Report on the boys (March 2014)

It’s been a long time since I updated blog readers about H. & E. Once again I start this with a resolution to keep this short. Ha ha.

First, H., is now 7 years old (8th birthday rapidly approaching). Many things to report. He’s officially in the 2nd grade and after slightly lighter work in the summer and a bona fide two week break, he went back to full time study…usually, more or less. H. is often fun to work with, although sometimes he has trouble staying on task, and has a tendency to interrupt me every single sentence when I’m reading to him. Obviously he has a very active brain. I haven’t always been able to support his homeschooling as much as I’d like, since I’ve been working on my startup, Infobitt.

Gym1

Since my last report, I put an indoor gym together (from a kit by the unfortunately named “Limikids”; why not “Unlimikids”?) for the boys.

It’s extremely sturdy and we got a nice thick mat (direct from a local factory, just a few miles away from our house) underneath it. The boys never had so much gym time before we got this. It was money extremely well spent. They really enjoy it and have clearly improving their strength and agility. It has my complete recommendation.

Gym2

Anyway, on to mental development.

Subject notes

Math. I was idly browsing reviews of homeschooling stuff, as I am wont to do, and was re-reading positive reviews of Saxon math. Now, the system we had going before–Spectrum Math, MEP, and Splash Math on the iPad–was not badly broken. H. was learning math pretty well. But…well, I did have a couple of misgivings. One is that H. was not exposed to some of the details and depth that Saxon provides. Another is that he simply needed more practice. H. frequently forgets how to do some math problems, and I did not look forward to having to having to constantly go over how to do old stuff. It just seemed inefficient.

Saxon’s approach, by contrast, exposes kids regularly to old problem types, but subtly builds on those abilities by throwing them harder and harder examples of those types. The traditional “learn a topic in-depth in a chapter, then move onto the next topic” method is called the “mastery” method, but Saxon’s approach (a “spiral” method) strikes me as much more likely to create mastery.

Saxon was appealing to me also because it is very systematic. This is very good for H., who has an extremely logical brain, and who actually doesn’t mind (and sometimes enjoys) careful, slow explanations. So Saxon is pretty good for him.

So, H. started on Saxon Math 5/4 (fourth grade math) at the beginning of the school year (last September?) and initially made good progress. Also, he started reading Life of Fred again and read a few of those books, but hasn’t looked at it in quite a while. Splash Math and MEP are now on hold indefinitely.

Why? It’s the downside of Saxon–which I knew fully going into this–namely, the sheer effort the system requires. It began with a very simplistic-seeming review of old topics. At first, I thought we’d be able to do what some other people apparently do, namely, skip half of the problems, do only the odd problems, whatever. But it quickly became clear to me that H. really needed the review, considering the number of problems he was getting wrong. He simply needed more practice. The old system we used explained the basic concepts extremely well, and did enable him to do the problems all right, but it definitely didn’t give him enough practice, and particularly not enough systematic review of old topics. Now I have the sense that when H. is faced with any problem he’s been exposed to adequately in Saxon, he’s got it down. But the price of this mastery is about 50% more effort, and all in one big program.

I thought we could skip ahead in Saxon 5/4, but then I saw the number of mistakes he made on stuff that I thought he had mastered. He sped up after several months.

At one point for 2-3 months we went back to the old Spectrum/MEP/Splash Math system, I think because we couldn’t handle the extra work Saxon was throwing at us. But then we returned to Saxon because it had become clear to me (and even H.) that the old system simply wasn’t teaching him everything he would be learning with the Saxon system. As a result, we lost time and right now, H. is only about halfway through Saxon. He’ll be done with 5/4 by summer at the rate we’re going now. H. and I are both pretty committed to doing a lesson, “investigation,” or test per day, and so we can do it.

Even though it’s taking him a while to get up to speed in this new, more rigorous system, I don’t regret switching and in fact I still think it was a great change. All the reasons I had for switching seem to have been borne out by H.’s performance. H. himself likes it, most of the time.

It’s not lost on me that Saxon follows a system of review not very different from SuperMemo’s (spaced repetition), about which, more later on.

Literature. At bedtime we finished The Lord of the Rings, Macbeth (if you can believe that—see below), A Christmas Carol, and we started The Time Machine (might not finish) and Huckleberry Finn. We worked on various other things at bedtime, which I’ll discuss in other sections. LOTR was great fun; we both enjoyed it. A Christmas Carol was challenging both in terms of language and sentence structure, and wasn’t that much fun for us, but I don’t regret it; it’s a good story and excellent vocabulary work. Huck Finn is just awesome. We both love it, and it’s probably H.’s favorite book we’ve read together in a long time. It has copious use of the n-word (I’d say it, I just don’t want this blog to be blocked!), but that’s easily finessed simply by explaining how taboo it is today—something H. was extremely impressed by. He has absolutely no trouble understanding Jim or Huck, and most of the hard-to-understand words are words that neither of us know, because they’re dialect or regional or specialized. The story itself is a children’s adventure story. When things get really difficult we consult the free Sparknotes “No Fear Literature” gloss of the book.

As to Macbeth, yes we actually read the original. Let me explain. (All this happened before bedtime in 30 minute increments, but 7 days a week.)

At first we were reading selections from Nesbit and Lamb, and then probably just to give examples of the original, I got a couple of free Shakespeare apps. We had been glancing through the originals of different books we’ve read easy versions of–the Odyssey, Oliver Twist, Shakespeare. One of the apps was Shakespeare in Bits, which turned out to be an awesomely conceived and developed app–hats off (but then it should be good, as each play is $15). Anyway, it has the text, with clickable glosses and commentaries next to the text, and a simple (but complete) cartoon with audio version available. So we tried out the Romeo and Juliet sample, and H. really wanted me to get a version of the Tempest, because we he had just read the Nesbit or Lamb version and he liked it. We also had watched some simple Tempest videos on YouTube, like the BBC cartoon.

But Shakespeare in Bits didn’t have the Tempest so H. decided he’d like Macbeth instead, and I agreed, on the assumption that we could return it if we couldn’t get into it. (I didn’t expect we could.) Well, the witches and spooky war and murder stuff was very exciting to H., so he started asking for Macbeth every day, and we were at it for 2-3 months straight, in small chunks, reading 1-3 sections of the app per day. I never ask him to do it, he asks me.

So here’s how we do it. First, I read the section aloud to H. slowly and carefully, paraphrasing everything I think he might not understand. We look at (and I explain as necessary) all notes and glosses from the app, too. Occasionally we look at the online reference info about characters, summaries, etc. As a result H. is getting his first introduction to the language of literary interpretation (“theme,” “motif,” and the rest of such bullshit—which is what I think of most of it). After we read the section, then we watch the corresponding video. After a few weeks H. discovered the “My Notes” section, and he started writing notes, imitating the app’s comments and mine. Now for about half of the sections he insisted on writing 2-5 sentences summarizing what went on.

I can’t recall another time when H. was so committed to and naturally interested in doing something so hard and advanced, unless it’s programming. But he gives glosses of the sections, and I give instant feedback, which is extremely useful because it allows me to refine his understanding and correct misunderstandings. His notes are actually pretty good–sometimes a little half-baked, but more often actually insightful. I’m very proud of my little Shakespeare scholar!

Anyway, for a while we were doing that I found another awesome site, “No Fear Shakespeare” from Sparknotes, and so after we read a scene (several sections’ worth) we went back and read the easier version. I find I have to correct my own glosses of the text sometimes. Another thing we did is go back over several scenes’ worth of the video, just to remind ourselves of it. So we got Macbeth several times, taking notes, discussing, etc. H. wouldn’t be able to study it by himself but the two of us together can handle it.

What else? As to reading to himself, well, over the summer we let him read whatever he wanted and he chose to re-read the whole Beverly Cleary Henry Huggins series, among various other things. When the school year started, he went through Harry Potter 3 pretty slowly, then My Side of the Mountain (which he enjoyed quite a bit), Anne Frank’s diary for “serious literature” reading, which he did a couple of times per week until he gave up, about a third of the way through. This was his idea and I wasn’t going to insist on his finishing. Let’s see, he also read a few more Hardy Boys books. He recently finished Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which I read to him when he was five, but he had almost completely forgotten the story and I knew he’d like it (because he loved it when I read it to him) so I recommended he read it. He also re-read The Phantom Tollbooth, which he had read about 18 months before, but had mostly forgotten. He enjoyed and evidently got more out of it the second time. He also read The Black Stallion, about which he wrote answers to questions, and he declared it’s one of his favorite books ever. He also read The Cay to go along with our study of the Caribbean, and started but didn’t finish a book report about it. He probably read a few other things, I just can’t remember. He hasn’t read as much as I’d like, mainly because I have been too busy to be on his case about it, and he prefers to read nonfiction, especially the “Horrible Science” series he enjoys so much.

Writing and Grammar. We continue to experiment with different writing assignments and I still expect some writing (or much more rarely, grammar, or spelling & vocabulary) daily. For a while we were doing something we called “flash writing,” in which H. is supposed to write 100-150 words in 20 minutes or less. He sometimes wrote over 200 words in that time, about a few sections of The Story of the World. At first it was hard for him to understand what was going on, but eventually I impressed on him that he’s simply doing for other books what naturally came to him  for Shakespeare. He was having trouble figuring out what to write about a book he read about Henry Ford. But he more or less got the hang of it.

For a long, long time he was working on a summary of this excellent edition of Gilgamesh. He finally finished that last year. For a while he was working on a fantasy adventure with knights and monsters, “The Lord of Power” and the word count got up to 2000 or something. It was pretty half-baked but it was a good excuse to practice, well, various stuff.

He continues to write random stories and essays, all sorts of random crap (I use that word affectionately). A lot of the energy that he used to put into writing was channeled into programming on Scratch and Python, and on various creative projects connected to his imaginary (he insists it isn’t imaginary) business, “ComputerGenius.”

As far as grammar goes, he took a very long break from watching the Cozy Grammar videos and exercises, but then came back and did some more, then took another long break, and did some more. So now we’re up to lesson 22 or so of 27. We stopped using Spectrum Writing, Grade 4 last summer and never got back to it. He’s been working on that for a long time, but took a long break, and is now back at it.

Science. We finally finished physics. We worked on it for over 1.5 years, steadily going through all sorts of different books, using What’s Physics All About as a spine. We probably used too many books, more than necessary, but in the end I think H. learned a lot, especially when combined with SuperMemo (more later on that). By the end we were definitely doing science at the upper elementary level.

We’ve finally, as of January, moved on to chemistry. For this I decided not to use a “spine” text (a term homeschoolers use to refer to books used to organize the rest of the study). Since most of what we do is read anyway—with occasional experiments and science writing—and since I at least got annoyed at how we were chopping up other books into relatively incoherent bits in an effort to match them to our “spine,” I decided we’d read chemistry books mostly serially. We did get some shorter “True Books” and “Max Axiom” comics (these are great), and we’ll read those concurrently. Anyway, we’re started with the first two sections of the Usborne Science Encyclopedia. The first is about materials and so covers the atom, states of matter, the periodic table, and different elements, with a lot about metals. The second is about “mixtures and compounds” and covers chemical compounds, bonding, types and properties of chemicals like acids, bases, salts, etc. After that I think we’ll tackle What’s Chemistry All About, which covers a lot of the same material, but that’s OK: the whole idea is to get concepts from several sources. Finally I think we’ll hit the DK Eyewitness Chemistry book, which is slightly more advanced and probably has a lot of history of science, like the other DK Eyewitness science books we’ve read or dipped into. Another thing we’ve started,

For the last year or so we’ve been reading science (mostly physics, but lately chemistry) about three days a week at dinnertime. In addition, before bedtime we found an excellent middle school-level text, the CPO Focus on Physical Science, which has some math problems that are over H.’s head, but everything is no problem. Frankly I have no idea where we came across this, but it appears to be free, so we downloaded and tried it out, and it’s perhaps better written than some textbooks. We’re just reading it, and doing the problems (most of them) in our heads together, and not adding questions about it to SuperMemo, so it’s OK. We’ve just read the first couple of chapters. Maybe after he’s done sixth grade math I’ll have him go back over the text by himself and do the problems. I’m a strong believer in reading worthwhile books twice.

At some point in the not too distant future we’re going to buy H. a practical, educational chemistry set, if we can find one. Sadly, the rather insane obsession with making everything as absolutely risk-free as possible has meant that old-fashioned chemistry sets of the sort I had growing up are not readily available anymore, or not without considerable hunting.

The other major way H. learns science is through his very regular reading of the “Horrible Science” series. He’s probably read a half dozen or more of those, and has dipped into most of them to some degree. While it looks pretty lightweight, he seems to enjoy them, and he often comes out with tidbits he’s learned through reading the series, so I guess they’re doing him some good.

Geography. We finished studying the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, and are now into the United States. As usual we began with a National Geographic “Countries of the World” book, only this time it was about our own country, and started reading a book about sights around Ohio. He’s drawn a map of the country or two, and will do more, I’m sure. We’re just about done memorizing the states & capitals (not hard because he already knew most of them) using SuperMemo, and next we’re going to read about a half-dozen books about the more important states (e.g., California and New York), or states we have personal connections to (e.g., Alaska). As usual we continue to watch videos, look at atlas apps, get out our giant atlas and globe, etc. After that of course we’ll tackle Canada for a while and then we’ll be done with the western hemisphere, although maybe we’ll take the opportunity to study the Arctic and Antarctic. Then I guess we’ll move on to Europe.

We did switch geography-reading time to the evening so we could concentrate on history.

History. We were taking it pretty easy on history for several months. I think we actually stopped altogether for a while, while I was working hard on Infobitt and while we were reading some history stuff at night. Anyway, we still haven’t finished The Story of the World, Vol. 3, although we’re getting close now. We’re still reading the same three supplementary books, A Little History of the World, Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and the Kingfisher Atlas of World History. Now we’re reading about the Enlightenment and the period leading up to the American and French Revolution.

We also have finally started reading American history systematically for the first time (we did read about presidents up to 1928 last year, so I guess we had an introduction before this). For this we do have a spine, or rather, one main text: The Landmark History of the American People. This is a really well-written general history. I spent a long time picking it out and I’m very happy with it. H. seems to like it, too. Although it has short chapters that in formatting resembles a textbook’s, it is not “textbooky.” There are no sidebars, no boring writing, vocabulary items are explained in footnotes, and best of all, each chapter forms a narrative—not a personal narrative, but a connected recounting of closely related events.

Since we’re mixing American history with world history now we’re going through SOTW more slowly…or, we would be, if we were continuing to read history at bedtime instead of after lunch. We used to read geography after lunch and history at bedtime (each ~15 minutes at a time); now we’ve switched, and we’ve been read history virtually every day, so we’re making steady if not huge progress with both American and world history.

Latin. I started looking at Latin texts last year at some point and decided that Rosetta Stone was just not doing enough for him. I think he did get exposure to the sound, structure, and some vocabulary from Rosetta Stone, but on the whole, because the vocabulary was focused on typical language program stuff and not ancient Latin text vocabulary, it was probably a mistake. Maybe not, though. It wasn’t a major time investment and, even if he remembers very little specific from Rosetta Stone as he studies Latin from textbooks, he did get started on a new textbook very quickly and easily.

The new Latin text is very easy, however, so I’m not sure the Rosetta Stone made it much easier. The new text is Getting Started with Latin, which is so ridiculously gentle that, if he could write, my 3-year-old could use it. We’ve been much better about doing this every morning, for 30 minutes before breakfast, that we’ve got up to Lesson 54 in about two months. The typical lesson consists of translating 10 easy sentences, so it’s not as impressive as it sounds. The whole book is equivalent to maybe the first three chapters of D’Ooge (i.e., a traditional grammar-translation Latin book, free online, called Latin for Beginners).

Anyway, the combination of Rosetta Stone and this brief introductory text (which I think we’ll have finished by this summer) should make it possible to start working through D’Ooge with me. H.’s interest level in Latin, which is moderate, not intense and not hostile, together with hand-holding from me should make it possible for us to get through D’Ooge in, well, as long as it takes. It’s supposed to be one year’s worth of Latin but maybe we’ll take two.

Why D’Ooge? I actually made a spreadsheet with pros and cons. There are a number of texts that are a little too slow and easy, like Prima Latina. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with them, but I think we can learn more faster, especially if I’m working with H. on Latin 30 minutes a day, which is what I’ve been managing. On the other hand, there are some wonderfully reviewed texts like Wheelock, but it’s actually used in high schools and colleges, and it would take too much hand-holding from me to get him through that. Then there are texts that are written for something in between. There are two main methods for learning Latin: the grammar-translation method, which focuses on learning grammar systematically, so you actually understand it; and the reading method, which gives you just enough grammar to read a reasonably interesting text. Guess which I like the most. We’ll try D’Ooge’s relatively gentle grammar-translation method, but if that turns out to be too hard, we’ll probably try the Cambridge reading method.

I read for an evening or two about the benefits of Latin, not that I had never heard of them before. The main thing, to my mind, is not learning about language, or about grammar, or the roots of English words, etc. Those are good reasons to learn Latin, but we could learn those things (albeit not as well) by studying French or German.  Rather, the main reason to learn Latin is to learn the concepts, style of thinking, and classics that shaped Western thought. To learn Latin and Greek is to understand ourselves better, or so I’m told, and through what little exposure I’ve had to the languages, I find the claim very plausible.

BTW H. is now reading and translating in his mother’s language now, thanks to 10-15 minutes every night at bedtime (which sort of cuts down on my time with him, but that’s OK).

Piano. Although we started just before H.’s fourth birthday, he has never been terribly interested in piano, and I haven’t had the discipline or desire to push him. Nevertheless, he finally finished “Music for Little Mozarts” and we have moved on to Alfred’s Basic Piano Prep Course, C level. He’s now finally playing both hands together regularly, starting to read music with a little less help from me, etc. Guess I’m just too cheap to get a real piano teacher. More likely it’s because I don’t want to waste my money if he loses interest, and I don’t want to inflict H., who can be somewhat difficult to manage, on a piano teacher.

Philosophy. Every Saturday we pretty faithfully read at least two pages out of DK’s introductory Big Questions (see my review at that page)…for I don’t know how long, maybe 9 months? There’s no rush to get through and topics are barely connected from one spread to the next, so it’s OK to go through very slowly. I find the book tedious and annoying, but it is one of the few children’s philosophy books out there at this level—accessible to H.—and whenever I threaten to stop reading it, H. objects and insists we go on. On the bright side, it does introduce many, many interesting topics that children might not otherwise be introduced to, not just about philosophy but also psychology, occult-type questions, UFOs, whatever. This is at least the third book of its sort we’ve read. The other two were Really, Really Big Questions (my favorite of these three) and The Little Book of Big Questions (the first one we tackled), which had less content. I wrote a chapter of a philosophy book for children myself, and H. really liked that. Wish I had time to finish it!

Logic. H. has been doing 1-2 pages of logic workbooks for quite a while now, once per week, since he was 5 or so, with extended breaks now and then. Most recently he fairly quickly went through Logic Countdown and is now into Logic Liftoff. It’s another one of those things: it’s pretty lame, but there isn’t really anything else out there like it, so you takes what you gets. Once he’s done with the next book in the series, Orbiting with Logic, we’re going to start a real logic text, probably one written for junior high or high school students.

Programming. H.’s hobby has been programming. I’ve given him some Python lessons with Hello World! the Python primer, but we only got up to Ch. 7 and he just sort of figures stuff out. In the last year he’s spent more time on Small Basic and continuing on with Scratch. He hasn’t exactly written anything useful to adults, but he enjoys himself and he’s definitely practiced everything I’ve taught him. Wish I had time to teach him more steadily but of course there are only so many hours in the day.

Chess. We’re working through puzzles in Chessmaster, which is absolutely fantastic for learning chess. It has so much educational material—it’s wonderful. We don’t do it that often but he’s gotten quite a bit better. He can actually beat easy players without help now, and now understands about checkmating. But this is my hobby more than his so he doesn’t play much unless I offer to play him. Still, I have a feeling he’s going to get good when he’s a little older.

Art. He’s been taking a class, and greatly enjoying it. As a result he’s gotten quite a bit better.

Methodological notes

SuperMemo. Last year, one of the reasons we slowed down in both history and science was that I wanted to make SuperMemo questions about the main points studied, but if we read much new material, it would mean we had way too many questions to review. So we ended up doing side-reading about which we didn’t make any questions, which is fine, but still, it felt like we were treading water.

But we had a breakthrough in how we use SuperMemo, right around the first of this year. Last year we were doing around 60 questions per day, which ended up taking around 45 minutes per day. The breakthrough allowed us to do 100 to 200 questions per day in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes (it depends on H.’s mood and the number of new questions).

When I describe it, it’s going to sound ridiculous, I’m afraid. Basically, I get on one computer, and H. gets on another computer. We share each others’ screens via join.me. We then start a Skype call so we can talk. I have a timer on my screen, which he can see. He keeps track of how many questions he went through in the previous minute. I start the timer and tell him when the minute’s up, and he writes down the number he did. The “minimum” is three per minute, and the most he can do on average would be his average for today: about 7. So today he reviewed 171 questions in 23 minutes. It’s ridiculous, but it works!

I’ve made a few other changes to how we use SuperMemo. The most important is that I now rarely have answers that are more than one word, and I never have answers that are one sentence long. This makes the questions much easier to do. Probably he doesn’t memorize as much about each fact; but he does get reminded of the main, important part, and we can cover more material.

We—or rather, I—have occasionally considered dropping SuperMemo. It would, after all, give us 30-60 minutes per day more to read or do whatever, and that’s not insignificant. But H. resists, very strongly. Yesterday I deleted some questions that I thought were very badly written, and he actually cried when I did so. He doesn’t always love doing review, but he rarely dislikes it; and he consistently believes, and I think he’s right, that he won’t remember what he’s learned nearly as well unless it goes into SuperMemo.

A few notes now on how SuperMemo interfaces with particular subjects. I rarely put math questions into SuperMemo; if there are some particularly stubborn math facts he keeps getting wrong, I put those in. On the other hand, I put every item of Latin learned in, from the new book (I didn’t bother, with Rosetta Stone), and I plan to add all new vocabulary and grammar bits into SuperMemo when we start the next book.

Time management. As usual, we’ve continued to drift back and forth between time management methods. Sometimes I let him practically manage himself, with a little guidance from me. But then he ends up wasting a lot of time. Sometimes I have a “flexible schedule,” and that works a little better, but then often we end up not doing anything well. And occasionally, we adopt a stricter schedule. Then we get a lot done, but it requires more attention from me. I have to be 100% on, or I end up doing less work on Infobitt.

The way we found to do a stricter schedule is to schedule plenty of breaks, but be absolutely strict about both starting and stopping an activity, regardless of how much we’ve done. It’s discouraging when we barely get started with something and the time is up, but overall we get a lot more done. And the great thing is that when study time is over, H. has a large block of absolutely free time.

School. He goes to school two days a week for an hour each day, doing “specials,” meaning art, P.E., music, and computers. We have him there for a little extra socialization but he does learn a few things in these classes. He’s also been doing an art class lately and greatly enjoying that. Last year he was doing Cub Scouts, but this year we dropped it because basically his heart was not in it and I didn’t want to push him. So now we’re hunting about for new outlets. He has little interest in sports but he loves climbing constantly on the indoor gym with his brother.

Classical methodology. In homeschooling jargon, the method we most closely resemble is definitely the classical method, as described for example by the Bauers in The Well-Trained Mind. This involves having a schedule, doing quite a bit of work, focusing on memorization in the earliest grades (but this changes quite a bit later on), and making Latin and, later, Greek part of the curriculum, along with other works of classic literature. It’s a traditional sort of education in the sense that the main subjects are covered, Latin is one of them, and things are scheduled.

That said, I give H. a lot of freedom in what precisely he wants to read when it comes to the literature, history, and science he reads to himself. When it comes to writing assignments, half of the time, he’s deciding entirely by himself; much of the rest of the time, I propose and he decides. If he doesn’t want to practice piano or do anything extra, I don’t make him. So in those respects our approach is a little like “unschooling.” But I try to get H. to do math every day, whether he wants to or not, and Latin, etc., so it’s definitely not unschooling in general.

I’m trying to get H. to write more about what he’s read. For example, recently I produced a question about superstition in Huck Finn, and he wrote a decent brief composition about that, arguing that we should be tolerant of people who are superstitious, even if they are silly the way Huck and Jim are. So in this regard I’m trying to get H. to start writing more thoughtful pieces about his reading, and this practice resembles one of the core features of the Charlotte Mason method. And we do read a lot of high-quality books. But we also do use a number of reference-type books and textbooks, so we’re not 100% Charlotte Mason, not to mention the fact that I don’t give H. the entire afternoon off (just half of it).

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OK, now about E., who is 3.

E. is different from H. They both are early readers, but I think E. has more aptitude in math and handwriting than H. did at the same age, and H. was a little more interested in books than E. has been. H. is a little more serious, and E. is a little more sociable and a little less of an “intellectual” (for now!).

Reading. I’ve been reading books like Mr. Popper’s Penguins to him at bedtime (although, unlike H., he isn’t always interested in reading chapter books at bedtime). Pretty much anything I read to him at bedtime, he can and does occasionally read to me. Not infrequently he will interrupt me and insist on reading to me. That book has a grade level equivalent of 4.9, so that’s around where his decoding level is. I guess his reading-on-his-own comprehension level is a couple of grades behind that. I do give him second grade level science books to read on his own, and he’ll read them, although I often bribe him with this or that. If he’s reading to me, he needs no bribe, but he needs some sort of special reason to read on his own.

Writing. As with H., E. is just not motivated to learn how to write, and I am not motivated to make him. He does ask to write stuff much more often than H. did, and as a result he’s learning quite a bit better than H. did at the same age. He’s also learning to type in the same way H. did: I write out what he dictates, and then he writes words and short sentences with help from me (or H. or his Mama; Mama helps a lot here, and actually insists on doing at least as much as I do, because she thinks I did a terrible job teaching H. handwriting, which I freely admit). Anyway at this rate I think E. will be handwriting sentences when he’s 4 rather than 5, which is when H. started, I believe.

Math. H. didn’t have the iPad when he was E.’s age, and E. has definitely benefited from all the math apps. He can count up to 20 and is right now interested in learning to count to 100 so we’re doing that. He has started learning to add and subtract and is basically learning Kindergarten math stuff right now. Thanks to all the Kindergarten math apps we’ve done, he seems to be almost ready for first grade math.

Subjects/vocabulary. I don’t have any particular scheme with E. at this point. I do try to give him a wide variety of early elementary nonfiction picture books for science, history, and geography, and he does seem to be getting quite a bit that way. He also loves my presentations, the ones I made for H., so he’s seen most of those multiple times (except for the Music and Art ones, which we look at less often). His vocabulary and grasp of basic facts seems quite good for a 3-year-old, although he doesn’t sound quite like the little professor, the way H. did. He’s getting there, though. I’m just a proud papa so this is pretty meaningless, but he strikes me as being quite clever; he’s often producing clever and witty answers to questions, and he’s also excellent at explaining the meanings of words, just as H. was able to. This, in both cases, I attribute to the fact that I explain all words they don’t know, whenever we read. E. is a bit better than H. was at asking, “What does that mean?” H. used to jus t look up from the book and stare at me, waiting for an explanation; E., by contrast, proactively asks more. But he doesn’t really have to so much because, as I said, I explain pretty much everything.

P.E. He’s pretty strong and agile for a little guy, hanging upside down all the time from the gym, climbing up and down, spinning on the trapeze, etc.

Music. He’s been going to a music and dance class with his Mama, and I occasionally give him piano lessons, when he asks; he asks, because he imitates big bro all the time.

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 133 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

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

8 Responses to "Report on the boys (March 2014)"
  1. Reply Andrea March 30, 2014 03:11 am

    What a useful article! Thank you, Larry! You also sound like you’re teaching Marva Collins’ Way at least a bit, like you mentioned in one of your blog comments, right? I am refering to H.’s study on Shakespeare (which to me, as a mom who has a lot to learn on Classical homeschooling method, seems similar to her way). Great work, Dad, with both boys, very inspiring and a lot of great tips you’re sharing us! (andreasro on BK)

    • Reply Larry Sanger March 30, 2014 11:03 am

      Thank you Andrea!

      Yes, of course I should have mentioned Marva Collins’ Way. But, interestingly, that is rarely mentioned as a homeschooling method. But it could be. She basically uses a classical/liberal arts method. You’d be right that what we do is probably closer to what she does than any of the others.

  2. Reply Pat Palmer March 30, 2014 12:55 pm

    I loved this article. Already, I knew you were doing a great job of home-schooling–and the indoor gym is just awesome. I want one for myself!

  3. Reply FL_Reader August 14, 2014 12:00 pm

    So, how is Saxon Math going with H.?
    Can you please do a “New School Year/Back To School” update on the boys? I have been following your progress very, very closely.

    Also, may I ask how your boys bilingualism is developing? I am immensely curious as to how you maintain an age-appropriate fluency in the 2nd language when you do such a volume of work in English. It seems like all of your content and skill subjects are done in English.

    Do your sons also learn to read early in their 2nd language?
    Can you please share more about Hs development as a bilingual if you have any notes on that part of his development?

    Thank you very much

    • Reply Larry Sanger August 24, 2014 09:41 am

      Thanks for your interest!

      We’ve given up on Saxon Math. I have had to sit down with him for an hour a day, and I can’t really afford all that time, and H. just isn’t motivated under this system. So we’ll tough it out until we’re finished (we’re a month away from finishing) and then switch back to Singapore Math, which we were using before. I’ve learned more about how to use Singapore Math; I didn’t know how important it was to follow the teacher instructions when introducing new concepts, and I also didn’t know that there was plenty of supplementary work available. So we’ll avail ourselves of that. Before H. started with Saxon, he was fairly well motivated and moved through math more than one grade per year. This last year has been his first year in which it took him a full year to do one year of math. So…we won’t be continuing, I’m afraid.

      His mother speaks the 2nd language with him pretty much exclusively, and she also reads at bedtime to him. We’ve done a couple of translations, but not a lot. But we’re not yet doing anything systematic. We will, eventually.

      They have both been exposed to the alphabet and basic words in the 2nd language, in various media, but my 3-year-old can’t read in it and H. started reading in it only at age 6 or 7.

      They both have started Latin (Rosetta Stone) at age 3 or 4. Rosetta Stone is completely worthless for standard Latin study, and for that reason for a while I thought it was completely pointless. But since E. started it I was able to see that H.’s early exposure made it possible for him to be where he is (we’re starting D’Ooge’s Latin for Beginners, an old text for junior high/early high school). It really does make some the pronunciation (especially), basic grammar, and basic vocabulary all extremely intuitive. Maybe more important than that is reducing the overall “foreign-ness” of Latin, and that it’s just fun. Still don’t know if I recommend it; we’re just doing it because it seems to work and it’s what we have!

  4. Reply Julia September 19, 2014 14:23 pm

    I was wondering if you still recommend the indoor gym you purchased? Do your boys still use it regularly? Thank you!

    • Reply Larry Sanger September 19, 2014 14:31 pm

      I still recommend it highly and they do still use it pretty much daily.

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