Archive for the ‘Adventures in Reading’ Category
It’s been just about three months since I began the 2012 Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I just thought I would give a little update on my progress, and the entire challenge community’s progress.
Currently, I have read 17 books toward my goal of 50. That puts me five books (or 11%) behind at this point. I’m not worried, because my system pretty much relies on a week or two week reading marathon where I get through six or seven books, and then I take a little bit of a break. Right now, I am just lining up what I plan to read next. Those 17 books include six Ku
rt Vonnegut books: Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Galalpagos, Breakfast of Champions, and Time Quake. However, the 17 books do not include any of the classics I promised myself I would read — I’m still working on that goal!
As far as the entire community goes, there are now 232, 055 participants with a total of 13,972,967 pages pledged. Each user has an average of 60 books as their goal, and 459 people have already completed their challenge. Clearly, I still have a long way to go. But it’s only June! I still have six months to knock out 33 books. I’m pretty confident it can be done. But I’ll update you again in three months.
In case you weren’t already aware of this fact, let me state: I love books! I love reading them (obviously), but I also love seeing all of the books I have completed sitting on my shelf. It feels like an accomplishment, logging all of those pages, sentences, and tales into my mental reading log. Perhaps, someday, I will even write my own book.
Since I can remember, I have been an avid reader. In 5th grade, I was reading at a 10th grade level. There were even times that my older sister and I had reading races (yes, we were cool) to see who could finish a book the fastest (I even won a few times!). As a child, there were rewards for reading: library contests that offered coupons and prizes to those children who finished a set amount of books over summer break, Book-It programs that gave away free personal pan pizza coupons for Pizza Hut, and accelerated reader programs in school that allowed students to read to earn points which would then earn them recognition and awards. But now, there aren’t tangible rewards given to me for reading. I don’t get free mini pizzas or the respect of my peers for having the most accelerated reader points (if only that was the way middle school really worked!). But
I keep reading.
While I can’t get into the local public pool for free because I read 15 books during the summer, there are a lot of reasons I continue reading. For one, I find it fun and relaxing. Stories make me think, they make me scared, happy, excited, or sad. I develop relationships with the characters in books. They jump off of the page, and allow me into their world, even if only for a short while. But those characters stay with me long after their stories are complete. There are other worlds that I am allowed to glimpse, and other realities far different from my own that I experience between fanciful or subdued covers.
The book lover (and the writer) in me is excited to to be writing for this blog. I hope I can continue giving everyone just a glimpse into my world that involves some cooking, some crafting, some volunteering, and a lot of reading! I plan to continue writing book reviews and recommendations (including fiction, non-fiction, and even some craft and cookbooks), green living tips, and general information about BookJingle. But with the addition of my own creative voice. And every now and then I might even share some of my favorite recipes, tips, and opinions (this is a blog, after all!).
I can’t believe we are in the last week of kindergarten already. Just four more days of homeschooling, and then the summer looms large and beautiful ahead of us! Kay is excited, but not as excited as I am; this being her first year of school, she doesn’t realize what a wonderful thing “summer break” really means. I am super-charged at the thought of letting bedtime go out the window, sleeping late in the mornings, having complete freedom to play outside, go to the park, and visit with friends. Oh, and did I mention having the baby’s naptime to do whatever I want to do? Even washing a couple loads of laundry sounds pretty fantastic after ten months of doing school work whenever the baby slept.
But amidst my anticipation, I am still putting together a plan for summer “lite” school. Kay has learned to read and add in kindergarten, and it surely would sour our summer fun to have her lose much or all of her hard-earned knowledge. I know we will probably tweak the plan as we go along, but in general, here is our summer outline, designed to help Kay retain her kindergarten skills, prepare for first grade, and still have plenty of time for summer relaxation.
Read aloud time (mom or dad reading) – 30 minutes minimum
Quiet reading to self – 20 minutes minimum
Summer journal (for writing and drawing about summer experiences) – 10-15 minutes
Bible devotion & prayer – 10 minutes
Twice a week:
Phonics worksheets – 10 minutes
Etiquette lessons (this is primarily for fun, hoping to result in improved table manners!) – 20 minutes
Math review (worksheets and addition flashcards) – 15 minutes
Computer phonics games
My daughter, Kay, is finishing up her kindergarten year. Well, since she is homeschooled, I suppose I should say that we are finishing up her kindergarten year. When our homeschool group announced that it would be conducting a cap and gown kindergarten graduation ceremony, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical. What is so special about passing from kindergarten to the first grade? Should we hold graduation ceremonies for passage from first grade to second, and second to third, and so on? I had seen photographs of friends’ children wearing full graduation regalia, cute little tassel on the cap and all. I confess, it all seemed over the top to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for celebrating our children and making note of their milestones. Yes, I felt a certain measure of relief at our family’s decision to homeschool Kay for kindergarten because it spared me from the moment I had dreaded since her birth: bringing her to school for the first time and leaving her there! These steps are noteworthy and don’t go unnoticed by me; however, the kindergarten graduation seemed to be making a big to-do over something quite small. It reminded me of the parents who spend thousands of dollars on elaborate, over the top birthday parties for their children. Some six year olds have birthday parties that cost more money than my wedding did.
Now, if you’re waiting for me to make a point, here it comes: I was wrong about the kindergarten graduation. At first, Kay was skeptical when I showed her the cap and gown, but seeing her six friends scampering about in identical attire helped to break the ice. As we adjusted her cap and smoothed out her white robe, the butterflies began to swirl in my stomach. About 250 people had congregated to view this graduation. I whispered some last-minute instructions to my daughter (“Stay in line where the teacher puts you. Don’t pull on your tassel. Don’t be scared!”), kissed her brow, and sent her off with the other graduates before heading into the loud, stifling auditorium. A few minutes later, the lights dimmed, the music began, and the little graduates made their way down the aisle and to the stage.
Kay’s name was called, and she crossed the stage to hug her homeschool group teacher and receive her diploma. Then she stood beside her classmates, grinning from ear to ear, holding her diploma like it was a hard-earned trophy. She looked tiny up there, a full head shorter than any other kindergartener in the class. At the same time, she looked enormous and amazingly grown-up. Gone is my tiny pink-cheeked baby girl. Gone is the toddler who ran pigeon-toed to jump into my arms. Gone is the preschooler proudly singing her ABC’s and only mixing up a few of the letters. And gone is the kindergarten girl who learned to read, add, and recite the months of the year at my kitchen table. A skinny first-grader with glasses and a charmingly shy smile stands in her place.
Now I understand the kindergarten graduation ceremony. It is not an indulgence, an over-the-top recognition for the kids. It’s for the parents.
As summer approaches, many parents are wondering, “What am I going to do with these kids all summer?” In my view, summer break is the perfect time to build a child’s appreciation for reading. For many kids, a love of reading doesn’t come naturally; it has to be nurtured and grown over time. For other parents, especially those with early elementary children, summer break causes concern over the child losing reading skills. A couple of months away from school can really chip away at the reading prowess of school-aged children. The solution: establish an at-home summer reading regime for your kids. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Balance screen time with reading. For kids who are not used to doing a lot of reading at home, this will seem difficult at first, but establish the ground rules at the beginning of summer and stick to your guns. For every thirty minutes spent reading, the child earns thirty minutes of TV, computer or video game time. This should be limited to reading material that is appropriate to or challenging for your child’s reading level; no baby books for elementary school kids. Young readers sometimes do better when they read aloud; they could read books to a younger sibling, read to you in the car, or read while you prepare dinner or fold laundry.
2. Buy your child a summertime journal for writing and drawing. Require your child to make daily or weekly entries. This is a good activity to do after breakfast, while sitting at the table. Play soft music and have everyone work on their journals together. Provide your child with an idea to get the creativity flowing, such as, “If I could be any animal, I would be…” or “A perfect day for me would go like this…”
3. Read aloud to your child every day. Now that it’s summertime, you have no excuse to avoid doing this! Even older children who are proficient readers will enjoy a family read-aloud time. Pick an exciting, classic book (see below for ideas) and read one chapter together every evening before bed. Reading aloud to kids encourages them to read independently and fosters a passion for reading. Your kids will love it and so will you.
4. Take advantage of free internet resources for promoting literacy. My family’s favorite is www.starfall.com, a free site that has fun phonics and reading games for early elementary children. Computer time doesn’t have to be merely for entertainment; if you choose wisely, your child can play and learn at the same time.
5. Allow your child to stay up past bedtime. Establish a set bedtime that is fairly close to the usual school year bedtime, but make an allowance for extra reading time. Provide a reading light and plenty of good books, and tell your child that he or she may read quietly in bed for as long as desired, if the child will agree to stay in bed and stay quiet. If you have a child that loves to read, you may have to modify this allowance so that he or she isn’t staying up all night and sleeping in until noon. But hey, it’s summertime. Sleeping in should be at least an occasional indulgence.
Best Family Read-Aloud Books:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (and other books in the series)
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and other books in the series)
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (and other books in the series)
*The Twits or *Matilda by Roald Dahl
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
*Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
*denotes humorous books (my mom once attempted to read The Twits aloud to my siblings and me; she laughed so hard that she was actually unable to read some passages and we had to read them to ourselves!)
What exactly makes the old children’s stories so timeless and appealing? If I asked my child to choose between a shiny paperback Disney edition of a classic fairy tale and a sedate, plain-covered, nearly picture-free edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, she would choose the Disney version hands-down. But I have discovered something new about the old editions of fairy tales, fables, nursery rhymes and poems. The quality of the storytelling is markedly different, and even my five year old can tell the difference!
Case in point: I am the inheritor of a number of pristine vintage primers published for Kansas schools in the 1920s. On the surface, the books are very unassuming and not appealing; they are covered in brown cloth with the titles such as The Winston Readers: The Primer: State of Kansas emblazoned across the front. This week, in desperation for reading material, I pulled out my stash of these books, which have been tucked beneath my bed for about a year. Kay wasn’t interested, but I started reading anyway. By the time we were two pages in, she was hooked. Even Elle, who at three years doesn’t usually pay much attention to oral reading, was drawn in. Together, we covered more than 35 pages in one sitting, reading classics such as “The Little Red Hen,” “The Gingerbread Boy,” and “Henny Penny,” which contained a few simple, four-color illustrations each. As we finished each story, Kay immediately begged, “Read another one!” We read until we had to stop for time’s sake, and that night before bed, we picked up the book and read another twenty pages. Kay pleaded for me to re-read several of the stories, and we discussed them repeatedly over the following days.
Compare this incident with our recent attempts to use Disney-published “readers” in our work with phonics. Of course, the readers are ill-suited for students of phonetic reading, with inappropriate word choices that require a lot of assistance from the teacher. Beyond this difficulty, we discovered that even though these books have a lot of surface appeal, we (and I do mean both parent and child) found the stories to be shallow and boring. After three days struggling to complete a 20-some page level 2 reader based on the Pixar movie Cars, we finally gave up. The language wasn’t insurmountable, but the dullness of the story certainly was.
I am inspired to put away our ultra-brilliant Disney paperbacks and dig out the Brothers Grimm. Obviously, the familiarity of Disney and the cartoony illustrations aren’t necessary to interest the children. In the original tellings of the stories, not only are the plots more complete with original morals intact, but also the language is simple and elegant. Reading them aloud is a pleasure, and I feel like I’m taking my children back to a safer, less complicated time.
In homeschooling circles, much discussion revolves around the idea of classical education. For anyone who’s ever wondered what that means, and whether it really makes sense, here is a brief description of the contemporary definition of a classical education.
The entire classical education movement is based on the ideas of author Dorothy Sayers, who criticized educational efforts as having lost the “tools of learning.” These tools are memorization, organization, and expression. Adherents to classical education typically assign these three tools to students based on grade level; this classical three-part pattern is known as the trivium. Children in grades 1-4, or the “grammar stage,” focus on memorization of facts. These are the years in which the building blocks for all future learning are laid down; young children are believed to be receptive to information and eager to memorize data. Grades 5-8 are called the “logic stage,” characterized by the maturing child’s interest in cause and effect. At this age, students are less interested in accumulating facts and begin to delve into the relationships between different areas of study; the capacity for abstract thought is the key to this stage. The high school years are known as the “rhetoric stage,” which is characterized by expression of thought. Students focus on learning to write and speak effectively, using the facts and logic learned previously to help them form original, persuasive thoughts and opinions and the ability to express them elegantly.
Another component of the classical education system is the division of subject matter into three repetitions of a four-year pattern. The pattern is world history divided into four parts: the ancients (5000 B.C. – A.D. 400), the medieval period through the early Renaissance (400 – 1600), the late Renaissance through early modern times (1600 – 1850), and modern times (1850 – present). During each of the three stages, grammar, logic and rhetoric, the students cover these four periods one at a time. The first grader studies the ancients in regards all subjects: history, literature, science (biology, classification, the human body – all subjects understood by the ancients), art, music, etc. Everything the student studies is connected to ancient history; therefore, all of the student’s work is logically organized and the basic concepts are reinforced in all the work produced. The second grader studies the medieval period through the early Renaissance. The third grader studies the late Renaissance through early modern times, and the fourth grader studies modern times. Then, beginning in the fifth grade, the student goes back to the beginning and studies the ancients again, only this time in greater depth, using more advanced texts and some original sources. After all four sections have been covered in the fifth through the eighth grades, the student begins the cycle one more time. The ninth grader studies the ancients again, this time in a fully mature manner, using original sources and materials. Likewise, the other three historical divisions are covered during the remaining high school years.
For all the proponents of classical education in the homeschooling world, there are certainly as many naysayers, including the driving forces behind American public education. Perhaps the most influential book on the subject is The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. For more information, visit www.welltrainedmind.com.
Have you ever seen the exact moment a chrysalis opened and butterfly emerged? How about the first time a baby robin jumped out of the nest, flapped its wings and flew? Have you ever held out your arms towards a baby taking his very first steps? These moments of transition are so fantastic, they are almost magical. One moment you are seeing one thing, and the very next moment, it has changed forever. When you think about it, life is filled with these moments, so much so that we often don’t see them. Particularly when it comes to children, they are transforming on a continual basis; because we miss those tiny transformations, we stand back and marvel at their comprehensive growth. A parent looks at a gangly beansprout of a teenage son and wonders what happened to the baby boy he once was. This new creature bears little resemblance to how he began in life, but this metamorphosis is really a compilation of all these little, tiny changes, mini-shifts in development that we so often miss. One day you are holding a squirming toddler and trying to wrestle socks onto her feet, and the next thing you know, you see your child coming out of her room fully dressed, socks and all, and you didn’t even have to lay out her clothes.
Learning to read is one of these processes, a series of tiny achievements that combine into the great achievement of literacy. I’m thinking about these things every day now because I am anticipating the magical moment with my daughter, Kay. She can read most words, nearly any word. Some words are part of her vocabulary and take little effort to read, but most of them take a concerted effort on her part to decipher. Reading is like a code that she is mastering, but at this point, it is still work. And I wonder, when you are learning to read, exactly how long does it take? How long before reading is second nature, when she will see a word and know it on sight? When I look at an apple, my brain instantly says, “apple,” and when I look at the printed word, “apple,” I have the same reaction time. I know the word “apple” and would be unlikely to mistake it for a similar word such as “apply” or “ape.” Right now, Kay is walking the line between two worlds, the world where reading is a code and requires knowledge, time and effort to decipher, and the world where reading is like walking and talking. I am fascinated by the process, and I wonder how she will make the jump. Will it seem to happen all at once, or will each step be as painstaking as the ones that have come before? One day I will look up, and she will be like that robin chick soaring across my yard. Will I see the moment when she leaps from the nest, or will I stand dumbfounded as I realize that I missed it?
There was a time, not long ago, when I made some foolish assumptions about children’s literature. Without giving it any thought, I assumed that all children’s books were pretty much created equal. On trips to the library for my kids, I walked up and down the aisles selecting books at random. I grabbed many books based solely on the cover illustrations, breaking a cardinal rule, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Doing this, I missed several important things about children’s books. Lesson one: the covers are designed by book publishing companies to sell books, and they are made to be attractive and look interesting regardless of whatever contents are inside. Lesson two: children’s books aren’t any different from adult literature, which I already know varies greatly in quality. Some books just are not worth reading, and this applies to all literature, including children’s books. Lesson three: childhood is precious and short, and there are many wonderful books for children that should not be missed. I wasted time reading some worthless books to my kids when I could have been showing them the best of the best.
I’ll give an example of a bad experience we had with a child’s book. This story makes me cringe even now, but it was instrumental in teaching me to be more careful about the books I read to my kids. Around Halloween one year, we were browsing the children’s section of the library, and I saw a beautifully illustrated copy of a children’s scary story book sitting out on display. Based on the title and cover art, it appeared to be interesting, age-appropriate and not too intense for my young children, so we sat down in a cozy corner of the library and started to read. Within a few pages, my mistake began to show itself. Although the book’s title indicated that it was a story about jack-o-lanterns, the actual story featured Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, complete with a cartoon drawing of the devil himself. The picture is vivid in my mind even now, because truthfully it frightened me; though it was a cartoon, it was not comical and featured disturbing details like glinting yellow eyes, a wicked smiling face, and cloven feet. There I sat, halfway through the reading of this book, feeling a little stunned and not sure how to proceed. Do I finish the book in order to show my kids that it’s only a story and not worth getting upset about, or do I shut the book and tell them, “Mommy picked up a bad book. Let’s find another one.” In the end, I made the wrong choice. I wanted to know how this version of the story ended, and some part of me believed that it would end on a positive note and we would all feel better. I was wrong. As I read the last sentence on the last page, I slammed the book shut and sat in shocked silence. The kids were suitably scared. Mommy messed up. Happy Halloween, kids.
I wish this was the only time I have made this kind of mistake, but sadly it’s not. I am making a vow to never choose my children’s books again with such cavalier carelessness. I am reading the highly acclaimed Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt, which contains an annotated list of recommended children’s books for all age levels, and I intend to make this list my new library handbook. Book review to follow soon!
Wouldn’t you know, there actually are some pretty reasonable arguments out there in favor of teaching Latin to students as young as the first grade. I’m not saying I’ve decided to jump right into teaching an ancient language to a kid who would have a hard time mastering pig Latin, but I will summarize the arguments in favor.
Different languages, it turns out, have more in common than you might think. All languages use the same basic grammatical structure and have common parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. All languages distinguish between person and number, tense, voice, and mood, and in the case of nouns and adjectives, they make distinctions of case, number, and sometimes gender. These are the elements of grammar, which are common across all languages, and some would argue that if you learn the fundamentals of grammar in one language, you are learning knowledge that applies to all languages. It is most effective to study grammar in a language other than your native one because a child already knows how to speak and write the language by the time he or she begins to learn grammar. It is very hard to see the grammar of your own language because you are so familiar with it.
Also, the study of grammar is easiest and most effective when done with a regular, grammatical language. Latin is an inflected language, meaning the nouns and adjectives change forms in relation to the appropriate grammatical case. English is not inflected and is highly irregular, as I have touched upon in earlier articles. On the other hand, Latin is very regular and very predictable. Because of this, it is actually much easier for an English-speaking person to understand grammar, English and otherwise, by learning Latin.
There are other arguments out there, but I think this pretty much sums it up. If you are going to teach English grammar to a first grade student, as most teachers would do, it might make sense to consider skipping it and teaching Latin grammar instead, or possibly doing a combination of both. As I mentioned last time, there are Latin curricula designed for students as young as first grade, and they are also designed for parents without a Latin background.
I haven’t made my decision yet! I am definitely in favor of teaching grammar, and I want my kids to be able to express themselves articulately. Maybe Latin is worth thinking about, if I’m not ready to jump right in.