Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Hebrew reading and writing

April 23, 2009 5 comments

>>I wanted to find out if you have any good suggestions for kodesh studies for
1st grade. We’re using the Migdalor program (Shy Publications) and Shaah
shel menuchah for Hebrew and like both of those pretty well. We also use
lots of things from, and use Little Midrash.<<

I don’t have a structured program for children this age.  I’ve looked at Shaah shel Menucha and used it for a short time; it’s nicely done.  The Little Medrash is nice to read with kids, or to give to independent readers to read to themselves to prepare the parsha. I’ve also looked at a lot of things on and only used them the first year we were homeschooling.  At that point, I was new to homeschooling and needed the security of the kids learning things in a traditional school-like manner.  I look back and kind of smile at my need for these things – like the weekly parsha sheets I printed out for them to give to my dh on Friday night to be asked questions from (like what the schools send home).  It was so artificial, but again, I didn’t yet trust the natural learning process and it gave me reassurance that they were actually learning something.  I use very, very few of these things now.

What I use to teach aleph bais isn’t necessarily the best, but I have three different readers in the house – one that my younger brother used in his school as a kid (Aleph Binah), one that my dd used in her school in kindergarten (Sefer Kriyah Hashalem), and one that my dh did illustrations for so we got a copy (Girsa d’Yankusa).  Oh, I also have one called L’shoni – Sefer Hakriya by Ktav Publishing House – this is the main one that I use.  I don’t know if I can honestly say that I use it – my dd8 independently taught herself to read Hebrew using this.  I expect that my dd6 will do something similar.  I don’t actively teach reading, but I do listen to them read out loud, in English or Hebrew, when they’re beginning – that’s as formal as I get.  I have other programs, like the materials on tefilla by Berman House, which are good, but the truth is, most of this is unnecessary – by waiting until a child is ready (versus pushing certain skills just because they are at certain ages), they can move fairly quickly though whatever program you use. 

I have aleph bais cards that each have a vowel wheel, and I like to use that.  The child can do one card at a time with no vowel, you can turn it so whatever vowel you want is displayed underneath the letter, and the cards can be combined to create sound combinations or words.  Any kind of English reading word game can be adapted for Hebrew and pretty easily made at home – like fishing for letters, for example. 

>>Also, do you spend much time on block print?? Or just do script? My daughter
doesn’t need block to help with her reading skills, so I’m thinking of not
spending any real time on it.<< 

I’m assuming that you’re asking about Hebrew writing.  I don’t see much of an advantage to teaching block writing, except as reinforcement of letters when the child is learning to read.  My current 6 year old does do some block writing, albeit very sporadically at this point.  I don’t think it’s important enough to have a child to do it if he has no interest; actually, I think it can be a waste of time unless a child is pushing you to give it to them.  Script writing is really what’s important when it comes to Hebrew, and I think a good time to learn it is after a child is reading well enough that they won’t be confused by what is essentially like learning another alphabet.  As I said, not one of my other kids did this and the only reason I did it with him is at the beginning of the year, he wanted to do some Hebrew writing, but it was too soon to give him script because his reading skills weren’t yet strong enough. 

>>I’m finding our kindergarten year is about 50% kodesh and 50% chol. Is that what you’ve found??<<

This is a surprisingly hard question for me to answer, because it’s philosophical in nature, not technical.  I don’t use any kind of structured curriculum for kindergarten because I don’t believe it beneficial to actively teach anything at that age.  Whatever I do is very laid back and informal.  A lot of reading together, games, parsha/Jewish story cassettes, and having them work with  me on household things is their curriculum.   They pick up an amazing amount without any emphasis on ‘doing school’, but because it’s so informal, I can’t say quantify it percentage-wise. 



How to find good books for read alouds

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment

>>I need more read aloud ideas.  Where do you go for titles?<<

I find books that are collections of reviews of good books useful – the two that come to mind most immediately are Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook, and Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt.  I don’t own either of them, though, so every couple of years I check one out and get some new ideas.  I also own a book called Books Children Love, by S. Wilson, which is also good.  Honey for a Child’s Heart was especially valuable in choosing good quality books for my younger kids. There are a lot of kids books out there that just aren’t so good, and it’s annoying to read them repeatedly when you can hardly stand to read it the first time!

I also look at online book recommendations, at the Sonlight catalog, the Robinson book recommendations, and the Newberry Honor and Newberry Medal lists.  The classics can be good, too, though you have to be careful that they’re age appropriate.  Because the language of the classics tends to be written in a literary style that is unfamiliar, kids can easily get turned off if introduced to them too soon.  I try to look for books that are engaging, well written, and fun to listen to together.

I’ve thought that it would be fun to make a list of all the books we’ve read aloud over the years to share with you (just chapter books, not picture books), but the idea overwhelms me and I don’t know how I could possibly remember all of them!


Reading out loud to kids

January 8, 2009 2 comments

I so much enjoy reading to my kids.  There’s a wonderful feeling of connection and closeness, it’s an effective way to learn things together in a natural and fun way, and it’s something you can do with kids of all ages!

Here’s what my reading schedule for the day is like:

In the mid morning, when my older kids are busy with their academic work, I read a couple of books that my 2.5 year old chooses with him. Then my 6 yo comes along and I read a book, or a chapter of a book, also of his choice, to him (we just finished a Thornton Burgess chapter book).  This isn’t intended to be academic; it’s just a nice way to spend some time with them. 

A little later, my 8 and 9 year olds finish what they’re working on, and I read to them from a chapter book.  We started the Little House on the Prairie series in the summer, and are halfway through.  We generally read a couple of chapters each day, but it depends on the length of the chapters and how much time I have.  Yesterday we finished the fourth book, and we have five books to go.  Sometimes the morning gets busy and there’s not time for our reading before lunch, so we do it after lunch.  Sometimes we skip a day, but not usually.  They look forward to this so much, and my 6 year old also joins our snuggling on the couch for this.  I read this series aloud about seven years ago when my oldest three were all about this age, and I’m enjoying reading it together with my middle three.  (I do this reading when the baby is sleeping, but the toddler usually is awake, often sitting on my lap for it.)

Then after dinner, we have our family read aloud.  This is something I’ve done for years (last year we had a break because my ds15 was in school and wasn’t home in time, so we were more sporadic to accomodate him and didn’t read as regularly as we usually have), and I’ve found it very valuable.  The hardest part of this is finding a book that will interest everyone, since the 6 yo should be able to understand it, but the 15 year old doesn’t want to listen to a little kids book.  We read The Hobbit last year, which was an excellent book, but my then 5 year old didn’t know what was happening at all (at that point I wasn’t trying to find something suitable for him – he had a nighttime read aloud right before this one geared towards him), and my oldest didn’t care for fantasy (I didn’t know that until after we were reading it, or I would have looked for something else) and had a hard time following all the details.  I’m so grateful to have found our current choice – my kids all agree it’s a real winner.  If I’m feeling tired or not in the mood to read that night, their eagerness motivates me to sit down anyway.  Then when I finish, they all beg me to read more.  I’m particularly glad to have found a book that my oldest son enjoys; his tastes are more specific than the others. 

The book we’re reading is called Watership Down.  Apparently it’s commonly read in high school English courses, and most of the negative reviews I saw on Amazon were from high school students who were forced to read it and were bored by it.  I try to choose books that are good quality literature, with complex sentence structure, good use of grammar, and ideas to think about.  But I also want books that are fun and engaging, not something the kids are listening to but bewildered half the time as to the meaning.  This book fits all my criteria, though when I saw the book and leafed through it, there wasn’t anything to encourage me.  The cover is beyond boring looking, and the story didn’t initially grab me.  I was concerned the kids wouldn’t have the patience to wait for the story to pick up, but surprisingly, they were engaged by the first night.  My husband was also surprised, since his initial reaction was similar to mine.  But there’s a quality to the story I can’t describe that really got the kids hooked.

I didn’t see this on any recommended lists of books, but someone on a discussion board somewhere mentioned reading it aloud to her kids (they went to school so she read to them when they got home).  Each day friends would come to play, but they told their friends they didn’t want to play because they were listening to this great story.  And the friends would join them.  By the time they finished the book, there were about twenty kids listening in!  So that seemed to me to be a pretty good recommendation, and after I researched it for the literary quality, I was ready to give it a shot.

The only problem with this book is that it will end.  We’re about 240 pages in, and I guess we have over 150 pages left, but every night I wonder what book I’ll find next that will work so well for everyone!  I usually start researching the next book while we’re reading the current one, so that I have it checked out of the library in time to begin as soon as the last book ends.  I need to start looking for books soon, and if you have any recommendations, please share them with me!

Another nice plus of reading before bed is that it makes the bedtime transition very smooth.  The kids naturally quiet down from the busyness of the day, and once we finish reading, the youngest three or four troop up to bed without any complaints.  I credit our family read aloud habit for our smooth and easy bedtimes over the years! 

There are lots of other benefits, and books have been written about those benefits.  But some of the benefits, in addition to those I shared above – it’s great for vocabulary development, greatly improves listening and comprehension skills, and helps children develop their imaginations.  And it’s so fun!


My favorite homeschooling books

September 21, 2008 2 comments

There are loads of homeschooling books out there, and different ones will speak to different people.  I’ve probably read most books on homeschooling that have been written, and they all have something of value.  Some I’ve found more thought provoking than others, some I didn’t care much for, some I thought were more inspiring.  It can be intimidating to look at all of those books, all of those approaches, so much information!  So I’ll share with you which books I’ve found most valuable in case you’d like to use it as a starting point, and note what areas that might be a concern. 

The Successful Family Homeschool Handbook – Raymond and Dorothy Moore – this is probably my favorite book.  It’s filled with loads of wisdom, but in an unassuming and condensed way and you could easily read it the first time and think it was nothing remarkable.  Written by the ‘grandparents’ of the homeschooling movement, the writing style is a little more formal than younger writers.  But they understand parents, they understand children, and they understand homeschooling.  One of the very few homeschooling books I’ve seen fit to purchase, and read and reread several times.  His points on social maturity are excellent.

Homeschooling the Early Years: Your complete guide to successfully homeschooling the 3 – 8 year old child, by Linda Dobson.  I recommend this to everyone with young kids, as a way to see how easy and natural it is to integrate learning activities for the young child into the day.  She’s written a number of other homeschooling books, and I’ve liked all of them. 

The Relaxed Home School, by Mary Hood, and there was a sequel which was also good.  I haven’t read this for five years, but enjoyed it very much when I read it.  I can’t remember the details of what I liked, but she was very down to earth and real, it made homeschooling seem very doable.  She classified herself as an ‘eclectic’ homeschooler, and that helped me realize that I didn’t have to define myself by one approach to homeschooling, which I was struggling to do.  I could continue to pick and choose and adapt for my needs and put it all together in the way that fit for us.  Since then I’ve referred to myself as an eclectic homeschooler, too.  🙂  Mental note to self: borrow this from friend again to reread.   

The Three Rs, a series by Ruth Beechick – A Strong Start In Language, An Easy Start In Arithmetic, A Home Start In Reading.  These are more like booklets than books.  There are three in the series, one for math, one for language, one for writing, geared towards parents of the k – 3rd grader..  They’re excellent – brief, succint, with clear explanations of the developmental stages of children in the beginning and then practical suggestions for teaching various skills for the basics.  I was thrilled to aquilled to aquire these at a homeschooling curriculum sale for $1 each last year, since I’d seen Dr. Beechick’s work approach referred to in many books that I liked (but couldn’t find it at the library) and thought it would be a good fit for me.  It was. 🙂  

The Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola – a good explanation of the Charlotte Mason approach.  The author has a different approach and focus than I do, and her examples of her own kids tend to intimidate me because I put almost no effort into some areas that are important to her, but that’s a challenge in reading any homeschooling book.  You have to remember that everyone shines in something and no one shines in everything.  I think highly of the Charlotte Mason approach and particularly like the emphasis on quality literature, dictation, and copywork (though I don’t use dictation much), which is why I think reading about her approach is worthwhile, even though I didn’t unabashedly love this book.  A book for the Charlotte Mason approach that I enjoyed much more was The Whole Hearted Child, by Sally and Clay Clarkson.  However, this was written for Christian parents, which may be a plus or minus for some of you.  If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t read it.  I’m comfortable reading selectively; I just skip what I’m not interested in and stick with what applies to me. 

I’ve read a lot of books about the unschooling approach but can’t think of one that particularly stands out in my mind.  Many recommend John Holt’s books, but they didn’t thrill me.  The Teenage Liberation Handbook is  good for teenagers and parents of teenagers, to see what the possibilities are and realize that your kids aren’t limited to you being their teacher, and that they can direct their own education successfully.  I just met someone on Monday who told me his son requested to homeschool this year after reading the book.  It can be inspiring and an eye opener for people.  It has a liberal approach in general, which for some might be uncomfortable.

I hope that this provides a good starting point.  Please share in the comments section below if there’s a book you found especially helpful.


Categories: home education, Reading

Six year old resistant to writing

September 18, 2008 1 comment

>>I really hesitate to ask you this, but I was just about to ask you how much handwriting practice you have your 6-year-old do. Now I’ve just read this, and it sounds like you require a similar amount to what I’m doing, but I’m questioning it. We aren’t doing English handwriting as a separate subject. My 6-year-old does 2 lines in her Hebrew ksiva book (the number of letters depends on the line, usually between 6-10 letters per line). Then she has one workbook that requires answers in English (not full sentences, a couple words or a phrase to answer). She usually does a page of that. In any case, she FIGHTS it. Sometimes I will sit right next to her and “coach” her through it, but even then it is a struggle. She knows she has to do it in order to do other “fun” things (also educational, but things she likes more) or play. Still, it can get stretched out for hours. I am starting to feel like I am torturing her. I want to have fun and relaxed times, like you write about. I really feel she could get it all done in less that 30-45 minutes if she was actually doing it. I am interested to hear what you think of this. Please be gentle, it took guts for me to ask you this question. Thanks!<<

What kind of things my kids do at this age has shifted over the years.  That’s not because my beliefs have changed very much, but because the dynamics of my kids has changed.  Practically speaking, what that means for me is that the younger kids now do much more than the older kids did at their age, because they see their older siblings doing academic work and request to do it, too.  It’s become to them the ‘right’ way to do it, because they look up to their siblings.  (My two year old was crying yesterday because he didn’t have a math book, lol!)  But I do strongly support a ‘better late than early’ philosophy, as well as a child led approach to a large degree in the younger years. 

I didn’t formally institute any writing for my older kids until 8, but I think what matters more than the age of the child in any particular area is their readiness and receptiveness.  A child who isn’t ready isn’t going to learn, or to borrow a phrase, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  

But then it’s the hard mental balance, of feeling like there are things we want them to learn now, because we feel it’s important, and respecting where our child is coming from, and the challenge is that often those two things conflict.  I try to stay away from the school mindset that says certain skills have to be learned at certain grades, and focus more on my long term goal.  That’s a hard thing for most of us to let go of, because we were educated like that and still have that internalized view of learning as being on a time frame.  My long term view is by the time they are 18, I want them to be able to read, write, compute, on a reasonably high level.

When I think of it like this, it takes the urgency away to insist on something right now and helps me take a step back and look at what will help me reach the long term goal of academic accomplishment, along with the short term goal of raising a child who enjoys learning, and having a relaxed home environment. 

So that’s my general position for our family.  For you specifically, I would ask a few questions.  Why is it important to you that she do this at this point?  Why does she dislike it so much – is the workbook boring, is writing physically difficult for her, etc?  I don’t think what you’re asking of her is unreasonable, but 30 – 45 minutes of writing for a six year old can seem like a lot to them, and I’d shift to about ten minutes or less each, for English and Hebrew (that’s the about the time spent by my 6 year old).  Do you think she’d still feel frustrated by that amount?  Follow her cue, and see what she enjoys. 

There are lots of ways to incorporate writing into a daily schedule except for a formal workbook, and in another year, she’ll be maturationally much more able to write.  Remember that writing is a physical skill, not a mental skill, and the ability to do it well depends very much on small motor coordination.  When my kids balk in this way, I usually take it as a sign that I should back off, focus on doing more fun stuff with them, and reassess. 

This time of year is filled with holiday preparations, and getting her actively involved with that can be a good natural way to back away from the writing without making an announcement to her about it.  ‘Oh, we have so much to do for the holidays, let’s put our time into that right now’.  Go bake something, do a craft project – things you probably are already doing, just shift your focus to make that the main thing.

Another thought comes to mind – is she your oldest? Because if so, a trait common to oldest children is perfectionism.  They put a lot of pressure on themselves internally, and often balk at doing anything when they feel they can’t be successful in the way they want.  If that might be a factor for her, it would be helpful to give her a clear message that whatever they are doing is enough, that you love her just as she is.  Because perfectionists have this idea that they aren’t lovable unless they perform to a certain standard, and as loving as a parent may already be, perfectionists need to hear this a lot more to counter their own mental thoughts that are running through their minds all the time.

Please ask for clarification if there’s something I didn’t address.


Recommended curriculum for first graders?

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

>>I wanted to know if you had any advice for me in regard to a first grade language arts program for my son.  …..Do you have any suggestions for a first grade language arts curriculum that would include reading, writing, spelling, and grammar and punctuation (Calvert includes all this as well as introducing cursive in first grade)?  Your opinion would be greatly appreciated. <<

I have to tell you the truth, as far as structured school in the box type programs, I don’t use them because I don’t think highly of them.  I think it’s the most limited and unstimulating way for kids to learn.  Schools have to rely on things like this to teach many kids at the same time, but it’s a matter of efficiency more than effectiveness.  So I try to take advantage of the freedom homeschooling allows me in finding something that will be more engaging and tailored to each child.

What I do with kids this age is: read to them lots, bake with them and play board games (many games are great for math skills), listen to them read, and use a basic handwriting workbook (I like D’nealian because the transition to cursive is very natural, instead of learning two forms of writing).  Once they know the basic letter forms, they do copywork.  And the rest of the day is spent being part of a busy household – meaning free play and chores. This has worked well for us to help the kids learn all the skills they need in a relaxed and fun way. 

I believe that good grammar and spelling come with lots of reading, and I encourage a lot of reading for my kids.  If I were using a program, I would choose something that was integrated with literature, like Learning Language Arts through Literature.  But I’m more free form in my approach and I at the most adapt materials that I see, not use them precisely as they’re written.  I have yet to find something that so exactly fits my personality, priorities of what to teach when, and my children’s needs that I want to follow it exactly.

I don’t teach reading – I wait for readiness and then help them with sounds of letters, so my first six kids have all picked it up mostly on their own.  There’s a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Siegfried Engelmann, that I’ve heard recommended by many.  If I were going to use something systematic, it would probably be this.  I did try Phonics Pathways quite a while back but didn’t love it.  I have 100 Easy Lessons out from with library now, thinking to show it to my newly turned six year old to see if he was interested, but I haven’t yet gotten around to it.  I have this feeling I probably won’t get around to it, because my style to teaching reading just isn’t so systematic – it seems like a waste of energy to consciously teach something when it is so naturally picked up when they’re ready.

I’m not oversimplifying what I do – this is really all.  Homeschooling a child this young is simple – the hard part is trusting that it’s enough and letting go of our preconceived notions of what learning looks like.


Recommending books on homeschooling

July 31, 2008 Leave a comment

People sometimes ask for books that I would recommend on homeschooling.  Though I have lots of books I’ve found valuable, my book recommendations are to go to your library and read everything that you can find on homeschooling.

You’ll find things that resonate with you, and other things don’t fit you. I have found certain books helpful to me because they speak to my way of doing things. There are other widely recommended books, like The Well Trained Mind, that would a very poor fit for my family and make me neurotic.

I personally have an eclectic approach, and have gained from a variety of sources. I’ve liked Ruth Beechik, Mary Hood, Karen Andreola, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and another married couple whose name escapes me right now (Charlotte Mason approach, I think the book was called The Wholehearted Child). I usually recommend Linda Dobson’s early years book for new homeschoolers of young kids. I like the Robinson approach as far as independent learning goes (that’s an online resource). I like the unschooling materials for a reminder that learning is natural and should be joyful.

I’ve read just about everything that’s been written on homeschooling, and come to the conclusion that there’s always someone who some book will be helpful to, even if that person isn’t me. I’ve thought alot about all that I’ve read, and crafted an individualized approach for my family based on all of my thinking and reflection.

So I hesitate to recommend any book or approach to everyone because each person needs to find what’s right for them.