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Curricula and Books

Choosing Curriculum – The Never Ending Story Of History

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At our house, “school” starts at birth…at least that’s the way we look at it. But things are shifting a little these days because “real school” will be starting soon. That means paperwork has to be filled out to declare that we’re officially home schooling. But there’s more…

Curricula must be chosen.

We may have a different approach than others, but here’s what we talked about and decided on for kindergarten/first grade history.

In our estimation, reading is the key to everything. The most important thing we can teach our children are the skills to read and comprehend, and (most importantly) to love it. A love of reading opens up every other subject. We’re easing the kids into this with the stories we read to them at bedtime. Pea (the 5 yo) has moved past the Dr. Seuss type books for bedtime stories since she’s able to read them herself now, so we have been increasing the density of what we read to her, continuing to model good reading habits and challenging her with tougher content and vocabulary.

Her current favorite is the Magic Tree House series, and it’s been great for introducing a little information about the histories of different parts f the world, although it’s fictional, and getting her to ask questions and wonder about different time periods and places. Admittedly, Bug (the 3yo) says that “Jack and Annie awe boawing!” There aren’t crazy pictures to look at, and they don’t do silly things like grow daisies out of their heads. That’s ok…she still listens to the stories, and she still gets her turn to pick books that are more appropriate for her.


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What we’ve decided to do to introduce history more formally is use the Story of the World books. All the reviews we’ve read lead us to believe this is the right choice for our family because it will let us introduce history as a story. What kid wouldn’t love that? We also have friends with older children who rave about these books and the results they’ve seen with their own kids. We’re hoping we can begin reading this book simply as a series of bedtime stories and letting Pea work through the accompanying activity books during the day. She loves when things “magically happen” during the day that she’s been learning about someplace else. That really helps her learn to make her own connections between what she reads and things that happen in her own life.

Feel free to share your own experiences with these books, especially if there are unseen pitfalls we need to look out for!

Categories
Just For Fun

What Your Kids See You Read

George Washington Crossing The Delaware

I’ve read articles before (someone can provide links in the comments) about how important it is to have books around the house and to set an example for your kids by making sure they see you reading. But I’ve always looked at that as a general idea–just make sure they see that you read, and the magic will happen later on. Last night I got my first glimpse of how it can affect them in ways I hadn’t considered.

I’m currently reading To Try Men’s Souls, which is a historical novel about George Washington and the Continental Army’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776. The cover of the book features the famous painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Yesterday afternoon, Pea was looking at the cover and asked, “Who’s that?”. I told her it was a painting of George Washington crossing a river in a boat, and the book is a story about him going across the river. She’s familiar with George Washington because she’s seen another painting of him when going over the Presidents of the United States with Ana. She immediately said, “Look Mami! Daddy’s reading a book about George Washington! He’s one of the Presidents in my pictures!” She looked through the pages for a little while before putting the book down. I assume she was looking for more pictures–that’s what I did when I was little. It didn’t take long for her to get bored and go play with something else.

We read books together before bed every night, then Pea climbs up to her top bunk and looks at books in her bed before she goes to sleep while I hang out on the bottom bunk and read. Last night, as she was looking at her books and going to sleep she whispered down to me, “Daddy, are you looking at the book about George Washington in the boat?”

Cool! She just made a connection between two paintings she’s seen at different times and something the person in those painting did, and it’s stuck in her memory! She also understands the that I’m reading the story (learning) about what happened from the book. Hopefully this will lead to more questions about George Washington in the future. Maybe she’ll even ask me to tell her the story.

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Articles In The News

Celebrate The Freedom To Read What We Want

It’s that time of year again…the time to celebrate Banned Book Week. Held every year on the last week of September, BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or to create books that may sometimes be viewed unorthodox or controversial by some. Their goal is to promote intellectual freedom.

I remember one year in Florida there was a lot of buzz about a certain book that was being banned in all schools county by county. Guess what happened? EVERYONE wanted to read it…and just about everyone did. It’s still one of my favorites! It’s funny how banning books has that effect, no?

So go check out what it’s all about and also to see what titles are creating buzz this year. Enjoy your freedom!

Categories
Just For Fun

Read Between The Lions

I love this show! Even though PBS’s Read Between The Lions has been around for seven seasons, I always like to refer parents to it just in case they don’t know it exists. It’s a show that can do a lot to add to your child’s reading skills. Here are some of the things you’ll see on the show:

  • Books and stories are read aloud (book characters even come to life!)
  • New vocabulary is introduced in context
  • Words, syllables, and letters are highlighted as they’re spoken (this really helps fluency and word recognition!)
  • Silly songs and rhymes that promote reading in a fun way

Check out this video to get a peek at what it’s like:

You can also visit the PBS Lions’ page for cool games, stories, and videos that extend the activities you see on the show. It’s a really useful site that compliments a great show!

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In The News My Humble Opinion

Age Guidance For Children’s Books…No Thanks!

That’s what Philip Pullman and over 80 other authors, illustrators, librarians, and booksellers are saying in their petition against the proposed age banding for children’s books by leading publishers. This proposal looks to add suggested age ranges on children’s books (such as ages 5+ or ages 7-9) in order to help parents, teachers, and kids tell which books are appropriate for children to read. This has sparked much debate amongst those involved with children’s books. The publishers claim that this will be very helpful to parents when choosing books for their kids at bookstores and for teachers selecting material for their students.

Is this really necessary? Has there been some sort of epidemic of concerned adults wandering the aisles at bookstores and libraries unsure of what material is appropriate for their children to read? I don’t think this age banding proposal is a good idea and here are a couple of problems I see with it:

  • Not all kids are the same: Every child reads at different levels at different ages! Parents who homeschool have much more control over letting their child read out of the “appropriate” range that will appear on a book’s cover, so I’m sure we will continue to make decisions that best suit our children rather than allow an unnecessary age range deter us from purchasing a certain book. Yet will kids who attend schools still have the freedom to choose the books they wish to read? Will the advanced 7 year old (like this one) who devours chapter books deemed for older kids be allowed to read them at school?
  • It may discourage readers or embarrass others: A child who is interested in dinosaurs may excitedly pick up a book about them only to put it down quickly once he realizes it’s a “baby book”. There’s no telling how much he could have learned or how much fun he could have had reading it because he never even gave it a chance. And trust me, kids don’t want to be caught reading books that are considered too young for them! So what about the kids who read below their current grade or age level? How would an 11 year old who reads at a 3rd grade level feel when they are given a book that says it’s for ages 8-10? My guess is that child would not want to read that book…or any other that reminds him how behind he is. Pullman says it best:

“…Everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out.”

I really hope that these publishers take to heart the wishes of the petitioners and decide against including these age ranges on their books. Parents, educators, and kids should enjoy choosing books based on interest and curiosity without such limits!

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In The News My Humble Opinion

‘Reading First’ Not Working…Why Not?

The Reading First initiative is a federally funded program that aims to raise student performance by improving reading comprehension (as measured by state tests). The program has very strict guidelines that states and districts must follow in order to receive and maintain funding. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Having a reading coach – a person that works to train teachers and make sure they are up to date on the latest research on teaching the five components of reading. This person is to work side by side with teachers in and out of their classrooms to help them accomplish these goals.
  • Using approved scientific research-based curricula
  • Provide students with an uninterrupted 90-minute reading block each day
  • A set amount of time for teacher professional development in reading instruction

You’d think all of those efforts should pay off, right? Well, according to a preliminary report published by the Department Of Education, students who attend a Reading First school have shown no more gains than those whose schools lack the program. The program weighs in at about $1 billion dollars a year so far (for a total of $6 billion), so you can see why this would be disturbing to some. A final report that looks at the effects of the program guidelines on student comprehension is due out in late 2008.

So why is the initiative not working as intended? I don’t think it’s because of faulty research. I suspect the reasons why it’s not working as anticipated are due to the implementation, management, and expectations of the program. My experience as a reading coach in one such school lends me a bit of insight into the matter. While I definitely don’t think the following applies to all schools, it may still be true for many. Here are three reasons why I think Reading First may not be working to its full potential:

  1. Misuse of resources at the school level: I found that my time as a reading coach was not used effectively by the administration. Much of my time was diverted towards taking care of discipline issues instead of working with teachers.
  2. Lack of teacher “buy-in”: Teachers oftentimes need to buy into and feel like they own ideas in order to change. I found that many teachers were so bogged down with the other guidelines they were placed under (NCBL, state, and district mandates) that they simply couldn’t find the time to change and grow professionally, or, in a few cases, simply didn’t want to.
  3. Unrealistic expectations: Many of the children being served in the targeted public schools come in with such limited language and literacy skills, that it’s really hard to catch them up to “grade level” in a couple of years (at least to the point where they score well on state tests) . These kids would likely make great gains quickly if they had individual instruction on a daily basis, but that’s just not realistic in today’s schools.

Could this be the beginning of the end of The Reading First initiative? Surely people will not stand behind something that costs that amount of money with no proven results, but it would be a shame if the instructional methods of Reading First are dismissed as being ineffective. I truly feel that the research that has been done to support the program and reading instruction in general is solid and strong. I’ve personally seen it work and make a difference in helping many children learn to read. I guess we shall have to wait and see how it all plays out!

Categories
Must Reads My Humble Opinion

Reading . . . Is It A Natural Occurrence?

There is some debate regarding this question. Some parents and authorities maintain that children will develop the ability to learn how to read on their own when they are ready and exposed to text. Most others believe that reading has to be taught to children. So who is right? Both sides offer up what they consider to be convincing research or evidence to support their stance. Yet in the midst of this debate, you have to ask the question . . . If reading is a natural occurrence, why are there so many illiterate people in the world? I’m by no means claiming that I know the answer to this, yet I feel that part of the answer may lie in the possibility that these people may not have been exposed to much literature or to an environment that fostered a love for reading. Read about Karla to find out more on my theory.