Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesdays with Words: Tom Sawyer

Confession time.  I have never read Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn.  I was taking advance English classes so they had you analyze as many short stories as possible my junior year and we skipped these classics as as a result.  Yet, another great reason to homeschool, it gives you reason to return to these books.

Right now my middle and high school students at Artios Academy are reading and joying it.  They talked to me about it first thing this morning - and I teach history! I had to admit that I hadn't read it before and I wasn't as far as they are in it but that I was loving it too.  My mom and dad listened to it a few years ago on a long drive and they said they truly enjoyed it.  Finally, I am reading it.  I even got a cool version from Half Price Books with old timey pictures in it with big print!  It will make it easy to read aloud when the time comes.  I am not sure my oldest needs any encouragement in boyish pranks!

My favorite quote so far isn't landmark - just funny.

The choir always tittered and whispered all through service.  There was once a church choir that was not ill-bred, but I have forgotten where it was, now.  It was a great many years ago, and I can scarcely remember anything about it, but I think it was in some foreign country.  
Another good one:

Tom turned in without the added vexation of prayers, and Sid made a mental note of the omission. 
His turn of phrase is just so fun to read.  So this is not a HEAVY classic but it is one that I am glad to finally be reading!

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Preschoolers and Language

I am looking forward to reading Erika Christakis' new book The Importance of Being Little.  For now though, I am reading her articles.  She talks about ideas that have been around since Meaningful Differences was published in 1995.  It is really all about conversation and reading aloud with young children.  Conversation because it helps develop connection and gives children a way to label and know their world.  Reading aloud because it uses elevated language, teaches the concept of story (beginning, middle and end) and is just plain FUN!

I could go on . . . but let's just read a few key quotes from The New Preschool is Crushing Kids.

This first shows just how much has changed in 12 years.  This is what I hold on to when people talk about how they were fine when they went through the system.  The expectations have changed DRASTICALLY.

One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. 

Why do 80% of teachers expect 5 yos to read?  What makes me sad is that many homeschool moms expect the same thing and then feel frustrated and push little Johnny when really it it is too early! In the end, reading programs at this age really aren't the key to success. Here is the crux of what we should be doing with our kids

The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information.

Using studies, we can say it this way:

Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early-learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing: One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.” Take a moment to digest that devastating conclusion.

Yes, it is as simple as just talking with them!  This is why I feel so sad when I meet grandma's who are about to have their grandchildren taken out of their care and put into day care because the child's mom feels they need to be socialized at 2 or 2 and a half.  Really?  I know there are more complex social things going on in some families, but a normal grandma who loves them and talks with them ALL day - what could be better?

Finally, she discusses the "Finnish Miracle" and the conclusion is

Having rejected many of the pseudo-academic benchmarks that can, and do, fit on a scorecard, preschool teachers in Finland are free to focus on what’s really essential: their relationship with the growing child.

In the end, this is what is important with young children - relationships with those who love them.

This whole conversation is also why I love Charlotte Mason's focus on narration. You will not be putting vocabulary words into random sentences and answering comprehension questions the rest of your life.  Instead, people will ask you what you liked about an article, how that fits with another idea they are thinking about, etc. Narration trains you how to do this and helps you see into what your child finds most interesting in what you are reading.  I also love that CM encourages you to delay this until at least 6.  Before that let them play!

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Weds. with Words: Essence of Motherhood

The one good thing about getting the stomach bug (when no one else in the family has - so far) is that I got to lay in bed.  My Amazon order arrived just in time to lay in bed and look at new books!  I am really enjoying The Whole Brain Child.  It takes a bit of concentration though and I wasn't totally up for that in my weakened state.

"Successful parenting means:  One, becoming what you should be. And...

I also received Homepreschool and Beyond.  I am in the process of getting to know more of the 4 yo moms at my church (the age of my 3rd child) and realizing that I might need to remember what first time moms think about when their kids are preschool age.  The book does quote many 80's homeschool leaders and I think as a young mom I would have thought - this is NOT enough.  Now I realize that it is and I probably won't even be able to do that much (yeah for coops with music and art, etc.)  She does a great job laying out skill lists and encouraging fun activities while delaying academics. If I followed it, we would be golden.  Unfortunately, I also learned that this book is now going out of print.  It has such great information though.

As much as I appreciated her pulling together different "experts" and thoughts about "better late than early" for preschoolers, this was my favorite quote:
Good parenting is "warmly responsive, loving and consistent care, balanced with discipline."  But the best explanation of good parenting I've ever heard is one from Anne Ortlund, who says, "Successful parenting means:  One, becoming what you should be. And two, staying close enough to the children for it to rub off." She challenges parents by asking, "What will you become in order that your offspring may turn out to be great human beings for God?"  
That, in a nutshell is what I have been learning.  The only person I can change is me and the more whole, healthy and educated I become the better I can lead my kids into that same type of life.  This is not easy.  The next book on the way to my house is Parenting from the Inside Out - this book is NOT for the faint of heart.  However, it will help you become more of who you are created to be - His reflection.  The author doesn't write from a Christian perspective, he is more into the science of relationships, but it's not hard to see how these things crossover.

What are you doing to become more of who you should be?  How are your kids watching God change you from the inside out?  The ride can be crazy, scary and scattered but the outcome is for your good and His glory.

See what others are reading at Ladydusk     . 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Weds. with Words: A Child's Work by Paley

Last week I was at the park and a friend expressed her concerns about her 5 yo son's imaginative play. As I listened to her I was reminded of Vivian Paley's work.  Her books are rich and remind you of the wonder of childhood - she captures it so well.

Her most recent book, A Child's Work: the Importance of Fantasy Play is wonderful.  She passionately defends waiting to start reading education and allowing kids to just enjoy story as 5 year olds. She honors the children as storytellers and doesn't make them tell "logical" stories but allows them to switch characters and explore emotions and ideas through their play.  

Here she is quoting another teacher who teaches a mixed 5 and 6 year old class:
"Whenever I have to concentrate on reading with the sixes," she writes, "the highly imaginative curriculum devised by the fives suffers through lack of time.  Good play and the sort of talk that follows take time and deep thought.  There are no shortcuts.  The early practicing of reading is not a good trade off, in my opinion.  I'd prefer to keep the fives and their special social curriculum alone.
Soon after she explains the nature of this "special social curriculum"
Here the children have a clear view for the first time, of the pecking order in school society.  For these insights and others, the kindergarten year can be exceptionally productive period, the culmination of years of early social observations and fantasy play. By kindergarten, children have the added patience, experience, and vocabulary with which to carry the plot and the characters to places they have never been before, and to apply what they now know to their social relationships. 
Later she more clearly addresses one of the key benefits of fantasy play.
When play is curtailed, how are they to confront their fantasy villains?  The potential novelists in our midst are endlessly hampered in the name of readiness for first grade and, increasingly for kindergarten. 
She begins to tackle the big question and puts it this way:
By the nineties a "chicken and egg" dilemma became apparent to me.  Since the earlier we being academics, the more problems are revealed, were the problems there waiting to be discovered or does the premature introduction of lessons cause the problems? 
And here is the quote that broke my heart.
Expectations for incoming first graders are quite precise and the tension begins  even before the teacher and student meet.  The potential for surprise is largely gone.  We no longer wonder, "Who are you?" but instead decide quickly "What can we do to fix you?" 
All my friends who have taught testify to testing by the second week of school so that you can see where kids are and start "fixing" them. That's just the first half of the book.

As I write this my 6 and 4 year old are playing an intricate make believe version of Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark.  We read two chapters last night to the older boys. Now the middle two are re-enacting the grizzly bear scenes, learning to carry the pack, etc.  I quietly asked the 6 year old if he was going to tell the 4 yo about the beaver bite.   The 6 yo told me that it might make his brother sad so they wouldn't play that part.  That is compassion in action.

Paley's connection between the disappearance of imaginative play and the introduction of early reading might have more implications than she expects - on a neurological level.  A few years ago we listened to My Stroke of Insight on a long trip.  It follows the journey of a neuroscientist who has a stroke and loses the ability to read.  She discusses how she had to make a conscious decision to let go of one way of thinking as she was learning to read.  It was hard for her to choose to enter back into the logical thinking that reading was producing in her brain.

This next section is speculation on my part - a combining of these two thoughts.  Could it be that some of the emotional problems we are seeing in young children are because we are switching kids out of this playful mode too early?  It's not just a lack of time, through reading we are literally reorganizing their brains in a way that makes it difficult for them to use play to cope with their emotions and thoughts.

Many early readers don't seem to be able to play in this creative way as well because they have literally lost the ability to be spontaneous and less logical.  They tell stories logically - like adults - and can't make the illogical jumps that younger story tellers make.  They can't play multiple roles in one play session because that doesn't make logical sense - but watch a 4 yo play and they can be the baby, the mom and the dad very quickly.  Paley captures this fluidity of play so well in her work.  I look forward to the second half of the book.

See what others are reading a Ladydusk.