Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Thoughts on Homeschooling Young Children

In the week after young Jack's birth, I was doing the full time Daddy thing and had the opportunity to start the homeschooling year out with our two oldest (ages 5 and 6). Knowing that we had a baby due in early September, we hadn't really got going prior to this, and being tied up with baby things, we hadn't done a great deal of thinking about it either. So this represented a simultaneous launch of the new school year and planning session of what we're going to do differently from last year.

First off, here's the new schedule that we worked up:

Morning Read Alouds:

Religion - a short saint's life, story from the bible, or lesson from Faith & Life Book 1 (from Ignatius Press)

Written Work:

Math: Julie (5) is pretty good at math, while Eleanor (6) struggle a bit more, so they're effectively at the same point. Both spend 15-30min on a workbook page. After this week's experience I decided to ditch last year's Modern Curriculum Press workbooks and ordered the first book of Miquon Math from Key Curriculum Press. (Recommended by Opinionated Homeschooler, whose family knows a bit about math.)

Handwriting/Spelling/Grammar: The three are currently all rolled into one. Current format is each girl gets a sheet of lined paper. (We picked up some K and 1 size handwriting paper at a teachers' supply store.) I ask each girl for a topic and then write out a sentence to be copied. We discuss what makes the sentence a complete sentence, any any tricky spelling rules which the sentence illustrates. Then each one copies out her sentence carefully for handwriting practice, and illustrates it with a picture. Picture drawing goes on for a while, so this is a 30-60min block.

Reading Practice:
One or both girls take a turn at practicing reading while the other is still coloring and writing. (It's especially important to keep the elder away while the younger is reading, because otherwise miss first grade wants to butt in and do all the reading herself.)

Julia (K) is finishing Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Eleanor (1) is working through selected short stories and Beverly Cleary's The Mouse And The Motorcycle. (more on that in a minute)

Closing Read Alouds:
Selections from 2-3 different books so that each of History, Literature and Science are covered at least 3 times a week.

Last week we were covering the first couple chapters of E. H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World and stories from Tales From Near And Far for history.

We read from After The Dinosaurs (about pre-historic mammals -- it's a Golden Book from the early 90s, but I can't seem to find it online) for science.

And we read a few Grimms fairy tales and the first couple chapters of Stuart Little for literature.

One of the big issues I found myself bumping up against in both reading and real alouds is age. The two "in school" are 5 and 6.5, and we've got little miss 2.5 running around and wanting to be involved too. (She works on her alphabet coloring book during writing practice.) This gets tricky because while the eldest had hit an age where she really enjoys things like detailed science picture books and Gombrich's Little History, but the younger two are left pretty cold by these. Being energetic little girls, when the younger two are bored, crazy things tend to happen. And the eldest is still young enough that when crazy things happen, she wants to go join in. (Sending the younger two off to play doesn't work well either, as then the eldest wants to go going them.) So balancing the interests of all three girls without things exploding into chaos is very tricky -- and sometimes frustrating.

The other tricky thing about age is finding good stuff for Eleanor (age 6.5) to read. Over the last year her reading has become quite good -- probably something like a 4th grade level so far as I can tell from what she can read. However, her interests and experiences are still very much those of a six year old. So much of the things available to read at a level that stretches her simply aren't that interesting to her. After a couple of false starts, we're currently trying The Mouse And The Motorcycle, which has the benefit of being about an animal and a piece of machinery, two things generally dear to Eleanor's heart.

It does, however, underline for me that there's a limited virtue (other than bragging rights at gatherings with other parents) to a child that young reading far beyond his or her age level. By age eight or nine, there are a wide variety of books written for a general audience that will be interesting, but at age six there's a lot that just doesn't hold her attention (and that she wouldn't understand at all even if she did spent the time to read it) even if she could theoretically read it. So while we're trying to make sure that she keeps reading stuff that's at the outer edge of her abilities for practice, she's mostly reading much easier picture books which are more at her interest level. If you can't get your child to take off on reading level until a year or two later, it seems to me like it's nothing much to stress about. Sure, if you could somehow get your seven year old to read War and Peace you could annoy numerous other parents at social gatherings by talking endlessly about it, but the seven year old would get basically nothing from the experience.


Anonymous said...

On the reading level bit, I have the same problem, I think. My 6.5 year old reads very well, but long chapter books he just doesn't really get into them, I have to constantly remind him to read. But then I get fairy tale books (compilations or just single stories), sometimes even in the easy reader part of the library, or mythologies, or tall tales, and he'll sit and read and not want to be stopped. And the language in many of these books can be quite challenging, more than the loads of chapter books and such, even decent stuff like the boxcar children. So patience is what I need too, there's really no hurry. Plus, aside from good material, there's so much cr@p out there for higher reading levels that I wouldn't even let him read.

Thanks, and congrats on the new baby!


p.s. Where did you get your Little History? It mysteriously disappeared from our library... .

Mama Hobbit said...

For a bit of a challenge, you might want to try the Redwall series by Brian Jaques. I've found recommendations that put it at 5th grade level (ages 9-12, although I'm still enjoying them at 23 ^_~ ), but they're all about animals and quite amusing.

Anonymous said...

Are the "Mr." books still around? Those were my favorite fare to read on my own at age 6.

I agree that the best practice at such an early age is simply to help children learn to enjoy reading for the stories. As they get older and cleverer their curiousity will take care of the rest.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

You might try Ramona the Pest, also by Beverly Cleary. In that book Ramona is in kindergarten, and as I recall, Cleary does a good job of portraying how a child that age acts and feels. Ramona the Brave might be a good follow up since the main character is then in first grade, though the school environment might be a little alien.

Foxfier said...

Maybe Hank the Cowdog?

That's what my folks hit on when we had a similar problem.

CMinor said...

The Redwall books I've read had some pretty graphic violence in them--I wouldn't recommend them for a child that young, cute mouse monks notwithstanding.

Try a good collection of Robin Hood or King Arthur stories, or tales from Shakespeare (Charles Lamb and E. Nesbit wrote versions of the latter that tell the stories well without going into all the adult stuff.) Or: *The Narnia chronicles
*E.B. White's kids' books
*The Rescuers (not the Disney version) and other books by the same author
*D'Aulaire's mythologies
*Julius Lester's Bre'er Rabbit books (updates the language from the Joel Chandler Harris version so it's more readable for a kid)
*The Borrowers series
*Dover Press has good, inexpensive collections of folktales from around the world in thin paperbacks.
*The Betsy-Tacy series, especially the first four books (the later ones follow Betsy and Tacy through high school and into adulthood and may be of less interest to a six-year-old.)
*Anything by Marguerite Henry, especially if she likes horses.
*There has been a proliferation of historical series geared to elementary-age girls in recent years. Generally they kind of follow the American Girl format of taking you through the life and experiences of a girl living in a specific historical period. Some are fictionalized accounts of real historical figures. I'd recommend looking over a few as I'm sure quality varies. A well-researched series is also a good way to learn some history.
*This one's for you, Darwin--The Children's Homer by Padraig Colum

I think Miquon is a really nifty math series, but then, I'm a sucker for anything visual-spatial !

Anonymous said...

Hey, lighten up! :) They are only 5 & 6. One of the best things about homeschooling is allowing the kids to have a REAL childhood.

Glad you are using Grimms! I'm a firm believer that children's minds need fairy tales to assimilate all the scary stuff of growing up.

Oh, and enjoy them while they are young.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Recommendations at the Opinionated Blog.

I didn't mention these on my list, but the Magic School Bus series (the original ones that the tv show was based on, not the later lame ones based on the tv show), despite violating many of my rules for suitable books, have been very popular for my girls at the Kindergarten age. And it was amusing, when Ike blew in, to hear Offspring #2 tell me smugly, "Of course it won't be strong when it comes on land. It gets all its energy from warm water." Yeah, Mrs. Frizzle says so, so it must be true.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I forgot to mention, that there's nothing wrong with a kid reading books below grade level as long as they've got a good enough story to keep the kid interested. I think there's something to be said for a child being allowed to absorb large quantities of books that are just fun.

Amber said...

I've been thinking the same thing about the reading issue. I really would have been just fine holding off a bit and not struggling with it as much... poor first born children, they get the brunt of it sometimes, don't they. (So says a first-born)

Emma's at around the same reading level or thereabouts (I'm not entirely sure how to measure it, really) as Eleanor and we're running into the same issue. She loves to read the fairy tale/folk tale/myth books though (and not the picture ones, the chapter ones like D'Aulaire's and such), and there are some books she's enjoyed that your other readers have already mentioned. Another one she really liked was the Rats of Nimh and the sequel (written by the author's daughter).

I used to worry about how much she was reading at her reading level, and now I don't so much. She still likes to read picture books and things below her level, and sometimes she doesn't read much at all. I figure there's time for this all to come together and I'm not going to get too concerned. And I am definitely not going to be in such a rush to get my younger kids reading!

Oh, and we just listened to A Little History in the car recently and enjoyed it. I did find myself pausing it and editorializing a fair amount at times though - especially in his treatment of the Industrial Revolution. (Although he does amend some of what he said in is last chapter - but I think that was perhaps somewhat lost on my daughter)

Foxfier said...

Ooh, Dealing with Dragons and the follow ons are a good fairy tale style series.

Ian smith said...

What experience do you have with home-schooling? Is this a senior high-school project? I was home-schooled and I know many, many people who were also. I home-school my children and feel the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

white hat

Rick Lugari said...

Heh, The Mouse and the Motorcycle was the first "real" book I read when I was a kid. Don't remember much about it but it's nice to see it's still in circulation. I recall enjoying it.qovbmyrv

Rebekka said...

I think I read the first of the Little House on the Prairie books when I was about 7, and I really liked them. My little sisters got coopted into lots of pioneering in the backyard, too, but they didn't seem to mind.

Darwin said...

A couple quick responses:

On not taking things too seriously: Though it may sound like a lot in the post, the whole "school day" runs 2-3 hours tops right now, so it's not like we're trying to put the kids through a schooling gulag at this age.

On reading stuff "below grade level" as well: Most of the time Eleanor does just read around on whatever she's interested in, which ranges from dinosaur books to Winnie the Pooh to my old Calvin And Hobbes treasuries. I'm not really worried at the amount of her reading, and I'd thought about not doing "reading" at all as a subject with her right now, but I'd like to see if we can push through and get her to where reading chapter books seems like an achievable thing for her, since that will open up so much additional stuff for her to read.

On suggestions: Thanks for all the book mentions, which we'll definitely keep an eye out for. Right now, for whatever reason, Eleanor doesn't have much interest in stories that are about ordinary 8-10 year old girls -- which is part of what is making the choice a little more difficult. And while she's always eager to listen to mythology, she doesn't seem to be interested in reading it on her own. Animals (either talking or pre-historic) seem to be the number one preference with consideration also given to machinery and adventure. Though someone mentioned some of the classic "horse novels" about little girls and horses, and it occurs to me that this might be wildly popular with our girls since she has a warm spot in her heart for all farm animals. We'll have to give that a try.

Darwin said...

Ian Smith,

The fact that your comment is on the subject matter of the post but not apropos combined with the viral marketing link in your signature causes me to worry that you are "not a real person" or at least are mostly trying to built up links to a marketing network rather than contribute to conversation.

I hate to be a hard ass, but if you continue to comment with a marketing link in your signature, I'll have to delete your comments.

Rick Lugari said...

...she has a warm spot in her heart for all farm animals.

Well then, get her a copy of Animal Farm. She'd probably appreciate the Pink Floyd album Animals too.

CMinor said...

Rick, you stinker!

I thought about it after commenting and came up with a few more--somebody suggested the Little House books, which is a very good idea--not difficult reads, either. Also, if pioneer life is of interest, Caddie Woodlawn and the sequel, Magical Melons (I think it's currently being published a Caddie Woodlawn's Family or some such.) Jean Fritz's books are also good, as are Lois Lenski's (though many of Lenski's are, sadly, out of print.)

Our library has a series of funny "mysteries" featuring duck sleuth Miss Mallard--I think the reading level was comparable to, say, the Captain Underpants books that are the current fad.

But if she likes animals, definitely check out Marguerite Henry. Her books, written in the '50's and 60's, are mostly still in print. They're better than your average "kid and horse" novel. Many have historical themes--famous racehorses, the life of "Brighty," the famous Grand Canyon burro, and of course the Assateague wild ponies. And the illustrations are beautiful.

Dorian Speed said...

Magic School, scratch that. Magic Tree House books are all the rage here. I can't keep up with all of them because Christopher reads them so quickly, but the ones I've read seem good - the children travel through different historical eras and solve riddles.

I keep trying to get him to read Encyclopedia Brown, as he loves mysteries, but he is too cool for things that Mommy helpfully suggests.

It's hard when they are reading beyond their maturity level.

I appreciated this post with a "daily schedule" of sorts, as that is something I've been wondering about.

Anonymous said...

re: Interest in animals: my (still little) kids love well-photographed adult non-fiction. Got a nice title on carnivorous plants the other month - it showed up in the new books at the library right after our 6 y.o. had started talking about them. Mostly she just looked through the photos, but I did read a few of the captions and explanations to her.

--> Your animal lover might enjoy that kind of reading -- there's no pressure to read all of the text, she can just pore through the photos and read the bits that catch her interest. Which is not such a bad activity for her to be doing while you are reading a "baby" book to the little ones -- she can sit and look at her adult book, but still tune in for the interesting bits of the little kids' book.

Maybe this is what you are already doing, though.

mrsdarwin said...


That's a great tip. I think we'll try it when our library reopens. (It's closed for renovation all this month, leaving us stranded. Not like we don't have any books around here, though...)

Sally said...

I too was a precocious reader who also didn't really like stories about little girls my age; I did love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books because of all the fascinating descriptions of how they lived in pioneer times.

I loved the "Freddy" books by Walter R. Brooks, about Freddy the pig and his barnyard friends. I still like those, in fact.

E.B. White was a hit with my own daughter - The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, and Charlotte's Web.

I also loved Arthur Scott Bailey's animal stories; though my library doesn't seem to have them these days. I wasn't as fond of Thornton Burgess for some reason, but I did read all of those as well.

And of course there's Beatrix Potter; while they are short picture books the language in them is quite challenging. The added plus is that my younger kids like to hear them read aloud and enjoy the pictures.

I agree that it is a lot easier when kids are reading right at their grade level. My 6 year old is right smack average and there is a ton of stuff for her to read; whereas my hyperlexic firstborn would finish 3 or 4 "Magic Treehouse" books in less than an hour and be complaining she had nothing more to read!

Christy P. said...

I'm going to echo the Little House books as great for young readers.
I remember spending a lot of time as a kid reading magazines after I worked through most of the books at the school library. At 8 or so I liked Boy's Life (although I am not a boy) from the stacks at the public library. I still credit Reader's Digest with some of the trivia in my head. A lot of the articles (economy, taxes etc) didn't mean much to me at age 8 or 9, but there was a lot of human interest in there and relatively G-rated humor.