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I’ve changed quite a bit of what I’ve been doing with H. For many months, I was following a schedule according to which I assigned specific subjects to specific meals (we read, or do something else educational, at almost all meals). So, for example, at breakfast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we did history, and on the other days, science.  This was working reasonably well. But, for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t go into, I decided to change things up. I guess the main reason is that we had started way too many books. We were working on, I’d estimate, 20-30 nonfiction (and a few fiction) books at once. This contributed to a lack of interest in certain books (it’s important that there not be too big of a lag between time working on a book, or the thread is lost).

So I decided to pick at most a half-dozen and read only those. As a result, we’ve finished a lot more books, we are finally making significant progress on those half-dozen, and I think our reading time is more efficient. Books that we’ve been dipping into, off and on, for as long as a year (or more, in one or two cases), we are now actually finishing. We could still follow a schedule, if we really wanted to, but I’m not sure I see the point anymore. I mean, if I want to ensure that we read a wide variety of subjects, or get more of some particular subject, then it’s just a matter of adding more of those books to the “active” book set when we finish one.

The other change is bigger: H. is now reading on his own for an hour a day, and he’s reading a substantial amount with good comprehension. How has this happened?  Well, now that H. is five, he is at an age when a lot of kids are stopping their afternoon naps. We’ve been worried that, if he stopped his nap, he wouldn’t be getting enough sleep, and getting enough sleep is very important, especially for children. But we did stop his nap, and as a result he has been getting to sleep earlier (sometimes he was taking a loooong time to fall asleep at night) and getting up a little later (rather than bouncing on the bed at 6:30 AM, as he has been known to do). So at night he seems to be getting the sleep that he would otherwise have in his afternoon nap.

So here is the deal: I figured that putting off bedtime would be an excellent incentive to read at bedtime. I already knew he didn’t like napping. So I said, “Either you take a nap, or here’s a new option, you can read for an hour.”  H. jumped at the chance to skip the nap.

Let me digress: for a year or so, H. has not been reading to himself so much. I don’t know why this has been the case; it might be something as mundane as the abundance of more compelling toys, like Legos, which diverted him endlessly. I wrote off his new nonreading habits as a phase (though there were two or three short periods in this “phase” in which he did read to himself a fair bit), but it was getting to be a rather long phase. Mind you, he still declared that he liked reading–just only when I read to him. And that I did (and still do) a lot. Actually, H. never did read very much to himself, and when he did, he only rarely read books from cover to cover, even though he was totally able to do so. Instead, he would sit and look through a zillion picture books at random and, later, the Magic Tree House books we read so many of.

As I was saying, H. was totally game for reading instead of napping. And it has worked out very well for the last week, the first we’ve tried it. I thought he’d resist, take long breaks, pretend to read and not really do it–but none of that has happened, as far as I can tell. A couple of days ago, in a little over an hour, he read the whole 62-page Usborne Young Reading (Level 3) version of Count of Monte Cristo, a 30-page highly illustrated (but not babyish) book about farm equipment, and (he re-read this) one of the Katie museum books (maybe Katie and the Spanish Princess–we love the Katie books, they’re a great way to introduce art). This is, I think, an amazing amount for a five-year-old to read in an hour. So I’ve kept asking him (and myself) whether he’s actually reading all that. (I can’t see him doing the reading, because I’m upstairs, putting together Reading Bear–that’s the new program’s name.) Now, H. is a pretty honest little kid. Still, I’ve decided to verify. I am now in the habit of asking him a whole series of questions about all the books he read, and he is in the habit of answering them.  This has the added benefit of reinforcing what he has read, of course.

He always gets the more obvious questions right, and he frequently surprises me with his ability to remember things that I am quite sure I would never remember myself. I also sometimes ask questions about unimportant details, just to see how carefully he read the text (most are not “reading comprehension” questions), and he often gets those right.  This overall performance has really put my mind at ease. For a long time, I wondered how much of what we read H. really absorbed. I sometimes asked him comprehension questions, and he usually got the answers right, but I was still not sure. Well, this practice of an-hour-of-reading-then-quiz-on-it has me completely convinced: H. doesn’t just remember what he read, he remembers it far better than I would, and he definitely understands most important plot details, characters, motives, etc. So, for those few of you reading this who might be skeptical that a very early reader would be reading with excellent comprehension at age five, I can assure you that they can, at least in the case of my own little boy.

Today, after I put out ten or so books for him to choose from, set the 60-minute timer, and went upstairs, he chose one that he picked out at the bookstore last night: Who Was Abraham Lincoln? (from the Grosset & Dunlap historical biography series). He read 20 pages of this 100-page chapter book, a historical biography for kids, grade level 3.9 (according to the wonderful “Teacher Book Wizard“).  I never would have expected him to pick a “serious” history book; he was obviously made interested in the subject by a rather easier picture book bio of Lincoln by the D’Aulaires.  Anyway, he read out of the Lincoln book after he had read, cover to cover, Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures #2: The Great Egyptian Grave Robbery, about 80 pages long, supposedly grade level 4.4.  And after that, he re-read 30 pages of the Usborne version of The Canterville Ghost (for the fourth time–he just likes it, for some reason).  When he told me he read all that, I was still having a hard time believing it.  Twenty pages of history, after an 80-page easy chapter book and then 30 pages of another easy chapter book?  Could he really do all that in an hour?  But I gave him a quiz, asking him all sorts of questions that he could answer only if he had been reading and paying attention, and he appeared to have read them and understood them very well.

I don’t mean to brag–I’m just feeling vindicated, as well as proud of my little boy.

Otherwise, we’re plugging away with math and penmanship.  As to math, we’re doing Two Plus Two Is Not Five, which is a workbook for memorizing addition and subtraction facts, and still plugging away with Kindergarten Math B (but getting closer to the end).  As to penmanship, lately we’ve been doing two pages per day out of the Kumon Lowercase Letters book, and then I give him five words, or a short sentence, to copy.  He’s making fine progress on both fronts, although he’s not nearly as advanced in these skills as he is in reading.  We’ve (temporarily) stopped practicing typing and memorizing quotations–haven’t done either one for a month or so.  I’m sure we’ll get back into those soonish.

As to history–well, first, some background.  Last spring, around March I guess, H. found in our bookcase Gombrich’s Little History of the World, which I had hopefully bought a year or so ago.  I didn’t really expect him to start reading it, because it seemed advanced.  But he requested it, totally out of the blue.  Then we also started reading Bauer’s excellent Story of the World again, at his request.  Now, I just knew, because I know his habits, that, left to his own devices, he would probably drop one or both of these books.  I had the notion that we ought to stick with them and even read them concurrently, to get two different child-friendly perspectives on world history.  So I decreed that we would read at least two pages of each book before reading our usual chapter books (novels).  (Right now, we’re working on The Great Brain and an easy version of The Secret Garden, the original of which we just finished in audiobook form.  And today we finished Tintin and the Picaros, our sixth Tintin “graphic novel”–fun, but not the best of the series.)

This was totally the right move for us, now.  Two pages go by very fast, so often we read three or four; as we do this every night without fail, we actually made good progress through the books, despite the fact that we’re reading two at once.  He never complains about this reading and has actually taken a definite interest in history.  Myself, I’ve never had more fun with it.  It also helps that I show him supplementary videos and pictures on the iPad.

Actually, we haven’t read Gombrich or Bauer in a month, though.  Halfway through Bauer, I turned to a historical atlas for kids as well as Usborne’s excellent Ancient World, a thin children’s encyclopedia, and we’ve been reading two pages out of these daily, to solidify what we learned in Gombrich and Bauer.  It’ll take another week or two and then we’ll be caught up.  Then the idea will be to cover some period of history first in a relatively short version from Gombrich, then a longer version from Bauer, then consolidate this by reading the atlas and encyclopedia versions.  “Slow but steady” is how we’re approaching history–at this rate, in a little over two years, we will have read Gombrich, Bauer’s four volumes, a series of Usborne history encyclopedias, and one or two history atlases–two to four pages at a time, at bedtime.  “Slow and steady.”

Then, after the little bit of history, we do chapter books for a half hour or so, as usual.

Still doing Rosetta Stone Latin in the afternoons.  Working away at Level 1, Unit 2.

We finished Lollipop Logic, a little beginner logic book.  It’s OK–H. has “ordered” the second in the series.  As a logic teacher myself, I’m not sure what the advantage of this sort of practice is, but H. specifically asked for logic books after I explained something about the subject and he saw my logic texts on my bookshelf.  Can’t hurt, and provides a tiny bit of practice helpful for understanding science and the  world generally.

We did a six week soccer thing–H’s first team sport experience.  He liked it, but really didn’t get the whole competition thing.  Preferred talking to playing.

We rented a fiddle, again; I started giving him lessons, but we both sort of gave up–me, mainly because I’m worried that he’s going to learn bad habits by practicing endlessly without me but not holding the instrument properly.  We probably need the discipline of Suzuki at this point.

Now just a little about baby E.–not as much to report here.  He’s now eight months old.  He’s noisier now, and just ready to crawl (doing the rocking-back-and-forth thing on his hands and knees) and standing easily (holding on to one hand).  (H., by the way, never learned to crawl as a baby, but he started walking at age 10 months.)  We’ve been doing 10 minutes of flashcards nearly daily, often read books, watch Your Baby Can Read twice a week or so (and I’m now having him watch Volume 2).  We also look at Reading Bear (the same demo presentation, 30 words or so) regularly, and iPad apps several times a week.  I regularly take him on tours of the house and narrate stuff.  He’s constantly hearing language from his mama and big brother.  He makes all sorts of noises, and can say “mama” and “papa” intentionally, and knows what they mean.  Once a few weeks ago I showed him the “wave” or “waving” card, without saying the word, and he started waving his arm vigorously.  Of course, it could have been a coincidence.  Anyway, E. is a very lively little guy.