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Erika has reached the point in her learning-to-read journey where it's possible for her to read and enjoy the easiest of the easy readers at the library. This is after spending the last YEAR working quite regularly on learning how to read.

There is something wrong with this picture, and it's not a problem with my kid's reading ability. It's a problem with the available books.

For example, take the book, "Rabbit and Turtle Go to School," by Lucy Floyd. This is a "Level 1" book in the series "Green Light Readers" from Harcourt.

Page one reads, "Let's race to school," said Rabbit."

For those of us who already know how to read, it seems easy. But for someone just learning, it's not nearly as simple. There is something complicated about every single word. "Let's" contains an apostrophe. "Race" contains a long vowel. "To" contains the vowel most commonly written, "oo". "School" contains a complicated initial consonant cluster and the "oo" vowel. "Said" contains an irregular vowel. And "Rabbit" has two syllables. Not a single word on this page is a simple short-vowel CVC, CCVC, or CVCC word. In order to be able to read this page, a person either must have memorized the words, or must have a fairly advanced knowledge of the letter-sound correspondences of the English language.

So why is this a "Level 1" book? Why is every one of the dozens of "level 1" books in the library like this?

The only answer I can come up with is that children in my area are typically being taught to read using a method that emphasizes the memorization of words. If they were being taught phonics, the easy readers wouldn't look anything like this.

That said, it is nice that Erika has learned enough phonics that it's possible for her to read these books. I just wish there'd been something for her at the library sooner.
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This week I visited the used book sale at the Wheaton Library, and came out with a pile of great stuff, including a 5-year-old DK/Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary, the third- and fourth-grade volumes of the "What Your X Grader Needs to Know" series (I already had K, 1, and 6, so now I just need 2 and 5 for a complete set), and a couple of Dr. Seuss books.

I feel as though Erika has turned a corner in reading. She's realized that she can easily read many words in books for small children, which makes sitting down to try to puzzle the rest of the words out more interesting. She's also exhibited some interest in reading together, asking for help with words she doesn't know. My sense is that reading is likely to take off pretty quickly for her now that she's reached this point. Today at the Natural History Museum, she read a simple book she'd never seen before in the gift shop. Yesterday, she read the entirety of "Hop on Pop," a book I don't think she'd ever heard read aloud, without much help. She's also picked up the BOB books again, which she had set aside after reaching a point where they became too difficult; this week she read books six and seven in Costco collection 3 -- I think these are toward the end of set 4 in the regular BOB book boxes.

Today we went back to the Natural History Museum with John, so he and Karl could go off on their own while Erika and I spent more time drawing in the Mammals exhibit. Erika spent about 45 minutes drawing before she'd had enough. She drew a tiger, a walrus, a panda, a caracal, a giraffe, a fennec, and some kind of hopping mouse -- I only had time to draw the walrus, the giraffe, a fox, and the beginnings of a zebra during that time. I'm amazed at her endurance for drawing.

Afterwards, we went up the Old Post Office Tower, where the kids enjoyed looking out at the city. I particularly liked watching the airplanes take off and land at National airport.
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Well, this is more of a picoreview.

"Help for the Harried Homeschooler: A Practical Guide to Balancing Your Child's Education with the Rest of Your Life" by Christine M. Field, is probably a good book -- if you are a particular sort of Protestant Christian. However, if you are not a Christian, I cannot imagine it being worth your while. The author not only writes from a Christian perspective, she assumes that the reader is a Christian, also. God is mentioned at least once on every two-page spread, there are frequent Bible quotations, and many of the ideas in the book rely on a Christian worldview of a particular stripe. For example, on page 168, "As wives, we must submit to our husbands' leadership. We must seek together to do God's will. If you and your husband are not of one mind [...] then homeschooling is not God's will for your family at this particular time."

I did read the book, and feel that if your values are in line with those of the author, you will probably find it helpful and interesting. For example, there is an interesting section on the possible roles of fathers in the home school, a discussion of managing multiple ages (including babies and toddlers), and thoughts on the roles of peers and family.
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I'm in the stage of my homeschooling journey where I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. The library book sale has been a source of quite a few interesting volumes, including Terrie Lynn Bittner's "Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath--You Can Do This!," which I picked up last week for fifty cents.

One of the book's most notable features is its conversational tone. You can really imagine the author sitting with you, sharing her experiences and accumulated wisdom. I definitely found it to be more opinionated than some books; Ms. Bittner doesn't hesitate to tell her audience exactly what they should do. Surprisingly, I didn't find that annoying, probably because it seemed as though her goal was to provide direction to the timid and uncertain, rather than to provide the One True Way.

I was a bit taken aback by some of the author's remarks on manipulating people. For example, she suggests always looking busy when your spouse comes home from work, so that s/he won't think you've been loafing around all day. There's also a section on training your children to give good answers to questions they may get about their schooling.

As is suggested by the title, I think this book is best suited to people who are hesitant about homeschooling and need some hand-holding. Some of the sections, such as advice on setting up a good record-keeping system, were overly formulaic for my taste, but would probably appeal to people with less confidence in their ability to think these things through on their own. The instructions on developing lessons and unit studies seemed particularly worthwhile, as I know that's an area people often feel hesitant about.

On the whole, I would recommend this book to new homeschoolers for its humor, down-to-earth assessment of the ups and downs of homeschooling, and practical advice. However, if you were going to read only one or two books on homeschooling, I'd probably suggest starting with something by Linda Dobson.


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August 2014

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