Homeschool: Reading

I have been asked quite a lot over the last couple of years how I taught Ladybug to read. She’s quite a good reader and has typically been assessed at one to two grade levels higher than her age. While I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all way to teach reading (is that shocking coming from a homeschooler?), I thought I’d share a bit of my experiences with you.

First and foremost, I think you need to read to and with your kids. I mean from birth. I’ve always read to my kids – naptime, bedtime, quiet time…you name it. We read silly books; we read Bible stories; we read chapter books (like Magic Tree House); we read classic literature. And everything in between. We listen to books and stories on CD. We have developed a love of stories in our home. A love of reading has been a little more difficult. I’m not going to say that we’re there yet, either. But Ladybug is getting closer to it.

Back to reading skills, though. Ladybug went to preschool when she was three. She went in knowing her letters already. But her preschool used a phonics program that I really loved. It combined auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning so each child could (hopefully) find a way to connect. It’s called Zoo Phonics. Perhaps you’ve heard of it or even used it yourself. I liked it enough that I bought the CD of fonts to use in our homeschool.

The basic idea is that each letter is represented by an animal that starts with that letter (a – alligator, b – bear and so on) and is then shaped like the letter. The child is taught the sound and a motion to go with the animal.

Zoophonics A

For instance, the letter A is represented by an alligator who says the short a sound. The motion associated with the letter is A is holding your hands out, wrists together, to make the alligator’s snout and then opening/closing your hands as if it’s the alligator’s mouth.

If my child was going to have an apple for a snack, I might ask, “what letter does apple start with?”
Child: “Um…..”
Me: “Apple…a….a….a” while doing the hand motion for the alligator mouth.
Child: “Oh! A!”

You get the idea. It was great to be able to give various cues to my child to help her remember the letters and sounds whether we were reading or not.

Moving on from Zoo Phonics though, we struggled to find the right thing for Ladybug. We tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

I had heard stellar reviews from friends and read great things online. So I bought the book and we gave it a try. I think it’s a great approach to teaching reading for some kids. But for Ladybug, it wasn’t right. Sitting still with a book for 10-15 minutes, reading the sounds s l o w l y and then saying it fast while pointing to the sounds wasn’t interesting to her. Mostly the sitting still part (she may have been too young but I tend to think it was a personality thing). Many days she flat out refused to do it. After a couple of weeks of fighting, I decided we could find something more suited to her and put the book away. Again, I know lots of people who’ve used it successfully and, who knows, I may try it with Cookie when she’s older. But it didn’t suit Ladybug. And, as I have said before, that’s one of the things I love about homeschooling. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you can try something else. No harm. No foul.

We finally landed on the Bob Books.

It’s a terrific little series of phonics-based books that steps the child up one book at a time. Volume 1, Book 1 is simply called Mat. Aside from a couple of basic “sight” words likeĀ the andĀ on, the only letters used are M, A, T, and S. The drawings are cute little shape people (Mat is a square, Sam is a triangle, and so on) which my kids love. Once they are able to master the first book on their own, they move on to book 2. The sight words aren’t challenging like you’ll find in many of the “I Can Read” type books out there. Nothing about the Bob books are scary. Sunshine just started on volume 2 of the Bob books and is doing pretty well. But she thinks that Bob books are the only ones she can read. She completely lacks confidence in trying anything else. That’s another issue altogether, though.

I’m not quite ready to do a full review on our latest curriculum choice for reading/spelling/grammar. But all indications so far are that it’s going to improve Ladybug’s spelling (she can read but not write very well) and Sunshine’s reading ability and confidence. If you want to jump ahead of me, the curriculum is called Logic of English (Essentials) and so far we absolutely love it. Check it out on your own, if you like, and in a few weeks I will have my full review.

Our Homeschool Life: Bible

Bible is one subject that I have struggled with the last couple of years. That is really sad to say. I struggled not because I didn’t think it was important or wasn’t willing to make time for it. I struggled to find a curriculum that would be interesting for young kids but not just cutesy pictures of bunnies hopping into Noah’s Ark. I struggled to find something that wasn’t too advanced for young kids. All I have done in years past was a little devotional book for kids where we spent maybe five minutes reading the Bible verse, story (more of a “did you know” rather than a true Bible story), and saying a prayer. We didn’t even crack open a Bible.

Something had to change this year.

As coincidence would have it (ha!), right at the time I began to look for Bible curriculum, I saw on one of homeschool Facebook pages I read someone had posted the very question I had. I read through everyone’s comments and narrowed my choices down to three.

I ultimately decided on a new (as in still being written) program called Bible Road Trip. I chose it partly because the curriculum was free (though you do have to supplement with a few books and I purchased binders/tab dividers for notebooking). The main reasons were that it aligned perfectly with the classical model and we actually read through the entire Bible. It still amazes me to think that I’m going to read through the entire Bible with my kids.

The author of this curriculum, Danika Cooley, has outdone herself in researching, designing the curriculum, finding the right books and DVDs to go along with it, and creating notebooking pages.

Here’s the program in a nutshell.

On the Bible Road Trip, you will read through the Bible over the course of three years. Year One is all Old Testament – the Books of Law and History. Year Two is still all Old Testament – the Books of Poetry and Prophecy. Year Three is all New Testament. After year three, you start again with Year One but this time your child will be older and will be delving deeper into the Bible and increasing their understanding of the Bible year after year.

So Sunshine, who is a kindergartener this year, will have read through the Bible four times by the time finishes high school at age 18. That’s incredible! I’m considerably older than 18 and I honestly have not read through the entire Bible. I’m looking forward to this journey as well!

So what do you DO on the Bible Road Trip?

BRT Notebooking Page

Well because I have a kindergartener and lower grammar stage, I combine those two stages. I read stories from the recommended (for preschool/kindergarten) Bible story book but will also read the text from my Bible as suggested for the Lower Grammar stage students. We memorize the pre/k weekly Bible verse since it’s just one verse per week. The Lower Grammar stage looks to be 2-3 verses per week and I’m not sure Ladybug is up to that yet. But we’ll get there. Everything else is primarily from the Lower Grammar curriculum. Sunshine has those same notebooking pages in her binder and she just does what she’s able to do. Mostly she doodles on the sides because she doesn’t write much yet but if she sees Ladybug writing something, she wants to try. There are crafts to do, maps to look at, questions to discuss, and people to pray for. There are also recommended DVDs but I haven’t purchased them yet (and the wait list for them at the library is really long which I guess should be considered a good thing – just not for me).

At this point I should admit that we are in year one, week two of the curriculum. But we absolutely love the books, notebooks, and overall approach the author has taken. The girls actually like to do Bible and that makes me so very happy and proud.

Thank you so much Ms. Cooley!

Our Homeschool Life: Math

I thought I might talk a little bit about what we do in our homeschool.

Let me preface by saying that I’m not trying to dictate what you should do or imply that other curricula aren’t any good. These are just the things I have found that work for us.

Math is a favorite in my house for some reason. It was always my most hated and dreaded subject all through elementary, high school, and college. I vividly remember math in first grade. We were learning basic counting and addition. On a ruler. So the “teacher” (you’ll see why I use the quotes in a moment) would tell us to add 1 + 2 and we were supposed to add on our rulers. The only problem was that she didn’t explain quite how to add. So I would put my little index finger on the 1 and count “1, 2” starting on the 1. Which meant that my answer to 1+2 was 2. I never was told what I was doing wrong – just that my answer was wrong. With that as my foundation, I was convinced that math was hard and I couldn’t understand it.

Now Ladybug, on the other hand, just gets math and always has. She loves it. If she could choose just one subject to do in our school, it would be math. But she’s not a workbook sort of kid. She will not do workbook pages. Period. So I knew that I had to find a more interactive math program for us. I not only found one…I found three. Here’s what we use.

Classical Conversations. I love the skip counting songs. They’ve helped ME enormously and I can see the light beginning to glimmer in Ladybug’s eyes that this is actually multiplication (which she is desperate to start). When Ladybug started CC, Sunshine was two and a half. She picked up those skip counting songs right away and knows most of them my heart now that she’s in CC. Even Cookie is starting to sing along now, too! I think songs always help make learning fun. I have lots of things to say about CC, but I’ll save that for another post.

CC Math cards


Math-U-See.
I found MUS by pure happen chance. When I began homeschooling Ladybug at age four, we did lots of dot-to-dot for math and read stories. But as she was approaching five, I felt that I needed curriculum. So my mother-in-law and I headed to a homeschool vendor fair. We walked in, were overwhelmed, and pretty much decided on the first math program we saw that included manipulatives. We wrote it down so we could come back to it later and continued to walk around the exhibit hall. The MUS table really shouldn’t have caught my eye. The rep was on the phone (with a school district electing to use MUS for all their students, as I found out) and there was only one other homeschooler looking at what was on the table. But one of the videos was playing and the books and blocks were out. My MIL and I stopped to watch a bit of the video and look at the blocks. We were immediately taken with it. Other manipulatives we had seen were just the blocks of various sizes but, to us at least, no real way to tell how much each block was worth. The MUS blocks have the squares on them so you know exactly how much each block is worth. At that point I knew I had found my math curriculum. When it arrived at our house, Ladybug was so excited to have blocks to play with, she didn’t even realize she was doing math (that actually would have made them even more appealing to her). My kids also insist on watching the DVD lesson with me which helps all of us to understand the material. They like answering Mr. Demme’s questions and seeing if they’re faster than the kids on the video. We’re on our third year now and loving the hands-on approach to learning.

MathUSee


Life of Fred. I had never heard of this book series until a few months ago when a dear friend starting talking about it on Facebook. It sure sounded interesting. If she liked it, that was good enough for me. So I did a little research and decided to try it out. If you’re not familiar with this series, here’s the gist. Fred is a five year old math professor at a fictional university in Kansas. He lives in his office with his doll and has all kinds of adventures. Some ordinary, some crazy. But every adventure requires some sort of math skill. At the end of each chapter of his story, the student gets to “play” along and answer some math questions. Ladybug only ever wants Fred. We went through the first two books in one week. I couldn’t get her to stop! We’re now in the 4th book (Dogs). Here’s a sampling of what we’ve learned so fa: reading an analog clock, learning the different between whole numbers, natural numbers and integers, addition facts, subtraction facts, and some simple algebra (if x+x=18, what is x?). We’ve also learned about animals, crooks, art, astronomy, and alphabetizing among other things. It all fits together somehow. Apparently the author of the books was a math professor and his students were constantly asking when they would ever use these math concepts in real life. So he decided to show them. The Life of Fred series begins with basic elementary school math (addition, subtraction, etc) and continues up through high school (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) and college (calculus, statistics, linear algebra). Even though you may not be aware of it, you are using your math skills all the time. At least that’s what I’ve learned from Fred so far. That and Fred is not a good artist.

Life of Fred


We use all three every week. That may seem a little scattered or disorganized to you. But it’s working for us so far (in the interest of full disclosure I should say that we are in week 2 of this school year so things may change). We practice our CC songs during our review time at home in preparation for our classroom day. With Ladybug, we usually do Life of Fred one to two days per week and MUS two to three days per week. Sunshine only wants to do MUS right now so she does math two to four days per week depending on how quickly she’s caught onto the concept. If we need longer, we take it. If she gets it, she plows through the workbook pages and takes her test.

So that’s math at our little school.

One additional disclaimer. As someone who considers herself to be a classical homeschooler, I realize that most people don’t see Math-U-See and Life of Fred as fitting into the classical model. And to an extent, I believe they are correct. MUS and Fred are not focused solely on memorization in the grammar years. But memorization is a key component in both programs which continually review facts and concepts learned previously. And, as much as I love the classical model of schooling, I also believe that you need to use what works best for your student. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons that we choose to homeschool? My kids (at least my oldest) needs interactivity – more than songs – to drill that information into her head. If I can find different ways to tackle it – with songs, with blocks, with stories – why not?!