Tag Archives: reading

Seeing the Problem More Clearly

For much of her later elementary years, my fifth-grade daughter has not enjoyed “school.” While she has always loved hands-on projects and field trips, completing workbook exercises or reading assignments has been a tedious chore both for her and myself.

“Mom,” she would say as I was helping her younger brother, “I don’t get it. I neeeeed heeellllppp!”

“Wait a minute,” I’d reply. “Do what you can, and I’ll help you in just a minute.”

“But I can’t do it!” she’d continue to insist until I gave in. And just as I was in the middle of explaining the math concept, she’d interrupt with “I don’t understand!”

“I didn’t finish yet,” I would answer, trying to keep my cool. And we’d start again. And again. And again. She would fuss, and I’d become frustrated. And so have gone many of our school days for the past two and a half years.

Reading hasn’t been much better. I still have her read aloud to me, and while she knows most of the words and only has to sound out a few, she doesn’t read as much as I would like. And she certainly doesn’t read for pleasure.

But I think we’ve finally found the answer. As it turns out, a recent thorough eye exam revealed that she’s farsighted, and while she could make her eyes focus on her school books, she had to really strain to do so. The result: tired eyes, frequent headaches, and a dislike of reading.

It’s often hard for parents to know when a child needs that extra help, especially if your child isn’t in a regular classroom setting. I remember trying to look at the black board when I was in 9th grade, and squinting very hard to see it. That was my big clue that I needed glasses. But I’m nearsighted, and from what I’ve read, farsightedness is less obvious. Farsighted children tend to make their eyes focus anyway, straining their eyes and sometimes even crossing them to get the job done.

Well, now we know. The struggles I used to credit to my child’s  personality were actually due to poor vision. But now we’re both looking forward to a good second semester. 🙂

Easing into School

Remembering back to my elementary, middle, and high school years, the first days of school were always an exciting time when I met my teachers and found out who shared my classes. Then the teachers went through the school handbook and discussed all the rules. Though we may have had a homework assignment or two, it was a good way of “easing” into the new school year.

Well, my kids already know their teacher and classmates, and the rules of the house are still the same. Because of this, I tend to want to jump back into school “full steam ahead.” I have to remind myself that we haven’t been on a regular schedule for a while, and it might take a few days to get into a regular routine again.

But there are things we can do to make the change easier for us all to adjust to:

  • We’ll spend time talking about the subjects they’ll be learning, and how and when I can help them individually. We’ve had the problem in the past of one student interrupting me while I was trying to help another. This time, they’ll know just what to expect.
  • I’m not assigning them work in every subject…yet. We’ll tackle a few of the basics first, especially reading and writing. I’ll introduce the other subjects as the week goes on and they’ve had time to readjust.
  • Although the kids are going to wake up at the same time and eat breakfast together, they’re going to go through the day at their own pace.  Some of my students will get right to it and get things done, while others will work in a much more leisurely manner. I’ve found it only frustrates all of us when I try to keep everyone on task together.
  • We’ll play some educational games together.
  • We’ll plan an outing with friends towards the end of the week, giving them something special to look forward to.

Even if you homeschool, or rather, especially if you homeschool, those first days can still be an exciting fresh start!

 

Photo by earl53

 

A Pig Parade and a Cupcake

This summer, my children participated in our library’s summer reading program. To win all of the prizes, younger kids had to read 80 picture books (that was a lot of books!). Needless to say, we made multiple trips to the library looking for new books to read. Some we read were pretty good, and some were not so good. And two of the books that we read really surprised me. They were A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Micahel Ian Black and Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper.

While I figured A Pig Parade would have be one that the kids would enjoy, it actually turned out to be so much fun for me to read aloud. While it doesn’t tell a story, it does tell you why you shouldn’t try to have a pig parade. Discussing everything from the majorette uniforms to the music  to the floats and balloons, the book offers convincing arguments for avoiding a piggy production. It has some bigger vocabulary words, making it a very entertaining book for older children and adults.

The second book that surprised me was Cupcake. This one features a cupcake that thinks he is very plain. All of his decorated brothers and sisters are quickly chosen (and eaten!), while he is left behind. As I’m reading  along with my kids, I was thinking this was one of those books that was going to be very hard to get through. It was obvious what the moral was going to be, and it seemed so “cheesy” (or rather, “sugar-coated?”), that I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish the book. However, we needed to read 80 books, so we kept going.

Well, about half-way through the book, the cupcake meets a candle that is also plain. The candle has the idea of putting different things on the cupcake to dress him up a little.  The things he chooses are so funny — pickles, smelly cheese, even a squirrel! By this time, we are all laughing, and then my daughter guesses what the ending will be — the candle will hop onto the cupcake. But she has guessed incorrectly, and the surprise ending brings even more laughs. No lesson — just fun.

So, if you’re looking for an afternoon read to enjoy with your kids, give a pig and a cupcake a try!

Back to Junie B.

Until recent activities made life quite hectic, I often read stories to my children at the table as they ate their lunch. Sometimes I would read a couple of picture books to entertain the younger ones, or sometimes I would choose longer books, reading a chapter or two at a time.  One of our early favorite was the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park. We went through all the books our library had and enjoyed every one.

At the time, my youngest, Luke, was probably about three years old. He sat for the stories  and seemed to enjoy them too. But it never occurred to me that now, three years later, he didn’t really remember them. That is, until we were in a used bookstore about a week ago.

Searching the shelves for books to read, I found a stack of Junie B. Jones. “I remember this one,” I said.

My daughter Cassie picked up another. “This one was really funny too.”

“And this one was my favorite,” I answered, holding up yet another.

Luke just looked at us. “Do you remember these?” I asked, and he shook his head. So we bought a few of them before we headed home.

That night, we decided to read for 1/2 hour. We read the first Junie B. Jones book and got about half-way through it. Of course, I had to change my voice for each character. And speak very loudly when Junie B. is yelling. But that’s all part of the fun. (There are some words that parents may want to watch out for — Junie B. uses the words “stupid” and “hate” sometimes, so when I’m reading aloud, I change or omit them altogether.)

We finished up that book the next day, then started in with the second one. Within a couple of days, we had read all the books we had purchased. Luke looked a little concerned.

“Don’t worry, ” I told him. “I’ll get some more from the library.” When I brought home four more, he was excited.

I went into the kitchen to wash some dishes, and he came in too, carrying the books. “Mom,” he said, “may you read me some more of these sometime?”

What a great question! I had to smile.  “Yes, I may,” I said. So no matter how busy our days become, we are back to Junie B.

Books for Advent

When my oldest son was much younger, a friend of mine introduced me to the three-book advent series by Arnold Ytreeide. I borrowed one of hers and purchased another, and I was glad I did. Soon after that the books were out of print, and for a while the only ones available to purchase were very costly. Happily, though, another publisher picked them up, and I can recommend them again!

The series begins with Jotham’s Journey, the story of 10-year-old Jotham who, while searching for his family, encounters many dangers, including robbers and kidnappers. Along the way, Jotham also meets shepherds, wisemen, and innkeepers, until he finally finds his way to the Savior born in a stable.

In Bartholomew’s Passage, young Bartholomew faces the destruction of his village, the loss of his family, and his own enslavement. Readers can follow along as he escapes, reunites with his family, and finds the Christ child in Bethlehem. And along the way he’s made a new friend — Jotham!

Tabitha’s Travels is the third book, featuring a young shepherd girl named Tabitha. As her family is traveling, her father is taken prisoner by the Romans. During the course of the story, Tabitha spends time with Elizabeth and Zachariah and helps Mary and Joseph just before Jesus is born. She, too, finds some new friends — Jotham and Bartholomew!

While it sounds like you might be doing a lot of reading this Christmas season, don’t worry — the books are designed in such a way that you would read just one book a year. The first year, then, you can read about Jotham, the next year Bartholomew, and then finally Tabitha. Or, you might choose to begin with Bartholomew or Tabitha instead.

Each book is divided into short chapters, one for each day of advent. And each chapter is suspenseful and exciting, ending with a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following day.

If you’re looking for a good book to read with your children this holiday season, try one by Arnold Ytreeide.  It’ll be a Christmas adventure your children will enjoy. And who knows? It might even become a new holiday tradition!

Time to Sleep

When my oldest son was very young, I discovered the picture book Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming at the library. It was such a fun book that we purchased our own copy and used it every year.

Time to Sleep follows a number of animals as they realize that winter is coming.  The leaves are falling and the days are shorter, so Bear decides he must tell Snail that it’s time to hibernate. Snail, then, must tell Skunk, who in turn must tell Turtle, and so on until Ladybug hears the news. The story comes full circle as Ladybug goes to Bear’s cave and wakes him up to tell him… it’s time to sleep.

We made the story even more fun by creating a craft to go along with it. Here’s what we did:

Using felt squares found at the craft store, I made each of the animals depicted in the story. I cut out two pieces of the basic shape of each animal and sewed the sides together (leaving a small opening). My son then stuffed them with fiberfill, and I sewed them shut. We added googly eyes and noses to the animals that needed them.

Next, we found a cardboard box about 12″ deep. I turned it upside down and cut a hole in the bottom of it.

Then, we read the story again. As each animal went to “sleep,” my son put them in the hole in the box. The last one to go in was the ladybug. Not only did we have a good time reading the book and making the craft, but my son learned about hibernation and had hands-on reinforcement each time we read the story. We actually used the same book, box, and animals with all of my children (I don’t know how they lasted so long), and it was fun to reminisce each time we got them out.

For us, Time to Sleep was really time for fun!

Focus on the Family Book Reviews

My daughter Cassie was looking for something new and interesting to read, so I found one of my favorites for her at the library: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I had read it when I was taking a children’s literature class in college, and I can still remember how exciting it was, so exciting that I couldn’t put it down. I was sure she’d enjoy it, too.

Cassie’s about halfway through the book now, but she’s not responding to it the same way I did. Perhaps it’s because I was older when I read it, and she’s just going on twelve. She reminded me of some of the more violent passages (the story involves a mutiny on a ship), and wondered if she should continue. So we looked it up at Focus on the Family’s Book Reviews.

Much like the Plugged-In movie reviews, the book reviews are designed to provide parents with enough information to decide if a book is appropriate for their students. Each review includes a plot summary, a summary of the Christian beliefs expressed (either directly or indirectly), an evaluation of the authority figures in the story and how they are portrayed, a description of other belief systems introduced in the book, and any profanity and sexual references it contains. At the end of the review, you’ll also find a list of awards the book has won, as well as study questions.

While these reviews don’t discuss the literary merit of a book, they do provide parents with such a detailed overview of the book that there are few, if any, surprises. After reading a review, a parent can feel confident about assigning (or un-assigning) a particular book.

So what about Charlotte? All looked good on the review, so Cassie’s moving on to Part II. Hopefully, she’ll enjoy the adventure as much as I did.

Teaching Reading

I once read in The Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer that “reading is easy.” Reading may be easy, but sometimes teaching a child to read can be difficult.

My oldest son was an early reader, starting off by reading simple words when he was just three years old. After a while, however, he reached a plateau; he could read three- and four-letter words, but he didn’t seem to be able to move on from there. We spent a few months practicing those words by reviewing them and playing games. Then, all of a sudden, he could read almost anything. I never taught him about the long vowel sounds or the silent “e”. He just read them on his own. I wondered, then, if that was how children learn to read.

I found out the answer with my second child. When I followed a similar course with her, the results weren’t the same. She didn’t pick up on it right away; instead, we worked through some phonics books, slow and steady, learning the rules as she learned to read. It took a little longer, but eventually, she got it. Today reading is one of her favorite subjects.

When it was time for my third child to start reading, I decided to try the same phonics workbooks, and for a while, they were helpful. But my third child is my most playful one and the one most resistant to learning. Despite the whining and complaining, we pressed on, though at an even slower pace than before. After trying several different reading programs, I put them all aside and decided to delve right into traditional books. Finally, she really was reading.

My youngest is entering the first grade this year, and he’s not yet a reader. While he’s good with numbers and understanding math concepts, he forgets letter sounds from one day to the next. So lately I’ve been gathering different reading programs together. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll try them out to see which is the best fit. Perhaps it will be an established curriculum, or perhaps, as with my oldest, we won’t use any curriculum at all.

While teaching reading isn’t always easy, homeschooling has helped us as it allows for the differences in learning styles — and in the children themselves.

Photo by Mary Vogt

What’s Going On In There?

This summer, our library presented its annual children’s summer reading program. After reading for 10, 15, and 25 hours, children could win prizes such as passes to a local water park or ice skating rink, free ice cream from Chick-fil-A, and more. Although it didn’t sound like a lot of time, we got a late start, and those first 10 hours of picture books for my youngest added up to about 80 books we had to read! Every time we went to the library, I felt as if I was clearing a lot of their shelf space. 🙂 While I tried to find books we hadn’t read before, I came across some favorites as well, on of which was What’s Going On In There? By Geoffrey Grahn.

In this book, things are not always as they appear. In each double-page spread, the pages on the left are used for the text, and the pages on the right for the illustrations. There you’ll find a building with windows, with a silhouette of a person, animal, or object in each window. The fun, then, is to guess what’s going on — to guess what the people or animals are doing. With a turn of the page, the reader discovers what’s really going on, and it’s usually not what you were thinking.  What looks like people pulling saltwater taffy is really astronauts preparing to launch their rocket; what appears to be students taking a test is actually a swimming class.

This book is a fun one for all ages. Younger children (and parents!) will be surprised by the revelations, and older children will have fun guessing. The author/illustrator has even provided the reader with some clues: look closely at the outside of the buildings where you see the silhouettes for hints of what’s inside.

The Crogan Adventures

If your son enjoys intrigue, excitement, and a good book, the Crogan Adventures may be just the series he’s looking for. Written by Chris Schweizer, these action-adventure stories follow the lives of the Crogan men throughout the generations.

The first in the series, Crogan’s Vengeance, tells the story of “Catfish” Crogan, an honest sailor who boards a ship with a merciless captain. When the ship is waylaid by pirates, Catfish his shipmates join the crew. What follows are mutinees, storms, and sword-fights — all key ingredients to a great adventure.

The second book, Crogan’s March, follows Corporal Peter Crogan, a French legionnaire in Africa in the early twentieth century. In the story, Peter must endure both long marches and sandstorms as his loyalties are torn between his captain and his sergeant. When his entire squad is killed and he is captured by Tauregs, he makes a daring escape, leading other prisoners to safety with him.

The Crogan adventures are definitely books geared for boys, particularly those in middle school or older. Violence is depicted, as you would expect in a pirate or war story, and is probably too much for younger readers. Women have only very small roles (there’s not one in the first book at all) — these are definitely books intended to be read by boys, just for the enjoyment of the action.

And there are more books to come! The inside cover of the book reveals all the characters of the Crogan family, including a ninja, a trail blazer, a lion tamer, a pilot, a diamond miner, a private eye, and Revolutionary War soldiers.

You can find the Crogan series in bookstores, online, or in your library. So if you have an older son, check one out — and let the adventure begin!