Update about the boys

Since I always begin with 6-year-old H. and never seem to have time (in the same post) to discuss now-2-year-old E., I thought I’d begin with E. this time. Besides, it has been eight months since I updated the blog about E., who is now 24 months old. But I am going to keep this update shorter than the last few, which have been voluminous. The best-laid plans…

Let me begin with how E. is doing at reading. He is able to read most of the simple words found in the most basic readers, such as Starfall’s “Zac the Rat” readers. In the last month or so, he has started whole sentences. I have started writing some readers to go with Reading Bear. Here is the current draft of the one that will go with “short a” (the sentences in parentheses are to be read by the narrator/voiceover, not by the child):

The Rat in the Bag

Pat was a man.
Pat was the dad of Sam.
Sam had a rat. The rat was Tam-Tam.
(They decided to take a trip to the beach.)
Sam had ham in a bag.
(They also packed bread and other things for sandwiches.)
They had gas in the van.
(Then they got in the van and left for the beach!)
Pat had a map.
(The map told them how to get to the beach.)
The map was in his lap.
The van ran and ran.
(At last, they got to the beach.)
Pat had a nap and a tan.
(Sam wanted to see the beach.)
Sam ran.
(While Sam and Pat were gone, the rat climbed into the lunch bag.)
Tam-Tam sat in the bag.
The rat had the ham.
(Sam looked in the bag and found Tam-Tam.)
Sam was sad.
“Tam-Tam!” Sam said. “I am mad. You bad rat!”
“It is O.K.,” said Pat. Pat had some jam.
“Pass the jam!” said Sam.
(He made a new jam sandwich.)
“Sam,” said Pat, “the rat is fat!”
(Then they drove back home.)
The rat sat on a mat in the van.
Sam sat and had a nap.
(The End)

E. read that whole story a few days ago. I had to prompt him on some words, but he read many whole sentences entirely by himself–that was the second time through, though. He liked the story well enough to request it a second time the following day. Now he is bored with the CVC words on Reading Bear. I frequently stop (as I used to do with H.) and wait for him to finish the end of a sentence or some other sentence. As H. was at this age, he is sometimes reluctant to do so, but actually he is usually game and does a good job. He is right about where H. was at this stage.

So what have we been doing to foster his reading? I am now reading to him at two of three meals (I still read to H. at dinnertime, most of the time), usually when we wake up, and sometimes at some other times of the day. I haven’t been reading to him as much as I read to H. at this age, but we do manage to get through several baby or toddler books per day. E is almost always game to read something and in fact often demands to read if I am slow to begin at mealtime. He also is very jealous of H., when I read to him at dinnertime. But E. is pickier than H. was, which is part of the problem with our ability to read as much. The other part, of course, is that I simply don’t have as much time now that I’m dividing my attention between two. Of course, Mama does help; though she usually speaks to the children in her language, she often reads to E. in English at dinnertime when I’m reading to H. It’s a little confusing but it’s OK, and it can’t be helped!

As to book choices, we’ve graduated from baby-concept books to simple story books. The Biscuit books are a favorite. We have had Curious George and Madeleine phases, but Biscuit is easy and enjoyable. Other favorites have included Little Bear and Dr. Seuss books. (These are all series.) Lately he hasn’t gone in for any of those favorites, however, except Biscuit. He has also been listening to lots of other old books of H.’s; e.g., yesterday we tried out Sammy the Seal, which he seemed to enjoy greatly. In addition to all of these, we have tried a number of “decodable” easy readers, the same sort of simple, early-reader-friendly books like the Starfall books. With those, I ask him to read more of the words. But frankly, I don’t like them and don’t use them much. They’re just not as interesting. For his birthday I got a set of phonics-decodable books to use with the LeapFrog “Tag” pen E. has inherited from H. But, just as was the case with H., E. is not that interested in the Tag pen. It’s not nearly as attractive as Papa reading to him; so what’s the point? E. even grabbed my finger to inpatiently use it to tap on the words when he wanted me to start reading. H. used to do that.

Has he learned some phonics? Absolutely. A few months ago, he read the words “tin” and “Jim,” which I’m pretty sure he’s never seen before. Now he is very regularly reading all sorts of words that are decodable, but which I’m fairly sure aren’t in Reading Bear, Little Reader, or Your Baby Can Read. He has actually graduated to figuring out some words, like “monitor,” that are far beyond his “official” phonics decoding level (as measured by our progress through Reading Bear…we’re now starting blends, when E. is interested). I remember H. doing the same thing, i.e., decoding “advanced” words well before we started studying the rules that would allow him to decode them.

So, what tools are we using? Up through a couple of months ago, he was using Reading Bear on a daily basis, sticking to the first seven presentations (short vowels, c, k, and ck). He got to the point where he got 13/15 on the quizzes and could read most of the words–or, actually, all of them, as long as I had his interest. As usual, though, we stopped when he lost interest. But then one day he apparently decided he had enough of Reading Bear, for the time anyway.

Actually, I think it was his discovery of Starfall that inspired the break. He fell in love with Zac the Rat when we started that..about two months ago. As with H., I refuse simply to read the text to him. If we are on Starfall, he must say all the words. This, I now remember, is how H. learned his “little” and unphonetic common words, what people call “sight” or “Dolch” words, like “they,” “is,” “the,” and so forth. E. is doing the same thing. Anyway, clearly, E. is impressed with his own ability to read stories. There’s a funny thing he does. Occasionally, he says, “You read it.” I always reply? “Are you tired of reading? That’s OK, let’s stop.” Then he says, “No, no, I read it!” and he continues on with renewed motivation. He almost always wants to finish the story, whether one that I wrote for Reading Bear or a Starfall story.

We have also been slowly (not daily) going through the Little Reader presentations, which are actually very nice, but he often says “no” to them. I have a lot of respect for that system–it definitely helps and has been part of our solution.

Another tool we have been using (and which takes time and attention away from Reading Bear) are my presentations. In fact, he likes these more than anything else, these days. He especially likes my “Balloons” presentation, for some reason. He’s not ready for all of the presentations; the ones about geography and history are still mostly beyond him. But he likes many of the vocabulary ones, the science ones (which are actually pretty simple, conceptually speaking), and any old family presentations starring Mama and H. when he was a toddler himself. I had forgotten just how much H. learned from these presentations–I was reminded because I am noticing how much E. is learning.

We also use lots of apps on the iPad. I’ll have to do a separate post about those.

In terms of results, well, I’ve already discussed where his reading ability is at. I really ought to document that with a video–I will soon. His diction is improving practically daily, as is his vocabulary. He is able to pronounce multisyllabic words and put together multi-word sentences, although he still hasn’t got all the basics of English grammar. He still refers to himself, sometimes, as “E—“, but usually it’s “I” and “me,” and he’s rapidly progressing in his spoken grammatical correctness, generally. His vocabulary is perhaps his biggest area of improvement lately. He once a few days ago started naming stuff in some concept book, on his own, and got everything down pat. Not just “dog” and “cat,” but slightly more advanced words like “tractor,” “airplane,” colors and numbers, and a lot of things that are common in concept books for toddlers. He can read most of the words for these things as well–but these are mostly sight words, picked up from various videos and books.

If he doesn’t have as much attention from me as H. had at this age, I think having big brother H. around constantly prattling on helps makes up for it at least somewhat, as does the fact that I know more what to do and am using more effective tools (like Reading Bear) than I had when I started with H.

I know some other “early education” parents are already busy teaching math and other skills at this stage. Well, apart from using math apps and reading lots and lots of counting books and books about shapes (and also educational videos), we are not following any sort of systematic program. I think we might, however, in the nearish future. I’m thinking I’ll want to start E. on Jones’ Geniuses for toddlers. As to other things–writing, “physical training,” music, etc.–fuhgeddaboudit. I mean, I wish I had time and energy to do that, but I’ll be honest–I don’t. Mama also feels worn out just taking care of very, very active 2-year-old and 6-year-old boys. She (and we together) do various things, but nothing systematic. I can put in a plug for the particularly excellent Your Baby Can Discover and Your Child Can Discover videos put out by Dr. Titzer. Easily up to the quality of YBCR, and probably the best general learning videos for babies and toddlers out there that I’ve seen, and that would include Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby videos (which are good), Classical Baby art videos, and others. In terms of screen media, only my presentations are better. 😉

Another thing we are doing, which we did with H. and which we do at mealtime, is puzzles. We’re doing the precise same U.S. states puzzles that H. did, and E. is showing excellent aptitude for them, at least as much as his brother had. Apart from being their first exposure to U.S. geography, these puzzles are excellent for teaching fine motor skills.

One other thing. Is E. happy? You bet! He’s a super-cute, very animated, very energetic, very personable little guy. He says hello and goodbye to everyone at the grocery store, and tries to talk to people all the time, even if they can’t quite understand everything he says yet.


OK, onto H., who is now 6. He’s forging on ahead and is reasonably content with his studies, for which I’m grateful. He does resist a few things on some days, but generally he’s happy to do what I ask, and not infrequently dives into things (writing, reading, piano) without my asking. He is turning into a pretty unusual kid–well, you’ll see.

General remarks. We took a month off of studies–even off history reading, and sometimes even chapter book reading at night–for a month (August) or a little more. Then around the start of September we started back in with gusto. We have a schedule we’re following now, with limited success, but it is a schedule and it does provide us with some useful guidance and reminders. Everything discussed below is on it. I also got a book of reward charts, with stickers, and H. seems motivated by that. Not all kids might be, but H. is, so far.

The schedule is generally as follows: Latin and Review #1 (see “Review work” below) before breakfast. I read to E. at breakfast. After breakfast, half hour of P.E. with Mama, which has often consisted of bike riding. We also go to a weekly homeschool gym. Then an hour of literature, a half hour of nonfiction reading, and 45 minutes of math (all of these interspersed by Q&A with me and/or short breaks). Most of this morning work is done by himself, although we do discuss his reading, sometimes making review questions about the nonfiction reading; his Mama or I help with math. At lunch, I read to Eddie. After lunch, we have a daily 10 minute piano lesson, Review #2, and then 15-20 minutes of geography reading–all of which lasts about 45 minutes. Then he’s off writing or doing grammar by himself and other things by himself such as chess study or art. Theoretically he’s done by 2:45 pm on most days, but that’s theoretical. At dinner, most days, I read to him: first a poem, then physics. Sometimes E. insists that I read to him and I relent (it depends on whether I arrive at the table in time to catch the fast-eating H.). After dinner, we sometimes play a game of chess but more often we’re just taking it easy. At 7:15 or 7:30 we start Review #3, followed by history and some other reading. Since H. is quite good about doing an hour of serious literature every day, I’ve been using our evening reading time to read things like the human body, the Children’s Bible, about the Presidents, as well as some chapter books–everything sacred and profane.

Often he runs rampant the whole morning while I’m doing work, and then I have to rein him in (with Mama’s help) in the afternoon. If I didn’t have her help, I wouldn’t be able to get a full day’s work done, and sometimes I have to work in the evening, to do a full day’s work.

Review work. Maybe the most unusual feature of our homeschooling habits, these days, is that we do SuperMemo review three times a day, about 10 minutes per review. Occasionally it’s more, especially if I’ve typed in a lot of questions recently. I just love SuperMemo. H. has 90% recall of over 1,400 questions added in the last five months. Here are some examples of the sorts of questions he is reviewing these days:

What happened at the very end of Buchanan’s presidency?
One by one, the Southern states began to secede from the Union.

Who claimed the territory that would become Brazil, and when?
Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500

Why might a fighter pilot become unconscious when enduring 9 g in a sharp turn?
The g force makes blood rush out of his head, and we need blood in our heads to stay conscious.

What is the substance called which gives color to the skin? (If you have more, you have darker skin; if you have less,  you have lighter skin.)
Melanin.

Who was the first of the great German painters in the Renaissance?
Albrecht Dürer.

Who assassinated Lincoln, and where?
John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C.

Define: anarchist
Someone who believes that all government is wrong, who wants there to be no government at all.

What is the longest mountain range in the world?
The Andes Mountains

Do states’ rights limit (lessen) the power of the federal government?
yes

Complete the series (through 60): 6,  12…
18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60

Our SuperMemo statistics states that we have added on average 7 questions per day (50 questions per week). If we keep this up, he’ll have 90% recall of over 15,000 facts (of the above sort) by the time he’s 12. Before you scream in horror at the pain I must be causing my child, imposing this “rote memorization” of “mere facts” on him, remember that the reviews occupy about 30 minutes of his time, broken into three sessions per day. Also, it’s not rote memorization because I rarely ask him questions about things we have not studied; the questions are about things in our texts or other studies. Frankly, I think this will be the way of the future. I think that, in the future, this will be standard operating procedure in classrooms around the world: just 30 minutes of quite doable, tolerable, and sometimes even enjoyable review will virtually guarantee what we, today, would regard as “encyclopedic” knowledge. It also makes quizzes, exams, and a lot of homework all unnecessary.

Literature. The thing, other than review, that H. does most consistently, I guess, is literature, meaning reading a chapter book for an hour a day. Our routine here has not changed much since last report, although in the last month or so we’ve been distinguishing between “challenging” books and easier books. We have been doing about 50% of each. Since August or September he has been working at the same time on Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer for the challenging books. I sit him down with my iPad, with the dictionary app open, and have him look up any words he doesn’t know. The dictionary app tracks the look-ups, and occasionally I type vocabulary items into SuperMemo. Does he comprehend what he is reading? Reasonably well. We almost always discuss what he’s read afterward for 10 minutes or so. I ask him questions, ask him to summarize what he’s read, ask his opinion/reactions, etc. He says he understands what he’s reading, but of course that’s something to verify. I have subscribed to enotes.com (which at $50/year seems quite comprehensive in its coverage of children’s books) and he seems to be able to handle the comprehension questions there pretty well.

He’s making slow progress through those books because he’s also at work on a much faster-rotating series of easier books. He recently finished The Phantom Tollbooth, The Matchlock Gun (tossed off in a little over an hour a few days ago–no trouble with the enotes questions), The Secret of the Andes, The Horse and His Boy, and The Cricket in Times Square, and for fun reading or re-reading things like Hardy Boys mysteries, the newer Magic Tree House books (he’s read the whole series twice and is now on #44), the Spiderwick Chronicles, and lots of Tintin graphic novels (as well as the novelization of the recent movie, which he just really wanted). Today he picked up his very first book of poetry and read it on his own, cover to cover, which I thought was great: A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. I read him a poem on average 4-5 times a week at dinnertime, if I remember to. These are more “serious” children’s poems, which require interpretation. (I think of “Meeting at Night” by Browning and Shelly’s “Ozymandias” which was actually very fun to read and discuss.) I think our long-term fairly regular attention to poetry has given him a bit of a taste for poetry. He doesn’t seem the poet type, but I think he likes it pretty well, and he has memorized some poetry. Lately he memorized “Star Light, Star Bright,” “Monday’s Child,” and the song “Hush little baby, don’t say a word,” which baby E. really, really enjoys. (Take it away, Joan!)

By the way, I do still read chapter books to him 3-4 nights a week at bedtime, the other nights being nonfiction. Lately it’s been Sindbad the Sailor and Other Tales from the Arabian Nights, and a book that he selected himself from the bookshelf, Roger Lancelyn Green’s very interesting Tales of Ancient Egypt. (We’re doing SuperMemo review of questions from this. Extremely helpful for study of ancient Egypt.) Of course, I’ve read many other things to him…I guess I’ll update that book list sooner or later. The reason I stopped reading chapter books/literature to him every day is that I am now reading much more to E. at mealtimes, and the time I spent reading nonfiction to him was decimated, and sorely missed. Something had to give and it was some of the bedtime literature.

In terms of results: he seems to be doing pretty well in terms of getting exposed to a lot of classics of children’s literature. His taste for fiction is, I think, growing. His ability to handle more difficult and “archaic” texts is also developing nicely. This latter is important to me because so many classics simply cannot be mastered unless you’re comfortable with older-sounding vocabulary, idiom, and sentence structure. Moreover, reading the more difficult children’s classics while he’s still definitely a child will prepare him very well for taking on board original sources from history and, in time, philosophy. I certainly do want him to study philosophy with me before he goes off to college. Now, as to his vocabulary, certain persons might say that he doesn’t sound like a regular 6-year-old. But then his Papa doesn’t sound like a regular grown-up and he does OK, so I figure it doesn’t matter that much. Look, if you give a child an education he’s capable of–and I think the absolutely wonderful Marva Collins showed just how much regular children are capable of–then he’s not going to sound like a regular kid. But what’s wrong with that? If there’s a problem, it’s that he talks too much, and he can be rather mouthy. Being both homeschooled and given a rather free hand in how he spends his time (though we aren’t, of course, Unschoolers), he is a very independent sort who is not shy about making his views and preferences known.

Writing. This continues to be an area of mystery and success, as far as it goes. Sometimes, I think he needs specifically to learn how to summarize texts, so we work on that. Other times, I’ve created specific assignments, such as you might find in a writing program. That all goes reasonably well. I have occasionally been tempted to buy some program for teaching writing, but whenever I see them, I think, “This is going to be a disaster.” Writing, perhaps more than anything else, has to be individualized. I strongly suspect that simply encouraging the student to write a lot, giving him some direction, occasionally giving him some assignments on things he needs to improve, and then simply lightly and gently giving feedback (mostly praise) on his work will be enough to make an excellent writer out of a child. Anyway, my general idea seems to be bearing fruit in H’s case. He has continued to make reasonable progress, although he still writes an awful lot of what I would describe as nonsense. But he is certainly writing better now than he was a year or more ago.

A couple weeks ago, H. got up one day and wrote this before breakfast (revised lightly afterward with a few general comments from me):

Essay on physics

We will talk about atoms, the aie and empty void, and forces.

Section 1: The Air and Empty Void

Empty really is empty. Many scientists also think that my position is wrong.

Section 2: Forces and Energy

Forces

Forces are like push and pull. One kind of force that works against gravity is called positive force. I thought that negative force works agianst gravity, but that is silly. Anyway, think of the negative numbers. They work with gravity, because the negative numbers are the very low numbers. That tells you that empty really is empty. But only in one way it does. I will tell you. It’s because low and empty are sort of related, but they are connected in one way. I will again tell. It’s because empty means low.

Energy comes in more than a hundred forms. I will list some.

Solar
Wind
Water
Chemical

Those are some of our energy kinds. I will now take us to learn about atoms.

Section 3: Atoms

Atoms are made up of different nuclei, which are orbited like all the planets orbit the Sun. The nuclei are orbited by a group of electrons and other things. This might sound amazing, but the atoms can be elecricity atoms, which we will learn about later. Cells contain nuclei that are bigger than that of an atom. In fact, those nuclei may contain atoms.

I sent that text to a friend, a veteran homeschooler, and asked him what the hell I should do with this. His advice made an impression on me:

What the hell do you do with this???? You encourage him to write more of this very same thing! Lots of it! … It makes perfect sense to him—and as long as you encourage it, this faucet will spew forth lots of fascinating and meaningful (to him) prose. Try to control it at this early stage and I guarantee, you will constructively shut off the flow of this incredible explosion of creativity. My friend, this isn’t “nonsense.” If I were to offer advice—and I am not wont to do so—I would suggest that you DON’T rewrite it or shape it or try to “fix” anything at this stage. ([Wife] agrees.) No tutor either. You will send the message to his little, underdeveloped mind that he is doing something “wrong.” And he’s not. … It’s organized, cogent (after a fashion), linear, argumentative. As he is exposed to more critical thinking, he’ll naturally (and through imitation) tailor his writing to a more approved and appropriate style. In due time.

I decided to take his advice, and have been encouraging H. to do more of the same. So he did.

Over the weekend, he wrote a little composition (! I didn’t ask, and it was the weekend) about our trip to Rock House, a great spot in Ohio’s Hocking Hills:

Story of how we went to Rock House

Rock House looked really big, and before we found the cave entrance, I thought that that was not really a cave, like Mama and Papa said. But then we came to a hollow that I thought was actually the cave entrance. It was not. Then I saw what was the cave entrance. Then, as we came closer, I saw the way up. It was a ramp that we used to get up into the cave. We got there and climbed up the ramp. When we got inside, I was the first one to get inside. I looked up to one end of the cave and saw that I had almost fallen off a ledge. I went back after that and had quite a hard time finding the others. I finally found them and found a good place for some rock climbing. I climbed the ledge and then Papa got me down, and then we went over to a place where it was impossible to get down. On the way back from that, I walked on the high part of the cave on the right side. Then Mama found a nice and low place where she could lift me down. Then we left the cave this way:

·         First, we found the cave entrance (which was then the cave exit) and then went back down the ramp.

·         Next, we went back around the Rock House loop and took the rest of the trail home.

To take another example, today, I told him to go write something. I saw the composition-in-progress, which led a few instructions: explain the business about the exhaust pipes, and create separate paragraphs for separate ideas. Making “sections” was his solution to my request for paragraphs. Also, at one point, he had only said, “This is something else I would like everybody to do: Make brick walls on either side and all around power lines.” I told him to expand that. That’s pretty much it–I did correct his spelling of “environment” but I think that’s the only spelling or grammar correction I made.

Here is what he came up with:

How I would like to change how man-made stuff affects the environment

Section 1: About Cars and Gasoline

I would like to let electric power take over gasoline powered devices so that all cars would be electric and why? Because gasoline powered cars give off exhaust and dangerous fumes that may damage the environment.

Section 2: About Nuclear Energy

Another thing I would like to change is nuclear energy. I know that people who run a power plant let all of the exhaust out. So I would like them to send all the exhaust through pipes instead. And let it out at the end of the pipes, wherever the ends are.

Section 3: Another Thing They Can Do 

This is something else I would like everybody to do: Make brick walls on either side and all around power lines. Because I know that in the winter, power lines freeze and that gives them more mass and makes all the power lines fall down. Another thing that they can do is just keep the power lines away from trees!

Section 4: About Car Pantograph Idea And About Car Crashes

I would also like them to make inflatable cars on the road so that people would not feel any shock when a crash happened. And make all cars like that. And also make all cars powered by pantographs like some trains and buses.

We do about 30-45 minutes of writing per day. Very occasionally, I look the other way when H. doesn’t get around to doing writing.

His handwriting still leaves much to be desired, although we do still try to get him to improve it. I’m open to suggestions for radical remediation. His typing speed has improved considerably. I haven’t timed it but it’s definitely along the lines of 10-20 wpm. He strongly prefers typing because it’s easier and faster. It’s hard to argue with him about that, but we still do make him handwrite things. Still haven’t started teaching him cursive, but we do intend to.

One other thing. A week or so again, as I writing this, he started writing a diary, and so far has made four entries. I didn’t ask him to do this, it isn’t part of his writing homework (although I let him do an entry once or twice for his writing assignment), and he has kept it up by himself. He just discovered he likes writing about various trivial things that have happened at home. I doubt it will keep his interest for much longer, but I guess we’ll see.

Grammar. He’s on lesson 8 of Cozy Grammar, which we started not too long ago. We generally do two lessons per week, which can but often don’t replace writing (he often does writing anyway, even on weekends). I don’t think it makes any difference to his writing, but I figure that he ought to understand the language of grammar, because it ultimately does help and at higher levels is even essential. I don’t propose to make it a long-term component of his studies–writing daily is quite enough–but we’ll come back to it at higher levels every few years, I guess. Marie Rackham also has a punctuation program we bought and we’ll be doing that.

Math. Since the last update, H. has finished Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics 1B. It turns out that his mother, who has been sharing math teaching responsibilities, dislikes the Singapore Math program. In her opinion, it does not explain things explicitly enough, and I have to agree with her on that. It also doesn’t provide enough systematic, step-by-step practice, at least within the Textbook + Workbook combination. One day she was out shopping at Sam’s Club and she got a second grade math book that was more her style, Spectrum Math, Grade 2. At first I turned up my nose at her choice. (You picked up some random curriculum at Sam’s Club?) But I looked at it, and I had to admit that it seemed to be a solid program, and I looked at the reviews on Amazon, which were very positive.

So he dove into the new book and hasn’t looked back–he’s already 1/3 of the way through and at the current rate should be in the Grade 3 book well before this school year is out. So far it’s been mostly review, but there have been some new topics. This book teaches the traditional algorithms that are underemphasized in (or missing from?) Singapore Math. The reason Singapore Math was attractive to me–apart from my impression, picked up when I was originally making choosing math books, that students who use it do very well on math exams–is that it teaches kids how to think “mathy thoughts.” It is supposed to teach many different ways to do problems. I think this is largely true, but as long as we’re doing MEP as well, I guess it seemed a little overkill. MEP does much better when it comes to teaching mathematical thinking.

So, yes, we’re still on MEP, Practice Book 1b, going relatively slow, getting toward the end; I think there’s still 30-40 pages to go. I still love MEP, but these days H. appreciates it best in small doses, which is fine with me. The other thing we’re doing regularly is Five Times Five Is Not Ten; H. is about halfway done with it. He has memorized many multiplication facts.

H. is a bit more enthusiastic about math these days, in no small part due to the switch to Spectrum Math, I think.

History. I wish we had made more progress in history, but due to the summer break and the frequency with which we were late getting ready (which I blame on SuperMemo review more than anything), history often fell by the wayside. As a result, we’re still at work on The Story of the World, Volume 2, now reading about the 16th and 17th centuries. We’ll be done pretty soon. The thing is, however, H. is learning more history than he was before, because he’s committing more of it to memory (that’s thanks to SuperMemo). My general impression is that this makes history more meaningful and more interesting, on the whole.

We’re continuing to follow the same plan, even with the same texts: SOTW, Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, Gombrich’s Little History of the World, and Kingfisher Atlas of World History. H. declares he really loves SOTW, and likes the Usborne book, but the others aren’t so great. He doesn’t like Gombrich at all, but since he goes through this period of history so quickly it doesn’t matter that much. We have read a few other history books, but not too many, except about the presidents. On that score we’re up to Theodore Roosevelt, #26, still reading in both the DK presidents book as well as The Look-It-Up Book of Presidents.

Are we doing anything else, like worksheets or writing assignments related to history? Not really…

Science. Science is one of the few things that we still study at mealtime–4-5 dinnertimes per week we read a few pages (or one page of DK Energy) of a physics book. We’re continuing to use Usborne’s What’s Physics All About? as a “spine,” although it’s hardly meaningful as a spine, because we spend 80%+ of our time reading other things. We’ve been studying energy for a few months. I’d say we’re a little over halfway through physics. So far we’ve studied cosmology, motion and force, gravity, and pressure. After this it’ll be waves, including light and sound, electricity, and finally, history of physics. The Usborne book has a chapter about astronomy but we’ll tackle that with a different spine altogether.

As to what we’ve read, we’ve read a couple, including another “Max Axiom” book, about energy, and now we’re well into DK Energy. The DK science books are very history-of-science heavy, I think (this is only my guess) because DK finds it easy to find cheap pictures to illustrate historical topics, much more than carefully-thought-out, expensive original designs would cost. Still, it’s all good. The history stuff isn’t a bad introduction to science. Knowing how we came to various pieces of knowledge does help us to understand them.

The other science topic we’re studying, a bit, is the human body. A few months ago, practically out of the blue, H. decided he wanted to be a doctor. Suddenly he had a powerful motivation to read about the human body. So that’s what we did. H. has read quite a bit without me, and does rather better on the SuperMemo questions about this topic than he does about other topics. That’s partly because he makes a good many of the questions himself, partly because he’s highly interested, and partly because he gets the same information from several sources. Anyway, I guess we do most of our in-depth study at bedtime, typically twice a week. We’ve been reading the DK First Human Body Encyclopediawhich is not at all history oriented and which is actually an excellent book. By carefully studying every page and producing many questions about each section (at H.’s request), H. has really learned a lot about this topic.

In addition, he read by himself, cover-to-cover, Deadly Diseases from the “Horrible Science” series. We got the whole box set–I’m very happy with the purchase. This is a fairly lightweight and readable British series of chapter books about science, aimed mostly at boys. He’s now well into Fatal Forces, which is an excellent review of many physics topics. He was working on another one as well. He doesn’t make too many questions from this. I suspect it’s mostly in one ear, out the other, so to speak, but some of it does stick. He has spent a lot of his half hours of nonfiction (which we get to only about half of the days) on these and on other books about the human body, including various Scholastic “True Books” (very good selections as usual).

Of course we’re still doing experiments, but to be honest, not as many as we’ve done in the past. In the last few months we’ve done several from Physics for Every Kid. Saturday is, or is supposed to be, experiment day.

Geography. For a couple of months, we didn’t read geography at all, so we haven’t made much progress since our last report, although lately we’re making good progress again. We finally finished reading the National Geographic Brazil book. We’re now splitting our time between finishing up In the Land of the Jaguar–which is now over halfway done–and readings about the Caribbean. It’s nice to be onto a new region. Now we’re into the National Geographic Cuba book, and we’re doing other general readings about the region in general children’s atlases. Of course, we look a lot at the globe, which is right next to the big reading chair, as well as the behemoth Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. At H.’s request we do other things from time to time. For example, he combined writing and geography and did a PowerPoint presentation about Argentina, and recently traced a map of Cuba, and after that photocopied the tracing and labeled and colored it (which is a nice method).

Other stuff. In piano, I got tired of H. falling back on quickly memorizing my demonstrations–which he was able to do, apparently–and I taught him how to read music, finally. We used flash cards one afternoon and got the basics, went back to the second book of Music for Little Mozarts (from where music reading was first taught), reading through the whole thing again, and are now almost caught up to where we were before in Book Three. This time, I give him no clues at all, or rather, the only clues I give him are to help him figure out the notes himself. So that’s solid progress. I’d start him on lessons but, basically, I think it would be a waste of money. H. can get through a lot of material in a week, and most teachers want a student to absolutely master one or two pieces before they go on. As a piano student myself and having seen him in lessons when he was 5, I know how it goes. Maybe when he is playing more challenging stuff, and is able to focus for more than 15 minutes, we’ll find a teacher (other than me).

I often hear H. banging on the piano, playing his favorite pieces, figuring out common tunes, and making up his own stuff. I think that’s all a good sign.

In Latin, H. is well into Rosetta Stone Latin Level 2. He is pretty good about doing it for about 15 minutes every morning before breakfast. It constitutes good practice without being a major time commitment. I guess the plan is to get into a serious Latin grammar book after he’s done with Rosetta Stone–when he’s 7, I guess. He has observed on various occasions, with pride, that his Latin helps him in various small ways. (Of course, when he knows it better, he’ll notice many other ways.)

As to Physical Education, that’s now part of the daily schedule–he goes out with Mama for a half hour after breakfast and they do various things. He’s also been going to a weekly “homeschool gym” and we’re starting Cub Scouts, which has a sports and outdoors component. Of course he’s often doing physical play later in the afternoon after his studies are done, and we often go for family bike rides after dinner. He still has little in the way of competitive spirit, when it comes to sports. I guess I didn’t much, either, and his mother certainly doesn’t.

I’ve been reading a philosophy book to H., off and on, which he enjoys. Once he somehow persuaded me to start writing a philosophy text, and I have almost finished writing Chapter 1 of Philosophy for Children. Your guess is as good as mine on whether I’ll finish or not. But H. was very enthusiastic about it, read it several times, and wrote various unassigned “essays” on the topics it raised.

We’re slowly reading through the Golden Children’s Bible. H. declares he is an atheist and recently express doubts about Santa Claus, too. But due to the obvious historical and cultural importance of the Bible, I think it’s essential that we get well acquainted with it. He doesn’t mind. We’ve started reading the story of David; we’re close to halfway done.

We’re also reading a book about presidential elections for obvious reasons, and he has taken to scanning realclearpolitics.com.

We’re also still making progress in Logic Safaria page or two a week or so.

This isn’t the whole story of H., believe me. It’s just about his education, and I haven’t told you about the zoo and science museum trips etc. Anyway, he’s a pretty happy, if rather unusual, little kid. He generally likes being homeschooled, and hates the idea of going to school. He is comfortable enough with his studies, although he does sometimes complain that he doesn’t want to study, and we often give him a half day off, basically, often Wednesday or Thursday. I rarely must resort to threatening him with sitting in the corner if he doesn’t study. While I sometimes have to get his attention, and occasionally he does have trouble sticking to task, he does a pretty good job getting quite a bit done by himself while I’m working and Mama is busy. Reading in particular is now going very smoothly. Math is more of a struggle; without some external motivation, like a timer to work against, he ends up wasting a lot of time. Same deal with grammar. Writing usually goes well enough, except when I ask him to revise a list of items; he often ignores or misunderstands what I’ve told him to do. I guess it doesn’t matter too much because he makes progress in his writing anyway. I’m still reading quite a bit to him, and I wish he’d do more, but frankly this is the only way I can be sure that he understands some otherwise difficult-to-understand material (science, history, geography, etc.).

**Special note to freelance illustrators: Reading Bear is looking for people who are willing to make cartoons for cheap, for a good cause!

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 163 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, WatchKnowLearn.org, ReadingBear.org, and Infobitt. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

9 Responses to "Update about the boys"
  1. Reply Lezah St Jean October 22, 2012 00:35 am

    I love reading your updates. Sounds like things are going quite well. I bet your boys are happy and thriving.
    I really like the Spectrum math workbooks. They are astoundingly comprehensive and well laid out for only $10 books. You still need fo teach, but they actually cover more than the school district a few counties north of you covers, which does not say much I guess.
    There are also Spectrum reading comprehension books that I liked to use for an older remedial student, (which H most likely doesn’t need) and writing books (I haven’t looked at these yet) in the series.

    I for one would certainly be interested in a Philosophy for Kids book if you ever do plan to release it.

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 22, 2012 08:44 am

      Thanks, Lezah. I guess the Spectrum math books cover the topics but they do not cover all the approaches to the same topics. I guess the methodological issue between a program like Spectrum and a program like Singapore Math is what the goal of learning math is. Is it to teach the child to be able to do all the problem types very well? Then Spectrum really looks better to me. Is it to teach the child many different ways to think about the most important problem types? Then Singapore Math is better…but really, MEP is much, much better in that regard. But I’m not sure you could rely on MEP to teach a kid how to do the problems. It actually makes sense that we’re still doing Kindergarten & First Grade level topics in MEP; in order to get through the more difficult problems, it is important that the child be able to do the basics extremely well.

      In other words, my impression based on working with H. so far is that it makes more sense to teach the different approaches to solving problems, and to “think mathy thoughts,” about areas of math that the student has already mastered in the traditional way.

      We’ll see about that philosophy text…

  2. Reply PokerDad October 22, 2012 12:27 pm

    Great update! It touched on a few things I had been wondering to myself, such as SuperMemo and how that’s going, and if H believes in Santa (since I remember quite some time ago him saying he didn’t believe in God). Funny how you mentioned it just as I was wondering about it the other day.

    With regards to his handwriting, my wife’s school uses handwriting without tears. However, I’ve seen some youtube videos on it and I think H might find it stultifying.

    Additionally, the diary is an awesome idea and one that I plan on encouraging PokerCub to start up at some point in the future. The reason is because during my late teen years, I kept a journal for a few years. All of that writing, basically every day, did wonders to my thought process to the point that I found writing later on in college to be a breeze.

    Furthermore, I do believe writing in a journal can help consolidate memories and will also assist in handwriting without having to sit there and write out boring sentences with no purpose or meaning.

    I really appreciated the update on E. We don’t usually get such a nice update on his progress, and it looks as though your experience is paying off. That’s nice to know since I can’t imagine having another child at this point in my life.

    I do understand why a parent or teacher wouldn’t want to correct sentence structure and the flow of ideas in writing too soon. The child might get caught up in proper structure or in dealing with constraints rather than just letting the ideas out. After pondering it this morning, I thought that this argument seems a bit incomplete. After all, when a child learns to talk, we do correct them on tense usage as well as other aspects of English in order to assist them in acquisition. Well then, how different is the written language from the spoken? This got me thinking that there must be a fine line between constraining a writer into writer’s block due to overload of things to think about, and a simple suggestion here or there to focus on until the child gets it down and moves on to another concept in writing. In other words, there ought to be a progression that is safe to follow and, if anything, open up the writing potential of the child instead of restricting it.

    And one recommendation on adding vocabulary words to SuperMemo. Some words are difficult to pronounce if you’ve never heard them said before (which would be the case in reading it for the first time). With that in mind, and considering multi-sensory in how it assists memory retention/formation, you may want to consider adding in the spoken word simultaneously with the written. I found doing so helped me.

    • Reply Larry Sanger October 22, 2012 14:12 pm

      Thanks for the feedback!

      We tried Handwriting Without Tears when he was, like, 3 or 4. We need ideas on how to improve someone who has been writing for a few years but refuses to write more carefully. I suspect it’s a matter of personality than anything. On some things, like handwriting, he’ll do the absolute minimum necessary, and getting him to improve is really like pulling teeth…

      The diary is his idea, not mine. I agree, it’s a good idea. I know that keeping a diary myself made it easier for me to write, so my experience matches yours.

      I do still comment on his finished products. I don’t make him rewrite handwritten stuff, usually, but I do have him redo stuff he’s typed in…

      • Reply Lezah St Jean October 22, 2012 16:07 pm

        I wish I had an answer to the handwriting. Mine is atrocious, but I think mostly bechae my thouts came at a hundred miles an hour and i was scribbling to get them all down. Keyboards revolutionized everything for me.
        I wonder if doing a book like Draw Write Now (there are 6 or 8 of them I think) would be beneficial for H. It might slow H down and if he takes time to shape his letters expertly, as would be the case with the pictures it might help him. Especially if he has his own little art work displayed or put into a portfolio.

      • Reply PokerDad October 22, 2012 17:05 pm

        I understood the diary was his idea, all the better. It’s a good idea, IMO.

        As for penmanship, perhaps it’s time for bribery. I’m not sure how you’d quantify it, but you could set a goal and once achieved he gets something that he really wants.

        I did have a few questions, but the only one I can think of at the moment is how do you manage to do so much reading at dinner? I’m so busy shoveling, I can’t imagine reading. I will write my other question when I remember it

        • Reply PokerDad October 22, 2012 19:54 pm

          Other question had to do with BSA. I’ve thought about the day when we could sign up for cub scouts, but then started thinking “geez, they aren’t exactly a model organization” so I asked my wife her opinion (without me giving one) and she was against it just because of how bigoted they are. I’m wondering if this was something you thought about and if so how you squared it, and if it wasn’t then don’t worry about it.

          Also, I like how H thinks “Empty is empty” – but that’s because he’s too early to get into dark matter:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter
          Space isn’t nothing even though for all practical everyday purpose it is. I’m really into learning all about this sort of thing, so I hope H also is enthusiastic about his physics and cosmology studies because it’s just so fascinating and mind boggling.

          • Larry Sanger October 22, 2012 21:27 pm

            I’m a libertarian agnostic. I’m also an Alaskan–I was a Boy Scout up there. We (Alaskans) are very independent-minded. I think Scout leaders should be able to be gay, but it’s not something I feel very strongly about. I think political correctness has run amok. I think people are going to look back on approximately 1980 until some future date as a very weird time, unprecedented in history, in which society’s elites increasingly pressured regular people to feel guilty for disagreeing with an extremely libertine and leftist moral code. I find this extreme pressure, placed on conservatives and libertarians (and occasionally, on others as well), itself to be more bigoted than the bigotry of, say, the de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy within the BSA. Frankly, I find the BSA to be a breath of fresh air: an organization that does not try to change because the broader culture has changed, that sticks to its principles. An organization that does that, that takes a principled moral stand against what it evidently regards as a corrupt larger society, is worth standing behind, even if I do not stand behind all of their principles (“duty to God” and “morally straight,” anyway). While I disagree with the BSA on that, I have far less to disagree with them than I do our public schools, for example. We have to make compromises whenever we join a group. What group can replace the BSA?

            As far as the amount of abuse that has happened in the BSA goes, I’ll start getting concerned when I see statistics comparing the BSA to the YMCA, 4-H, schools, and other youth organizations. A bunch of basic questions about statistics need to be answered before you can justify being bothered by abuse in the BSA. Cover-ups happen everywhere in society. I don’t support them and the people who did cover-ups should be booted from the organization. But how much of the same behavior happens, basically, everywhere? Is it worse in the Boy Scouts? I frankly find it hard to believe that the Boy Scouts is worse than other youth organizations.

            Surely you don’t think that they are not a “model organization” just because they’ve had a lot of bad press from progressive journalists who are already hostile to the BSA?

        • Reply Larry Sanger October 22, 2012 21:05 pm

          It’s definitely a two-person thing. Mama shovels, I read. Actually, now that E. is mostly feeding himself, it’s possible for me to read to H. while she reads to E., and they both feed themselves.

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