Update about the boys, March 2016

I have given a report about H. last Jan. 2, and now I have a little time to write about what’s going on with E., who is now 5, and not quite old enough to be in Kindergarten this year.

First of all, E’s Mama is homeschooling him, which means I know what’s going on with him mostly second hand, although I see some of it since I work at home. Anyway, here goes.

The big change with E. is that since his fifth birthday, last fall, he has slowly transitioned to being actually homeschooled. Theoretically he’s supposed to have at least 30 minutes’ reading, 15 minutes math, and 15 minutes writing. But a typical day looks very different from that.

We’re still not doing SuperMemo, because E. just doesn’t like it much. H. didn’t start until he was 6, so…

Reading/literature. Since the last report, and after his birthday, for his reading we let him read whatever he wanted, and he went through dozens and dozens of Berenstain Bears books, because they were on hand (left over from H.) and he likes them. He did read a few other things, occasionally science. He also read a pile of classic picture books, which I picked out for him. After going through all those picture books, I think he was bored, but not quite ready to tackle so many chapter books. Mind you, he can read them just fine (this is two years ago), but he hasn’t been motivated and we’re not going to push him. He did read Roald Dahl’s The Witches (more about Dahl below). He doesn’t read enough to my taste, probably not 30 minutes a day on average, but some days he reads for a few hours.

After his Mama insisted that he start something, a week or two ago, he did pick a chapter book and is now reading his hardest self-read book yet, The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, which he says he likes quite a bit. I remember H. read that book at about the same age.

Meanwhile, at mealtimes, I’m still reading to him most breakfasts and lunches. I finished reading the entire Harry Potter series to him—he rarely wanted to read anything else, and it took over a year to read them all, I think. Then we went through various other books, including Black Ships Before Troy, the fantastic prose adaptation of The Iliad, which was quite advanced. In fact, I started reading it to H., although H. is perfectly capable of reading it to himself. H. lost interest (often leaving the meal table before anyone else to run to his computer to work on his latest programming project), but E. was hooked, and asked me to keep reading, even though I thought it was too advanced. I did have to explain quite a lot of the words.

The same thing happened again more recently. I thought I’d try reading The Odyssey to H., the awesome, poetic, and relatively accessible Fitzgerald translation, knowing that E. would get a little out of it (he always surprises me in how well he pays attention when I’m reading to H.). So H. quickly lost interest and said he’d rather read it to himself (which I’ll have him do after he’s finished with A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But again, E. was hooked. I said it’s beyond him but he insisted that I continue, and for several weeks I always said we didn’t have to read this, we could read something else, and he keeps asking for the Odyssey.

How do I read the Odyssey to a 5-year-old, you ask? (Sure, a precocious 5-year-old, but come on.) Basically, what I always do: as I read a sentence, I read the written words and immediately, parenthetically, insert glosses for the words that are easy to gloss. As to the more important, interesting, or hard-to-gloss words, we look those up in the handy on-screen dictionary (we read it on the iPad which makes this easy). When a whole sentence or phrase seems difficult, I retell the point in my own words. I’m rather proud of how much I seem to remember from my slender study of classics, lo, over 25 years ago. For pronunciation of names, it helps that H. and I have started studying ancient Greek at night (using Athenaze). I also do voices. The result is that the book (as glossed by me) still has E’s attention, and we’re up to Book 9 of 24. The cyclops part. Very exciting and gory. Perfect for E.

It helps a lot, and I mean it has been absolutely essential, that we read Tales from the Odyssey before, listened to it in the car as well, read a zillion other Greek myths books, etc. The gods and goddesses, Odysseus himself, and his story are all pretty familiar at this point. He can explain what’s going on. A few times Mama has asked for clarification of some point, and E. will answer before I do.

Speaking of advanced stuff, on Sunday evenings I read The Pilgrim’s Progress (this slightly modernized but gorgeously illustrated edition…I didn’t know that it was actually modernized when I bought it, but I think that’s actually not a bad thing in this case) to H. But E. as usual is paying close attention and so I try to bring this already somewhat simplified version down to his level in my glosses. Reading only once a week a half-hour at a time, we’ve gone through quite slowly but are now past the halfway mark.

But back down to earth: E. still likes reading easy stuff. I often catch him with my iPad looking at old Disney story apps, which he read when he was one and two, and the preschool-level Beginner’s Bible. (Probably because of readings from Pilgrim’s Progress.) Whereas H. said at that age that he was an atheist (pretty sure he still takes that position), E. says he believes in God. Go figure. E. is of a more magical and romantic cast of mind.

Math. He worked on 1st grade math (Splash Math) intermittently for over a year, I think, and after trying IXL for a bit, he started working on that instead, in 2nd grade. He’s been playing Tower Math (the iPad app) lately which helps a bit with his math facts, but he’s still counting on his fingers or quickly in his head, having memorized only a few. I think Mama has started using flash cards with him as well as LacerLinks, as I did with H. at that age, and maybe we’ll get him going in Two Plus Two Is not Five, which seemed to help H. Anyway, although he seems talented at math—it comes to him pretty easily—he’s not very motivated to do it, and again we don’t insist too much at this point.

Writing. He’s gone mostly through the Kumon Writing Words book, and his handwriting is getting reasonably good. Mama has taught him very well how to hold the pencil and write neatly. I encourage them to copy sentences, but they haven’t really started that yet—sometimes. So he’s not particularly advanced at writing yet. He’s also rather less confident than H. was at this age as far as spelling goes. He is demotivated to write because he needs to know exactly how things are spelled and doesn’t seem to believe us that he’ll pick it up automatically by random practice. E.g. earlier today he wrote a couple sentences as part of a little Scratch program. So who knows, maybe we’ll go through some sort of systematic speller with him, even if we didn’t do that with H.

He also types, and has practiced typing rather well. He types more confidently than he writes, and he gets in all sorts of typing practice when he does Google searches, e.g., for funny cats, and other such occasions. We started him on different typing software but nothing seems to be working out (bugs and/or poor design). That’s a problem I’m assigned to solve soon.

Latin and Russian. As with H., we started our Latin study with Rosetta Stone when he was three or four, but that didn’t last long; unlike H., E. just wasn’t that into Rosetta Stone. Then last year I discovered the easy children’s Latin curriculum Minimus, a British production, and we fairly carefully went through all but the last couple chapters of book 1. It was great on the iPad, as audio and cartoons are built in, making it all a very gentle introduction. Anyway, for some reason toward the end of that book he started refusing to go on, so we gave that up. Not long after I decided we could start with one of the easiest public domain Latin readers, Mima Maxey’s New Latin Primer. But we got several pages into that when the grammar started piling up, so to speak, and I figured it would be easier to just go through Getting Started with Latin, which I had used with H. when he was 8—it was very easy for him then. This book is somewhat challenging, but he’s still OK with it, if not always enthusiastic, and he does seem to get a kick out of the progressive knowledge he’s building up. This book is a great confidence-builder for kids, I highly recommend it. We’re around Lesson 25 now (of 144). We’ll see how it goes! My guess is that the next thing won’t be D’Ooge or Lingua Latina, because those are both too hard for him now and require grammar he hasn’t got under his belt yet. Instead, we’ll probably go through another elementary curriculum.

As to the time Getting Started with Latin takes, we do it typically during lunchtime, once a day but usually skipping a few days a week. Still, we’re making good forward progress. At this rate he’ll be at big brother’s level or beyond when he is that age.

E’s Mama also reads stories, sings, and teaches him to read in her language daily. She also speaks to them in her language, and while they respond back in English, they do understand quite a bit, and E. can read simple stuff. Recently, after H. discovered Duolingo, E. decided to get into it in Mama’s language. He’s been (with my and Mama’s help) starting to learn how to type/spell words, and this of course helps his English as well.

History. Mama is reading The Story of the World, Vol. 1, to E., and discussing it, as I did with H. around the same age. I think they’re several chapters in. They started only a couple of months ago. I have read him a few history books at mealtimes; in the last few months, I remember one about Lincoln and a few about the ancient world. Also, E. watches a lot of videos about history (and other subjects) on BrainPop. He did BrainPop Jr. for a long time, which wasn’t very interesting for H., so I decided to switch our subscription for a while to…

BrainPop. In other words, Tim and Moby. Turns out that E. likes these at least as much as BrainPop Jr. and for many months he was watching them religiously every morning as H. and I were doing Latin, something like 30 minutes a day or more. Then we sometimes watch one at the beginning of a meal. Similarly as H. absorbed loads of random facts from the Horrible Science series, then spewed the facts out at random intervals afterward, so E. watches dozens upon dozens of these middle school-level videos and later reports them back to me, often at inconvenient times, like when I’m trying to work. His favorite subject in BrainPop is…

Science, and in particular the human body and health. Often some quite advanced stuff. He paid fairly close attention as I read to H. about chemistry, and definitely picked some advanced topics up for a 4 or 5 year old. Also, since we switched to biology last fall, I started by reading H. What’s Biology All About? by Usborne. This is for H. a very easy book (he is doing high school biology), but H. enjoys the review and I generally leave the book choice up to him. It helps E. that this is a book closer to his level, especially after all those BrainPop videos, so I sort of read it to E. as well. We read it 1-2 times a week at dinner. E. has been saying for over a year now that he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Mama has been doing occasional experiments with him, which is a good thing because she used to shoo us out of the kitchen and bathrooms when H. and I tried to use them for experiments, and now she has no excuse as she is responsible for the mess. Another sciencey thing we do is Thursdays, we read from William J. Long, Secrets of the Woods, a book of the nature writing genre that I hadn’t been exposed to since…maybe high school. Unusually and unexpectedly good book; the people on Goodreads who called it “wordy” are probably just in need of education themselves. The book is part of the Yesterday’s Classics series we bought and which I highly recommend, if you can transfer the books to your tablet. It was just the first plausible of their “Nature” books that I found in our collection. E. has also taken to watching some cool science videos in the Kurzgesagt series, which must be over his head, but what the hell, he found them and he wants to watch them. He has watched an awful lot of Magic School Bus videos (and I read a few of the books, some while back, at the table to him), and Bill Nye. We went all the way through the Brain Games series on Netflix, and recently started How We Got to Now, also on Netflix, both very cool. Also, as of last week, MacGyver. That’s science!

Art & Music & Poetry. Wednesday dinnertime is poetry; I read this ostensibly to H. but E. is often tuning in. Both seem to like poetry, and E. on occasion will request poetry during his (i.e., breakfast and lunch) reading times. Friday evenings is art and music, and again while I chose the books and media for H., E. tunes in closely and definitely learns quite a bit there too.

Bedtime reading. As much as he likes science, E. is totally into anything magical (like Harry Potter) and heroic (like The Odyssey). So at night, I’ve read him a series of Roald Dahl books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Danny the Champion of the World, and The BFG. (Did you know there’s a British cartoon BFG on YouTube that as of this writing hasn’t been taken down?) H. was never so much into these, but he has listened in on the last three. E. really likes Dahl. At the moment we are starting in on W.B. Yeats’ Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, beautifully told. I’m pretty sure we’ve read some others at night as well. We’re almost done with The Tower Treasure, the first Hardy Boys book.

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 160 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.

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