grades 2, 3, 4 and maybe even older.

My favorite book list books for living books are:

This is a great book about building a home library.

My favorite site about teaching reading with the phonics method is Don Potter’s site.

This post is my entry to win a camera in the "Share Your Favorite Lesson Plan" Contest sponsored by Sprittibee and Academic Superstore.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Few Comments On Colorado School Gunman Incident

Some homeschooling parents cite lack of safety in public schools as a reason to not send their child to school. To be honest it is not one of my top reasons for homeschooling my children. These types of crimes are pretty rare when you consider the number of students attending schools in America vs. the number who are seriously physically injured or murdered in horrible incidents such as this one.

Here is one article on yesterday’s incident from Forbes.

I chuckled at the use of slang in this quote:

Jessica Montgomery, 15, said she saw the suspect in a second-floor hallway shortly before noon. She described him as "creepy," with acne and stubble on his face. He motioned her to come over.

"I was like, 'the bell just rang,'" she said. "I was like, 'Why isn't he going to class?' And then I was like, 'He's kind of old.'"

Here is another article from The Independent.

Cell phones and text messaging came in handy for this student and his family:

Bill Twyford said he received a text message from his 15-year-old son, Billy, a student at the high school, at about 11:30am It said: "Hey there, there's a gun hijacking in school right now. I'm fine, bad situation though."

And if you think that horrible crimes only happen in cities, you are wrong as this happened in a suburb. Check out this quote from one mother.

Husen's family moved to Bailey from suburban Denver about 14 years ago.
"We moved up here for the mountain solitude, and I just never thought this would happen in this school, but it happens everywhere," she said.

There are over 1100 articles on Google News right now on this story so if you have the time and desire you can probably spend all day reading articles about this horrible incident.

Although school safety for big crimes and murders is NOT a reason that I homeschool. I am very concerned about bullying and smaller incidents. I am also more concerned about student to student sexual molestation in school or on the bus. But I will admit that right now I am happy that my kids are homeschooled and not spending their day in a school building where a crime may occur.

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It’s Nice To Be Organized; Decluttering Project Continues

I have been making a concerted effort to get and stay organized. In the areas where I am organized, it makes things so easy!

I have been trying to get into an organization habit and a neatness habit. I was raised to be allowed to be a slob and to not do very much to help out with chores around the home. As an adult living on my own I had a hard time accepting the notion that I’d actually have to clean and maintain the apartments that I rented. I had felt that those activities were ‘below me’ and that they were ‘not fun’ and at that point life was about working at my career to earn money in order to live the American way and the non-work time was ‘fun and play time’. So now that I am a more mature and older I realize I was way off base and am trying to train myself to do these things.

(I am writing about this as it is reinforcement for me as to why I am making my children do more to help around the house than I was made to do when I was a child.)

I do notice a trend that if a child is worked hard with chores they sometimes start a rebellion in adulthood and live as slobs their whole adult life. The flip side is that those who were slobs as children are sometimes more neat as adults. There is everything else in between going on as well. With my own kids I am trying to find some happy medium and to at least instill some sense of responsibility as maintaining a home and the things we own is part of our personal responsibility. Lately I have been telling my children (aged 6 and 9) that if they can't take care of what they own then they are not responsible enough to own it and it should be gotten rid of.

In the last week I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering. Some of it is easy decluttering sessions of well organized spaces (this can take less than ten minutes). I am so happy about the ease of it. Once an area is organized, if it is kept up, in a few minutes the area can be sorted through and decluttered, and usually I am able to let go of some of the contents that I wasn't able to let go of the last time I did that.

The big lesson about how to avoid having too much stuff is to realize that when stuff is brought into a home other stuff must go out. One cannot just constantly accumulate and never let go of the other stuff. I have packrats on both sides of the family going back generation after generation. I was raised to be a packrat, to save and be thrifty. “Save it, you may need it later.”, I was told so many time. I have seen over and over with my parents, and three different grandparents that when a thing is needed it not usually able to be found when too much stuff is saved. I am trying to let go of the things when we are done with them.

Dr. Phil said on one of his shows that people who are packrats and hoarders do this as a control issue. He also said that often when people feel that the outside world is out of their control they seek to control their own little world. Sometimes people make huge projects out of sorting and organizing their stuff only to not end up with a living situation that others would consider 'normal' and then the packrats do it all over again. I did see this on a chat list that I was once on. Some people spent years going through stuff, realizing they owned too much yet still buying more stuff. Another part of the theory is that people make themselves very busy with dealing with their clutter and their stuff in order to have something important in their life, to have a focus, and sometimes to get out of doing other things in life. Some people make a big project out of not being able to attend parties or other events as they are too busy sorting their own stuff. I don't think that any of that applies to my life. What is true in my life right now is I wish my home were neater, that we owned less children's toys, that what we own was well organized and able to be used. I also want the rooms able to be used, such as the floors such that walking through them is not a safety hazard. I need to finish the book sort so I can put the books for the future away so I don't stub my toe again, for example!

Here are some areas that I decluttered in the last week with minimal time involved:
Three drawers of pants
Two drawers of shirts
A drawer of mail order catalogs that I thought I’d order from but I never did
A drawer of coloring books and workbooks
A drawer of blank journals, artist journals, and fine art supplies (most of that was saved)
Both of my son’s bedroom closets
Yet more books, picture books and easy reader books
the kids outerwear

Last weekend I did the dreadful task of dealing with my kids clothes. I had to figure out what winter clothes left over from last season. Then for my older son, what new clothes are in the closet which I purchased on sale at the end of last season that will fit him this fall. I then figured out what things I needed to buy for him. For my younger son I went through the prior season's winter clothes and weeded out what was too small. I then develed into all the hand me down's from my older son to see which of those fit and then to assess if we needed to buy anything new. One challenge is that the kind of pants that my younger son loves are not what my older son wore. One child wears only sweat pants or elastic band baggy jeans and cargo-climber Land's End pants while the other prefers just 5 pocket jeans and will not be caught dead in sweat pants. While my older son loved soft cotton t-shirts with graphics on them such as trains, my younger son declares these "baby shirts" and his favorite shirts are button down shirts like denim shirts, oxford shirts, etc. Lastly I dealt with outerwear and footwear. I realized that my older son needs a new raincoat and rain boots and a winter coat and snow pants and snow boots and a lighter weight fleece jacket. My younger son needs new rain pants only. They are set on mittens, gloves and hats. PHEW! That was a lot of work and took many hours. Now I have to do the shopping for what we need. (This is also not fun as I am trying to be thrifty and I dread placing big orders for new clothes.)

I am doing a big reorganization of children’s games, toys, and books which is taking many days as I can fit in only a bit here and a bit there in between appointments. Sorting through a bunch of tiny toys and lost game parts and trying to match stuff up to be ‘like with like’ is time consuming and frustrating. The lesson I am learning yet again is sometimes it is best to let go of stuff and just get rid of it so that we can own less and so my CHILDREN can better keep track of and take care of their toys and belongings.

I think there must be a delicate balance between keeping the tidying up of toys to a reasonable amount of time, done on a daily basis and the number of toys a family owns. What I mean is there must be a certain point at which the children can easily maintain a semblance of order with a certain amount of things to keep track of. But if the things are such a larger number then it is harder to tidy them up and the next thing we know we have chaos.

So yet again I am faced with a bunch of toys and deciding which I should let go of, which will the kids keep playing with, and really should I save some of the outgrown stuff for the grandchildren?

If my husband were employed and we had a lot of disposable income I think letting go of stuff would be easier as I could say, “We can buy new toys for the kids if they want new things” or “When we have grandchildren we can re-buy stuff”.

I already am ‘there’ with the clothing, as I am letting go of 99% of their outgrown clothes, even though, who knows, maybe we’ll have more kids, I don’t know. But for now the toys and games hold more sentimental value for me and getting rid of stuff with sentimental value is more difficult.

I am up to 4 boxes of toys to give away to my relatives. Let’s see if today I can find more to let go of!

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 39 Has Been Published

The Carnival of Homeschooling Week 39 with the title “Autumn Edition” was been published by Palm Tree Pundit yesterday.

I have an entry in this Carnival.

If you have a blog or a website and write about homeschooling I encourage you to consider submitting an entry to this Carnival. For information on how to make a submission, see here.


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Real Life Supply and Demand Example

For many years there was one little newspaper sold by subscription that featured the news of my home town. This little newspaper gave great coverage of town events and it surpassed the information in the city newspaper. Actually I say it was little but over time it got longer, had two sections and really covered news in town well. Town election coverage was extensive and helped voters figure out who they wanted in office. The Letters to the Editor section was quite long and town government news was discussed in detail. The combination of that with the town government meetings being run on the cable access channel really helped inform the citizens of what was going on with the town government, school budget issues and taxes.

A few years ago a new, shorter newspaper cropped up, also tailored to news in that town, plus it featured a little about the next two towns up the shore. This was a free paper that arrived by direct mail, to every household in the town. I think the target was more on entertainment and the arts and general stuff, rather than town government and town sports. But over time this paper grew and the page length seems to me to be longer now.

Yesterday I was very surprised to see that now the old, original town newspaper is received free to all subscribers of the city newspaper. Due to this the subscription newspaper has lost money from subscriptions, I can only assume. However by giving the newspaper free to all city newspaper subscribers (as an insert) the circulation numbers are raised so that the advertisers are more likely to buy ads.

My husband said that last year he read an article in a magazine, Forbes, I think it was. The article said that one of the top 10 businesses to get into for large fast profits was the free town newspaper business. The article stated that the money made from the advertisements more than paid for the expenses for staff and to print and to distribute the paper. The paper did not need any money from subscriptions and the owners would profit highly from this venture, they claimed. Lastly the advertisers were happy to know that their ads would be in every home in the town so they were happy to advertise in the little free town newspaper.

It was interesting for me to discover this little tidbit when I visited my parents yesterday. Now that is a real life example of economics in action. It is an example of how competition in the market can drive prices down. Sometimes easy and clear examples of that are not always easy to find, but there you have one.

It does seem odd though, that something that was to be paid for, for something like 40 years now is given away for free. My father never subscribed to it, being too cheap to pay for that town newspaper. He did and does subscribe to the city newspaper, figuring more news for the price, and coverage spanning worldwide, not just town-wide. I used to have to read my grandparent’s copies of the paper in order to see what was going on. So to see that paper at my parents house yesterday was surprising, but when I found out it was free, it fit right in with the norm for my father!

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Cashiers Can’t Do Simple Addition And Subtraction And It Scares Me

I am getting very scared about the fact that cashiers who are teenagers and people in their 20s are unable to do two digit addition and subtraction, specifically, giving back proper change, when they are working as cashiers.

I am speaking of American born people, mostly Caucasian people from suburbs and some from quite wealthy towns in my area of Connecticut. Additionally we have a problem with Immigrants (assumed by me to be immigrants since they have thick accents) who are not able to make change either but I have more empathy for them as they are not in their native country and who knows what kind of education they received.

Lastly, there is an issue with all cashiers of all backgrounds sometimes lacking the ability to properly identify American coins and their denomination. Yes I also do mean American born people cannot properly identify coinage.

I am very scared about this.

For the last month I have been doing some errands and making small purchases with cash in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I refuse to use my credit card for transactions under $10 and quite frankly refuse to use it at certain types of shops, for example, at fast food restaurants. I just am used to paying cash at such places and think I should be able to continue to do so. Since we went out of state we had more chances to eat fast food and to do other small purchases, more than my usual.

I used to correct the cashiers and help them. I now refuse to help them along by doing the math for them unless the issue is that they are not giving me back what I am due. I used to also give money back if the cashier made a mistake and gave me too much money. However I now feel that in doing that, although it is the honest thing to do, I refuse to do it out of the principle, and sometimes I don’t realize their error until I leave the store, with cash in hand. If the establishment does not know their cashiers can’t do their job then the person will keep doing it. I think these businesses (grocery stores, fast food shops, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) should realize that their cashiers can’t do math and they should do something about it such as train them or teach them or at least fire them for incompetency so the person themselves starts to realize that their lack of math ability needs addressing. Instead I get people who laugh and joke about how bad they are in math. Give me a break, that is not funny, I am not laughing.

I will inject at this point that I am always polite to all cashiers and other service people. Having worked in those positions (waitress, bus girl, cashier, etc.) in the past I have empathy for all people who do those jobs. I never demean a person for their inability to do their job. I just am sharing with you, my growing worry and concern. As I get older and as the people younger than me begin to control the world that I live in I do get more nervous when I think that in general, stupidity is growing and the notion of ignorance spreading to even things such as simple addition and subtraction incompetence is frightening to me. Add onto this the fact that more people than ever now obtain college degrees and how much is spent on American public education, the fact that people in their teens and 20s can’t even make change and add and subtract money is really pathetic.

I hate walking around with a ton of change in my purse so I like to use it to round off the numbers. This completely miffs anyone under the age of 40 with the exception of the smart Indian guy who owns the gas station up the street from me; he can do his math very well. I am speaking of things like this:

Total of purchase $10.03
I give $20.05
They don’t understand why I am giving the extra 5 cents.

Total purchase 5.67
I give $6.02
They don’t understand why I am giving the extra 2 cents.

This one really gets them.
Total purchase $11.35
I give them $21.50
Wow, that freaks them out. They don’t want any paper money that puts this over $20. They would have preferred that I just gave them a $20 and left it at that.

Another stumper is when I give four quarters instead of a $1 bill, especially if there is other change given to them. They have to actually count the coins and add up the money rather than simply putting in a large bill denomination (like a $20).
Total purchase $4.22
I give them 3--$1 bills, and 5 quarters.
Too much for them to count, I guess?

Also in 1993 I visited Holland for the first time. I was so ignorant about the money there that I preferred to pay with paper money and make a quick transaction. The funniest thing was that the cahiers did not want this. They all, and I mean, all, asked me for change to add to it to use less paper money. I would explain that I am not so good with the coins yet and don’t want to bother them. Every single cashier asked me to show what I had and they’d pick out the right change and explain to me what each coin was and the denomination in a friendly manner. I was very surprised at how patient they were. Things were not rush-rush like here in America where the cashiers want you out of their face as soon as possible. I then began noticing how in Holland everyone was using coins with nearly every transaction and they were quite patient about it.

Back to America in 2006…
Some cashiers give a little outcry when I give this money. Some ask “Why are you giving this to me?”. Some repeat what it is as if I don’t know what I am giving them, as if I am making some mistake. I used to explain, “I want a nickel back not 80 cents” and they look at me as if I have three heads. Now I just politely say, “Just type it into the machine and it will tell you what to give back, I know what I am doing.” If I don’t say that sometimes they leave my change on the counter and just do the paper money and then push my own coins back at me along with the new change. Boy does that burn me up! I am left speechless when that happens and so far have not begun an argument about it.

However a real problem happens when they type in the wrong amount. For example they may assume that I was not giving change to them, and they have put in the even amount. Now the register tells them to give me back X and they stand there with coins from me and they have no clue what to do. Then they have to do the math in their head. Most just ask me to tell them what to give back, and then I tell them. What else am I to do? Should I be asking to speak to the store manager instead of just saying “Give me back 10 cents”.

One day the cashier ran out of dollar bills. Instead of giving me a ton of quarters she tried to give a zillion dimes as she found it easier to count by 10s to reach the dollar points. I refused to take it and made her give me quarters. She tried to protest but I didn’t let her get away with it.

The other day we went to McDonald’s for one Happy Meal. They rushed me through the drive-through. First off, I know it usually costs over $4 and I gave a $20 bill. I was never told what I owed. When I was given the change it had a $10, a $5 and a $1 plus change. I thought that odd but they rushed me off to the next window (the second window is where the receipt is given). It was not until after I parked and could look at the receipt that I realized that indeed the purchase was over $4 but she gave me back $16.66. I have no clue what she was thinking.

Last week instead of giving me a nickel a cashier gave me a quarter. Now that the nickels have those fancy illustrations on them like the quarters do, I guess it is confusing the cashiers. I know they are the same color but they are different sizes too but I guess not all cashiers realize this.

Last year I purchased a take out pizza and tried to pay with a $1 coin. The cashier, about 18 years old, gave it back and said that I mistakenly gave her my children’s toy money. I had to explain and show her that indeed it was real American money albeit not commonly used. I had been given a slew of those dollar coins one day at a store and wanted to use them up. I was miffed when she said she never knew that we had coins in one dollar denominations in this country.

Sometimes I don’t realize what is wrong until I am back in the car. Nowadays they shove the money at you so fast, and they don’t count it out. Especially when I was a girl and a teenager, back when everyone either used cash or check, the cashiers would do a few things differently.

First, they could do their math.
Second, they would tell you what you owe.
Third, they’d count back the change to you, counting up by giving you one coin at a time and then counting up with the paper money to get to the amount they tell you.
Lastly they’d actually thank you for your purchase.

Now the cashiers don’t tell you what you owe, they just stare at you (or they look the other way or talk to their co-workers) and stick their hand out, then they don’t count back the money, they often don’t even make eye contact through this process, and lastly they don’t thank you. I have found myself thanking them but then I wonder why do I thank them when they should be thanking me for making a purchase at that business?

What Is The Root Cause?
I blame the schools for this, plain and simple. There is no reason whatsoever that a teenager or a high school graduate, or a college graduate for that matter should be unable to make change, especially if they are working as a cashier. I just cannot understand this at all, how children and teens can go through school but be unable to subtract double digits.

I also blame an over-reliance on technology. I bet the stores are so worried that wrong change will be given out that they have forced the workers to use the cash register to the point where the cashiers are no longer required to think or practice their math, thereby the "use it or lose it" thing is an issue. When a person doesn't "use it" they "lose it".

Perhaps part of the problem is that more people are using credit cards and debit cards so the cashiers handle less cash. Perhaps the issue is that the over-reliance on calculators in the classroom and on the cashier’s job has made them unable to think through the change making process in their head. Perhaps the dropping of memorization of math facts contributes to this, I don’t know. Perhaps part of the issue is that they are not counting back the change to the customer and therefore they are not practicing their math skills (addition) and they are not also working with the coins to assign the proper denomination to them on a regular basis.

Back when I worked behind a cash register in the mid-1980s, we were not told to use the keys to put in the amount that they gave us. The owner and manager of the shop wanted us to just do the math in our head. I remember clearly once asking about this and I was told “Can’t you make change back?” I said that I could but since the cash register could do it, why don’t we use it? I was told that it adds too many steps and slowed things down. I was told that only stupid people need that feature. With that machine we could punch in the purchases then hit total or some other key and the drawer popped open. It was fast and we made change back to the customer by doing the math in our head and by counting out the coins as we went. If we had used the other feature as everyone seems to do now, we’d then have to do mores steps by punching in subtotal then the money they gave us and then the final button. So we skipped those steps. And believe me if we were unable to give back right change not only would the customers be very intolerant but so would our co-workers and the manager and owner. We were deemed stupid if we could not do simple addition and subtraction and no one wanted to be dumb. Worse, we had to balance out our cash registers at the end of our shifts and boy, had the totals better match! They always did match or else the amount was to be taken from our paychecks! If it was close we often would just pitch in the few cents from our tips to make it even out rather than be shamed or deemed incompetent.

One very disturbing thing is the apathy. The cashiers who can’t do this simple math laugh and joke about this with no shame, “Ha ha I am soooo bad at math!” they proclaim (insert various types of inflection, Valley Girl style, etc.). They smile a cute smile and try to make a joke of it. This is an issue with both females and males. Even the guys aren’t ashamed of their ignorance; there is no bravado there about their competence level or lack thereof. I don’t get the joke and think it is ridiculous that a cashier can work and not be able to make change back.

I really am disgusted by this issue!

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Over-Scheduled Again This Fall

Okay it has happened. We are over-scheduled again.

I thought we were doing fine, limiting our outside classes and extra-curricular activities but we are at a point of overload now.

I just scheduled the late birthday party for my son. We have been invited to three different birthday parties for very close friends of my children.

My father-in-law has bought a table at a fundraising event so we will have a fancy night out for that.

The Junior First Lego League competition has begun.

My husband decided to teach and run homeschool teams for the Connecticut Stock Market Simulation and that will start in early October.

Out of a need to play and for large group socialization with other children we are doing a weekly park playdate with other homeschoolers for 3-4 hours once a week. I don’t want to cancel that.

Now we are learning of great Cub Scout activities that are being planned for the fall which are being added in to the schedule (which already holds a weekly Cub Scout meeting).

We are enjoying the swimming lessons and now the kids want to up that to twice a week instead of once. I am undecided about what to do about that.

And this week the Audubon homeschool science class starts.

Next week a full day wilderness course for my older son begins.

Homeschool chess strategy class being next week also.

And then there are special Halloween events and the regular Trick or Treating night and neighborhood party that we attend on October 31st.


I know that I am over-scheduled when going to church and Sunday School on Sundays seems like a chore and something that is impossible to do. That is the case for me today; we skipped church and Sunday School.

My friend said that her fall has also ended up completely over-scheduled even when she did not originally intend for that to happen. Her plans are to be very busy for September through mid-November. After that she is ceasing all outside classes (other than piano) and she will buckle down to do a ton of homeschooling lessons. Then in the spring she says they’ll do another round of classes and homeschool park days.

That sounds like a plan for me as well.

Another way I know we are too busy is when we start being unable to do the basic homeschooling lessons that I’ve hoped to accomplish in a week. What ends up happening is that the children are learning and doing a lot of other things outside the home but the lessons which were to be taught in the home are not happening as often.

As my children get older the need to have regular and prolonged contact with other children seems more necessary for them, so I am hesitant to cancel out of these activities in order to stay home with them alone to do homeschooling lessons. I will note that other families who contact me with the same desire for play time for our children and who ask for private playdates are also saying it is hard to find a date as they are basically over-scheduled. In the end around here what wins out is the homeschooling lessons and the extracurricular paid enrichment classes and sports (over “just playing”). So although there is a desire for more private playdates, so far they have not been happening much this fall.

At least this time I can say that all the outside activities we are doing are worthwhile and great. I don’t think that any of them can be considered time-wasters or wastes of our money.

Life seems to always be a balancing act, either tipped in one direction or the other yet never completely in balance for our family.

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Yet Another Example Of Overpricing By Amazon Marketplace Sellers

I continue to be surprised by too-high prices charged by Amazon Marketplace sellers for some books.

Take this book, for example. This is the current, in print edition of the Cub Scout Handbook for the Tiger level (first grade boys). This book is usually sold at the stores that sell the uniforms or at the official Boy Scout of America retail stores or their online shop ( Full retail on this new book is $4.25. You can view this item on the Scout Stuff website, here.

As of today does not stock this new book in their regular inventory. Amazon Marketplace sellers are offering used and new editions as of today. Right now there is one used copy with a cover with wear on it for $10.00 which is the least expensive edition available there today. The only new copy is listed at $15.59.

Why are Amazon Marketplace sellers offering a used edition for over double the cover price for a not-perfect copy of the book? Why is the only new copy priced at $15.59?

The only thing I can guess about the pricing is one of these:
1. The Amazon Marketplace seller does not know that this edition is in-print and not rare. Perhaps they think it is a rare collectos item and will draw the attention of those who collect Cub Scout and Boy Scout items?

2. The Amazon Marketplace seller is hoping that an ignorant parent who likes to use Amazon will think that it is the only place to buy the book so they may accidentially purchase an overpriced copy of the book through that Amazon Marketplace seller instead of buying a new book at full retail for less money at an official Scout shop or through a licensed retail store.

3. The Amazon Marketplace seller has the book on hand and figures they'll offer a ridiculous price for it and if a sucker comes along to buy it then they will make a profit.

Do you have any ideas on what goes through used booksellers minds when pricing a book?
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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cub Scout Uniform Guide & Patch Placement Tips

I am getting hits on my blog from Internet search engines asking for information about how to sew patches onto Cub Scout uniforms.

Putting Patches On New Uniforms

Here is a link to the BSA official information with illustrations, online. I feel this is overwhelming. It also does not cover "brag patches" aka "temporary patches" such as those issued for attending summer camp or day camp or some other Council event for which a patch is issued.

However, the updated Cub Scout handbook has the illustrations inside the covers. Also, now the hang tag on the uniform shirt shows where to put the patches.

That is the information you need to know if your son is just beginning Cub Scouting and is getting his first Cub Scout uniform ready (before any awards have been earned).

Here is a link to view the official Cub Scout uniform inspection sheet which is free. This is a nice link to email to your Pack and Den members if you are asked about the patch placement. This can also be printed out and handed out to parents if you or they prefer hard copy information. Also, Scout shops may have this Cub Scout uniform inspection sheet (hard copy) available to give you at the time you purchase your uniform and/or badges.

Later, you will need to know where to pub the badges of Cub Scout rank. Badges of rank information is here.

Other award placement information for "badges of participation" can be found here. You may have to scroll down.

Information about the Cub Scout Sports and Academics program (belt loops and pins) can be found here. You may have to scroll down.

Information about the 'Cub Scout badges of recognition' can be found here.

Your Cub Scout Handbook (the Scout's handbook) might also tell this information. Some of the handbooks have the information in the front section of the book while others have it on the back inside cover.

If you purchase a new Cub Scout uniform shirt there is also a Cub Scout patch placement guide on a hang tag attached to the shirt.

Information about why Cub Scouts wear uniforms can be found here, along with some other general information.

Other general rules for the Cub Scout uniform can be found here, such as how to wear the neckerchief, etc.

Do not hesitate to contact your Cub Scout Den Leader with any questions you may have, they will be happy to help you.

Cub Scout Leader Uniform Directions

If you need information on where to place the patches on Cub Scout Leader uniforms, here is a link to that information.

That information is also on the hang tag on new Cub Scout uniforms.

The information is also contained inside of the Cub Scout Leader Handbook.

Pocket Flap Shaped Patches

The Cub Scout “Outdoor Activity Award” patch is a pocket flap shaped patch which goes on the RIGHT pocket’s flap if you want to put it there. Wearing it is optional.

Any patch which is the shape of a pocket flap would be one that can be worn on the RIGHT pocket flap.

You can wear the flap shaped patch on the right pocket flap and have a different patch on the right pocket itself which is called a temporary patch (more information follows on that).

Last weekend I saw a huge patch that is the size of the entire front right pocket itself (the bottom part) which actually had a connecting/coordinating design to the patch on the right flap (imagine a jigsaw puzzle but shaped like the pocket flap and the pocket). These seem to be more common with Boy Scouts than with Cub Scouts.

Temporary Patches 

Temporary patches are patches earned for attending events and participating in special events. Examples are a patch for doing an Earth Day activity, attending a sports game with the Scouts, participating in a food drive, attending the Blue and Gold Dinner, etc. Temporary patches usually represent participation in a one-time event such as a Council organized hike, attendance at Cub Scout Day Camp, attendance at Cub Scout Resident Camp, participation in a Pinewood Derby race or any number of other 'one time' events. (How many patches are issued by Councils and Packs varies, some give out a lot!) Those temporary patches can be kept just as a souvenir, a momento of the occasion, they do not need to be sewn onto the uniform.

If you want your son to wear it, ONLY the most recent one may be placed on the right pocket, the front of the right pocket—not on the flap.

Temporary patches are not to be put anywhere else on the uniform--one would go on that right pocket, that is all. (I have seen them everywhere, on hats, up the back, on sleeves! That is not allowed. It looks ridiculous!)

Some temporary patches come with loops attached. You open the pocket flap, put the loop over the button and put the flap back on, thereby attaching it to the pocket, and it hangs down over the right front pocket. That is an easy option, especially since perhaps next month a new temporary patch will be earned and should be swapped out.

You may also sew this patch onto the uniform if you don’t mind the sewing work and if you don’t mind taking it off soon thereafter when the next patch is received. The idea is that the most recent one earned would go in that spot.

My sons like wearing the temporary patches, especially the ones with what they consider to be ‘cool’ designs or ones for events that they really had a great time participating in. Although technically the Scouts are supposed to wear only the most recent some stretched this to keep wearing their favorite. Packs and Dens do not usually police this like fanatics!

I also find that temporary patches are conversation starters when other Scouts and even adults will ask my children what that patch is for and what was the event like? It serves as well, as a promotion for some of the good community service projects and some of the fun extra things (like summer camp) that a Scout can do.

The Red Vest

The extra temporary patches can be saved in a collection and stored in any way that the Scout desires. One thing that some people do with them is place them on a red felt vest that some call a “bragging vest” or a "brag vest". These are sold by the Scout shops such as and they cost about $12. The patches are sewed on in any way that you want, in any order or placement that the Scout desires. The red vest may be worn at any time on top of the regular uniform. I have not seen many Scouts wearing these vests but I did buy them for my sons but so far the patches are not sewn on. My boys have expressed that they don’t want to be the only ones wearing the red vest and that is why so far they are not wearing them. The boys whom I have seen wearing them were at Council sponsored camping events, they are not people in our own Pack.

Patch Blanket Idea

Someone told me that some Boy Scouts sew those patches onto a red blanket which they use at camp outs while sitting around the fire.

Red Jackets For Adults

Some adult leaders and volunteers put the patches on a red wool shirt sold at Scout shops and they wear it like a coat, to Scout events in cold weather (such as on camping trips).

Collecting Temporary Patches

Lastly, those temporary patches are often collected by other people and some are sold on eBay or traded with other Scouts such as at large gatherings like the Jamboree.

Sometimes Councils will sell extra patches for nominal amounts for trading and collecting. My Council has been selling a bag of about ten for $2.


I am getting hits on my blog about bragging patches. In some regions these temporary event patches are referred to as bragging patches. Perhaps the person inquiring about it thinks that these temporary patches are a form of bragging, if so, I disagree. The temporary patches are just a way of remembering the fun time that was had at a fun event. The patches earned as part of a community service event is a little more like a reward and recognition for the Scout's participation in a commendable act.

I think it is nice that the Scouts not only have memories of things like attending an ice hockey game with the Pack or Council but that they also remember the volunteer work that they did and that they are rewarded for doing it in a small way by the organization by being given a patch.

I have never seen a Cub Scout actually bragging or being rude in any way about the patches they wear. In my experience, most Scouts actually own a lot of badges that they don't display, either because their parents just haven't gotten around to sewing on the patches or because they choose not to wear them.

post updated 3/20/14 to add more detail

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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Day The Power Outage Didn't Stop Us From Homeschooling

One morning in January 2006 we were on a roll with doing our homeschooling lessons at the kitchen table, as usual, with me sitting in the middle of my two sons. At the time my children were aged 5 and 8, in Kindergarten and Third Grade. The sky was grey and rain was predicted. We were surprised when black clouds suddenly rolled in and a big thunderstorm hit, and we lost power. We never know if the power will be out for minutes or several hours.

Although it was the morning, the house was quite dark. Since we were already busy doing our lessons and there wasn’t anything else pressing to do that would make us stop our lessons, we decided to continue with our homeschooling as if the power were still on. But it was too dark to use the natural light from the windows, so I had to light candles.

I snapped this photo as my sons were doing their Calc-U-Ladder timed math drill which they call ‘the math race’ (which they love doing).

A few minutes later while holding a paper; it accidentally caught fire as it touched the flame of the tall candlestick. I extinguished it quickly and decided it was safer to to use only candles with glass protection around the flame area.

This was the first and so far the only time we have homeschooled through a power outage!

This is my entry to win a camera in the "Capture the Educational Moment" Contest sponsored by Spunky and Academic Superstore.

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New Feature On Amazon: Comments to Customer Reviews

Today while on I noticed that underneath each customer review there was a new option to leave a comment on that review. It was not a comment on the book, it was to comment on a customer's review for that book (or item).

So it seems that Amazon is now treating each customer review as a blog entry, with members of the public able to make comments on it.

I wonder if Amazon is going to notify the review writers when people make comments to their reviews?

I bet I will get some negative comments to my old reviews, especially for books which are highly opinionated on one stance and against other issues. For example, pro-attachment parenting book reviews may get slammed by those who disagree with those parenting methods. Instead of attacking the books contents by posting a negative customer review of the book the public can now attack each reviewer. Already with some books, customers were using the book review option to attack other customers' reviews. I remember some rude things posted in the "On Becoming Babywise" by Gary Ezzo book reviews, for example. Today there are 910 reviews for this book, mine is mixed in there somewhere. I think that was the first book that I ever reviewed on Amazon, and it may even be there under the generic/anonymous name or else possibly under my first Amazon account name, I can’t recall.

In the past we customers had the option of reporting a customer review as inappropriate; I wonder what they will have to monitor the comments? I can imagine an entire department dealing with reports of inappropriate (rude) comments being left on the site. I, for one, never expected to possibly be a personal target of rude comments just because I have written customer reviews for Amazon (since 1999). I have no way to modify or delete my customer reviews. I see this as problematic, as I would prefer to not have negative things posted about me or my opinions on another site such as Amazon which is out of my control to monitor for slander.

In the past some customers misused the function that is "Was this review helpful for you". What some people were doing is if they don't like the opinion of the reviewer they'd say 'no'. Other times if they didn't like the book itself, they'd vote no on each review. Perhaps the comment section is a way to voice the person's comment instead of relying on the voting of yes or no as to the helpfulness of it. The only thing that the voting of the helpfulness of the comment does is alter the rank of the reviewer. The more 'no' votes a reviewer gets, the lower their rank goes. Amazon does not share their mathematical equation for deriving the rating system for reviewers but it is some combination of the 'yes' votes and the 'no' votes and also the quantify of votes that have been cast, I believe.

Today I am ranked #362 and have written 296 reviews. (The highest rank I ever had was #199). Wow, 296 reviews is so close to 300 that perhaps this weekend I can find the time to write more book reviews to put it over 300. I don't check my rank often. I have not been writing many reviews for Amazon lately, I prefer to post them on my blog. I have issues with the fact that when I write an Amazon review (I get no money from it), I hand over the copyright to that review to Amazon. I also don't like that some bloggers and website owners are taking other people's reviews from Amazon's site and publishing them on their own sites with links that would give that site or blog owner the commission for the sale. I know some people who never read the book or use the product and who don't do any writing of reviews just lift these reviews and earn commissions off of the sales of those items by enticing the readers with the other customer's reviews. I hate that!

I am curious as to why Amazon would add this comment function, it is as if they are making their customer reviews more like a discussion board, arranged by topic of the book. I see no monetary gain that Amazon can make from this endeavor. I only see costs on their end, administrative costs adding to their budget.

I have not seen any announcements from Amazon about this feature, and when I have more time I may go poke around on the site to see if I can find a formal announcement of this new feature.

The reason I was on Amazon is that I saw this book listed on PaperBackSwap and was curious what the book was about. It is “Government Nannies” by Cathy Duffy (a homeschooling mother who often writes about homeschooling and education topics). If you want to see what this new comments feature looks like, click through the below link to check it out.

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A Visit To First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod

Scenes from a visit to First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Late August, 2006

This is the path leading from the parking lot to the beach.

It is amazing how something so simple can be so beautiful.

Here is the view from the far end of the beach , looking toward the main area where the larger parking lot is. As usual the main beach area is more crowded than down at our end (in this small sized photo the people look like dots). I was happy to be in the more quiet place.

The view from my beach chair, noticed while taking a break from readng a book.

My husband flew kites with our boys. My younger son is on the left. I usually don't share photos of my children, but this one sure protects his identity well!

This is the bay side of the Cape, and at low tide you can walk out for what seems like a mile. Many low sandbars are in these waters. When the tide comes in, the waterline is where the seaweed on the beach is laying.

The water is so shallow, and families usually walk with critter-collecting equipment. Children collect hermit crabs, crabs, moon snails, and attempt to catch tiny fish. More children do that at this beach than the typical sand play up on the beach.

Childless adults walk empty handed, enjoying the experience in silence or chatting. While here, everyone looks happy and calm. Scenes of couples walking at sunset look like romantic greeting card scenes.

I have never seen this before. This was basically a white rainbow, a huge white arc in the sky. This was NOT frozen ice crystal exhaust from an airplane. Nearby there was a smaller (normal) rainbow. I should take a minute to figure out what this phenomenon is called, Google, here I come.

Okay, this was unexpected and strange. My son and I walked back to the car to fetch more play stuff and with my bare foot, I stepped on something soft. I was very surprised to see it was a mass of feathers, a part of a bird! There was just a small amount of the flesh or cartilege or whatever the feathers were all attached to. This did not look like a wing to me. I considered taking it home to use the feathers in some art or craft project, or for display on our nature shelf, but was worried of bacteria, viruses, or lice, so I left it there. It was beautiful. Later, I consulted a bird identification guide, and I think it is part of a grouse.

If you want to know the history of this beach, read this. The name is because this was the site where the Pilgrims had their first encounter with the Native Americans. I used to have romantic notions of this event based on memories of what I learned about the Pilgrims in public school however after reading the original source documents of Bradford I was appalled and disgusted.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

X-Rated Font Error Made By Third Grade Teacher

What I first thought about this was:

“Dee Dee Dee”.

A third grade public school teacher from Pine Creek Elementary School in Monroe, New York prepared a spelling handout for parents for the third grade open house event, which was approved by the school principal. A decorative font was used on the front cover, with the letters formed by stick figures having creative position sexual relations.

Quotes are from this article. This article has a scan of the offending item.

A veteran teacher used the font — depicting quasi-anatomically correct male and female stick figures contorting into letters of the alphabet — on the cover sheet of a spelling curriculum given to parents at a Pine Tree Elementary open house last week.

Sources said the teacher had no idea the alphabet was offensive when she downloaded the font from the Internet. It's unclear if any disciplinary action has been or will be taken against the teacher, who sources said has been with the district for many years.

This packet was reviewed by a number of people, including myself," Maxson wrote. "I take full responsibility for this inappropriate publication."

The spelling packet was given only to parents, not students. The font only appeared on the packet's cover sheet.

Carelessness, people, carelessness.

Open your eyes, observe what is in front of you.

This was a spelling packet, I repeat, a spelling packet, and the teacher didn’t even look closely at the WORDS and letters on the cover which she designed? How does she do at correcting the spelling papers, I wonder?

The teacher had the time to download a fancy font from the Internet but didn’t look at it closely enough to realize what it was? Are you kidding me?

The scan of the alphabet can be enlarged by clicking on the graphic if you want to take a better look at this unique font.

I am so glad that this was not given to the children.

A part of me says I should be laughing at this but frankly I am not laughing as I am getting worried at the numerous acts of stupidity that happen all around me and I just am very worried that the stupid ones are starting to outnumber the smart people. It is scary to ponder.

What is this world coming to?

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Dumbing Down Children’s Book Easy Readers

There are two kinds of dumbing down that happens to children’s reading materials, and I worry that these things are lowering the standards for children's reading ability and teaching children to read.

The first way a book can be dumbed down is that new books are written with simpler language, smaller words, lower word count and other techniques, and then are marketed toward certain age ranges of children. It is easy to compare older children’s books to the books that are published today and to see that over time the books have gotten more and more simple.

While teaching reading has actually started with younger aged children, what the children read at certain levels has actually DECREASED. In other words, while in the 1970s a child started to be taught to read in First Grade, what they were reading in third grade was of a certain level, while today children begin to be taught to read in some preschools at age 2, 3, or 4, and public school Kindergarten is also the place where reading is taught. However what the third graders are reading NOW is dumbed down compared to what they used to read back in the 1970s or 1980s or even in the 1990s. I ask you: does this make any sense? I don't understand it!

Now, about books intended to be read by children for reading practice, they are called “easy readers” or “readers” or “basal readers”. Those readers are given levels that indicate to parents, librarians, school teachers and homeschoolers what age range of children is supposed to be reading that book. This is a very convenient way to communicate what the content of the book, what difficulty level the book has so that the adult can match the appropriate book to the child.

The second way a book can be dumbed down is when a book is written for the purpose of a child reading it to themselves as reading practice has the level changed, but the text remains the same. What I am talking about is something I noticed a few days ago while looking at books that I own and while listing them on PaperBackSwap to trade. I noticed that Random House publishers have changed some of the readers to re-label them as higher reading levels. In discussing this with a friend she also noticed on Amazon that there is a new level 5 for Random House. I am speaking of the Random House series called “Step Into Reading”. The book’s contents/text remains the same but the cover has changed slightly. The older books look like a regular illustrated cover with the title and author and illustrator, and a little trademarked box stating “STEP into Reading” followed by the level. “Dinosaur Hunters” by Kate McMullan that I hold in my hands is labeled as a Step 4 book for grades 2-4, ISBN 039481150X. Today for sale on Amazon is the same book but with a new cover with a large arrow going across the top pointing to a bright green box with the book’s level which now is stated as level 5 “ready for chapters”. Note that Amazon’s textual description of the book still states this is a Step 5 book while the cover states “Level 5”. So there you have it, the same book published in 1989 as a Step 4 book is relabeled in 1996 as a Step 5 book. (It is not just this one book, each Step Into Reading book that I own has been relabeled.)

Hungry, Hungry Sharks: was level 2, now level 3 (Random House)

Dinosaur Hunters: was level 4, now level 5 (Random House)

Astronaut Living in Space: level 2 (DK Eyewitness Publishers, England)

The problem with re-labeling the reading level of the reader books is not adding a level 5 per se but when re-leveling the lower grades it is problematic. For example what used to be for grades 2-3 is now for grades 3-4. In effect what is happening is that children in a certain grade are somehow now supposed to be reading on a lower level than when the book was originally written and published. Even more problematic is to ponder why, in a time when nearly all children attend preschool and when formal reading instruction has been pushed from Grade 1 to Kindergarten (and sometimes also into preschool) why the children are not reading better, earlier and why anyone would want to lower the standards? I would love to know the answer to this.

I was speaking to a friend about this and I told her that among publishers of easy readers the content fluctuates. For example the very good DK Eyewitness readers have a much higher word count for their Level 2 books than Random House has for their Level 4 books. Why would that be? My friend then reminded me that DK is a British publisher. Could it be that one issue there is that America has dumbed down their expectations for children’s reading ability while England has not?

People, this is scary. Dumbing down is happening all over America.

More people need to be talking about how American society is dumbing down our children. Here are some people who are talking about it:

Comedian Carlos Mencia with his television show Mind of Mencia features lowering the standards as fodder for his jokes on a regular basis

Comedian Carlos Mencia sings the “Dee Dee Dee Theme Song” which is about lowering the standards which starts in American public schools. You can watch the "Dee Dee Dee Theme Song" video on You Tube (free).

John Stossel’s hour long documentary “Stupid in America” aired on 20/20 in January and September of 2006. You can watch a taped copy of the show on You Tube (free).

In the spring of 2006 mainstream Oprah did a 2 hour expose of the “crisis” in American education, featuring Bill and Melinda Gates called “What Bill and Melinda Gates Want You To Know”.

President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act which obviously was/is an attempt to help American public education students get a high quality education continues to be bashed by people. Some teachers call for its repeal, and the Connecticut teacher’s union is suing the government about it. I am befuddled as to why anyone would want to not improve a flawed system.

Award winning John Taylor Gatto, a 26 year veteran New York City school teacher, used the term in one of his books “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling”. It is a must-read. Here are some reviews of the book on Gatto’s website. Some of his speeches can be read from the links on this website if you’d like to get a taste of what John Taylor Gatto writes about.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bloggers Doing Book Reviews

Semicolon (blog) has a unique weekly ‘review of books’. Check it out, it is a listing of links to book reviews written by bloggers.

Any blogger can very easily submit a book review, just read the rules and directions.

Fun, fun, fun.

Hat tip: Why Homeschool

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Lyme Disease Controversy (The Lyme Wars) In A Nutshell

This summer was a Lyme disease and tick-borne illness summer for our family. My older son got Lyme disease for the second time (a new infection); he had it in June 2001 also. My younger son contracted Lyme and Ehrlichiosis (fatal in 7-10% of cases, and is another tick-borne illness). I also contracted Lyme Disease. Actually my husband had some symptoms also but he feels he was later asymptomatic so to date, he refuses to seek treatment.

So it was that this summer while learning about Lyme Disease treatment options, I learned of the Lyme Wars, which I previously did not know existed. I was dying to write about it to share it with my blog readers. I have not done so yet for a few reasons:

1. The topic is huge.

2. It would take me time to write it that I don’t necessarily want to spend on it.

3. Most importantly, the topic is so upsetting to me that for my own well being it is best for me NOT to dwell on this controversial subject. I have tried instead, to focus on the three of us getting healthy. I worry in part that overly focusing on the very upsetting Lyme Wars will impede my own recovery from Lyme Disease.

On September 17, 2006 a very long article written by Gary Santaniello was published in the newspaper The Hartford Courant. I would love for you to read it, here.

Please even if you live in a different state than Connecticut and even if you live outside of America, read this article. The Disease is all over the country. I don’t know what is worse, living in Connecticut where every doctor thinks they know how to treat it, even when they don’t, or living in another area where the infected patients are being evaluated by doctors who are completely ignorant about it and may assume that just based on geographic location of the person’s home residence, that an infection with Lyme Disease is impossible. My heart goes out to all Lyme suffering patients, no matter where they live.

I have not yet finished reading the article. I am still so upset about this issue that twice I picked it up to read it and had to put it down, unread. Three other times I read parts of it but had to stop and put it down for another day due to rising stress levels that it caused!

This article is so detailed that there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel to blog about this topic. So please, do go and read it.

I will say that some very important things whiz by in the article. Read it carefully and slowly, and perhaps if you really want to understand the issues, read it a second time. I advise that you print it off and tuck it away for future reference (who knows how long the article will be available online).

One example is that there is one short sentence about not having a test that can detect if there is a current Lyme infection in the body. That one sentence could be expanded into a long article or to a chapter in a book or perhaps even a whole book in and of itself, which would explain what the tests they do have now test for, why testing for a current infection is difficult, why and how the Lyme bacteria (Bb) is hard to test for, why there are conflicts of interest with some physicians and some of the Federal Government officials who set policy, etc.

Another thing that I am not sure if the article mentions is the issue of incorrect statistics. One would assume that every case of Lyme Disease is reported to the CDC for data analysis and statistics compilation. Note that the statistics of the incidence of Lyme are quoted all the time as the truth about the seriousness of the issue. However, that is not true; many ‘positive’ test results cannot be reported to the CDC. The CDC has set parameters for which types of test result are considered positive in their eyes and they only accept reporting of Lyme Disease that meets their narrow definitions. Additionally the very high false-negative rate of the ELISA test (the one the CDC states should be done first) are not allowed to be reported, even if they show a positive result. I know this may be confusing for you if you don’t know about this topic already. With the way the CDC restricts reporting criteria, the fact that my two sons and I had Lyme this summer was NOT reported to the government, so there is one example of the statistics not being accurate in my opinion.

The CDC recommends that doctors treat the patient based on symptoms, not just on the test result alone. Yet some doctors continue to refuse to treat the condition if the test is negative. This is a huge topic and I could go on and on about it, but I won’t.

Here in Connecticut things seem to be getting much worse. I know many people in my normal life (not through Lyme circles) who have Lyme Disease. Everyone has either had it, has a close family member who has it or had it or else a close friend or relative has it.

Our nation’s obsession with test results, in my opinion, has impeded the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. The fact that the current testing methods have a high false negative rate is problematic. The fact that if a person has had Lyme in the past that new tests done after subsequent tick bites could be considered false-positive and the fact that there is no test to check for an active infection is a huge problem.

I don’t even know what to think about the notion of doctors getting in trouble for practicing medicine that some others think is not right. I am torn on the issue.

Another huge issue is the conflict of interest ethical issue that is a problem for researchers, physicians who sit on councils of medical societies and the Federal Government committee physicians (CDC, NIH, etc.) who set policy for what test should be done, what medications should be recommended for treatment, etc.

Please inform yourself about this important topic. This Hartford Courant article is a great place to start.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 38: The Five W's and One H

Carnival of Homeschooling Week 38:
The Five W’s and One H

Welcome to the 38th Carnival of Homechooling.

As I raise my children, I begin to remember more and more of my childhood experiences. Each year as my children grow older, more experiences that I had at that age flash back to me. While homeschooling my children, helping them learn certain topics, or knowing what grade they are 'in', and while thinking about how we will approach home education versus my own experiences in public school, yet more memories flash back. While compiling this Carnival of Homeschooling I had a flashback to Mrs. Schmidt, my Fourth Grade teacher, standing in front of the class teaching us that the key to writing non-fiction pieces is "The Five W's and the One H"--that if each is addressed, the piece will be complete.

Wikipedia taught me today that:

"The "Five Ws" (and one H) were memorialized by Rudyard Kipling in his "Just So
Stories" (1902), in which a poem accompanying the tale of "The Elephant's Child"
opens with the lines:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me
all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and
Who. "

Some topics in homeschooling blur the lines, but for fun I have categorized the posts into these six categories.

Who We Homeschoolers Are or Who Are The People Who Affect Homeschooling?

Mama Squirrel presents Smells like sour grapes on her blog Dewey's Treehouse.

Barbara Frank of the Imperfect Homeschooler opines in "This'll Get Your Blood Going" that educrats tend to use many tactics in discrediting homeschooling, though logic is not one of them and warns that still, we must be wary.

The Tutor of Apollos Academy feels that government educators are changing the definition of socialization... and not for the better in her post "The Age Old Question".

Mother Lode asks not whether your homeschooled children are socialized, but whether your homeschooled moms are in her post “Socializing Homeschool Moms”.

What Is Homeschooling, What Is Taught

In the post “Public School at Home is Not Homeschooling” Home~Schoolers Rule discusses why it is important to distinguish between public school at home and real homeschoolers because how public school at home being labeled as homeschooling may lead to restrictions and more government oversight of real homeschoolers.

Notes From A Homeschooling Mom comments on the new Kindergarten guidelines in Illinois.

How to use study guides such as Cliff Notes to help you teach high school literature and how to find them is discussed by The Thrifty Homeschooler, also known as Maureen Wittmann, at "Literature Help For Parent Teachers". Maureen continues the discussion in two more posts. Part One is "High School Literature" and after reading the interesting comments she received (make sure to scroll down to read them), she wrote Part Two, “High School Literature Course” where she shares the books that she chose for her high school students' literature course.

The Progressive Homeschool blog discusses phylogeny (evolutionary biology) and resources for teaching evolution to a variety of age groups in the post "Phylogeny - Tree of Life".

In "Geography Lessons", Texas Ed writes about learning about geography by teaching it.

Why We Homeschool and Why We Don’t Use School

Henry of Why Homeschool explores some of the reasons we educate our children in his post "What is the Value of an Education?".

Laurie Bluedorn presents Reasons to Avoid Government Homeschooling Like the Plague posted at Trivium Pursuit.

Where We You When…

Sprittibee shares some of her son’s artwork as she reflects on the horrible events that took place on 9/11/2001 (the month that she began homeschooling her kids) in her post “Remembering 9/11 in Art”.

Homeschooling Happens In The Home and In The World

The Thinking Mother writes that books for homeschooling are overtaking her house to the point of causing physical injury in “Broken Toe From Books? Book Clutter Needs Addressing”.

Bruggie Tales shares a glimpse into the fascinating world of homeschooling camps as enjoyed in Australia. A quick week of socialization and fulfillment with lots of other homeschooling families. “The Evans Head Catholic Homeschooling Camp”.

How We Parent, How We Homeschool

On the Biblical Parenting blog,
Robert M. Lindsey shares a post that his wife wrote titled “Goals For Parents” in which she lists her goals for raising quality kids.

Deputyheadmistress presents a thoughtful post The Wrong Sort of Perfection posted at The Common Room.

Phat Mommy writes in “Bordering on Unschooling” that although something keeps her from identifying herself as an "unschooler." Because she consults the "Typical Course of Study" lists - not because I want to force my children to learn something, but because I'm genuinely concerned I might forget to expose them to something! (Then she lets her children learn what, and when, they desire.)

The Two Kid Schoolhouse writes about how she came to change my view on home educating my children in “Changing Perspective”.

Loni of Finding Joy in the Morning
writes in “Putting the Math Book Away” another reason to homeschool - to teach her children a strong foundation, in this case math, without letting the math book guide her, but her children's learning and shares a great link to what she calls the "math tune-up site".

Denise of Let's play math! offers us a challenge: "Can you and your students make up some original math problems?".

Mrs. Darling of Dishpan Dribble asks "What Does a Bear And a Beaver Have In Common?" as she tells a story about teaching her daughter to read.

And Just For Fun

Spunky of Spunky Homeschool is running a “Capture the Educational Moment” contest for homeschooling parents this week, take a peek to see what you can win if you enter.

The Carnival of Homeschooling is published weekly and is owned by the Why Homeschool blog.

For information about submitting an entry to next week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, see the information

Next week the Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted by the
Palm Tree Pundit.

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