Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Developing Reading Comprehension

I think Language Arts is a complicated subject to teach children. It focuses on the skills of reading, writing, speaking,  and listening.  This translates to a long list of skills and content to be taught.  I have been contemplating what reading skills to teach and how to them a great deal since the beginning of this past summer.

When students are in kindergarten and first grade, the primary focus of reading instruction is on read alouds and phonics skills.  Beginning reading comprehension is instroduced.  In second grade and then third grade, children are able to read on their own and need to develop comprehension skills and strategies along with vocabulary.  With each year, children must develop the skills that will help them understand what they read on a deeper level.

For phonics instruction, I start with Hooked on Phonics PreK to teach my children the alphabet.  It is one of the few curriculums I've found that really helps parents learn how to "teach" the alphabet.  Then, I start with How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  It uses the DISTAR method which has proven to work very well for both children who struggle with learning to read and for those who it comes easily.  I spoke with the chair of the education program at a local four year college recently and he mentioned DISTAR as being a very effective reading program.  I heartily agreed.  100 Easy Lessons is a wonderful book because it also introduces beginning reading comprehension and the letters are a large size that are easy for children's eyes to focus on.  From the beginning, I also start using the Explode the Code series and start with books A, B, and C.  It is a wonderful phonics/spelling/reading comprehension series that integrates all three skills.  When they finish 100 Easy Lessons, my children do complete the 1st and 2nd grade sets of Hooked on Phonics.  If I didn't, I wouldn't have purchased them.  They rely almost solely on rhyme to teach a child how to read.  For a child who doesn't get rhyme, this reading method would be very difficult--as it was for my oldest daughter.  After HOP, my children read two pages of Phonics Pathways a day.  Phonics Pathways gives children lots of practice breaking apart and sounding out longer words--which is where 100 Easy Lessons leaves off.  This combination of curriculums has worked very well for my children.

Reading comprehension and vocabulary has been on my mind since the beginning of this past summer when I took a Chapter Book Reading Course.  I began to realize that many homeschoolers use book studies for literature.  But, many of these studies contain only questions on the literal level or one level deeper.  Bloom's Taxonomy identifies that there are several levels of understanding that children must develop.  I enjoy doing literature/book studies with my daughters, but I have been pondering how to develop skills for deeper thinking and analysis in my children.

For the past three years, I've been using Harcourt Trophies as my daughter's primary literature curriculum.  I supplement with Evan-Moor's Read and Understand Poetry.  For fourth grade, my daughter is using the two book studies I wrote this summer (for The Door in the Wall and The Secret Garden) along with the EM's Poetry and Harcourt Trophies fourth grade book.  The books studies I wrote follow Bloom's Taxonomy and will challenge her to think deeper about what she is reading.  But, she is struggling.  None of these specifically walk my daughter through to a deeper level of thinking.  So, how do I get her there?

I found a great resource that does all of the work for me.  Sometimes I need that.  I don't have time to develop all of the curriculum I want myself.  The curriculum I found is called Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program.  It is published by Prufrock Press.  I have books 1 and 2.  I am actually going to order Primary Book 1 and begin there with both my daughters.  I have been using Book 1 with the literature group I have been reading.  It has been interesting to see the responses of my daughter and the other children in the group.  We have walked through various passages and the questions in the book for each one.  The questions climb a ladder--to deeper thinking.  I have been extremely impressed with both the passages and questions.  But, I realize that my daughter needs to back up and start with the beginning of the series even though it is written for gifted Kindergarteners and First graders.  I did preview the primary book online.  It follows the same structure as Books 1 and 2.  I am so excited to integrate this series into our reading curriculum.  There are books for children grades K-9.  But, I would encourage you to not be concerned about using a book below your child's grade level.  The questions are very challenging and I noticed from using book 1 that these skills need to be developed bit by bit.

Before I move on, let me describe the books a little more.  Each book contains passages from various types of literature--fiction, poetry, non-fiction...  There is both a pre-test and post-test included in the book.  After each passage, there are a varying number of questions.  When you begin to use one of the books, you may want to explain the questions more thoroughly if your child doesn't understand them.  These questions are meant to be discussed.  I would not recommend handing your child this passage and then expect them to answer the question.  These books to help you scaffold your child's learning.  I always picture a painter's scaffolding in my head when I use that word.  The scaffolding is built along the outside of the building allowing the painter to climb up to a place he couldn't get to otherwise to do work.  So, it is with us.  We help our children up by modeling how to think and spurring on their thinking.  I have been using Book 1 with my literature group and I have been very pleased with our discussions.  The questions have given me the opportunity to explain and practice the skills of generalizing, categorizing, and paraphrasing among others.

Jacob's Ladder is a supplement.  It is not a primary literature program.  You can use it alongside book studies and literature courses to develop the reading comprehension skills children will need as they get older.  I am thankful that the books will cover so many years of my children's education.  This will provide continuity and allows skills to be built on top of one another.

If you have a gifted or very bright child, this series may be an especially good fit for you.  This series was written for gifted and talented students.  I think that homeschoolers often struggle to find resources that will challenge their children academically.  Prufrock Press has a lot of resources for gifted and talented students on their website.  They also specialize in resources for children with special learning needs.  I am excited to find Prufrock Press and the books they are publishing.  I think there is a big need for the books this company is publishing.

I am excited for the conversations and discussions that lie ahead of this year as my children and I dig into reading comprehension in a new way.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Book 1 of the Jacob's Ladder Comprehension Series from Prufrock Press for review.  I purchased the second book myself.

Friday, October 12, 2012

PE Curriculum

A few weeks ago, I realized that I needed to tackle PE and come up with a short-term and long-term plan for my kids (and me).  During the summer, they take swimming lessons and in the past during the school year, I've enrolled them in dance and gymnastics, but we didn't want to do that this year.  I had planned on signing my kids up for soccer this year, but I missed the deadlines.  So, I made plans with a friend and her 2 kids to get together for PE once a week.

Of course since I'm a planner, I felt like I needed to come up with a big, overarching plan.  I'm definitely a planner.  A friend at church had mentioned to me that she and her girls were running this fall for PE.  I think that idea stuck in my head. And that's where we started.

The first week, we ran around our house 4 times (one lap is about 75 yards), stretched, and started learning how to do jumping jacks.
Here's the routine:
     1) Reach up and then reach down to touch your toes.
     2) Hamstring stretch
     3) Calf stretch

Run, increase 1 lap every week or every other week  (I haven't figured out what our goal number of laps for this year will be yet.)

Walk a lap for cool down.

Jumping jacks.  We started by jumping in and out 5 times.   Then doing our arms 5 times.  Then we do 5 single jumping jacks. Then we do 2 in a row 3 times.  Then we do 5 jumping jacks together.

That's our daily workout.  I did calculate how far we run and each lap around our house is about 75 yards.  My kids have very little endurance, which I realize is my fault, so we're working on this.

But, I realized that I needed to get the big picture and put together a PE plan.  I'll be honest.  The Horizons PE book is great.  It's very thorough.  Yearly plans are premade and it covers all the physical skills your children need to learn. There's one book for K-2, one for grades 3-5, one for grades 6-8, and one for high school.  They're each about $35, but they're thorough.  I think they'd work well if you had at least one family (or more than 3 kids) to play the games with.  I haven't seen the older books though, so I'm not sure if the older books require enough kids for teams or if they are adaptable to small families and groups under 10 kids.

So, if you are trying to be frugal like me, here's the plan I've come up with and compiled in a PE notebook...

I made these tabs:
1)  Goals:  I wrote down my goals for my kids and for me.
2)  Daily Plan:  Stretching, run laps, jumping jacks and pretend jump rope
As my kids get older, I will add in pushups and crunches to our daily routine.
3) Colleciton of Warm-Up Games from this site:
4) What they need to learn:  I made a list of the skills they need to learn in grades K-3 and then used a few other websites
5) Benchmarks:  What is a good gauge for my kids
6) Yearly Plans:  Once a week I get together with a friend's family for PE.  My plan is to pick a basic skill, and a game or two for each week (along with our basic daily plan). 

Along the way of putting together my notebook, I found some great sites.  
Here are a few of them:

We've been using our simple plan for a month now and I can see my kids endurance and strength improving.  The endorphins from daily exercise are also helpful.  We do have a covered porch, so I know that there will be days that we work on jumping rope instead of running laps.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Controversial Topic: Vaccines

This Sunday's paper contained the Parade magazine as usual.  The cover article is this one: on vaccines.  I think this article is well written and not extreme.  

I have been concerned about the increase in the number of parents who are not vaccinating their children.  Honestly, this article expresses my concerns well.  I remember visiting a church a few years ago where I knew many of the parents were choosing to delay or not vaccinate their children.  I was quite anxious about my children being in the nursery.  One thing most people don't realize is that when they choose to delay or not vaccinate their children, they are not only putting their own children at risk, but also those who are unable to be vaccinated for health or age reasons.  

Our culture is so self-centered.  We are encouraged to think more of our own families than of the greater good.  We don't think about how our actions will affect others.  

I have a friend who is a pediatric ICU nurse.  We've had long discussions about the vaccines.  She explained to me about what she's seen in her job and that people don't realize the impact of the diseases that we are warding off by vaccinating our children.  I've even heard people make light of whooping cough and hepatitis. 

Our generation has not had to experience these diseases in epidemic proportion.  So, I believe it is very difficult for us to accept the reality of how an epidemic would impact everyone.  But, outbreaks are increasing.  

Can you imagine having your child die of a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccination?

Many people are now putting off the hepatitis vaccine, because they believe it is not necessary.  I have known several people with hepatitis.  While it is not life threatening, it is life-altering.  There are many effects.  One is that it can affect one's ability to get pregnant.  Another person I knew struggled with fatigue and other symptoms that made it impossible for her to hold a full time job.  It also damages a person's liver and can lead to liver cancer.

Another vaccine that people are putting off or not getting is the chicken pox vaccine.  It is seen as not essential.  But, there is an additional affect of not getting the vaccine besides chicken pox.  Many people who got the chicken pox as children are now getting shingles as adults.  It is the same virus that causes shingles.  I have one friend who's had shingles 3 times.  She has explained to me how painful it is and that she made sure her children got the chicken pox vaccine.  Most parents think that if their children get the chicken pox then it is done.  But, unfortunately, it isn't.  

I know many parents believe that vaccines have damaged their children.  I do not know how to respond to what they believe in their hearts to be true.  I do know, though, that the link between vaccines and autism has been consistently disproven and debunked by research.  There are other potential causes that researchers are investigating.  This article lists a few of them:  Our culture is so cynical and distrustful.  We are prone to believing conspiracy theories, like the ones that have been perpetrated about autism and vaccines.  We need to be careful about such theories--they affect our well being and that of others.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Teaching with the Scripture

While I was expecting our oldest daughter, we attended a small church in Georgia for a few months where I was the oldest person in the congregation (even older than the pastor and his wife!).  It was an interesting few months for us.  We learned a lot.  We were humbled, too.  We went to the church thinking that we needed one thing--contemporary worship and found that we needed quite another--we needed to be where God wanted us.  That isn't always going to be where we would first choose, though.   One of the things we noticed at that church was that because the church was missing mature Christians, there wasn't anyone walking alongside the very young Christians in the congregation.  There weren't any Bible studies going on and they didn't understand how the Bible applied to their lives.  They understood the sermons which were preached expositorily, but were struggling and didn't understand the basics of the Christian faith.
In raising our children in Christians homes, we have the opportunity to walk alongside our children--to help them understand how the Word applies to their life.  Recently, I received a copy of Parenting with Scripture by Kara Durbin for review.  I wanted to look at this book because I've been looking for a resource like this for a few years.  There's been a few that have come along that I've reviewed.  Each has had its own strengths and things that it was missing.  But, I think Parenting with Scripture has a lot what I've been looking for.

Let me explain.  I am a learned teacher.  My husband is a natural teacher.  He simply has that gift of knowing how to explain concepts and ideas.  I, on the other hand, need a tool to get me started.  A tool, like this book.  Parenting with Scripture is a book full of verses on various topics like beauty, apathy, discipline, hospitality, and others.  For each topic, there are several Bible verses, discussion questions, activity ideas, and parenting tip(s).  I liked each of the sections.  They are starting points.  The lists of Bible verse are more thorough than other books and lists I've read.  I really like that there are qualities that are both strengths we would desire to encourage and weaknesses that we would desire to help our children thwart.  There is one part of the pages that I would like to make a caveat for.  It is the parenting tips section.

I tried to find out on the web what perspective Ms. Durbin is writing from, but could only find scant details.  She has two children (I'm not sure how old they are) that she homeschools part-time.  I'm not sure what that means.  She has some experience in elementary ed.  But, parenting and classroom teaching are two different things.  The hard part is that I've become more and more aware that our perspective and experience shapes the advice we give.  So, with this book or any other that includes parenting advice, I would consider whether the author's situation is or has been similar to my own.  Then, if it is or has been different, I would take that into account and think harder about how or if the advice applies to my situation.  So, I would do with this book.  No parenting advice always applies for everyone--because our children are all different, think differently, and respond differently.

If you're looking for a book you could use as a devotional with children ages 6-11 years old, then this would be a great resource.  It is a great tool to use as a starting point for discussions.  I am thankful that as my children get older, he places great age-appropriate books in my lap to encourage and help me along the way.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishing for review.