Friday, April 21, 2006

Homeschooling Basics: What to do for Kindergarten

You will hear this over and over again in your homeschooling years because it is SOO important: There is NO ONE RIGHT curriculum and there is no one right way to teach! But especially at the kindergarten level, I would say that you really don’t need a curriculum at all. But—you can build your own curriculum with very little investment. (I love Sonlight, and I did buy Sonlight’s kindergarten curriculum. I am a big advocate of Sonlight; however, I would not buy the whole shebang again were I to do it over. )

Here is what I personally would do (and will do next year) for a kindergartener: READ, READ, READ!!! I cannot emphasize enough what tremendous benefits—long term benefits—your child will receive when you read outloud to him. He will be a better speller, better reader, have a better vocabulary, and make better connections when he has been read to consistently and lovingly. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Find a great reading list. I love Sonlight’s reading list better than any other. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is a wonderful book that talks about the importance of reading and gives you lots of suggestions. Please don’t let a day go by without reading aloud to your child, even if he is challenged with auditory processing. You can hardly go wrong by looking at a homeschooling catalog and using the books that publisher sells for kindergarten. Five in a Row has a great selection of books, also. And if your child really likes a book by one author, keep reading more by that author. That leads us into reading skills. You will want to introduce your child to letters. There are dozens of websites that feature easy ABC activities. We spent much of the K year making an alphabet book—just finding pictures to put on an A page, for example. If your child likes workbooks, you can invest in some at Walmart for less than $10 that should probably last you the whole year, or you can just print sheets off the internet. You can easily get a whole year’s ABC, science, geography, art, etc. program from Enchanted Learning , Starfall and from ABC Teach --to name just a very few. Great handwriting sheets are at Donna Young .

Reading: We purchased Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, used for about $7. We did about 30 lessons in kindergarten and the rest in 1st grade with my daughter. She was just NOT ready for it. I didn’t force it because I didn’t want to spoil her love for learning. I could just tell that she wasn’t emotionally ready for that serious of a program. Other people have used it with their 4 year olds, so again—everyone is different. We picked it up again in first grade, and she did GREAT. I'll use this next year for my next kindergartener.

You can, of course, spend around $100 on a program like Sing, Spell, Read, Write, which lots of folks LOVE. This might be a great choice for a very hands-on learner.

Handwriting: You can buy workbooks or just print off the internet. We have always used A Reason for Writing. It was mostly coloring pictures. Don’t expect too much out of them with handwriting! Developing those fine motor skills comes with age. Playing with playdough, by the way, is a great way for kids to flex and strengthen those fingers. Be sure to have a great store of playdough around.

Math: Again, take math slowly. You don’t want burnout! We did about 1/3 of Saxon 1 in kindergarten. I personally wouldn’t bother with Saxon K, as it is geared more toward preschoolers. There are so many math program out there. There's nothing wrong with buying workbooks at Walmart at this age! Talk to people. If you don't want a text, you can do math everywhere naturally: dividing treats among 4 people; counting ants; adding rocks together; cooking. There will be plenty of time for math skills as they get older. For now, keep it fun. Introduce them to shapes, colors, etc.

Science: Again, reading aloud to your child for science is wonderful. There are loads of wonderful books in the library! If your child is interested in a particular topic, follow that interest! My kids love to be outside, so we’ve done a lot of nature journaling. We will just go outside and study a certain area. We may all draw a certain plant. We keep a birdwatching book on hand and examine any insects that come along while we’re outside. Of course you have the mountains for hiking and examining plants, rocks, etc. You don’t have to do anything formal—just expose them to the world. Gardening is great if you have that option. Get some fish. Let them take apart a broken small appliance like a radio or a coffee maker. Let them make boats out of foil or cardboard and try to float them. I like Usborne’s Science Experiment books tremendously.

ART: Yes! Lots of it! Have plenty of art materials available. You don’t need to have a curriculum for art at this age. Just let them create. My kids love the Usborne art books. They get good ideas from them. We have two big tubs for what we call “inventing supplies”: toilet paper rolls, boxes, coffee cans, Styrofoam; whatever odds and ends you have. Let them explore freely with this, if they enjoy that! Have plenty of paper, markers, glue, paints, etc.

PE: We play something outside every day, weather permitting. Kickball, Frisbee, badminton, etc. Go to the park. Go for a walk. Take a class like gymnastics or soccer or basketball. There are plenty of opportunities.

So that's my quick overview of kindergarten, but I do want to emphasize the two most important points that you can apply to any age: 1) there is no one right way to teach your child nor one right curriculum and 2) READ ALOUD EVERYDAY.

One more thing about learning styles:
Let your child be himself. If he needs to play with Legos while you read or dangle upside down from the couch, it's OK. He is probably listening to you in his own way! Let your son learn the way he learns best! That is one of the joys of homeschooling.

A Few More Tips:
* Just remember not to be a slave to the curriculum. Let it work for you, and if it's not working, try something else. Similarly, if you find something that works—don’t switch it just because someone else is doing something that sounds interesting!
* Little ones can only sit for about 15 minutes at a time. You can scatter your teaching times throughout the day.
* Keep it fun, if they're not having a good day, put it off until later or even the next day.

One final word about kindergarten: the origin of kindergarten lies with the Prussian model of schooling and was instituted to remove children from the influence if their parents at an earlier age. Read John Taylor Gatto’s The Public School Nightmare for more information on this.
Proceed with caution in the early years! The early school years are when a child develops life-long attitudes about learning, so parents must take extreme care not to make learning frustrating. It is at this age that a child also begins developing an attitude about his ability to learn based on his success in school and based on the feedback he gets from the important people in his life.

The very best course of instruction for kindergarten aged children is learning that comes through having Mom and Dad read aloud a large and varied selection of books. AND—be happy and relaxed! If you are happy and enthusiastic, your child will be, too. We all have really bad days, but even on my worst day, when all the kids are bickering and I’m tired and we’ve gotten nothing done and my oldest can’t remember 7 times 8 and my daughter can't remember what a noun is and my preschooler wants a snack ALL DAY LONG—even on those days I never once threaten to send them all to public school.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006: What If...

Sometimes my kids' "what if" questions are just so hilarious. They are so serious when they say them! So today we went to the doctor to get Duncan's stitches removed. We had to wait quite awhile and passed the time by looking at a reference book of all sorts of rashes and infections. So here's Duncan's "what if" on the way home:
"What would happen if somebody was throwing up and throwing up and throwing up all day, every day, AND had poison ivy, AND had a toe nail pulled off?"

I mean, there any good answer to that?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

April 15, 2006: OK, so I'm in paradise...

I came home from Small Group tonight, and there was a vase exploding with luscious lilacs in the middle of my table. Earlier today, I blogged about missing lilacs, and my friend Leigh and her husband Red-Pen Rick (not to be confused with "Red-Neck Rick" or certainly not with "Pig-Pen Rick") actually risked their lives to find me some lilacs. See, they noticed an abandoned house with huge lilac bushes not far from them, and they drove over to pick this giant bouquet for me. (I say they risked their lives because **STEREOTYPE ALERT***in Tennessee, you never know when someone with a shotgun might be standing on the front porch.)

Seriously, though, this is about the sweetest thing in the whole world! To come home and smell my childhood and know that I have this lovely life....could I be more blessed?

April 15, 2006: Hometown Memories

My friend Amy blogged about missing her hometown this time of year. Got me thinking about what I missed about my hometown, which segued into thinking about what I missed about all the cities I've lived in.

Geneva, New York is my hometown. I miss the historic row houses on Main Street. I miss the ethnic diversity, like the Italian men lingering outside the bocce court downtown. I miss watching the ever-changing colors of Seneca Lake. I miss the lonely farmhouses with their widow's watches on Route 14. I miss the never-changing neighborhoods and the lack of new houses and subdivisions. Sidewalks and big old houses. Beans and greens at Uncle Joe's Pizza place. Authentic Italian food. Cold nights and cool days. Working on the orchard. My parents.

Johnson City, Tennessee--where I went to college and married. I miss a lot about JC. Buffalo Mountain right there. Being nestled in the mountains. Poor Richard's Deli. My best friend. The small world of Milligan College.

Oxford, Ohio--where we lived for 3 years while Randy did his master's at Miami University and where Jesse was born. Hmmm. I can't say I miss much about Oxford, except being able to walk everywhere. And being close to Cincinnati. I'll have to skip the missing on this one!

Ames, Iowa--where we lived for 5 years while Randy and I were in graduate school and where Laurel was born. I miss the city itself. The parks and the sidewalks. I miss being able to walk downtown and to the library. And the abundant lilacs. The city was smothered in lilacs. And our friends.

But it's hard to miss any place when we are living our dream. I look out one window and see dogwoods lining our backyard and the flowerbeds a mass of green ready to explode into colors. I look out another window and see azaleas bursting like saucy debutantes. I look out another window and see the mountains, blue in the early afternoon, and violets sprinkled on our lawn. In Iowa and New York, winter is just leaving. Here the freckles are popping out already and we're breaking out the sleeveless shirts. If I could just find a lilac that thrives in the south, I'd be in paradise.

Friday, April 14, 2006

April 14, 2006: How to Stop a Nose Picker

So Duncan wanders in to the living room picking his nose yesterday. I say for the 122nd time, "Duncan, stop picking your nose. Go get a tissue. Picking your nose is bad manners." Duncan leaves and is quiet for a moment. I say (thinking that he is in his room secretly picking his nose), "Are you getting a tissue?"
"Nope," he replies. A second later he walks in with a golf glove on his hand. "Look, Mama! I can't pick my nose if I'm wearing this glove!"
He's right! He tried it! You really can't pick your nose if you're wearing gloves! So if you see us out and about and Duncan's wearing gloves, don't ask. Just smile and know it's safe to shake his hand.

Monday, April 10, 2006

April 10, 2006: Poems for Leigh


Reading all our blogs
Still lurking in the sidelines
Your blog's time has come.


There once was a lady named Leigh
Who just liked to read and see
What was happening with Sheila,
Sarah, Amy and Tia.
She claims she'll blog eventually.


Funny, sweet
Giggling, laughing, listening, chatting
Spreading her sweetness everywhere


Will peer pressure work for our friend Leigh?
For her blog, we'll wait and see.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

April 8, 2006: Where We Do School


Where do we do school? Everywhere. We're missing a photo of our most popular place, however: the dining room table. And no photos of the "official" school room. We haven't been up there more than a half dozen times this year!

tree mathreadingknittingfall05

Learning happens everywhere and with a variety of people: in a tree, on a bench, in the mountains, in the van, in front of the computer, immersed in a book, even at a desk....surrounded by people or in solitary moments. Those sponges that are our children are soaking it all in for all it's worth.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

April 5, 2006: Fresh Cut Grass and a Good-bye

My snowbird parents have flown the coop. They left this morning to head back north to upstate New York. This day is always bittersweet for me. I miss them so much when they go; our family just seems empty for a week or so until we adjust to our "other" life. Two less places at the dinner table. The leaves and dirt pile up by the back door (my mother makes it her personal project to keep the driveway and backdoor swept). The debris of life-with-kids starts piling up in the backyard--buckets, large pieces of wood, cast-off objects that Jesse collects from other people's trash piles. These are the kinds of things my mother tends to. She likes our yard neat and orderly, as do I. I am thankful that it looks this way for half the year!! The rest of the time, the yard seems to be endlessly full of junk. And my supply of stamps and envelopes, which my father shares with me, will soon disappear. I'll have to actually go to the post office for the first time since November. No more running off to Walmart for a quick errand while I leave the kids with mom and dad. And Duncan can't run over to Oma's to play Rescue Heroes or grab a snack. No more of Dad's memoirs told around the supper table at night.

But here is where I know I am blessed: next year, barring any surprises, my parents will come back again. Next November we'll wait for that green car to pull in the driveway and the kids will all run to hug their grandparents. How sad can I feel when I know I have this to look forward to? This year my best friend's mother died, and hospice has recently been called in for her father. Before this year is out, she'll have lost both her parents. Already, she says, she feels her family drifting apart with their mother gone. Already she and her siblings have separated, retreating to their own homes and sliding away from each other.

I want to share these last years with my parents with relish. I am dropping things next year so that my life isn't so crowded that I can't enjoy a Saturday night game of cards with my parents or a short shopping trip with my mom. I want to soak in Dad's stories and get them down on paper. Next year they'll both be in their 80s, and every year I see them age a little more. I want to embrace every moment I have with them.

Randy cut the grass for the first time this afternoon. I'm glad he waited until Mom and Dad left. Mom loves the lawn carpeted in spring violets and tiny buttercups. But her jasmine blooms on. I love those little living touches they leave behind.

Monday, April 3, 2006

April 3, 2006: Inheritance


We came into it all
without breaking of glass, or lifting
of veil, or a grandmother’s cameo
ring. No family heirlooms

in our first rented house; instead
we depended on thrift store endtables,
a lamp, a couch. We wished

for chipped dishes that told
a great-aunt’s rich history
of struggle and survival.
We were lonely

without a background, without cabbage
or latkes or black-eyed peas.
We ease into it

year by year. I learn to quilt,
meticulously stitching
my initials in a corner; he builds a cradle,
a stool, a wooden horse. We resurrect

dead relatives through our children,
naming them John and Alice and Henry,
and record each birth in a fat
white Bible. They are the first

to grace its tissue-thin pages,
though my handwriting lacks
the necessary elegance, the gentle curves
of a practiced pen.
The house we choose
is old: we strip, paint, varnish,
smooth, and fill its rooms

with other people’s antiques. Tiny white
christening gowns and newspaper
clippings sleep in the cedar
chest at the foot of our bed. We bring

in the new year with cranberry punch
and oyster stew. In my tin-plated kitchen
I bake bread, kneading dough
with floured fingers, releasing
yeast quietly as air
between every crevice
of the house, filling the children
with its heavy scent.

(By Sarah Cummins Small. Received award in Knoxville Writer's Guild Robert Burns Poetry Prize, 2002.)

April 3, 2006: A Pot of Red Lentils

Randy says this sounds like one of my poems. He's right. It could fit right in with my poem "Inheritance." I wish I'd written this first!


A Pot of Red Lentils

simmers on the kitchen stove.
All afternoon dense kernels
surrender to the fertile
juices, their tender bellies
swelling with delight.

In the yard we plant
rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes,
cupping wet earth over tubers,
our labor the germ
of later sustenance and renewal.

Across the field the sound of a baby crying
as we carry in the last carrots,
whorls of butter lettuce,
a basket of red potatoes.

I want to remember us this way—
late September sun streaming through
the window, bread loaves and golden
bunches of grapes on the table,
spoonfuls of hot soup rising
to our lips, filling us
with what endures.

Reprinted from "Saying the World," 2003, by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2003 by Peter Pereira. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.