Homepreschool and Beyond

*Relationship *Routine *Readiness *Reading Aloud

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  • A Balanced Approach:

    Homepreschool and Beyond will give parents the knowledge they need to find “balance” for their family. Find out what young children need to know—and how to teach it. Gain the confidence you need to relax and enjoy those precious preschool years—and beyond.

    “Susan Lemons gives you the blueprint…”

    • 26 Chapters
    • Covers all areas of development
    • Covers all areas of curriculum
    • For a ages 2-8
    • Developmentally appropriate
    • Literature based
    • Spiritual and character building emphasis

Archive for the ‘Early Academics’ Category

The Basics Of Homepreschool: Starting Early? Curriculum, Methods and More

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on September 3, 2014


How to Start Children Early—Curriculum, Methods, etc:

First of all, I have to make it clear that starting homepreschool–a deliberate, set-aside time to help our preschoolers learn–does not mean it is time to start formal academics. Study after study have shown that the current push-down in curriculum just doesn’t work. No study has shown any benefit at all to learning to read at age five or younger, versus learning to read at age 6, 7, or older—and in fact, studies have shown that children who learn to read later not only learn to read more quickly and easily than other children do, but they do better academically throughout their entire lives. This is because they spent their early years learning and doing real things instead of concentrating solely on formal academics.

Preschoolers should spend lots of time being read to, playing with science, taking nature walks, doing art, listening to music, singing, and playing, playing, playing! All these activities boost thinking skills, creativity, and vocabulary, and THAT benefits them throughout their whole lives. (This is true, meaningful learning for preschoolers. See the tab, “Goals of Homepreschool” and “Goals for the Balanced Mom” for more.)

Preschoolers don’t need “curriculum” as we’ve come to think of it, either. For preschoolers, life itself is the curriculum. Preschoolers can learn about science—plants, animals, weather; social studies—communities and community helpers; art; music; pre-reading skills; social skills; sport/physical skills; speech/language skills and pre-math skills—all through having parents who talk to them, read aloud to them, play with them, and provide real life experiences for them. (Don’t make the mistake of concentrating only on formal academics and “readiness” skills, when there is so much more that preschoolers can and should learn! See my tab on “Readiness” and “The Truth: Early Academics” for more, including links to research on the subject.)

How to Get Started

The best way to start homepreschooling is not by running out and buying workbooks for your preschooler, as I stated above. Workbooks are not developmentally appropriate for most preschoolers. Instead, start by establishing a simple daily routine for that includes a story time, art, music, and so on. If you want to, you can decide ahead of time what you’d like to read to your children about—choose themes or units, and then run to the library and find all the picture books you can about the subject. Then, simply read, read, read. If and when you can, throw in activities that go along with what you are learning about. For instance, when you do a farm unit, visit the grocery store and talk about how and where things grow; buy some whipping cream and shake it up to make butter. When you learn about zoo animals, visit a zoo. When you learn about community helpers, visit the police station and the airport, and so on. There are many “homepreschool” co-ops and homeschool support groups that offer these types of activities or “field trips”. (See my archives on unit studies for more.)

Methods: The Importance of Reading Aloud, Conversation, and Playing with Our Children

Reading aloud is the single most important thing parents can do to help their children learn, no matter their age. When you read to your child, you are teaching more than just the content of the book. You are teaching them about language, letters and print—that letters make sounds, and sounds make letters; you are also teaching them that we read from top to bottom and left to right. You are teaching them about grammar, vocabulary, and rhyme. You are growing their attention span, speech skills and more. {For more, see my tab, “Reading Aloud” and the archives on reading aloud and book lists.}

Conversation is vitally important to learning. Conversations always include the skills of listening, and then responding, which is different from just “talking at” our children. We can use conversations to build relationships with our children, to teach our children, and to facilitate their learning

Playing With Our Children:

It is important to watch our children’s play AND play with them. By watching their play, we can detect new behavior problems and nip them in the bud; we can discern their emotional state, and help them where needed; we can take advantage of teachable moments, and we can learn about their health (observing children’s play/behavior allows us to catch illnesses early.) Best of all, playing with our children builds close relationships and is tons of fun! {See my article, “Why Preschoolers Need to Play” for more, including links to research about the importance of play.}

Next time: Important Skills to Develop, Fun and Games!

© 2010, 2011, 2014 Susan Lemons all rights reserved. Portions of this post are taken from or similar to passages in Homepreschool and Beyond, used by permission of the author. Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Challenge to Parents, Curriculum, Early Academics, Getting Started, Homepreschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschool/homepreschool, Kindergarten Readiness, Readiness, Reading Aloud, Routines | Leave a Comment »

Adult Peer Pressure and the Homeschooling Parent

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 6, 2014


Have you ever considered how much peer pressure homeschooling parents have to endure? First there is the objections of friends and families when we decide to homeschool/homepreschool our kids. Then there is the unrelenting comparisons and academic competition (a lot of it, developmentally inappropriate, due to the curriculum “push down” that has been happening over the last twenty or thirty years of so.)

Is your homeschool (OR homepreschool) being held hostage by the expectations of others? Sometimes it sure feels that way. This is the question Heidi St. John tackles in this wonderful article I just discovered. I really needed this article today. I sometimes feel I’m “held hostage” to the expectations of the next few years…we are starting junior high again next fall. Lots more writing and heavy “academics” are expected. What about you? One thing this article says is that we should be free NOT to do preschool. Hmm. I always enjoyed the preschool years, and it was always fun to me. But how has it been for you?

Do you feel you have to “prove” yourself, and the value of homeschooling, to your extended family? Does that take away your joy? Does planning activity after activity wear you out? Do you feel pressured academically about preschool and Kindergarten? Please. Don’t. Go. There. You have so many years ahead of you. It will all be covered, in time.

Do you have young children, and yet are already worried about “how in the world will I teach Algebra?” Don’t. Go. There. God will provide a way!! It’s OK to let your little ones be little, and enjoy them at the age they are at right now. It’s OK to let them spend the day playing. Please, DO. I would much rather see parents swing the pendulum towards “no preschool” than swing it towards an academic-type homepreschool: Worksheets, two or three years of “alphabet” type activities and so on are not what preschoolers need! Remember, they will pick up those preschool “facts” (A,B,C’s, numbers, colors, shapes, and so on) simply through good parenting, if you trust them to do so. And if they haven’t learned all their “preschool” facts before Kindergarten, then teach them to them in Kindergarten! Remember, as homeschoolers, we don’t have to make our preschoolers “ready” for Kindergarten. Instead, we can make our Kindergarten ready for them!

Remember not to overlook the forest for the trees. Remember WHY you are homeschooling/homepreschooling. I hope that it is for spiritual reasons.

What is really most important at this age? The 4R’s: Relationship, Routine, Readiness, and Reading aloud. Throw in lots of play, art, and music and you’ve got it covered. Really. Trust me on this!! If you need a refresher, please revisit my tabs (above), and explore the articles on “readiness” in the archives. You also might want to take a moment to read the “Goals for the Balanced Mom”. But for now, PLEASE take a moment to read this fantastic article (linked above). Think about it, and pray about it. Then ask God what priorities HE would ask of you for this year. What should your children be learning this year? How should you teach it (what methods should you use?) Ask for a bold vision, and then when it is given, don’t be afraid to obey God and follow his vision…no matter what that vision may be. It may have to do with academics. It may have nothing to do with academics. Most likely, it will have to do with building relationships with God and family, teaching morals and character, learning to love those basic Bible stories, being consistent and intentional, growing your patience, spending more time in the Word and in prayer as a family, and so on.
Hugs! ~~Susan

Posted in Challenge to Parents, Deciding to Homeschool or Hompreschool, Early Academics, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, Kindergarten Readiness, Parenting, Spiritual Matters, Uncategorized, Vision | Leave a Comment »

The Truth About Early Formal Academics (revisited, with lots of new research links)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on February 8, 2012


We’ve all heard these sayings about education: “the earlier the better.” “Let’s start our kids early, and give them an advantage.” “Early readers do better in school,” and so on. But are any of these widely held ideas true? Is there any proof to back up these sayings? The truth is, not one single study that has shown that early formal academics are beneficial to normal young children from loving homes. No study has shown any long-term benefit to early formal academics, and there is no proof that learning to read earlier is better than learning later. However, there is considerable proof that early academics can cause harm.

Consider this: Until the last 30-40 years or so, most children weren’t introduced to the alphabet in a formal lesson type of way until Kindergarten–and even then, often only the upper case letters! Nowadays, many children are taught the alphabet in preschool—or even before (as toddlers.) The results have not been encouraging. In fact, the more the public schools demand of young children, the worse America’s children do—academically and behaviorally. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Look at the evidence for yourself:

-More and more children are being diagnosed with learning disorders. Many developmental experts believe this is due to the recent “push down” in preschool/school curriculum, combined with a lack of time for play and other more traditional preschool-type activities.  On average, 1 in 6 children are diagnosed with some type of  developmental disability, a 15% increase between 1997-2008 (this is mostly due to attention deficit disorder.)

School/academic  preschool often presents unique problems for boys:  Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder  than girls are, probably because boys naturally have higher activity levels than girls do, and thus have a harder time sitting still (or listening, or being quiet, etc…). Additionally, in general, boys mature later than girls, and often are not ready for formal academics.

-Literacy and literary knowledge continues to decline. The web is abuzz with commentators questioning/lamenting: “Is reading dead?”  Even Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”

But there is hope…Most commentators  conclude that reading is not dead–it’s just changing. Less people are reading the great literary works, and more are reading in short snippets–tweets, texts, and blogs versus reading real literature. If that is true,  reading is in its death throes as far as I’m concerned. Thank-goodness homeschooolers are still keeping it alive! (For more, read the Literary Crisis  or read the shocking statistics about reading in the U.S.)

-Studies have shown that children whose preschool experience was child-initiated did better in elementary school. From Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success, by Rebecca A. Marcon, University of North Florida: “.….By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status” (emphasis added; read the entire article HERE.)

-Many parents/schools are “miseducating” young children. From “Academics, Literacy, and Young Children,” Childhood Education, Spring 2000, by Elizabeth M. Nel: Important points: “Miseducation…(It) puts a child at risk for psychological damage (Werner & Strother, 1987); what is worse, it is apparently for no good reason, since the benefits of early reading instruction are relatively insignificant. …Therefore, with respect to literacy, developmentally appropriate preschool academics do not involve formal reading instruction, but rather they promote print awareness (Kontos, 1986) by exposing young children to letters, words, and numbers in meaningful contexts (Lesiak, 1997).…Reading to children is one of the best ways to model literacy skills (Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995). Reading should not be limited to a set story-time, but rather should be shared with children throughout the day.”

-There is no advantage to learning to read early: From Rush Little Baby: How the Push for Infant Academics Might Actually be a Waste of Time-or Worse, by By Neil Swidey, October 28, 2007, The Boston Globe: (Watch the video, then scroll down for the article. It’s long, but worth the time; and it’s not only about infants.) Quote: “A classic study in the 1930s by noted researcher and Illinois educator Carleton Washburne compared the trajectories of children who had begun reading at several ages, up to 7. Washburne concluded that, in general, a child could best learn to read beginning around the age of 6. By middle school, he found no appreciable difference in reading levels between the kids who had started young versus the kids who had started later, except the earlier readers appeared to be less motivated and less excited about reading. …”Many efforts to teach a child to read before 4 or 5 years of age are biologically precipitate and potentially counterproductive for many children. ‘The danger in pushing reading too early, Wolf says, is that, for many children, we may be asking them to do something for which their brains are not ready. You run the risk of making a child feel like a failure before they’ve even begun,’ she says. And while the gains from early reading may fade away, the damage from being tagged a slow kid at a young age has the potential to be permanent.’” …..”Study after study shows the best thing parents can do for their children is give them a nurturing, rich, vibrant environment, reading to them often and exposing them to lots of language in organic ways. Reading books out loud is most effective when the parent uses the words on the page to help the child make connections to his or her own world.” …”As long as parents are exposing their children to a nurturing, vibrant environment, reading to them regularly, and speaking with them intelligently, they should feel free to put the flash cards away.”

. -Harm is the result when children enter an academic first-grade program too soon: This is from a surprising source–The Longevity Project,  a twenty year project at the University of Riverside: (My summary):  According to the study, these children had adolescent problems, problems later in life, and “an earlier DEATH!” Now THAT’S scary!! (NOTE: The study results regarding early learning are toward the end of the video, linked above.)

My conclusion: We should relax and enjoy the preschool years! Following your children’s lead when it comes to early academics is the wisest choice. Watch your children for signs of interest and natural learning, so that you neither push your children, nor hold them back. Remember, our goal should be to find “balance”….we do this by addressing the needs of the whole child (spirit, mind, and body) and by using an individualized, developmentally appropriate approach. This is more than just a “good idea”; it is a necessity, since every child is different and develops at his/her own, God-given time-table.

Finally: It’s important to know that most, if not all of the studies that are highly promoted as showing  the “benefits” to early formal education have been done on “at risk” or “disadvantaged” children, NOT children from average American homes. Furthermore, the studies showed that any “advantage” the children gained was short-lived, and disappeared altogether by the third grade. Furthermore, the studies ignored the negative effects of early formal education, such as those listed above (and more.) Still not convinced? Check out the links below, and the following books:

 Links About Readiness:

Best Homeschooling (ALL these articles are great!)

Preschooling at Home: My article, What Your Preschooler Really Needs (lots of good resources on this site.)

Is Five Too Soon to Start School? (from the U.K.)

Should Preschools be all work and no play? (This highlights a lot of the research I mention above in a practical way. Remember, as homeschoolers, we don’t have to get our children ready for Kindergarten; we can make our Kindergarten ready for them, instead.)

Paula’s Archives (another great collection of articles)

Books about Readiness/Early Learning:

Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think-and What We Can Do About It, Jane M. Healy, PH.D., Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1990.

Home Grown Kids, Raymond and Dorothy Moore*

Miseducation: Preschoolers At Risk, David Elkind*

Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Kathy Hirsh-Paskek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff

The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick*

(Remember, there is a whole chapter on the issue of readiness in Homepreschool and Beyond.)

 © 2010, 2012  Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Early Academics, Homepreschool, Homeschool Preschool, Kindergarten Readiness, preschool curriculum, Readiness | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Off to a Rough Start? Advice for Parents of Young Learners (pre-K-grade 3)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on October 2, 2011


   Note:  This is a classic re-post that orginally appeared on my Home School Enrichment blog several years back.  Thanks HSE, for giving permission for me to re-post it!

  
     Have you been thinking: “Here it is, only October, and I already feel like a failure as a homeschooling Mom?” I feel a little like that right now, too.

      It seems as though September was nothing but one interruption after another.  We had one child struggling with an ongoing illness, along with all the requisite doctor appointments; we had unwelcome guests in our house—two mice—which meant traps, then cleaning and sterilizing; we ALL got miserable colds, and finally, we finished off the month with our annual off-season vacation.

     Not enough school has been completed!  I already feel “behind”.  My plans have been set aside, and my vision for the first month of the school did NOT come true. 

     What should you do if your year has started like ours? First of all, and especially if you are new to homeschooling: Realize that “some days are like that.” Actually, some months are like that. I always tell new homeschoolers that the hardest part of homeschooling is not the academics—it’s life. It’s dealing with interruptions, illness, errands and laundry. This is a normal part of homeschooling that we all must learn to deal with.   

     Another important thing to remember is that there is nothing as hard to deal with as unrealized expectations.  They can be heartbreaking. Many homeschoolers, especially new ones, envision the “perfect homeschool”: Cheerful, obedient children who love to learn; a patient, totally organized Mom whose lessons plans are legendary and always completed. It’s hard when our dreams don’t match up with reality.
 
     So what should you do if your year is off to a rough start?  Here are some ideas:

-Pray and ask the Lord to renew your enthusiasm about homeschooling. Ask the Lord to give you HIS vision for your homeschool.

-Take an eternal perspective: Remember that this time at home with your children is just a “blink” compared to eternity. We want our children taught in the way that most benefits their eternity—and that is homeschooling. 

-Feel behind? Ask yourself, “Behind WHO?” Remember that the public schools expect too much of young children, and not enough of older children. The goal should be steady progress (slow and steady wins the race.) Preschoolers and Kindergarteners need time to build a foundation of basic knowledge about the world, and a wide vocabulary before they are introduced to formal academics.

-Re-examine your expectations. Are they appropriate? Often new homeschoolers spend TOO much time daily, and expect TOO much from their children—especially YOUNG children. 

-Re-examine the readiness issue: Has what you’ve been expecting of your young learner been inappropriate?  Is your child resistant? If so, perhaps you need to back off a little.  

-Re-examine your routine. Is it appropriate? Does it include plenty of breaks, and time for younger students to play? Do your children have regular bedtimes, and a set time to wake up? Do you? Do you get up and dressed BEFORE your children do?

-Consider shortening your lessons, doing more work orally, and generally “lightening” your load. Charlotte Mason says that short lessons actually build children’s attention spans.  After all, it is better to have your child fully engaged and paying attention for a short lesson, than having him squirmy and inattentive for a long lesson. We want our children to look forward to school; we want to keep them begging for more.

 -Consider changing to a year round schedule. A year round schedule allows you to take time off when you need to. You can take time off for family emergencies, illnesses or cleaning days without worry. We take off extra time around the holidays in exchange for schooling part of the summer (when it’s too hot to do much in central California, anyway.) During the early years of schooling (K-3), we follow a four day week, and only three days include an academic emphasis; one day is used for park days, field trips, library time, art, messy projects, nature walks, games, life skills, catch up work, etc.

-Make homeschooling your priority. Schedule everything you can around it. Don’t let the phone or appointments take you away from school time, unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

-If you haven’t already, take the time to write down the reasons you decided to homeschool in the first place–as well as some basic goals. That way, when you have a tough day (or week), you can re-read them and remind yourself that those reasons haven’t changed.  You’ll probably see that your important goals are being met, as well. (These are usually spiritual or behavioral in nature.)

-Plan time for the fun stuff: I know this doesn’t make sense if you feel “behind”; our tendency is to double the school work instead.  Resist that temptation or you and your child will quickly become frustrated and burnt out.  Instead, plan the time you need to enjoy art and music with your children.  Art and music are more than just “extra” subjects; they teach skills vital for young children.  Furthermore, they lighten the mood in your home, make learning fun, and give you and your children the opportunity to feel successful.

-Start over:  If you are new to homeschooling and feel as if September has been a bust, give yourself a chance to start over.  Count the days you have done as “practice”, or time to break into your school routine, and then start over.  That’s right, start over from right where you are, only adding the necessary adjustments. 

-Finally, remember that whenever God calls us to do something, He will give us the strengths and the abilities we need to complete it.  Don’t let a rough start make you reconsider your decision to homeschool…don’t give up.  Implement some of the changes I’ve suggested, and hang in there.  It does get easier.

Live the 4R’s!

    ~Susan

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Challenge to Parents, Curriculum, Early Academics, Education, Elementary School, Encouragement, Family Life, Getting Started, Homepreschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Readiness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Building Baby’s Brain

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 16, 2011


NOTE: I wrote this article for Home School Enrichment Magazine, and it appeared in issue #39, May/June 2009. They have graciously allowed me to reprint it on my blog.

 We’ve all seen them: products that promise to optimize your baby’s brain growth, increase the neural connections (synapses) in your baby’s brain, and give your baby a head start on learning. These claims are based on the fact that babies’ brains grow at a phenomenal rate, which, manufacturers claim, offers  a unique “window of opportunity” that parents can use to maximize their baby’s development. Some manufacturers imply that if you miss this special window  of opportunity, your baby’s intelligence will suffer. These claims are based on the premise that parents can somehow design or wire their baby’s brain, “building” a better baby. Better than they were before! Better, stronger, faster, and of course, smarter.

Many parents do believe that they can greatly influence their baby’s development. They believe that with the proper enrichment and stimulation, they can grow their baby into some sort of genius. Just follow the money and you’ll see the proof of these beliefs: parents spend more than 2 billion dollars on products promising such results every year. But do these products really work? To answer that question, we need to learn a little about brain development.

See How They Grow: Baby Brain Development

There is a lot about the human brain that scientists don’t know and can’t explain. Here are some things they do know: Babies are born with immature brains. While they contain almost the same amount of cells that adult brains do, the cells are not organized or connected properly (compared to an adult brain). During a baby’s first three years especially, his brain is busy building connections between cells. These connections are called neural connections, or synapses. By the time a child reaches three years old, his brain has made most of the necessary connections. In fact, your baby’s brain has made too many connections: the brain of a 3-year-old is twice as active as an adult’s brain. This is because his brain is less efficient than an adult’s brain. Over the next few years, the neural connections are refined: the connections that are used are strengthened, and those that are not needed are pruned away. But this pruning isn’t a bad thing. A child’s brain must prune connections in order to become more efficient. This is not the end of the story, though. The brain continues to grow and prune connections throughout life. Yes, you read that right: the truth is, the brain continues to grow and prune synapses as needed throughout life!  Since babies build these synapses based on experience, many parents assume that the more experiences they can provide for their babies, the more connections their babies’ brains will make, the bigger their brains will be, and the smarter their babies will become. This is not necessarily true. A bigger brain is not a guarantee of greater intelligence. Just look at nature. Many animals have bigger brains than humans do; human males have larger brains than females. Size does not correlate to intelligence. What makes the human brain more intelligent is its unique, God-given organization and refinements.

Since the human brain grows at such a phenomenal rate during its first three years, many “experts” urge parents not to miss the special window of opportunity to influence baby’s mental development during those years. They warn that once missed, the opportunity will be lost forever. They claim that certain skills are especially important to introduce early—primarily the development of second languages and learning music. In truth, the optimal “window of development” extends much longer than some “experts” suppose. From the book, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards:  “The window extends far beyond early childhood. Professor Huttenlocher writes, ‘Second-language teaching and musical training are likely to be more effective if started early, during the period of high plasticity, which includes the early school years (ages 5 to 10 years.)’  Thus, we needn’t rush music and language learning training into he crib.” [Emphasis added.]

There is great comfort in this—comfort for parents who have adopted an older child, for parents of developmentally delayed children, and for those of us who have older children.  We should never think that it is too late to learn music or a second language. It is never too late to enrich and develop your child’s mind and abilities—or even your own.

The Truth about Early Learning Systems

There is no evidence that videos, flash cards, or other infant “learning systems” will make your child smarter. But there is considerable evidence to show they are harmful. As David Elkind says in Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk, “When we instruct children in academic subjects, or in swimming, or gymnastics, or ballet, at too early an age, we miseducate them; we put them at risk for short term stress and long term personality damage for no useful purpose. There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm.” In Einstein Never Used Flashcards, the premise is put forth that the danger of too much early enrichment contributes to “neurological crowding.” This occurs when too much information is presented to children, competing with the neural connections that should be forming in the brain. This competition can potentially crowd out necessary connections and actually decrease the size and number of brain regions related to creativity and intelligence.

Babies need face-to-face interaction with responsive adults to learn. If you are truly concerned about helping your baby grow and develop his brain to its maximum capacity, you should spend time talking to and playing with your baby. Television takes away from a baby’s true learning time. In her article “Baby Einsteins: Not So Smart After All,” (TIME Magazine, August 6, 2007), Alice Park reports on a study from the University of Washington that showed that “With every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form. The article continues: “Three studies have shown that watching television, even if it includes educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development. ‘Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,’ says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. ‘They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.’”

Television and videos can actually delay language development instead of improving it. Additionally, some experts contend that television and videos actually shorten children’s attention spans, overstimulating their immature brains. Television trains children’s minds to expect high levels of stimulation—bright colors and quick changes. Real life is not always as interesting.

The AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics suggests that babies 2 and under shouldn’t watch any television and that it should be strictly limited even after this age. Television takes time away from play, exploration, and interaction with adults. This is where true learning takes place.

Finally, there’s context: Meaningful learning takes place in context. You can teach a baby to memorize the look and shape of words, and perhaps to recognize them, but without the appropriate life experiences and vocabulary to go with those reading skills, this “learning” is meaningless. They will not understand what they “read.” Research has proved over and over that there is no academic advantage to early reading.

What Parents Can Do to Enrich Baby’s Development

• Relationships first: developing a strong, emotional bond of love and trust is most important for you and your baby.

• During the early years, you are training your child’s habits and tastes. Television watching is a habit that is easy to acquire, but hard to break.

• Go ahead and expose your child to classical music. Sing to your children, too.  This may not make them grow synapses, but it will help set their tastes. It will set the stage for appreciation of music, and later, learning music.

• Instead of television, provide your little ones with interesting things to see, do, and explore. Put your baby on a blanket on the floor and place colorful toys around him. Let your toddler play with play dough or explore an indoor “sandbox” made from oatmeal or rice (for toddlers who won’t put it in their mouths!) Add plastic measuring cups and plastic-ware for more fun.

• Change your baby’s point of view. Switch your baby between the floor, a swing, a bouncer seat, a playpen, your arms, etc., and give him a new perspective on the world.

• Talk to your baby/preschooler all the time, about everything you are doing. Talk to your baby using “parentese”: that special, high-pitched voice and exaggerated facial expressions parents instinctively use when talking to babies. Involve your baby in “conversations”: when baby makes a sound, copy it, and then talk to baby. Be sure to pause and give baby time to respond to what you say. This teaches conversation skills.

• Remember that the “experts” who misinterpret brain research to mean that babies must be sufficiently “stimulated” or “taught” before age 3 do so to promote their products. They are using fear and guilt to compel parents to buy unnecessary merchandise.

• This isn’t to say that babies don’t benefit from enriching activities. It is the type and amount of stimulation that matters. Natural learning, as always, prevails as the best way to stimulate your baby’s development: things like gentle, consistent care, talking to babies, singing to babies, and reading to babies.

• Gentle sensory stimulation, if not overused, can be beneficial to babies. Place small babies on different types of textures: carpet, blanket, parachutes, and so on. Play baby games like “X Marks the Spot” or “So Big.”  Give your baby a gentle massage.

• If you want to spend some money on baby-learning products, remember that babies earn through relationship, interaction, play, and exploration. It would be better to invest in quality, old-fashioned toys and spend time playing with your baby than it would be to plop her down in front of a video.

Remember that there is no single window of opportunity that slams shut once babies reach a certain age. The brain continues to grow and prune synapses throughout life. You will not harm your baby by giving him a normal, loving babyhood minus the flash cards and videos. To the contrary—you will be giving your baby the best start possible.

© 2009 Homeschool Enrichment Magazine, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

You might also like: Curriculum for Babies?!

 What Babies Really Need: Creating a Stimulating Home Environment

Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers

Posted in Babies, Early Academics, Family Life, Mothering, Music, Parenting, Toys | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Curriculum Review: Peak With Books

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 11, 2011


      Peak With Books: An Early Childhood Resource for Balanced Literacy, in one sentence: Before Five in a Row on steroids!  According to Dr. Ruth Beechick, author of some of the best homeschooling books on the market:

     “I think this book is topnotch. Any parent who used these lesson plans for awhile would be getting a good education in using books with children and building upon them to expand vocabulary, experiences and thoughts. For people who want to do the “living books” thing that Susan Macaulay has popularized, here is the Kindergarten program all worked out for them.”

      From the back of the book: “Peak With Books shows how to use popular children’s literature to build reading, writing, and cognitive skills in an inquiry-based environment. Instead of using a “skill and drill” approach, the authors employ conversations, questions, and meaning-based activities to stimulate children’s curiosity, confidence and thirst for knowledge.”

Peak With Books, like Before Five in a Row, is:

*literature-based

*encourages multiple readings of each book

*includes discussion ideas and activities related to each book.

*Peak With Books does not include daily lesson plans. Like Before Five in a Row, you will have to decide how and when to use the activities.

*You should choose the activities that you think would be the most helpful for your child; don’t think you have to do them all.

Unlike Before Five in a Row:

Peak With Books is written primarily for classroom use. Even so, the activities are easily adapted for home use.

Peak With Books is adaptable to ages 4-7…it is for advanced preschoolers, Kindergarteners, and First graders, depending on their readiness/development (some activities will may not be appropriate for preschoolers.)

Peak With Books is a curriculum. It is not a distinctly Christian curriculum, however, and therefore it does not include Bible/character study ideas (I prefer more of a Biblical emphasis; however, from what I have read of the curriculum, you would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely offensive or inappropriate.)

*It is not a complete curriculum. Its purpose is to build literacy skills, thinking skills and vocabulary. You will need other resources to cover Bible/character traits, as well as phonics, handwriting, math, science, social studies (history), etc for Kindergarten and First grade.)

      Peak With Books (PWB) uses 42 picture books; many of which are classics.  Additionally, related books are listed  (“story time extensions.”) The front of the book includes a list intended to be used to turn PWB into a sort of unit study or thematic approach.  Personally, I don’t think it goes nearly far enough for that…no non-fiction books are suggested!  Additionally, the books listed under each “unit” aren’t well enough related to me, and many of the topics are weak, at best. (Some of the weak topics include:  Bear Hugs, Caps and Hats, Circle Stories, and Walking. It does include some good themes, such as “animal habitats”, but without non-fiction books, so much learning is left out.) Compare these themes to my suggested units HERE or my unit study archives (see categories on the left sidebar.)  

     Peak With Books includes story questions (good conversation starters), music (mostly singing; CD’s are suggested), drama ideas, 84 finger plays (Peak With Books calls them “finger rhymes”), and 82 poems.  It focuses on early writing skills, “reproductions and retellings”, as well as learning games and activities that are intended to help children learn those “preschool/Kindergarten facts” such as letter recognition, beginning writing, colors, etc. Thinking games and memory games and included as well.

Conclusion

     PWB is a good resource for those who want to learn how to pull elements out of literature (parts of the story, illustrations, questions, etc) and use them to teach their children literacy, vocabulary and thinking skills. It would also be a good starting point for families who want to use a literature approach, and need some “starter ideas.”  But to me, it seemed incomplete.  It felt like the authors had a good start on a wonderful unit study, but left it unfinished. They only needed to add only a few elements to turn each book into a full-fledged unit study. Since no non-fiction books were used at all, I don’t feel it could really be called a complete “thematic approach” or “unit study; it is not fully integrated. It does fulfill its purpose: Building literacy.  However, for as much time as you would spend doing the various activities, you could easily enjoy a full-fledged unit study and achieve a better and more complete result.  In my opinion, Five in a Row is a  better option. It is much more complete, especially when you add the Bible supplement. 

~Susan

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Book Reviews, Curiculum Reviews, Curriculum, Early Academics, Elementary School, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Methods, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Preschool at Home for Gifted Children

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 5, 2011


NOTE: I hate the word “average”, because all children are blessed and gifted in their own ways! I just can’t think of another word to replace it…

         My advice to parents of gifted children is basically the same as my advice for parents of “average” children. These are the things I recommend:

-Provide a rich, stimulating but calm home environment. Follow the general guidelines for homepreschooling, emphasizing the 4 R’s (see tabs); remember, routine is especially important for emotionally sensitive, easily over-stimulated children.

-Provide lots of opportunities for hands-on exploration, including nature walks, simple science experiments, “field trips”, etc to make learning “real” to preschoolers.

-Provide quality, traditional toys that encourage creative thinking (Dr. Drew’s BlocksCiti Blocks, Tegu magnetic blocksDuplos, pattern blocks and cards  etc.)  When they get older, switch to Legos , Magnetix and Geomags, etc. Timberdoodle and Hearthsong carry good selections of creative, educational toys and puzzles for children of all ages and abilities.

-Introduce your preschooler to the best in art and music (looking, listening and doing.)

-Keep the amount of “seat work” short and sweet, even for gifted children. Better yet, let it be child-initiated only until age 4-5, depending on the abilities of your children. Remember that writing skills often lag behind verbal skills, so be patient.

– If your child is truly advanced academically, consider trying learning games and Montessori-style (hands-on) learning experiences to replace seat-work, or at least to supplement it.

-Consider yourself a “facilitator” of your child’s learning. Provide your children with the materials they need to learn independently.  

-When you do start formally “teaching” your preschooler, remember that you don’t have to teach the things that s/he already knows, even if your child is several grade levels above his/her age level. BUT…. you may want to check and make sure s/he has fully mastered concepts (phonics, etc) before moving on.  Fill in any holes, and then let them move ahead.

-Be careful to find the balance between encouraging/facilitating advanced abilities and pushing, which often results in burnout.

-Even if your child is several grade levels ahead of his/her peers, remember that it doesn’t automatically follow that you should treat him/her like an older child in every way, or that you should get frustrated if s/he doesn’t want to keep advancing academically at the moment. He’s already ahead!! Relax and enjoy the journey; learning may come in spurts.

-Remember that some preschoolers have the tendency to temporarily SLOW DOWN/almost stop practicing other skills while new skills are emerging. They seem to concentrate on one major skill at a time. Just think of babies; many previously verbal babies will become less talkative while learning to walk. Once they master walking, the babbling picks up again to its previous level. Some preschoolers tend to be like this, too, concentrating on one skill at a time. The new skill seems to consume their every thought. Even so, be sure to contact your pediatrician immediately if your child SUDDENLY loses skills altogether, dramatically regresses, or if your heart tells you “something’s wrong.”

-Encourage curiosity and a love of learning.

-Allow lots of time for creative play.

-Continue to read aloud, even to readers.

Remember that:

-Preschoolers can learn more than just those traditional “academic” facts (colors, letters, numbers, learning to read, math) we associate with the early years.  In fact, all preschoolers, included gifted preschoolers, can learn a lot about science/nature, people and how they live (or lived in the past), holidays and traditions, art, music, poetry, love of literature, and so much more. Work on building that simple base of knowledge about the world, and the vocabulary to go with it. This is done through conversation, real-life experiences, and reading aloud.

-Remember that building vocabulary is vital for young readers; it is necessary for reading comprehension.Reading has no value to your child if he/she doesn’t understand what he reads.

-Preschoolers are capable of memorizing many facts. Many parents make the mistake of thinking this means their children are gifted. This may or may not be so. Truly gifted children differ from “average” children because they tend to understand the meaning of the facts they memorize (and often how to use those facts). Remember that knowing the facts (alphabet, letter sounds, numbers) doesn’t automatically mean children are ready for the next step. Be careful not to push your child too far ahead.

-Follow his/her lead. The goal is not to push our preschoolers, but not to hold them back, either. One of the marks of a truly gifted child, in my opinion, is that they will not allow themselves to be held back. They will push and push to learn, and often teach themselves to read, do math, etc. They will spend a lot of their free time pursuing academics. Our job is to facilitate this learning/exploration without demanding that they sit down and do hours of work sheets, just because they can.

-If your child is begging to be taught to read and you’re sure s/he is ready, go ahead and try a few short, play-based lessons. If your child enjoys the lessons and seems capable of learning to read, let him. But if your child resists or is disinterested, back off.

-Remember that there is no proven academic advantage to learning to read early, or having an academically based preschool/Kindergarten. To the contrary, studies have shown that children who are provided with a play/exploration-based preschool/Kindergarten actually do better academically throughout their lives. 

Advice for Parents of Young Readers

-If your child has taught himself to read, be sure he doesn’t strain his eyes by reading for too long at a time. Give him/her frequent breaks to look away at the horizon. This can help prevent nearsightedness.

-Make sure the books you allow your child to read are not only appropriate to his/her reading ability, but to his/her social/emotional/spiritual maturity; double-check the content. Early readers should start by reading picture books, and then move up to longer picture books and short chapter books that focus on animals and family life. The goal should be to avoid mature content (too intense, scary, or complex.) See my “book list” category for ideas, as well as chapter 7 in Homepreschool and Beyond.   

        Finally, I’d like to remind parents of gifted children that:

-Sadly, parents of “average” children often feel threatened by gifted children. So when you share with other parents about your child, be sensitive to the fact that some of them might feel that you are bragging or implying that their child should have the same abilities as yours…even if that is not your intent. Bear this in mind and try to be especially tactful and understanding of others.

-Don’t assume that ALL your children will be gifted in the same areas/ways

-Don’t assume that because your child is gifted, everything will come easily to him/her. As I stated in my previous post, some children are gifted in only one area; others are gifted in one or more areas but have learning problems in others, and so on. Each child is unique and so the variations are endless.

-Don’t assume that because your child is advanced now, s/he will always be advanced.

-Be sure to teach your children that their abilities and talents are a gift from God. Remind your children hat God has a plan for their lives.

-Especially gifted children may have tendencies towards arguing with adults or correcting them. Each family will have to deal with this in their own way (it may be a discipline issue.)

-Remember that academics are only a small part of life. Relationships (with God and family) are the most important thing in the life of your child; keep them the main thing.  Don’t “overlook the forest for the trees.” Don’t concentrate so much on academics that you over look activities that are important/developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Even gifted preschoolers need lots of time to play and explore, make messy art, sing, do finger plays, dress-up, play games, etc, etc. See “Goals of Homepreschool” for more.  

~Susan

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

 

Posted in Academics for Four Year Olds, Academics for Preschoolers, Challenge to Parents, Early Academics, Family Life, Gifted Preschoolers, Homepreschool, Homepreschool and Beyond, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, Kindergarten Readiness, preschool at home, Readiness | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Teaching Children to Read/How We Use Sing, Spell, Read and Write

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 4, 2010


       When we talk about phonics, the first thing we need to emphasize is keeping things in perspective.  One of my favorite sayings goes like this:  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom—not phonics.”  (Mary Schoalfield.) 

      Keeping things in perspective:  Phonics (especially before the first grade) are NOT the be-all end-all to homeschooling.  Don’t over-emphasize phonics!  Don’t make phonics the focus of your homeschool!  Don’t overlook other important learning in favor of phonics!  And DON’T feel like a failure if your child isn’t reading before Kindergarten (or by the end of first grade…or at the end of second grade…or even later!  Some children don’t master reading until age 8-10.)   Instead of stressing so much over teaching reading, we should remember to balance the need to teach our children to read (along with our other academic goals) with the needs of the whole child.  We also need to be sure we keep first things first, remembering our most important goals–building Relationships.  We should be most focused on:

 ~Teaching our children about the Lord, and helping them                develop a personal relationship with Him. 

~Growing strong relationships between family members, especially parent/child and child/siblings.

~Helping our children develop Godly character traits and good/helpful habits.

       Learning to read is very, very important.  But remember that readiness  is truly key to reading/academic success AND to maintaining a love of learning.  We need to respect the God-given timetable within our children, and let them retain their love of learning by being very careful not to push.

      That being said, here’s how we teach our children to read–using Sing, Spell, Read, and Write.

         Why I like Sing, Spell, Read and Write I have used Sing, Spell, Read and Write to teach all four of our children to read–with great success (well-my youngest are still “in progress.”)   Here are the reasons I like it:

  • It is multi-sensory, using games and music to teach phonics (bells and whistles!)
  • It tackles words from left to right, the way we attack the words when we  read.  Many curriculums concentrate on teaching the sounds that come at the end of words (_at, _in, _ate.)   This doesn’t make sense to me, since we read the beginning sounds first, and then add the endings.  Sing, Spell, Read and Write teaches the beginning blends first (the easiest first, such as ba, be, bi, bo, bu, and later, harder blends such as tra, tre, tri, tro, tru etc–tr, sl, sm, sn, scr….you get the idea.)  You can still teach the word families (most kids pick up on them, anyway–) but I personally, I believe that it makes more sense to start at the left side of the word.
  • The order of the lessons is logical and systematic.
  • It includes readers that reinforce the words children are learning.
  • It does NOT include very many sight words; it DOES teach the words that are “rule-breakers.”  (I prefer to concentrate on a phonetic approach, instead of memorizing hundreds of sight words the way the public school kids do.)

       This is how we used Sing, Spell, Read and WriteWhen our children start Kindergarten (age 5 or 6–no sooner), we buy the First-Grade Kit (I thought the preschool kit was a total waste of time…nothing but a bunch of “worksheets”, which are inappropriate for young children.  I didn’t think the Kindergarten set was necessary, either.) The First grade kit comes with two books: Off We Go, and Raceway. We used the Off We Go book (almost exclusively) for Kindergarten.  We used it to “cement” the letters and sounds, and to make an alphabet book. (Off We Go contains no blending.) 

      We completed about one letter a week (sometimes more, sometimes less),  leaving the last 10 weeks or so of Kindergarten to begin the songs and games from the beginning of the Raceway book.  If I believed the children were ready, we would start blending letters to make words (we spent a long time on this step–beginning blending–singing the “Ferris Wheel” and playing the blending games–“Blend-o” and “Pick a Sound from the Merry-go-round”.)

      Back to the Off We Go book:  For each letter there is a coloring page, a cut and paste page, a dot to dot page (alphabet order dot to dot), and a page of handwriting (we usually did only one row or two rows of writing practice.) My kids liked the cut and paste pages best (which picture goes with the letter?–Which doesn’t belong?) After they were done with the pages, we glued two of them into a 12 X 12 scrapbook. Around the edges, we glued pictures that I gleaned from old magazines and old picture books from Goodwill. This turned it into their “alphabet book.” (Note:  If you only want to purchase the Off We Go book, you can find it on Amazon very inexpensively.

 
     We also added some of their favorite art to their books (the last pages)— especially self-portraits drawn at the beginning and end of the year (to show how the children had matured.)

       You could even turn a scrapbook into a sort of “school journal”, recording your favorite activities and art experiences.  Here is one of our rare, cut-and-paste-for-a-set-result type of craft:

      Back to phonics:  We use the Raceway book for first and second grade–sometimes through third. By the time the children complete it, they have the tools they need to sound out anything.

     About the “teacher’s edition”–We don’t follow the long, detailed lesson plans. We don’t spend the amount of TIME the teacher’s edition recommends, either (we keep the lessons down to 10-15 minutes max for first grade…less for kindergarten…it’s best to leave them wanting more, versus overwhelming them.) 

      We don’t follow the lesson plans as written.  We just sing the songs, play the games, and then read the words once the sounds/rules are mastered.   When we are first starting the Raceway book, all we’ll be doing is playing games and singing songs. Gradually, as more “steps” (sets of words) are mastered, we’ll add reading new words, writing them, spelling them, reading the phonic story books aloud, etc.   

     We let ourselves feel free to skip any pages that we consider to be “busy work” (things I know they’ve mastered).  Some of my children have used Explode the Code (which mostly goes in the same order as SSRW) to supplement/practice spelling, handwriting, etc as needed. If the kids ever “get stuck”, we just play the games and sing the songs until they “get” it (children often seem to learn in spurts.)   Once they start to read, we give lots of practice reading aloud via the simplest books.  This gives them a chance to feel successful, and to learn to read fluently and with expression.
     About spelling–Most of my children reached a point at some time or another when their ability to master spelling the words didn’t match their ability to learn to read the words.  When that happened, we’d let them go ahead with their reading, while continuing to practice their at spelling at the level they needed to—even if they were several steps “behind” in spelling (SSRW suggests children should be able to read, write, and spell each of the words before moving on to the next step.)  By allowing the children to move along, they can progress and experience success with their reading while simultaneously continuing to practice their spelling.  Later on, perhaps even the next year, we would go back and review all the spelling words, making sure they were mastered. 

      A final word about phonics and readiness–Many families try phonics program after phonics program, to no avail.  They become more and more frustrated with the programs and their children.  They often come to believe a common myth about curriculum:  The myth that “if we could only find just the right curriculum, then my children would learn to read” (or learn their math facts, or get interested in history, etc.)  Some might start to think that perhaps their teaching is at fault; others might start to believe that there could be something wrong with their children.  But then, low and behold, once the third or fourth expensive curriculum package has been purchased and tried, suddenly something “clicks” and the child starts to read!  Some children even seem to teach themselves. The truth of the matter is simple.  In all likelihood, it wasn’t the “curriculum’s fault” at all.  It was a simple matter of readiness. Trying program after program, however frustrating and expensive it was, allowed enough time to pass for the child to mature and develop readiness. 

     In my experience, reading is very much a “developmental” task, just like learning to walk or learning to swim.  Before children develop readiness for these new skills, it is useless to try to teach them.  They balk; they fight you; they become frustrated or even afraid.  Most certainly, all the joy is driven out of the task (we sure don’t want to take the joy out of learning or reading!)  But once they are ready to learn, you can barely hold them back.  Reading is very much like that.  Don’t make the mistake of starting too soon.  It will only frustrate you and your child.  It will take the joy out of learning.  If your children are struggling or resistant, just set aside phonics for awhile, and then try again later.  Let readiness have a chance to develop before you spend money on another phonics program. 

     If this happens in your family, remember that children who learn to read later learn more quickly and easily than younger children do.  So why spend YEARS teaching letter recognition and phonics (starting in preschool, as many parents do) when you could teach it in only a few weeks or months when your children are older?

     It’s something to think about, anyway.

A note about curriculum reviews:  Remember that I don’t receive any money for my reviews.  Also remember that my personal curriculum choices might not work for you or your family.  If you are looking for a back-to-basics phonics program with no bells or whistles, there are numerous programs that might work for you…you might start by investigating Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. 

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Art, Curiculum Reviews, Curriculum, Early Academics, Elementary School, Homeschool, Kindergarten Readiness, Phonics, Teaching Reading | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »