Update about the boys, April 2013

In the past I’ve given mammoth updates about the boys, because I do enjoy writing such updates; but I really can’t afford the time now. Still, I will take a little time and share the highlights.

First, H., age 6, almost 7.

UPDATE: he has continued to do Supermemo every day, usually twice a day. I don’t always add questions every day, though. He still seems to like it well enough and it’s now a rock-solid part of our routine.

He’s been following a schedule for most of the last six months, although in the last couple months not so much. For a time we let him make his own schedule (with my help), but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. My current view is that the best approach (at least, with H.) is to try to follow a fairly strict schedule.

He finally finished Treasure Island a couple months ago. It has been difficult but I think he understood it well enough, as long as he also read an easier version at the same time, watched movie versions, etc. He’s also mostly done with Tom Sawyer (similarly challenging, and similarly understandable with a dictionary and helps) and finished The Secret Garden (much easier–we’ve been through it before a few times). He reads from one or another of these books twice a week or so as part of “serious literature” period. After Tom Sawyer is finished (in the next few weeks, probably), we’ll be sure to pick more things like The Secret Garden that he definitely likes. He hasn’t hated the other books, and I think he’s learned a lot, but I don’t think he’s liked the others so much. He says he’ll look forward to reading them again when he’s older. The other three days he typically reads literature of his own choice, lately finishing Harry Potter #2 and starting #3, and various other things of course. For the “serious literature” I make him look up at least 10 words in his hour of reading, which ensures better comprehension and also gives him great vocabulary practice. I’ve noticed his vocabulary improving, using words I know I’ve never explained to him. I assume they come from this practice. After reading we almost always do a Q&A session–a crucial and interesting part of the exercise. We lately tried BigIQKids.com for vocabulary and spelling practice…for both, anything below the 7th grade was pretty easy for him.

As to bedtime reading, we’ve gone back to history-then-literature, and as to literature, since we started The Hobbit, it’s been that, then The Fellowship of the Ring, and last night we finished the first half of The Two Towers. It turns out that The Hobbit is not really easier than the others, and the others aren’t that difficult for H., as long as I stay aware of what he’s likely not to get and explain that as we go along. He really loves all these books.

We also started him reading more nonfiction than before. He’s gone through a half dozen Horrible Science books, and lots of books about the human body and crime and detection, medicine and detective work being two of his favorite topics these days.

As to geography, we’re still at work on the Caribbean countries, having finished a couple books about Cuba and being almost done with two about Jamaica. Our progress is slow, but usually steady. I imagine we’ll get to the U.S. by the end of the year, maybe sooner. Knowing so much about South American and Caribbean history has been very handy as we’ve read about the Age of Exploration. We still do some fun things like look at YouTube videos of Cuban dances.

Math: he’s almost halfway through Spectrum Math Grade 3, near the end of the entry level of MEP (haven’t actually worked on that in a while), and finished with Five Times Five Is Not Ten. He’s not too bad at math, although he makes careless mistakes, and he just doesn’t have any special motivation to do it. That said, he did 28 pages of Five Times Five a few weeks ago, and recently did 10 pages of Spectrum Math, both pretty unusual. The combination of Spectrum and MEP ensures that he is exposed to the concepts in a traditional way (which is easier and teaches him useful ways of simply doing the problems) and then a much more in-depth, logical, difficult way, which ensures a deeper level of understanding (or so I hope). MEP has gotten easier, although not always; the simple algebra problems, of which there are many, are still challenging, but a lot of the pattern-type and logical work is getting easier. He’s also occasionally doing a 2nd grade math app (a full curriculum, it seems), for review and fun, called Splash Math. He does some sort of math every day.

Writing and grammar: most of the time, H. is simply writing on the computer. About half the time, I assign him things. E.g., he’s doing a long (over 4 pages now, will take a few more weeks to finish) book report about Gilgamesh that he does off and on. This is challenging, but not too bad–it’s great, it will be his first high-quality extended piece of writing, it introduces the idea of a book report very well, it practices his narration skills, etc. He’s done a fair number of shorter “book reports” and Q&A using enotes questions as prompts; I’m still struggling to get him to do “narratives” Charlotte Mason style, and in that he is making some slow but recognizable progress. He’s also done a very long, excellent, but somewhat random presentation of Cuba facts, now that we’re basically done with studying that country. Most of the rest of the time, I just let him write about whatever he wants. Often they’re stories, sometimes they’re “essays,” sometimes they’re “reports.” The essays tend to be semi-nonsensical ramblings about scientific topics, the reports are about things like pets and Legos. He has had a recurring character in his stories, “Harry Willman.” For more systematic exposure to writing concepts, we started going through Spectrum Writing Grade 4, which seems about right. We were doing that about once a week for a while. Some months ago we were doing grammar (Cozy Grammar) twice a week, then once a week, and now it’s more like every other week or less. But we’re still doing it and intend to finish. There’s a Cozy Punctuation series after that.

As to science, as I said, he’s read quite a bit of that during nonfiction reading time, having read books or parts of books, mostly in the Horrible Science series, about physics, the human body, and most recently chemistry (last night he declared he wanted to be a chemist). Theoretically I’m reading physics to him still every dinner, but toddler E. has become increasingly shrill in his insistence that I read to him, and only him, and now Mama often takes his side, so H’s exposure to physics has slowed down. But we’re still at it and should finish within a couple months. We got him some videos too…Magic School Bus and Popular Science for Kids. But I’m keeping it going and I’m not going to let E. win completely!

As to history, we finished The Story of the World, Vol. 2 (which I’m having H. re-read during his non-fiction period) and are now a third of the way or so into Volume 3. We’re following the same method, still: reading four books concurrently, supplemented by other, shorter books such as the fun ones from the You Wouldn’t Want to Be series. But we did read at least one rather longer book, an old biography of Sir Walter Raleigh that was rather good. Actually in the last couple of months we’ve slowed down on the four-books-concurrently method and read randomly from old public domain books like Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago, which isn’t that great but it is very educational and keeps H’s interest. It’s really not that bad. He also enjoys stories from James Baldwin’s Fifty Famous People.

Piano: well, we’ve taken it easy for some months and then got into it again. He’s well into book 4 of Music for Little Mozarts. Basically, he lacks the discipline/motivation to practice a lot himself–although he has done some–and I don’t want to force him. I do sit down with him a few times a week and give him short lessons. So he’s making slow but steady progress. At some point we’ll start him on traditional lessons…or maybe I’ll break down and get some fancy software teaching system.

Latin: he’s plugging slowly away, almost every week day, on Rosetta Stone, still on Level 2. Not a serious study at this point (10-15 minutes a day), I’m afraid, but I’m very sure that when we get around to starting Latin in earnest, with texts, he’ll have a much easier time of it. Because he had ambitions to take over the country of Cuba, he decided to start studying Spanish with some old software I had lying about, but of course nothing came of that. I didn’t buy him anything better because, frankly, he’s doing quite enough as it is.

Programming: he’s gotten pretty good at Scratch, so I suggested that he start learning Python, so he has. He got up to Chapter 5 in Hello World! but I have to insist he does the exercises; if he doesn’t he won’t understand it and actually be able to use what he’s learned. As a result he’s stopped his progress through the book, but I expect he’ll get back into it.

Chess: we have finally, after a break of a year or so, gotten back into chess study. I’m making him do the hard stuff, but he doesn’t mind, and he asks to do puzzles and games every so often.

OK, now on to E., age 2.5! I’ll be briefer here.

E. is reading very well, despite having lost his taste for almost all of the reading videos, presentations, and software (including, I’m afraid, Reading Bear). I have no doubt that all the work we did in Reading Bear, Your Baby Can Read, Starfall, etc., etc., had a definite effect of teaching him how to sound out words. Most of his practice now, however, comes from me putting my fingers under the words as we read; he does love to have me read books to him, and as long as I don’t ask too much, he’s game to read the occasional sentence or word when I ask him to. I’d estimate his reading (decoding) ability at around 1st, maybe 2nd grade level.

(Update: right after posting this E. saw the Little Reader logo and wanted to do that. That led to the “Books for H. & E.”–meaning my powerpoint presentations. He loves them now and asked me–I checked after each one–to read all three of my long “United States” series. I’m not surprised he likes them now, because he’s now the same age that H. was when I wrote them for him, and they’re close to the same level of development. We also re-tried some Reading Bear and he liked that, too.)

Based on what he requests, his comprehension level is about the same. He requested The Wizard of Oz repeatedly until we finished it–it was an abbreviated, but not adapted, version, still pretty long. We also made it all the way through Winnie-the-Pooh and are now working on Dinosaurs Before Dark, i.e., the Magic Tree House series #1. We’ve also just started H’s much-loved Oxford Picture Dictionary.

While I read all sorts of paper books to E.–we haven’t even gone through all the ones at his reading level that I bought for H.–we read an awfully large number of books in app form. He especially likes the “Disney Classics” and then watching the corresponding movies.

The biggest surprise recently is E.’s ability to count and do simple addition and subtraction problems in the TeachMe: Kindergarten app. He had been going through the TeachMe: Preschool app, as well as a certain counting app which we used pretty religiously since he was very small. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised: he was exposed to counting so much that it comes naturally to him. Anyway, since the TeachMe: Preschool app seemed too easy for him, I figured, what the hell, we’ll try the next one. Lo and behold, he was able to do addition and subtraction with no problem, the first time we tried it, with just a little explanation. He was very proud of himself and I was proud of him. We’ve been using the app for a little over a week, I’d guess, and he’s made good progress just in that time. I think it will be some time before he is able to do many math problems on his own, without the app-y tools of the great TeachMe series, but I think he’ll get there sooner rather than later. Already he looked at, e.g., 1+0 and thought that was a silly problem and immediately said “1.” So he’s definitely glomming onto math concepts faster than H. did.

We look at a world map a fair bit and he can identify countries, as H. did at the same age, although probably not as well as H. did because we haven’t done this so much. But he really enjoys doing geography puzzles of Europe and the U.S.

Yesterday I tried giving E. a piano lesson (this was as much his idea as mine–he wants to be like big brother H.). He was much better behaved and engaged than H. was at that age and did everything that I asked. Similarly, he’s more game to trace numbers and letters, so I think he might learn to write faster. I credit H. himself with being an example to his little brother.

We also do all sorts of logic-type puzzles in the really excellent MyFirstApps series. We are a big consumer of that series.

His mama, by the way, insists that I read and otherwise engage E. at the meal table. If I don’t, E. doesn’t eat.

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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.

14 Responses to "Update about the boys, April 2013"
  1. Reply PokerDad April 27, 2013 21:25 pm

    He refuses to eat if you don’t engage him? That’s funny. With H paving the way, E seems as though he wants to be like big brother, so I’d guess much of the work will be easier in most areas. Curious about H looking up 10 words per day (in an hour’s time no less), that’s fairly substantial. You didn’t mention it and therefore I’m guessing you’re not adding those words into supermemo everyday. Is he still spending time on memory, or? As for the scheduling, he’s still young as not yet 7. I would think there’s still some time with the more regimented style before moving into a more project based approach (if self directed is even a direction you’re thinking). Are you still using the handheld cb walkie-talkie , and if so, how’s that working? I know it’s time consuming to write these up, especially with infobitt; appreciate the insights!

    • Reply Larry Sanger April 27, 2013 22:20 pm

      Re E. eating, that’s not quite it. It’s not precisely that he won’t eat if I don’t engage him, it’s more that if I do engage him, he’ll start eating because he isn’t distracted by everything else. H. was the same way. With Mama in the mix, well, I get blamed if E. isn’t eating. “He’s not eating! You aren’t reading to him!”

      At first I did start adding H’s words into Supermemo, but remembering definitions is very difficult, as it turns out, and supplying a word to fit a specific, idiosyncratic definition is hard, too. Put that together with the sheer quantity of vocabulary items, and it becomes impossible to do on Supermemo. You can’t make questions about everything–there just isn’t enough time in the day.

      Scheduling, well, it’s complicated…

      We do still use the walkie-talkies but not as much as before. I have to be on the phone and H. calls in the middle, or he starts calling me about unimportant stuff, etc.–it doesn’t work as well as it used to, I’m afraid.

  2. Reply arvi April 30, 2013 02:20 am

    Can you post an example of H’s writing? How long did it take for him to write/type? Do you have a list of Physics/Chemistry books that you read to H?

  3. Reply Tamsyn April 30, 2013 08:02 am

    Yes, thank you for the update. 🙂 We are very impressed and have always been inspired by your progress. Hmm, my toddler has trouble finishing his dinner, so I’m sharing this with my husband! Mmwah-haha.

    • Reply Larry Sanger April 30, 2013 10:34 am

      Thanks, Tamsyn.

      Thanks, everyone else, too!

  4. Reply ariel April 30, 2013 19:06 pm

    Hi…Thanks for the update! Great job to your sons. I am curious, are you still using Spaced Repetition software with H? And which one are you using?


    • Reply Larry Sanger April 30, 2013 21:54 pm

      Didn’t I mention that in the update? I’m amazed if I didn’t…anyway, yes, although I haven’t been putting as many questions in, not as consistently, as I used to. Still, H. continues to review 60-100 questions per day, and spends no more than 30 minutes per day doing it.

      This doesn’t mean that he is some sort of Rain Man sort of savant with regard to the information. Basically, when I ask him questions that I think he ought to know the answer to, he often knows the answer, which is impressive enough, but he frequently doesn’t, especially if he hasn’t had the question on the material in a while. In short, it keeps the material fresh and able to be dredged up quickly, if it isn’t remembered, but it isn’t making him into a walking encyclopedia. Still, if he keeps it up, by the time he’s 10 or 12 he’ll certainly have a lot more facts under his belt than the vast majority of kids that age, even more than the kids who studied the same material.

  5. Reply Kimberley April 30, 2013 21:30 pm

    Hi Larry!

    I am always in awe of what you are able to do with your two boys. What a wonderful curriculum you have for them. Just wondering if your boys participate in Sport/Exercise as part of their daily routine?

    I also found it interesting how you were trying to get H to take some responsibilty my making his own schedule. I understand how hard that can be. At Miss S’s Montessori school they have workcards with the subjects on it they are to complete in the morning work period 9-12. The kids walk around the classroom each working on different subject on their workcard. When they have completed the subject they take it to the teacher to be marked off and then move on to the next one. I have found this helps at home to to get chores done. But it might be an alternative for H to use rather than stetting his own schedule. You set what needs to get done and he decides what subject to do and when. This way he can manage his ‘own’ time but you still maintain control over what he does.

    Any hoo I hope that helps. Your boys are truly amazing!!!


    • Reply Larry Sanger April 30, 2013 22:05 pm

      Hi Kimba! He goes to the local school twice a week for an hour a day, and they do P.E. sometimes. He goes out almost every day with his Mama and little brother and they play…and we’re in between sports right now. I don’t know what we might do next, but definitely we’ll get him into something this summer. Probably swimming if nothing else. Still doesn’t know how to swim.

      H. doesn’t make his own schedule, but since working on Infobitt, sometimes I sort of end up having to abandon him, and–for example yesterday he actually did everything I told him to do. I told him, “OK, go down and finish math. Then take a break, then do review. I’ve got to get on the phone…” Lo and behold the call went very long and I didn’t get down to check on him for a couple of hours. But he had actually done the math (not enough, but he had done some), taken his break (I’m sure that was easy), and completed review. He also told me that when I don’t make assignments he “assigns himself” things. He sort of does. Sometimes I have to start working early, before I can arrange with him what he’s going to read. He just picks out whatever, and it’s usually fine. (Although in such cases he’ll end up re-reading easy stuff like Encyclopedia Brown.)

      Interesting idea re “workcards.” That’s not that different from how we were doing it for a while, but I like the idea of having a card and that the teacher marks it off. The trouble is that much of the time he’s by himself and can easily get distracted. If you can solve that problem for me, I’d be very grateful. Sometimes he works, especially when doing math, in my office–when he can be quiet. Other times we can successfully use walkie-talkies to keep him on task. Anyway, I know things will change again, a lot, when E. is a little older.

      I’m not sure how wonderful the curriculum is. I know that if I had more time to spend with my little guys they’d be able to do quite a bit more, and have more free time too. H. recently asked for a reading list–all the things he’s working on, and all the things we want to read in the future. It’s a great idea especially since he asks, but it’ll take a while to prepare.

  6. Reply Ariel May 1, 2013 19:07 pm

    Thanks…Super memo, I must have missed that. I definitely want to incorporate it for our kids too. I look forward to trying the ipad version of that. Thanks again for the reply.

  7. Reply Jerome June 18, 2013 10:54 am

    Hello, Larry.

    I was looking for something like Scratch. Thank you for sharing!


  8. Reply IrishMum July 31, 2013 05:11 am

    My youngest son, 8, loves The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We found that getting all the Lord of the Rings Lego sets really helped him stay up to date with what was happening in the books. When we went through a few more difficult parts of the book we used the Lego to act it out, he loved doing that. In fact, all my boys love the LOTR Lego 🙂

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 31, 2013 06:51 am

      Sounds like a great, albeit expensive, idea. Glad to know others agree this isn’t too young for those books.

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