21 May 2015

5 Ways To Encourage a Love of Reading

We are closing in on having a house full of readers around here. Our littlest Agent (Agent A) has begun "catching on" a lot more in the last few weeks . . . recognizing sight words, spelling with magnets or blocks, and sounding words out. I am so looking forward to hearing to him read these favorite books in his own sweet little voice. Sigh. So today I'm sharing five ways we support the Agents' enjoyment of reading around here.

{Side note: It drives Agent A bonkers when I try to point out words with my finger as I'm reading them. Don't do the finger thing, Mommy! I don't like when you do that finger thing! Then he proceeds to do it himself with his own finger. Giggle.}

Have accessible bookshelves

This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but believe me I've been in houses that looked more like museums than homes where small children actually live. We keep books, and lots of them, where the Agents can easily pull them out whenever they want. No, our bookshelves are not picturesque or organized alphabetically. Yes, sometimes they make a mess and/or create more work for me. Many of their books (especially the board books that survived all three Agents) have been, shall we say, loved. But that's okay. I'd rather have a bunch of books with frayed edges and crayon marks than a shelf full of pristine, never-opened spines.

Go to the library

Another obvious one, no? Over the years we've progressed from never really using the library at all, to going maybe once a month for a handful of books, to regular weekly visits to take out a dozen or so titles, to those crazy people who can barely carry All The Books to the car. Usually we have an agenda (meaning Momma has specific titles, or at least sections, written down that correspond to our current studies) but often we just roam and pull out whatever looks interesting. The point is to get there and get there often. We have three library cards that we alternate using (one under my name, one under Agent E's, and one under Agent J's). This gives us a 150-item limit (50 per card). We haven't reached it (yet). But, it's not uncommon for us to have at least 100 books checked out at any given time. We have no self-control when it comes to library visits. 

{Library tip: Juvenile fiction is arranged by author last name. The Senior Agents read a lot of fiction series—too many to keep all those names straight—so I printed a list for each of them. It's just a simple word doc with the authors and book series listed in alphabetical order. I created a file rather than handwriting it so it can be added to easily.}

Think outside the book jacket

Reading doesn't have to be all about physical books (although, these tend to be the Agents' favorites). When I first introduced Kindle reading to the Agents, they were underwhelmed. But, after a while they began to embrace the idea. Now that they have access to Free Time Unlimited, they willingly and eagerly search for e-books on their own. The girls also have one magazine subscription (American Girl, of course) but we are considering others. Don't dismiss reading while online as well. Whether they are perusing articles for school or scrolling through directions for a game, it all counts.

Use closed captioning

We started doing this will all television/Netflix/movie viewing about three years ago. Now the Agents expect it and are bummed when it's not an option. In my (limited) experience I have seen positive results with comprehension and spelling. This article from Reading Rockets supports my theory. It can also be fun to switch to another language and learn a few new phrases. (We've watched Star Wars with English audio and Spanish subtitles many times. Usa la fuerza, Luke.)

Allow choice, with help

Confession: A huge peeve of mine is when folks censor what their children are reading and dismiss fun and interesting children's books as twaddle. Oh, how I hate that word! If your child loves a book, a character, or a series, they should read it. As long as it's age and theme appropriate, it should be their decision. Of course, the sheer volume of possibilities at the library or bookstore can be overwhelming. Often I need to steer the Agents a bit when it comes to selecting what to bring home. Also, I will get Agent input (particularly from Agent E) when it comes to choosing books to read for school. But for the most part, they are the ones reading them so they make the choices.

How do you encourage reading at your house?

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19 May 2015

5 Keys to Homeschooling Success in Our Home

Today I'm sharing five key ideas that keep this homeschooling lifestyle working for us. As usual with posts like this, my purpose is both to share suggestions others might find useful as well as to remind myself to take my own advice. {Because I need to be prompted often.}

Emphasize exposure over mastery

Especially in the younger grades we learn about things for fun, not recall. We read lots of books because they are interesting. We take field trips and visit places because it's exciting and we like to travel. We do science experiments and watch history documentaries because they are cool. I don't expect them to remember everything or to be able to spit facts back at me. Of course, we will likely transition to more formal evaluation when they are older, but for now begin able to give "correct" answers is not something we stress.

{I should probably clarify here that I'm talking about science, history, geography, etc. not math and language arts. There I do expect some level of mastery before we move on to new topics.}

Embrace the philosophy of less is more

We quickly realized more time does not (necessarily) equal more learning. I think one of the biggest misconceptions folks have about homeschooling is thinking it must take over your entire day. {Spoiler: It doesn't.} When you work one-on-one with your own child, it takes surprisingly little time to keep him/her on "grade level." We can cover the basics in a fraction of the time they would spend in the classroom. This leaves tremendous amounts of free time for the Agents to explore interests on their own or simply play and, you know, be kids.

Focus subjects with spine books

While we still aren't interested in following a full, preplanned curriculum, we do need some structure in our learning. Choosing one or two main texts to follow along with for the year is something "new" we intend to try going forward. (We've done a little this year, but did not plan out the whole year that way.) As an example, we will be using this book as a spine (basic starting point and timeline) for our world history studies next year. We will investigate a page or two each week and supplement with additional reading/writing/discussing.

Balance structured and independent time

We are not huge Schedule People, but we do need a bit of a routine to keep us sane. When it comes to homeschooling, it helps to have a set time each day when we focus on more formal work (usually involving math and language arts). So, we've started doing our "sit down" work at about the same time each day. For independent reading and other study where I don't need to be Right There, the Agents are free to complete work at their leisure.

Incorporate advanced planning

This one is all on Momma. I've expressed before how when it comes to keeping things chugging along around here, it all starts with me. As much as we love the interest-led approach to homeschooling, we aren't willing or able to go full-on unschooling, and so that means someone (me) needs to keep our studies on track. This means I need to regularly carve out time to write down ideas, find resources, and develop an agenda we can (at least loosely) follow.

How do you keep homeschooling days running smoothly at your house?

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I can also be reached via e-mail at mommainprogress {at} gmail {dot} com.

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