December 21, 2005

Cutesy Little Wordies Are Hard to Read

I've started to cringe when children's authors use made-up words. The only motive I can imagine is that they're trying to sound cute. When I read to the children, I sometimes find myself cleaning up this cutesy language, so that "I want to give you a bazillion huggles" becomes "I want to give you a million hugs." (Perhaps I overreact—I've been known to fix Junie B. Jones's grammar and syntax because I don't want my kids to talk like her.)

I don't have a problem with neologisms generally. I enjoy Lewis Carroll and E.E. Cummings, really. I just don't think verbal coinages have much place in books for beginning readers.

My concern is that our children have enough words to learn without our tossing a bunch of false diminutives into the mix. According to a PBS article, the average five-year old knows some 4,000-5,000 words, and learns another 3,000 by the time she is six. (A big hardcover dictionary might contain 300,000.) Words are precious knowledge at this age.

This morning my son was reading Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, a charming story about a knight who ends up tucking three dragons into bed. He read the book fairly easily, but I winced as he struggled to read about the knight's "crumbly tumbly tower."

Learning to read brings enough frustrations and failures. I shouldn't have to explain that he can't read some of this book's words because they aren't real.

When he misread the knight's "shimmery, glimmery sword" as a "shimmering, glistening sword," I didn't correct him. I was even a little proud.

Starting in Public School

Starting kindergarten at public school may not have been the best thing for my son, but it was an awfully good thing for his mother and me.

We're not social butterflies, and even after having lived three years in the same house, we had few friends. We stuck to our nearby family instead. For a couple of years I worked long hours. My wife, naturally shy, would curl up with a book during her rare free time more often than she would schedule a play-date or meet a neighbor for coffee.

When Nathaniel started kindergarten, everything changed. I, recalling my own loneliness in school, was adamant that we do whatever we could to get him involved with other kids. My wife, concerned that he receive an adequate education, was determined to volunteer in the classroom and meet other moms in order to share information about the school. We became—well, for us—social butterflies.

This was good for us, and it was good for both our kids. Within two months, Nathaniel had three regular buddies, two of whom conveniently had younger sisters. We all made valuable friends.

We also learned firsthand some of the pluses and minuses of our public school. (Some pluses for our son: gaining independence, meeting new children, seeing other kids interact with an authority figure. Some minuses: staggering class sizes, trendy but ineffective methods imposed on teachers by the administration, the depersonalization of our five-year old.)

I don't think it's impossible, or even particularly difficult, for homeschooling parents to make social connections. I don't think it's impossible—though it probably is difficult—for homeschooling parents to keep a close eye on what's happening in nearby public school classrooms.

Now we know something of what a modern classroom is like, and we have valuable friends who are still in the public school system. I'm grateful for that.

December 16, 2005

Tracking Books

Finishing a book is an achievement for any of us. Some books have taken me months to read, and I've started Middlemarch twice and Tristram Shandy three times, so I'm quite pleased with myself when I actually put down a completed book.

Unsurprisingly, our kids take pride in finishing books too. That's why we decided this morning to start tracking every book they read. Camille's keeping a chart for each child. Every book that they begin goes onto their charts. When a book is completed, a star goes up next to it. Camille displays the posters prominently on the kitchen wall--along with the many, many other education-related displays on the kitchen walls. . . .

I'd like to track the kids' reading on the web, as well, so we can share their lists with friends and family. I can think of two ways to do this. I could just post their information onto this blog or someplace on my website. Alternatively, I might have them start keeping personal lists on Amazon.

Either way, it would be fun (and motivating) for them to be able to call up their lists on Grandma's computer next time they visit.

December 13, 2005

Our First-Grade Curriculum

We had to submit a curriculum to our local school district office (Concord, NH) when we began homeschooling our first-grade son. We weren't able to find many samples online apart from Carol Narigon's Unschooling Curriculum. So we used Carol Narigon's curriculum as a basis, and here's what we submitted:

Nathaniel will use a developmentally appropriate, integrated curriculum. This will be planned largely by his parents, and modified throughout the year to accommodate Nathaniel's growing and changing interests. We will cover the following:

LANGUAGE ARTS (READING, WRITING, SPELLING, AND LANGUAGE MECHANICS): Our long term goal for Nathaniel is to read more easily, to read for pleasure and for information, to gain exposure to a wide variety of genres, and to be able to reflect critically on what he reads. Also, we want him to gain skill in the writing process and to enjoy writing for self-expression and to disseminate information. Examples might include a letter to his grandparents, an online book review, or a brief science report on a model airplane he built.

To those ends, he will read from self-chosen and parent-chosen literature on a daily basis. He will engage in reflection on those writings in one or many of the following ways: journal writing, book reviews, conversations, illustrations, and drama based on the stories. Nathaniel will read non-fiction materials as needed to support his chosen areas of interest. He will make frequent visits to our library to learn how and where to find written resources, and will also learn how to use the Internet to gain information. He will reflect on these writings in some of the ways mentioned above and also in ways that will flow into other subjects such as science, history and math.

As for the mechanics of English, he will be working on phonics, vocabulary and spelling mainly using the McGraw Hill Grade 1 Comprehensive Curriculum. Some of the topics covered under phonics are: consonant blends, alphabetical order, and plurals. The spelling and vocabulary section of the text includes an introduction to nouns and verbs, words used to describe clothing, food, weather and the body, as well as colors and animals. The text also includes the introduction of such concepts as homophones, synonyms, antonyms, abbreviations, and punctuation. The reading comprehension section of the book looks at classifying, sequencing, and following directions. Nathaniel's daily reading will expand on and enhance this text. We will assess his progress in spelling and alphabetization with regular quizzes. Likewise, his work in other areas (e.g. science and history) will depend on what he is learning in Language Arts.

MATH: Nathaniel will learn math concepts through his hobbies and play as well as through textbook study. For example, he might calculate the measurements and measure the wood in order to build a birdhouse, or he might measure out ingredients for a kitchen recipe, or we might use his Lego bricks to teach set theory and multiplication. In addition, he will use the Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Illinois Mathematics textbook. (Nathaniel used this book at his public school in Illinois before we moved to New Hampshire in mid-October.) Topics covered include: one and two-digit addition and subtraction, place value, counting by twos, fives, and tens, time and money, measurement, and an introduction to fractions. Our goal for Nathaniel regarding math is to gain a conceptual knowledge as well as an appreciation for its application in daily life.

SCIENCE: Nathaniel will continue to observe, communicate and compare aspects of earth, life and physical science. He will observe, describe, and chart weather and seasons. Nathaniel will compare and classify objects, conduct simple experiments in physics and biology, and describe the characteristics of living and non-living things. He will keep a science notebook that will contain his observations, conclusions, and the like. Nathaniel will read books and magazines such as (Zoo Books) and view science videos to introduce a topic of interest or to enhance his understanding. We will take him on practical field trips as well as visits to museums. Our goals for Nathaniel are: to appreciate the contributions of scientific advancements in his everyday life, to begin to develop a scientific understanding of the world around him, to maintain his curiosity, to develop an experimental mind, to begin to learn the scientific method, to appreciate the importance of environmental conservation, and to develop an appropriate respect for the work scientists perform.

HISTORY, GOVERNMENT, & GEOGRAPHY: Nathaniel will read historical fiction and non-fiction texts (focusing primarily on early American history), will go on local field trips to understand New Hampshire's place in American history, and will travel to nearby New England sites and museums to supplement his readings. The reading and travel will involve the use of time lines and maps. By creating a crude map of downtown Concord's Main Street, Nathaniel will become more familiar with his new home, will explore the types of businesses in our city, and will better understand how a map works, i.e., directions, scale, points of interest, etc. Through the use of a puzzle showing our fifty states, he will see the layout of our country and be able to identify where he lives now, where he lived prior to New Hampshire, and where we've gone on day trips and vacations. Our goals for Nathaniel are to appreciate the flow of history, how seemingly small events can build to dramatic conclusions, and to understand how historical events are connected. Other goals are to gain an appreciation for the breadth and diversity of America's geography and culture, to learn that rights and responsibilities go along with U.S. citizenship, and to learn that the U.S. Constitution codifies these rights and responsibilities into law.

HEALTH: Health, physical education and safety will be covered as part of our daily living and also in connection with some science lessons. Nathaniel will learn about his body and how to care for it by understanding hygiene, safety during sports and play, and home safety. He will explore his physical environment by playing/exercising every day, by understanding what makes a healthy meal and then helping to plan one, by discussing emergency preparedness (e.g. knowing the procedure for calling 911, memorizing his address and phone number, knowing whom he should approach in the event of separation from his parent(s)), and by understanding what privacy means concerning his body. This year it is Nathaniel's wish to begin fencing lessons, to continue with swimming lessons, and to perhaps begin gymnastics lessons. Our family enjoys the outdoors and is looking forward to spending more time hiking, fishing, skating and the like now that we've moved to New Hampshire. Our goal is for Nathaniel to appreciate the gift of a healthy body and to begin to learn how to care for it.

ART & MUSIC APPRECIATION: Nathaniel will learn to recognize and appreciate art in his daily surroundings. Additionally we will seek out visual arts and music via field trips to museums, listening to CDs, attending plays and concerts, and performing library and Internet research. Through singing, painting, drawing, and sculpting with Play-Doh, Lego, and found objects, Nathaniel will learn that art can express an artist's feelings and evoke feelings in a viewer or listener. We want to begin teaching him art history and appreciation by exposing him to the works of recognizable painters, sculptors, and composers such as Van Gogh, Michelangelo, and Mozart. We want to relate art to his other studies by helping him to appreciate the role of public art: for example to see in the Statue of Liberty a political symbol, a historical artifact, and a scientific achievement, as well as an aesthetic expression. Our goal is for Nathaniel to begin to recognize and appreciate the art of known painters, composers, and sculptors, to understand the role of art in public and private life, and to develop his own artistic expression.

All information provided herein is considered privileged and confidential. Any further disclosure of this information requires written parental consent prior to such disclosure.

Camille and Michael Hardt