Chickadee Thursday

Here’s a look at the books Chickadee is currently reading. Other than Winnie-the-Pooh, which I’m reading out loud with her as part of her latest literature study, she’s reading them all on her own. I love how varied her interests are!

Chickadee Thursday–Fifty-Four Months

Right now, Chickadee’s favorite book is Make Way for Ducklings. This morning I caught her “reading” the story to Dolly:



I especially love all of the quacking sound effects…she’s adorable!

The Demise of Literature

In thinking about the demise of the bookstore, I got to thinking about the books that are sold there. And I think that may be a big part of the problem–there is very little true literature being published anymore.

This has been especially obvious to be when shopping for books for my children to read. There are plenty of fluff choices–Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Junie B. Jones, etc. But these are all books that are not welcome in our house. Aside from the fact that they often feature characters that we don’t want our children to emulate, they’re just poorly written. Poor sentence structure, simplistic vocabulary–it’s the dumbing down of America in one neat little package. Children are no longer being encouraged to read books with rich storylines and complex sentence structure and vocabulary–now they’re just encouraged to read the latest gross-out story, or something that, while it may make them laugh, won’t make them think.

But how are children supposed to learn to be good writers themselves, if they don’t have good writers to model their work after? They say that one of the best way to encourage a child’s skill in writing is to give him something well-written to read. Doing copywork based on good literature is an excellent exercise for children in discovering how a good sentence is constructed, learning new words, learning how to write himself.

And how is a child supposed to be prepared to read adult classics, if he’s only been exposed to fluff as a child? I suppose the short answer is, fewer and fewer adults are reading the classics–they’re just reading the adult version of fluff. This, too, is painfully obvious in bookstores–it seems that anyone can get a book published today, regardless of ability or creativity.

We don’t just give children candy to eat–some parents don’t even give their children any. Rather, we focus on healthy, balanced nutrition. So why don’t we take the same approach to children’s minds? Instead of filling their brains up with the literary version of candy, we should be filling them with the protein and vegetables of the literary world. Perhaps if we raised our standards on what makes acceptable literature, books, (and by extension bookstores), would experience a renaissance, and more people would want to buy, and read, good stories.

Summer Reading

If you’re looking for a way to encourage children to read over the summer, and have fun while doing it, there are plenty of opportunities available!

The most obvious–check with your library. Aside from regular story-times, many libraries also offer a summer reading program. If children read a certain number of books, whether weekly, or during the summer in general, they can win fun prizes. Our library, for example, has weekly book logs, (four in total), for toddlers up through grade eight. Upon returning the log, the children receive a prize, (something simple, like a super-ball), as well as coupons for free food–meals at places like Chick-fil-A, or free custard at the local custard place. At the end of the summer, they can get tickets to see the Gateway Grizzlies play baseball, and there are also raffles for various gift certificates, (Toys R Us and Build-a-Bear, to name two), and even Cardinals tickets.

Bookstores also offer fun programs to encourage reading. Borders has the most simple program–any child under the age of 12 simply fills out a book log with a list of ten books read. In return, the child gets to choose one free book from a list. The book list has a good selection of classics, such as Ramona the Brave and one of my favorites, The Phantom Tollbooth, as well as more modern books, like Ballpark Mysteries: The Fenway Foul-Up, and a good range of reading levels, from beginning readers, like Danny and the Dinosaur, up through children’s novels, such as Ella Enchanted.

Barnes and Noble has a similar program, but theirs is a little more challenging. Children in grades one through six, (note the specific age range), only have to read eight books, but in addition to listing both the name and author of each, they also need to make a recommendation as to who would like the book and why. In return, they also get to choose a free book, but they are limited to the selection of books appropriate to their grade level. I found their selection to be a little less appealing, but they do have some classics such as Nancy Drew and James and the Giant Peach. They even offer a few titles in Spanish, which I think is a great idea!

I don’t know if any other national chains offer similar programs, and I’m also not sure if independent bookstores would offer something similar, but it’s certainly worth checking into. Reading for pleasure is a great ability to have, and I’m glad to see so many different ways to foster this skill!

In defense of Captain Underpants

I totally agree with this–we shouldn’t just settle for “at least they’re reading”–especially when we’re only likely to say it about our sons. The original article from the Wall Street Journal is also excellent.

Concordian Sisters of Perpetual Parturition: In defense of Captain Underpants.

Books Everywhere!

Turkey and Bunny have started going through books at an alarming rate. They are now reading fairly long books, and they are reading them quickly (especially Bunny). And for some reason, they both insist on having at least two books going at any given time. I think that would have confused me at their age, but they seem to be keeping their stories straight–Ramona hasn’t snuck into the great glass elevator with Charlie and Willie Wonka yet, and Rose Wilder isn’t touring the chocolate factory (at least not yet!).

This makes me grateful that we have a decent start on a home library. We have our wonderful curriculum (although I do try to keep those books separate from the rest), as well as a few shelves of books-for-pleasure. I have been putting that part of library together since, well, basically since I was Turkey’s age. There are the books that I am on my second, and possibly third, copies of–books I received for the first time when I was Turkey’s age (like The Little House series); there are books I’ve had since before I got married (like The Phantom Tollbooth); there are other books we purchased before having children (like Alice in Wonderland). And then there are all the books we have bought and received since having children, and especially since we started homeschooling.

So, we have a good selection of books right here at home, but Turkey and Bunny will have gone through all of them at least once before too long. I’d sing the praises of our public library and the library-loan system, but I’m currently afraid to set foot in the place–now I’m hearing bedbugs like books?!? Who knew?

Until I’m ready to brave the library again, (because I’m not taking any chances on bringing those home!) I’ll be happy for all of the Swagbucks I can earn. And I may have to look at putting a line item in our budget dedicated to extra books (curriculum has its own line item already). But before I do that, I’ll have to come up with the extra money for it!

Why We Homeschool

It may be easier to start with things that are *not* reasons for our decision to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool primarily for religious reasons. I am very grateful that I can share Scripture readings with my children every morning, that we have catechisis right in school, that we can talk about God when we discuss science and history and art and any other subjects where He is brought up. But this was not the top reason we chose to homeschool.

We do *not* homeschool to shelter our children. Yes, I will decide when to introduce some concepts, and I may filter certain things for them, but we will (and have) discuss tough subjects. I feel that our children need to know about things they will encounter out in the real world (such as evolution), so that they know how to respond. But I will make sure that I share that information in age-appropritate (and individual child-appropriate) ways.

We do *not* homeschool because I can’t let go. I had to send Moose off to school when he was barely three, which was very hard for me, and goes against my personal belief that barring special circumstances (autism, in this case), children that young belong at home. I did it anyway. And if I *had* to send Turkey, Bunny and Ladybug to the public school, I would, just as I send them off to Sunday School, VBS, Fall Bible School, and for some of my children, mornings at MOPS, even when they were only a few weeks old.

We do *not* homeschool because the public schools are intrinsically terrible. Actually, we think we’re pretty fortunate to live in the disctrict we’re in, because Moose has received so much help. I have met caring teachers, great adminstrtors, and a good support staff at our school. Just because the public school is not the best choice for Turkey and Bunny doesn’t mean that I think it’s a cesspool unable to meet students’ needs.

We *do* homeschool for several reasons. First of all, we *do* homeschool to give our children an individualized education. Yes, we follow a standard curriculum. But when it comes to special themed units, field trips, and spontaneous moments of study, I can tailor our studies to Turkey and Bunny’s particular interests. We’ve learned about space and heroes of the Revolutionary War. We’ve traveled around the world at Christmas, learning about countries that are interesting to us, or that represent our family heritage. If we want to learn about something, we do it.

We *do* homeschool to challenge our children. By having school at home, I can once again tailor their education to where they are at, academically. They don’t have to stay behind on a subject because that’s where the rest of the class is at. I don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator. We’ve stepped up Language Arts in a big way for that exact reason. When I see that they’re bored because they already know something we’re studying, I can just move on, and we can learn something new.

We *do* homeschool because Bunny is gifted. I don’t say this to brag; it’s simply the truth. And she is a large part of the reason we chose to homeschool. I can’t imagine how bored she would be in a regular first grade class (the grade she *should* be in–at home she gets to be in second grade, which is appropriate for her ability level), and how little she would be learning at this point. And since most gifted programs have been axed in the school district, I think it’s even more important that she can learn in an environment where she can truly flourish.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide our children with a classical education. I’m not saying I follow The Well Trained Mind to the letter, but that book *was* what pushed us over the edge for homeschooling (because that was something we were *never* going to do!). I do think it’s important for children to learn Latin at a young age (we get to start our Latin curriculum in a few short weeks!), and I think it’s also important to memorize at a young age, because children are such little sponges. As I don’t know of any public schools that offer classical education, and since the one Lutheran school around here that does is too far away, and way out of our price range, I’ll just have to provide that education at home.

We *do* homeschool because we want to provide a literature rich education. This is what I love most about Sonlight. Yes, it’s great to have the curriculum assembled for me, and I do love the instructor’s guide. But the most important thing about Sonlight, at least for our family, is that it provides such a rich foundation in literature. My children have read more books, both on their own, and as read-alouds in school, than I ever dreamed possible, and I know that aside from a few highly motivated individuals, their public school counterparts aren’t receiving the same introduction to literature and the pleasure of reading.

There are many reasons we homeschool, and many reasons that were not a factor in our decision. We may not look like the typical homeschooling family, but what *is* typical, anyway?

Reading is Fun!

Of course, I’ve known this truth for a very long time. But we’ve really turned a corner here with Turkey and Bunny, and it’s exciting to watch.

Turkey and Bunny are both great readers. Their reading level is *at least* several grades ahead, and their comprehension is good. They have no problem reading story books and readers, but chapter books took a little more convincing. Bunny finally realized a few months ago that the words were not too hard for her, and that just because there is less white space on the page, doesn’t make the act of reading that much more difficult. So, she’s been reading some chapter books here and there, but it’s been sporadic.

Turkey, on the other hand, has had a real mental block about chapter books. I don’t know if it’s a boy thing, or the way his brain processes information, but he was just certain that he could not do it. I’ve been encouraging him and prodding him to just pick up a book and try, but he’s been reluctant. But a few weeks ago, he finally decided to give it a try. It took some getting used to, but he did finally realize he *could* do it, and that reading to yourself is actually fun.

So, for the last two weeks, he and Bunny have been reading. A lot. Between them, in that amount of time, they’ve read at least 10 chapter books, and they show no sign of letting up. This is the point where I’m glad that we have a good home library, because I’m not sure that we have enough time to keep going back to the actual library every time they need a new book!

I’m so happy my children have learned this lesson, and now we can share the joy of reading together!

Can I Brag?

I’m mostly bragging on Turkey and Bunny, here, but if I’m to be honest, I’m also bragging on my teaching skills a bit. Mea culpa.

We’re almost done with first grade–(even though technically, based on age, Bunny should be finishing kindergarten)–just about six weeks left to go, so I thought I’d give Turkey and Bunny a reading assessment. Not comprehension or anything, just a flat-out, ability to read, assessment.

Turkey scored around a fourth grade level, and Bunny at sixth!

I knew they were way ahead of their grade level, because the stuff we’re reading in Language Arts isn’t challenging them anymore–I’ve been giving them extra stuff to read so they don’t get bored. But I didn’t know they’d be this far ahead!

This is huge for me. My number one concern almost two years ago when we started this journey was whether or not I’d be able to teach them to read. I had no idea how that process worked. I’ve never even helped a child read better, much less teach one from the ground up. And here I had two students to teach! I knew that my ability to help them learn to read (and learn to love reading!) would determine whether or not we’d be homeschooling long term, or if it would be just  a one-time thing.

Well, I guess I succeeded (although, to be honest, the credit really goes to by two hard-working students, who just want to learn as much as they can)! And this confidence boost couldn’t have come at a better time, because we’re approaching my number two fear in teaching–learning how to carry numbers when adding. I don’t know if we’ll survive that one!

Mission Accomplished


My only real goal in homeschooling this first year was teaching Turkey and Bunny to read. Yes, there were lots of other things I was hoping they would learn, but first and foremost, I needed them to be able to read at the end of kindergarten. I even told Ryan that if I didn’t accomplish that one task, that I really thought we should send them to the public school next year. It’s such and important building block, and I thought that my success (or failure) at teaching such a basic skill would set the tone for future successes (or failures) in our homeschooling adventure.

Well, I’ve know for awhile that they had caught on OK–well enough that I considered my goal accomplished, and didn’t need to worry about whether or not to continue homeschooling next year.  But it struck me the other day–they’re *really* reading. Not just three letter, consonant-vowel-consonant words, but longer, harder words. Sure, they still stumble, and make mistakes, and need my help, but they have way surpassed what my expectations for learning to read were.