Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom

As I continue to plan for my daughter’s future schooling, I am finding non-fiction books which I intend to use in her middle and high school years, instead of depending on information already compiled from textbook companies. Many errors have been found in classrooms across America which are not corrected, causing our students to believe pieces of history or details of the world around us that are simply not true.  Other details are not mentioned in texts, practically erasing them from our national memory.  Today’s book is one of those.

It is practically impossible to complete middle school anywhere in America without reading all or part of the book “A Diary of Anne Frank,” published by a grieving Jewish father going through the things of his daughter who died in a concentration camp during World War II. It is perfectly logical for middle school students to read this book – they are old enough to handle the content and reading level, and they are near Anne Frank’s age.  However, another book from this same time period shows another aspect of WWII in a book which is only advertised by word of mouth by those who have read it.  It is very well written, but because of some of the intense situations in the book, I would not recommend anyone younger than 16 read this book.  It does get very emotional at times and confronts many situations which you will want to discuss.  (Okay, I am over forty and I really want to discuss some situations with someone who has read it!)  There is a movie also which Corrie Ten Boom herself approved before it was released, and she even appears at the end, so even though it does not show everything that happens in the book, Corrie herself said it portrayed the scenes accurately.  It can be confusing, though, so read the book first.

Corrie Ten Boom and her family lived in Holland in the early 1900’s.  She and her sister, elderly spinsters, lived with their widowed father.  They were not a Jewish family, but instead they were a strong Christian family who believed in the God of the Bible and that He would keep His promises.  Daily,  Corrie voluntarily taught a group of special needs children about God.  She was also a certified watchmaker, like her father, and her sister helped them around the house.   Their shop was located on the bottom floor of their multi-story home, and they were very well known and liked by the citizens of their city of Haarlem in Holland.

 When the Nazis invaded Holland, life changed drastically for this family.  Corrie’s family saw and did not like the events around them.  Ration cards were issued and people whose identity cards were marked with a “J” had to wear a Star of David on their clothing.  In protest, Corrie’s father insisted on wearing a Star of David on his own clothing, something which everyone from the Nazi soldiers to Jews to his own pastor disapproved.  Corrie’s special needs classes were forced to stop. 

 The Ten Boom family found themselves using their home as a weigh station for Jews trying to escape before they were evacuated to concentration camps.  They follow the teachings of the Bible throughout the dangerous situations, refusing to participate in activities which will result in deaths.  Unfortunately, they are found out and Corrie, her father, and her sister are taken to concentration camps as political prisoners. 

 Through it all, and certainly inside the camps, Corrie and her sister depend on scripture for their strength.  After they have been relocated to Germany, they smuggled a Bible through the strip searches in a way that could only have been done with the help of God.  They use this little book to teach those in their cabin.  In one scene of the movie, a Nazi soldier is removing dead bodies from the cabins.  She and another soldier say that 23 were removed from one cabin that day, 18 from another, yet from the cabin where the Ten Boom sisters are staying, they did not remove any dead.  “Keep looking.  They must be there somewhere,” one soldier states.  God carried them through their struggles in ways that it is very obvious that His Hand is all that could have helped them.

Corrie includes family photos of the people mentioned in the book, and in the movie they worked hard to make the actors look like those they are portraying.  Keep a box (yes, a whole box) of tissues nearby as you read the book and you will need another one when you watch the movie (which you will want to do when you finish the book).  While I was sad that some scenes were omitted in the movie, it is impossible to show everything in two hours.  It does keep to the story, though, and shows (accurately, in my opinion) the main events from the book. 

Whether you are schooling a high school age homeschooler and are looking for material to read about WWII or you are an adult looking for a good book to read, I highly recommend reading “The Hiding Place” by Corrie TenBoom.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Line That was Drawn, by Hugh Estlinbaum

While my daughter is still too young to read many of the books which I am recommending, I want to know what direction I want her to go in the future.  She is a fourth grader this year and we are reading classical literature.  Because of her abilities, we are reading a re-written, easier version of them, but we are still reading them.  As she gets older, if she wants to read the full versions, I will not stop her, but I want the Middle School and High School years of schooling to be focused on learning real things, not someone’s imagination (no matter how creative or realistic that imagination may be).  So, I am sharing some of the books which I intend on reading with her as she gets older.


A Line that was Drawn was a book written by Hugh Estlinbaum.  Hugh’s sister Lorie was one of my two best friends in High School.  We lost touch for many years, but we now meet periodically for Chai Tea at Panera Bread and catch up on the big and small events in life. When I think of Hugh, I think of a 9 year old little boy who would enjoy sticking his nose into whatever game we were playing. His sister, as most teenager sisters would do, would quickly send him off doing something else. 

I was getting ready for work one morning in 2009, the television blaring the morning news in the background, when I heard the name Estlinbaum.  Since it is not a common name, I perked up and walked into the room with the television. That was when I heard about Hugh’s son, Tony.  The Swine Flu (H1N1, as it later was called) was a new virus at the time and many people were dying quickly from it.  I said many prayers for Tony through this time and e-mailed his sister Lorie, who I had recently reconnected with, for updates on Tony’s condition.  I was teaching a 5th grade class at church on Sundays and I put Tony’s name on the prayer list that first Sunday.  One of the boys immediately said, “Tony? He’s on my football team.  I didn’t know he was sick.” 

 Tony Estlinbaum, Hugh’s son, was one of the first hospitalized cases of the H1N1 virus.  He almost died many times in the months he was hospitalized.  Unlike others who caught the virus, Tony had no pre-existing conditions.  He was a healthy 10 year old who came home from his first football game with a headache.  Fortunately, his parents recognized that something was very wrong and took him to a trusted Oklahoma City hospital emergency room before it was too late, but the hospital had difficulty caring for him. Only an experimental procedure saved his life. 

A Line that was Drawn was written by the father of an extremely ill son only a few months after Tony went home from the hospital.  You can see the shock of a parent finding out his otherwise healthy oldest son may not survive the night.  He takes you through the continued prayers of his family and why he decided to go public by calling in a local news organization.   As time passes and his son’s condition continues for months to be critical, Hugh and his wife must balance being at his son’s bedside and spending time with his healthy children who were not allowed into the ICU.  His family and faith grew stronger as the very life of his child was beyond the control of Hugh and the highly skilled doctors caring for him.

 This is a book which I highly recommend for parents, but I wouldn’t recommend children read it before High School years.  There is no bad language in it or any situations which Middle Schoolers should not read, but the content is very intense at times. I suggest having a box of tissues nearby when you read the chapters where Tony was at his most critical.  Even though this book was written months after Tony came home, it’s easy to see how difficult it was for a parent to describe the near death experience of his child.  One reason Hugh wrote this book was to help other parents to see how important immediate medical care was. Had they waited any longer than they did, there is no doubt that Tony would not have made it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Meet me in the Gloaming

            I am figuring out that it is so important to keep fictional reading in the “entertainment” category and non-fiction in the “school” category. The exceptions will be fictional books which include a lot of facts.  Since nonfiction books are not widely read, I want to share a series of non-fiction books that I intend to use in our homeschool with my daughter as she gets older.  Meet Me in the Gloaming by Carol Vinzant will definitely be one of them.

I suppose I should disclose that Carol Vinzant, the author of this book, is a friend of mine.  I have known her for many years and I know that she planned on writing this book for many years before she actually did.  I have a great deal of respect for Carol, and even more since she pushed through a great number of difficulties to publish this amazing book which relates the life of her grandmother.  Carol inherited her grandmother’s diaries, stacks and stacks of them.  She remembers her grandmother puttering around the kitchen when Carol was a child, but she had no idea the exciting life she lived until she began to read what Clemmie had written over the years about events that had occurred. 

 About ninety-five percent of this book tells content directly from these diaries, while five percent is fictional conversations which she had to include to show progression which was necessary but was not described in the detail she needed to use.  She worked very hard to keep these fictional sections to a minimum, though, and worked very hard to keep them true to the people involved.  Some members of her family complained to her about including some portions which they did not want published, but Carol said it is part of her grandmother’s story so it should be told.  The title comes from an old hymn of the same name.

Meet Me in the Gloaming takes place primarily in Texas, where Clemmie lived all of her life.  Her family struggled financially, which only got worse during the Great Depression.  See life through her diaries as she goes through love and loss.  She struggles to be a spinster school teacher, in spite of her difficulties controlling the bullies in every class in which she taught.  After she marries, she does all she can to keep food on the table and a roof over her family’s head, all the while maintaining her belief in God and keeping her morals high.  She describes events of her time, including an entire town which moved a couple of miles so they could be closer to the railroad (something which happened in many towns in Texas and Oklahoma which were close but not exactly on the track of the railway when it came through).  When available, actual photographs are included throughout the book.


If you are studying the history of the United States during the depression era and afterward, I highly recommend you use this book as part of your studies to see exactly what the depression years were like for most families during this difficult time.  There are many situations in this story which will provide discussion points about life as well as giving you a variety of events of the time which you can further research.  I highly recommend reading Meet Me in the Gloaming by Carol Vinzant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Beginnings

Our third year of homeschool is barely a week in session and I already LOVE, LOVE, LOVE our new style!

After spending a lot of time (and blog space) last year researching Classical Education, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go. The book I was reading, “A Thomas Jefferson Education,” is awesome, but the recommendations are more for middle and high school students.  Yes, they do have a list in one of the appendices of books to read for elementary ages, but it just didn’t seem to fit our family.  Since my daughter is starting 4th grade, though, I wanted to have some type of plan.  (I don’t like “winging it” - for me, that means we would probably not have much schoolwork.)  My daughter’s interests are the same as many 4th graders, even though her low IQ and other special needs means she is not able to do the same work, which presented a unique challenge. Since Babygirl does not read on level, and gets frustrated if she has to read anything for an extended time, I knew I wanted most of this school year to be built around reading, but I didn’t want it to be just random books we picked up from the library.  Most series books that she could read may be entertaining, but I was not very excited about building an entire year of education on “Junie B. Jones” books.  They’re good to read and have some moral to them, but there still isn’t much depth.

A little more than a year ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out some things in her house and came across a set of “Treasury of Illustrated Classics” books.  She gave them to me – more than 20 classic books that were simplified for younger readers. They gave me the perfect foundation to build our plans for building a great school year.  They are written for younger children, but they keep much of the depth of character and morals, as well as some of the dilemmas, that the classic characters face.  They are also entertaining, able to keep my daughter’s interest.  To get my daughter excited about them, I let her pick out the order we would read the books.

Another problem is that in the Classical Education tradition, books should be read in a limited amount of time. In fact, in the “Thomas Jefferson” book, it suggests finishing one book per week.  I knew that would not happen. These books usually have about 150 – 200 pages each, way too much for Babygirl to read (or even listen to me read) per week.  So, I extended it to one book per 2 weeks. 

Since our homeschool is arranged in 10 sessions of 4 weeks of school, 1 week off, that means 2 books per session or 20 books per school year.  Was it possible for us to read that many books this school year? Would I be pushing her too hard, only frustrating both of us?

To add to the dilemma, the Classical method is to read, write, and discuss the books you are reading.  Discussing our reading is very simple for us, so I knew that would not be a problem.  If we divided up the reading, where she would read some and I would read a lot, I knew we could probably get through the book.  But – writing??? That is another of her big issues. Writing does not come easy at all for Babygirl.  In fact, it is very daunting for her – okay, terrifying would be a better word.  She has come a long way in the 2 years we’ve had to homeschool.  She now draws every chance she gets (I now have to hide copy paper when I buy a new ream or I may find it scattered over the room with one dragon on each page).  That is such an improvement, but letter formation is still hard for her.  How could we “write” this year?  I know we need to, but I don’t want to overwhelm her, which can happen very easily.  (Look back at my first year posts to see how difficult she is to work with when she is overwhelmed)

I decided to journal, which is the main method recommended by the “Thomas Jefferson Education” book. I also decided that we would keep the notebook nearby when we were reading our classical novels and we would write down “interesting vocabulary words” and important events from each chapter.  If nothing else, we would write a sentence summary of each chapter.  I also decided that I would start writing the journal, letting Babygirl tell me what to write.

Wow!  On chapter 2 of the first book, she was grabbing the pencil out of my hand so she could write the vocabulary words.  I am still writing the summaries or any important events, but she now writes all interesting words in the journal.  We talk about what each word means.  Two or three times per week, we read back over what we wrote about the book, letting us summarize the story and remind us what has happened.  Babygirl LOVES the new style!  She is ready for school and she keeps up well with the stories. Right now, she reads the first page of each chapter (usually about ½ to ¾ of a page), then I read the remaining 4 – 6 pages of each chapter.  She is already asking to read more than that one page, but since we are reading 4 – 5 chapters per day, I think she would get tired of reading too quickly.  Maybe next session I will add a little more for her to read aloud.

Yes, we do other subjects as well, and we are still trying to take 1 field trip per week and one trip to the library once every 2 weeks.  Last week, we went to the Oklahoma History Center, across from the state capitol building, since we are studying our state in Social Studies.  This week, the temperatures are dropping to the 90s for highs, so we will start going to the Zoo again a couple of times per month.  In Science, we’re studying about the human body.  Zoo trips this year will let us compare the different types of animal bodies. This session we’re studying skin, including the sense of touch and hygene, so she can focus on differences between the animal skins. We do a lot of discussion, videos, and research on the internet for these subjects.  Math is still very difficult for her, so we’re taking it slow, making sure she understands basic concepts before we move on.  We are also focusing on the “fruits of the Spirit” this year, taking one “fruit” per month.  This month is Love.

Read, write, and discuss is a style which I think will be fabulous for us. Letting classics be the center of our school day (we spend about 45 minutes or an hour daily on reading), she recognizes the value of reading herself. My hope is that by the end of the year, I can let her read independently and then we can discuss it and I can read what she wrote in her journal, but we are nowhere close to doing that yet.  It is still the first time we have had such a successful first week that I am afraid to get overexcited, but I am!  I hope your child's year begins just as wonderfully as ours!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Phonics or Whole Language: Which is Right?

Reading programs boast that they can teach your child to read in a few months.  Professional tutoring businesses guarantee that they can raise your child’s reading ability one to three years.  What is the best way to teach reading?


Phonics and Whole Language are the two prominent methods for teaching this basic skill.  The two systems are complete opposite ends of a wide spectrum, yet both have been very successful with children and adults.  Heated debates continue in Teacher’s Lounges and in classrooms all over the world, supporters of each side holding to his preferred method being the best.  It is not new – the debate goes back over 500 years (click here if you’d like more about the history of phonics vs. whole language argument).  The real difference is the person who is learning and the way his brain is wired. 

Phonics is a system where each letter is assigned a sound, and some of them, like vowels and the letter c, are given more than one sound with accompanying rules to explain the difference.  These letter sounds are then added together to create a word.  As the student progresses, he begins to learn more patterns with letter combinations, such as “when two vowels go walking, the first one says its name.”  The problem with learning such rules is that the English language has so many exceptions that it can be confusing to a new reader.  In public schools which support this type of instruction, it is taught from the earliest years, pre-k or Kindergarten, until about third grade. 

Whole Language instruction, on the other hand, takes a very different approach to the same skill.  This method teaches that the reader should look at the entire word and memorize the word.  This begins with a set of high-frequency words, such as the Dolch word list, as well as signs placed near common objects in order for the student to mentally connect the object with its written word.  As the student progresses to more difficult words, they learn word origins and basic spellings and meanings of root words (also called base words).  Latin, Greek, and Old English origins are taught so they can recognize these influences in larger words, which they can break down into chunks of recognized portions and put together to make new meaning.  They memorize affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and use those meanings to add to the understanding of the word.

Which is right?  As you have probably recognized, most reading systems use a combination of the two methods.  This is called an integrated approach to reading, and this is my preferred style of teaching.  You will notice in my other posts about reading instruction that I use the Dolch word list and other whole language methods to teach automaticity with the language, while I supplement phonics instruction to be able to sound out the various sounds and letter combinations.  However, the fact is both styles have been very successful, but the person learning is really the one to determine the best method. 

My daughter, as hard as I’ve worked for my normal, integrated method, learns through the Whole Language method.  When I start breaking a word down into phonics, she panics.  I recently talked to a mother whose son read very early, but he had reached a plateau.  He was diagnosed with a form of dyslexia and could not seem to progress in his ability, which was very frustrating for both of them.  She had tried several phonics courses over the years, and none of them seemed to help.  I suggested she try using more Whole Language.  Use sight words on flash cards (or with technology today, I use PowerPoint). Learn parts of words with their origins, also teaching affixes.  She immediately recognized that when they did those activities, he had done well, so she was very excited to try this approach.

Know your child and help your child learn to read through the method which suits him.  Phonics, Whole Language, and an Integrated Approach all have the potential of teaching your child to read well or confusing them to the point of tears.  Find what is best for him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Be Content with your Promotion

No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.” ~ Psalms 75:6-7

               Another way to look at the word “exalt” is “promote” or “raise.”  At work, we cannot give ourselves a raise.  We cannot give ourselves a promotion.  Our boss can, but where does he get that authority?  From God.  (there are many verses which support this, but I am writing this too late and I am too tired to look them up – sorry!)

               When I read this verse, I thought back to two years ago.  I was working full time, teaching in a public school.   I loved teaching my students and I enjoyed the friendship which I had with my other teachers.  Living on two incomes, our bills were tight, but they were mostly getting paid.  The flashback brought on another question – did God give me a “de-motion” by sending me to work at home with no pay?  To teach only my one child and care for my husband and my home?  Had I done something that displeased the Lord so that He felt I was not capable of earning a promotion in my former position?

               The thought had not even fully entered my head before I realized how wrong that thought was.  As much as I loved my previous position (and I still love hearing from my former colleagues and students on Facebook and occasionally seeing them around town) what the Lord gave me was a promotion.   He allowed me the position which only I can fill – the mother and caretaker of my home. 

               With my daughter who has special needs (and, okay, sometimes my husband can fit into that category – who ever heard of “stir fry” for breakfast every morning??!), no one else is suited to care for my home.  God has brought me through the special “training” (a.k.a. “life experiences”) which are needed to help my family.  He has finally promoted me to this position as Homemaker and Homeschooling Mom because he felt I was ready to be “exalted” to this job.

               But, don’t most promotions come with increased pay?  My leaving the job market cut our household come by 60%!  What does God have to say about that, huh?

               Money is only one form of payment, and as inflation increases, it’s a pretty fickle payment, at that. The cost of a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas are constantly changing – and have you priced a container of coffee these days?  Outrageous!

               Luke, the writer of two books of the New Testament, described a situation in Luke 3 where Jesus was telling people what they should do to obey the Will of God.  Some soldiers (presumably Roman soldiers) spoke to Jesus. 

“Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?"

He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."

~ Luke 3:14

            Be content with my pay?  I’m not getting any “pay” to be content with! 

            As I sat there, I remembered every morning when my daughter comes out of her room and says, “Good morning, Momma,” then she gives me a hug.  If I’m especially lucky, she might snuggle on my lap for a few moments while she wakes up. At nine years old, I don’t get those snuggles as often as I used to.  J  However, when I worked full time, our daily wake-up routine was my yelling at her to get ready and rushing her out the door.  Even throughout the day, I will occasionally get a completely unexpected hug.  And, we laugh together.  I can’t remember doing much laughing with her when I only saw her for forty-five minutes in the morning and a couple of hours at night before bedtime.  Such a wonderful “payment!”

            A friend recently asked me about my daughter’s scoliosis, which was progressively getting worse.  The orthopedist even shortened the intervals between her visits.  He had given no instructions on how to help her, so I assume his position was (and still is) to wait until her back becomes bad enough that she needs a body brace and pray she will not need the next step of surgery.  My friend convinced me to try some treatments which could be considered “alternative” treatments, including reflexology and back massage once a week and going to a chiropractor.  For three months, I took her to a chiropractor 3 days per week, though now we have backed off and only seeing him once a week.  Many of those appointments included a wait time of one to two hours, which we filled with school work which we were missing at home.  Had I still been working full-time, there is no possible way I could have missed that much work, so she just wouldn’t have gotten those treatments.  Babygirl also has daily exercises, which she is supposed to do twice a day, thanks to the chiropractor.  If our morning routine, as it had been when I worked, had continued, she would never have been able to exercise in the morning and then in the evening, even if somehow we could have continued going so frequently for treatment.  Current x-rays are showing marked improvement to her spine.  God’s “payments” in this area of our life are incalculable!

            As far as education, I don’t even know how to begin to describe how far my daughter has come. If you have read my previous posts, you know my daughter couldn’t read when we began homeschooling last year, her second grade year.  She ran away from me – literally – every time I tried to start school for the first two months of homeschool.  I tried every “trick” I had ever learned and made up a few as I went, but slowly, God helped me to get through to her.  Even a year ago, she could not read something and then discuss what she had just read.  Now, however, she is able to not only read a passage (first or early second grade level) but now she can discuss intelligently what she just read.  She continues to shock other children and adults with her ability to discuss topics in depth.  She is still uncertain with her handwriting and math, but we continue to work on those skills so she can develop her confidence.  She can now look people in the eye and talk with them – carry on a conversation.  Before we homeschooled, that was an impossibility.  (No, unfortunately I am not exaggerating).  God has abundantly blessed our homeschool so that my daughter is able to learn academics in the manner which is best for her. 

            But what about cash?  We need money for some things.  Couldn’t God’s “promotion” for me have included some type of “monetary compensation? 

               My husband does bring home an income, though not as much as our previously combined income.  It is enough to provide our basic needs.  As Jesus told the soldier: “be content with your pay.” The blessings to my home have been wonderful and inconceivable only a couple of years ago, but this phrase also includes money.   Yes, I occasionally teach classes in writing to homeschoolers.  Yes, I tutor a couple of wonderful high school girls.  The money which I bring from these side-jobs provides a little more to our income, helping us get through the difficult months when my husband doesn’t get overtime.  Contentment, though, is what I also need to find.  I need to be content with my husband’s pay.  Another verse came to my mind.

“Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.” ~ Isaiah 55:2

               Yes, I do want extras. I want a vacation every year. I want to get nice clothes and shoes for our family. I want to have spending money to buy a ten-dollar book on a whim. I want a new i-pad and i-phone with unlimited minutes. I want a new car every few years. Those are all wants, however, not needs.   With my staying home, I am able to cook, and we eat well.  I now run a produce coop out of our house every two weeks, which provides many fruits and vegetables for our home.  I am able to bake homemade breads and healthy desserts (sometimes more healthy than others).   We still eat out occasionally, some weeks more than we should, but we have never been hungry.  God provides what we need. 

               Like most things in life, our current situation is not permanent.  My daughter will grow older, get married, and have her own family someday.  My husband may find different places to work, or even move us to a different place to live.  I will get older, and my health will change.  However, God is using my current position as training for my next promotion, whatever that will be.  For now, I will happily accept my promotion with gladness.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

To Spell or Not to Spell - Is that a Question?

            As an elementary teacher in public school, I always had my lesson plans for Spelling.  All of the other teachers in the school did, as well.  Some teachers were so creative that there were questions if the kids were actually learning anything, while others simply had the kids write the words 5 times each, every day.  Every Monday, we all handed out our Spelling list, and every Friday we all gave tests.  You know the tests – say the word, use it in a sentence, say the word again, and wait for the slowest kids to finish with the word while the faster ones finished before the sentence was out of my mouth. 

            Then we got a new principal who announced that he didn’t want to see anyone wasting 30 minutes on Spelling tests, nor did he want to see anyone spending time on teaching Spelling in the classroom. 

            Shocked, we all looked at each other. Was it possible to have a day of school with no Spelling?  For the first month, we all tried to sneak Spelling lessons in (okay, some tried much longer than a month).  Students were instructed to hide their Spelling work if the principal did walk into the classroom when they were working on their prerequisite “5 times each.”  Some teachers even went so far as to ask the school secretary to “buzz” their classroom on the PA when the principal left the building on Fridays so they could give their tests. 

            Why would the principal say such a thing?  Wasn’t Spelling required for instruction?  Actually, not really.  Kids are either good spellers or they are bad spellers – at least, that is what every teacher was told.  Spelling is also an easy subject to teach, since you just give the assignment and then the students can work for a full 20 – 30 minutes independently, without any instruction.  It frees up time for the teacher, but for the student, simply writing the words 5 times each is “busy work” – something that keeps the kids busy, but doesn’t have much quality instruction.

            I started looked at patterns between “naturally good spellers” and “bad spellers.”  “Good spellers” were also good readers.  It was not exclusive – I found one or two exceptions to that rule, but not many.  So then I started looking for correlations between the two skills – spelling and reading.  What I found changed my mindset about Spelling and Reading both.

            Words have patterns.  These patterns can and should be recognized, and that is the secret to an excellent Spelling and Reading program.  Most pre-made spelling lists have spelling patterns included, which are why those words were put together into the list in the first place. You will also find a few words which do not fit into any patterns, and those can be recognized, as well.  You can use the same set of words in your spelling and reading fluency work to help your child learn to spell AND read faster. In using spelling patterns, it is easy to create your own spelling list.

            For example, diagraphs like “sw” are a spelling and reading pattern.  In the list, you could include words like sweet, swing, sweat, swell, swallow, sweater.  In doing the daily work, do more than just write the words.  Make your assignments so that your children can identify patterns in the words, as well as using the words in sentences or in other assignments. 

            Also, hearing the word and writing it is not necessarily the best method of taking a test.  At the same time our principal told us not to include Spelling in our daily assignments, we also got a new reading program which had a different type of test for spelling.  It listed each word four ways, only one of which was spelled correctly.  The child had to circle the correct spelling.  Here is an example of this type of spelling test:

1)        swete             sweet             swet               swiet
2)        sweng            sweing           sweeng          swing

3)        sweater         sweter           sweetr           sweiter

            This is actually a very effective method of testing, though many teachers complained that it was too easy.  It actually can be very difficult to locate the words if the child does not know how to spell the word well.  And, it only takes about five minutes for the slowest student, instead of the 30 minutes that the old way would require.  Most of all, the students seemed to enjoy taking this type of test, whereas only certain students liked the other type of test.

            So what types of spelling activities would be appropriate?  I do think it would be appropriate to write the words three to five times each one day per list, to allow the child time to recognize the words which they are studying that week.  However, I would not have them do that more than once.  Here are some alternate Spelling activities which can be incorporated into your reading program to help with spelling:

*  Oral spelling:  (with multiple children, they can say it together).  Say the word, clap while saying each letter of the word, and say the word again, go to the next word.  This should be done DAILY.

*   Colored Patterns:  Use two colored pencils, pens, or crayons to write the words with a particular spelling pattern. One or two times each is enough.

     -  spelling patterns (for example, “sw” blue, the rest of the word red:  sweet)

     -  vowel-consonant patterns (vowels blue, consonants red:  sweet)

*      Locate the word in another book.  Copy the sentence where the word is used.

*      Write the definition of 5 – 10 of the words

*     Use 5 – 10 of the words in a sentence or write a story with them

*     Sort words by spelling patterns for that week

*      Word Games

        - crossword puzzles

        - word searches

        - write the words in a printed coloring book and then color over them

        - use magnetic letters to spell the words

         - place magnetic or printed letters around the room and have child search for the letters to spell a word that is called out. 

        -  use “wiki stix” or play dough “snakes” to form the letters of the words

*  Activities:
         - Spelling Kickball game (“pitcher” calls out a spelling word when she throws a slow rolling ball, which kicker must spell correctly before he kicks)

         - Spelling Dance (child must use her arms and legs to form each letter of a spelling word)

            Spelling can easily be incorporated into a reading program, and it can be used as a “mental break” from traditional schoolwork.  Spelling may be taught as a part of reading, and spelling tests are really not even required.  Patterning is what is needed for your child to become a good speller.  If you can find ways that your child will remember the patterns and look for them in other sources outside of your schoolroom, he or she will quickly become a “naturally good speller.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stress: What kind is in my Home?

         Everybody's going through a lot of stress these days, no matter how well off you are and how many advantages you have, it's a stressful time in everybody's lives.”   Chris Frantz, drummer for the rock band The Talking Heads, described my life perfectly.  We usually think of stress as being bad, though some people insist that stress can be good.  Truthfully, stress can be divided into two broad categories:  eustress and distress.  How can I help my child have more of the stress that is helpful and less of the kind that is damaging?
           Eustress literally means “good stress.”  We experience this when we have a drive to accomplish something, and it helps us improve or enhance the work that we are doing, such as strength training, mental drills, or other challenging work (both physical and mental).  With eustress, we feel ready and able to conquer the obstacles which block our progress to our goal.  This encourages us to excel in ways we were unable to before and it results in achievements and positive feelings.  This type of stress is fantastic, and should be encouraged in both adults and in children so they will want to strive for success in their goals.
           Conversely, distress is what we call the bad stress.  This results when we are unable to adjust to changing events for an extended period of time.  In these settings, we feel out of control and unable to work toward improving a particular situation.  Experiencing negative stress over a short period of time can be a way to learn difficult lessons, but it’s a different story when the situation continues over time with little or no sign that anything the person does can change the situation.  Distress refers to stress over an extended period of time, and it can result in both physical and mental illness.  Children enduring this type of stress demonstrate it though antisocial behavior and attitudes, including aggressiveness, passivity, or withdrawal from social situations.  As a parent, we need to help our child going through distress to find positive methods of compensating with the situation around them and build steps so that the child knows he can affect (and improve) his circumstances.
           So, which stress is in your home?  If you are like most people, there is some of both.  Eustress shows itself when our family feels empowered to accomplish the work which needs to be done to accomplish individual goals.  Distress is found when we do not see results from our work for an extended period of time, or the results we see are not positive.  If a child misses a birthday party because he has to finish his homework, what he feels is probably negative, but not necessarily distress.  If this happens occasionally, it can act as a learning experience and end up with positive results in producing a good behavior in completing his work before the next social event.  However, if a child always misses every party he is invited to, always needing to do work that does not produce results that are important to him, then this continual negative stress becomes distress and is not good.  It can result in depression or the other antisocial behaviors listed above.
          How can I affect the stress in my home?  Doing activities in which we can see results helps increase our eustress.  Things like housework (ugh!  Yes, I did say that) produce positive results that we can see quickly.  Physical exercise also encourages positive feelings which help us feel as though we are more able to handle the situations in which we find ourselves.  Positive mental activities include challenging games in which a person must use a skill which he knows he either has or can develop with repetition.  As parents, we should find ways to help our children develop skills they need so they can accomplish their goals, turning distress into eustress. 
           Eustress and distress can be used to strengthen or weaken us and our children.  Doing activities which help us feel in control and that give us a feeling of accomplishment should be increased, while activities which make us feel out of control and not able to affect our situation should be limited.  Learning to cope with stress in our lives, while difficult, determines our overall view of life, and as such, is worth the effort to manage.