Interest Led Learning

This phrase says so much to me. It's the reason I sent my first two to a charter school instead of the local public school and why we eventually chose to homeschool. It's a concept I dreamed of when I sat through hours and hours of boring school as a kid myself, even then I knew it could should be better. And it's an idea I have to remind myself to follow when the doubts creep in. FIMBY's post today struck a cord with me. So, I thought I'd share one of our experiences with Interest Led Learning too. I've mentioned it before, here's the whole story.

By the time we started to homeschool, our two oldest had finished 2nd and 3rd grade at a public charter school. They both did well in almost every area, but after Christmas break of that last year, we were told we should consider holding back our 2nd grader because of her reading level and the impending MEAP test that kicks off 3rd grade. My daughter, wanting very badly to join her sister and cousin in the 3rd/4th grade class the next year, worked really, really hard and improve her scores. But, the toll that all that work had on her love for reading and the fact that she now saw herself as "stupid" crushed me. And, she still wasn't that great of a reader. 

We knew by the end of that school year that our kids would not be going back and I chose, with much hesitation and self doubt, to not push the reading thing.

Her teachers, only hoping for the best for her, had instructed me to keep her working hard all summer. To be sure and keep up the pace they had set at school or she would surely fall behind by the beginning of the next school year. And, because 3rd grade transitions from learning to read, to reading to learn, if she did, she would struggle in all subjects.

But instead, she rode her bike and found bugs in the yard and chased her little brother and played on the swing set and took walks to see the horses and fought with her little brother and explored the beaches of Lake Michigan and not once, not even once did she pick up a book. I'll admit, this worried and shocked me. She was my fairytale girl, my one more chapter please mom, girl. She LOVED stories. But, that summer, she hardly even asked to be read to, her love for books and stories was smothered.

By the time fall rolled around and cousins and friends were heading off to school, and we weren't, I was understandably stressed. We would be moving soon and I had 4 kids home, 3 school age who should be doing something productive every day, right?  And neither she or her younger brother were reading "at level."

The requests to be read to had returned at least, and I found myself reading out loud multiple times a day. So, I decided to try setting up times for my struggling reader, and the others, to read to me. We weren't very consistent, I didn't like nagging them to do something I thought should be enjoyable, and by the time we were settled in the new house I was the only one reading out loud.

I decided once again, with much hesitation and self doubt, to not push it.

My oldest joined a book club at the library that winter, they would read a novel, then meet once a month to discuss and do a craft. She loved it and her little sister decided she wanted to join too. We got her the book and, on her own, she decided to read a little of it to me each night. she worked her way through one chapter a page at a time, one page a day. It was slow and she was struggling.

One day she decided to figure out how many pages she'd have to read each day to finish in time for the meeting and when she did, she realized there was no way she could do it. I was worried this would discourage her, that she'd feel defeated and give up, well she did, on this book anyway. But then she started asking me questions.

How did her big sister read so fast? How could she learn to read faster? It wasn't about being better or smarter, she just wanted to finish a book.

I tried not to say too much, I pointed out how much her sister read, how she'd take a book to bed with her every night, how she'd come to the dinner table with one hoping to finish a chapter before Daddy told her to put it down. How much she "practiced" reading.

Well, that's all it took, that and some trial and error in finding the right books. She's particular about the types of stories she reads, she loves adventures and love stories, of course, but not dumbed down for her reading level. I realized large print with adequate line spacing made a huge difference in the beginning and Daddy introduced graphic novels.

Last night, my struggling reader, the one who barely passed 2nd grade, who didn't touch a book for 6 months, who still can't read out loud all that well, came downstairs (way past lights out time) to tell me with giggles and stutters and lots of "and um's" all about how Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets ended and wanting to know if it was the same in the movie.

On her own schedule, at her own pace, with the books she chose, she is now an avid reader. 

Some of her favorites:
  • Sarah Plain and Tall and the rest of the series, these were the first chapter books she really got into and she still talks about them. Our library had two sets, one set was larger print and these worked well for her. These she would actually read to me, usually while I cooked dinner, because she liked them so much and wanted me to hear them :)
  • The Amulet series of graphic novels. She still loves to read graphic novels and makes sure to grab a couple on every trip to the library. I have a hard time reading them myself, but Daddy started reading these to her at first. Then, when she got tired of waiting for him to be home and ready to read, she started reading them herself.
  • The Ivy and Bean series. Large print, nicely spaced lines, but really great and interesting stories.
  • Emily Winsnap
  • The Thea Stilton books. I didn't enjoy reading these (most of these I'd start and she'd finish, then continue the series) but she loved the funky text and colorful pictures.

Totally in Love With . . .

. . .the fact that he has to wear his football helmet and football P.J.'s to play 500 :)

A Walk in the Woods

She walked the whole way, on her own. 2.5 miles without asking to be carried or whining that it was too far. She walked the whole way, on her own, at her own pace, stopping to examine fallen leaves, picking up random sticks to carry for a bit, never once worrying about keeping up with the other kids. I was busy enjoying some adult conversation with a friend, we tried to keep our pace somewhere between hers and the others, keeping an eye on everyone, worried she'd feel bad if she was left too far behind. When I finally realized that she was just fine strolling along behind all of us, I snapped this photo, and paid a little more attention to just what she was doing. After a crazy busy week rushing from one thing to the next, none of which was of any interest to her, she was soaking up all the Autumn a 4 year can, at her own pace.

I think it may have helped that my friend suggested we walk a bit earlier on this day so that my sweet girl wasn't trying to finish the hike at nap time. It's so nice to have good friends who consider things like naps :)

Totally in Love with . . .

. . .The way she draws her people with bellybuttons, toes and punk hair, but no arms.

Math Fun for Boys (and Girls)

I once read that boy's brains work in a different way than girls. I no longer have the article to refer to, of course, but I do remember one point in particle that basically said, while girls have a fairly consistent flow of blood to the brain whether active or resting, a boy's blood flow to the brain lessens while sitting still but, increases when they are active.

The point of the article seemed to be, boys are going to remember more and be thinking more clearly while being physically active. It suggested things like, getting a boy who had trouble communicating verbally, talking, while working with blocks or playing catch.

Now, whether or not physical activity actually does affect a boys ability to learn, any parent or teacher of boys has certainly witnessed the almost endless supply of active energy they posses. And, I have certainly noticed the benefits of giving, not just the boy, but all my kids plenty of active, hopefully outdoor, time.

Recently, while being begged to play catch for the millionth time (really) I was reminded of a game my dad used to play with us that combines my boys love of catch and my hope that he'll retain some basic math facts. It's called 500 and the rules are simple.

One person stands on the deck with a ball, we like to use a football, their job is to assign a value to each toss and yell it out as they throw the ball. The rest of the players stand below in a bunch and try to be the one to catch the ball. Whoever catches is awarded the points and adds (or subtracts) them to their total. First to 500 wins!

From what I've seen, every family has their own variations and there are endless possibilities, multiples, subtractions, surprises where the value of the toss isn't known until it's caught. My son loves this game and asks to play almost every day and even when there are a million things to do that feel more important than standing outside playing catch, I can tell myself it's all part of his education and I'm able to relax and have some fun.

A Fall Tour

Mushrooms discovered along a deer trail leading from our yard. It appears the deer have been munching on some of these and pretty much all the wild apples that had fallen from the trees around them. The deer thankfully, however, did not disturb our garden even once this summer.

It's a good thing fall has such beautiful color, because I'm not really ready for summer to be over or for the cold wet months ahead. Although I am excited about our winter sports this year, with the youngest being old enough to join in.

The kids "secret" hide out tucked just behind the garden. I love that they have hide away, a place all their own. They take their friends and cousins back there, climb the trees and dream up BIG plans for a small castle in the branches.

One last little surprise in the garden. What a sweet bitty pumpkin. The kids have all claimed it as their own, but I don't think I'll be letting any of them carve up this little guy. Welcome fall.