Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Feed a Brain Every Day

Dear friends,

I love the Holy Experience blog by Canadian Ann Voskamp. Today her post is full of links for web sites that post daily educational goodies like spelling quizzes, geography facts, poems, writing prompts, bird pictures, classical musical, today in history, Biblical art and so much more.
She notes that this was her kids' "go-to" list when she was busy with another child.

How to Feed a Brain Every Day (Daily Links for Hungry Minds)

While we're at it, you may as well feast on a foundational home schooling piece she posted last year, Seven Daily Rungs. I need to reread it myself!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Bin There, Done That" (Or How to Keep School Clutter from Turning You Into a Basketcase)

Dear friends,
To keep school stuff from overtaking our home more than it already does, we've invested in a bunch of different kinds of plastic bins.
These four small ones are labeled for pens & pencils, colored pencils, scissors & tape, and miscellaneous small stuff. I have to sort these out periodically, because nobody cares quite as much as I do to put things back in the right places, but the bins do help keep things organized. Using the white rack maximizes the space on the shelf. On these supply shelves, I also have a larger plastic bin full of zip lock bags that have pieces to educational games, a shoebox size bin with Cuisenaire pattern blocks, and a flip-tip shoebox size bin to hold flash cards that are in zip lock bags. (You can see some of these here: Organizing with Plastic Zip-Style Bags at Home and On the Go.)
I gave each one of my five younger kids some sort of plastic bin to store their books, notebooks, and school supplies. I line them up on a shelf in the dining room, so they can either take the whole thing into another room to study, or retrieve/replace items as needed. They also have smaller plastic boxes inside the bins to store their pens, pencils, colored pencils, glue sticks, crayons, scissors, and other school supplies. Yes, I still find things left out, but at least I now have a place to stash them in a hurry. It helps that all of their work books and notebooks are labeled clearly on the front cover so I can see in a flash whose it is without thinking of whose 5th grade grammar book I'm staring at.
Naomi started out using a plastic milk crate. It is more bulky than I would like, and quite painful if you stub your toe on it, but she liked it because it's pink. Another drawback of the milk crate is that small items like crayons can fall out of the holes. I have since replaced it with one like her brothers' bins below.

My three boys' bins are clear plastic. They are not as durable as milk crates, but a little easier on errant toes. It costs $3 at Wal-Mart. After I took these pictures, I labeled all of the ends of the bins with the kids' names in black permanent marker.

Four year old Melody was terribly jealous at her brothers' and sister's bins and wanted her own. I hadn't bought one for her yet, but I found this cleaning bucket in our storage room. (I had to take car wash supplies out of it first.) The handle makes it easy for her to carry around. It doesn't hold as many books, but she doesn't have as many anyway.

We have another bin in our living room to hold our family Bible time notebooks, and two more on the floor next to the bookcase for library books and board books.

So you see, I really have "BIN there, done that!" Give it a try!

Happy organizing!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Record Keeping Teaches Mom a Life Lesson

I love compiling portfolios! What an ingenious requirement in the Florida home education law. Some of you are cringing, asking "What did you have for breakfast?" I haven't eaten anything strange or out of the ordinary, just thankful that our law requires us to keep work samples to show progress, a log of activities, and a book list. Bare minimum, I think, but all necessary. All this to help us be the best home educators we can.

As I sat and wrote a synopsis for each child for the year (kind of a year-end report, but not required by law) I realized just how much we had accomplished. What a relief! I remember many days this year when I thought, "Are we really getting anywhere or learning anything?" To those days, I can now say, "WOW! Learning happened as we did life!"
Let me give you a few examples.

I have a daughter who loves animals. When I asked her to select some books from the library shelf, she put an armful in our library bag. The topic? Dogs. Well, home we went to read about dogs. This led to several visits to local pet stores, a dog sitting job and an impromptu day at a dog agility show. That led to night-time prayers of "Please, Lord, I would love a dog." Forward several months, and God did bring the "perfect" dog (what do you expect from perfect God). We adopted her from another family. The adoption led to a well-check at the vet and daily care and upkeep, which she has done with a smile and no complaints (talk about character training).
Back at the library, we checked out another armful. None of this was planned by me, but in the end, it morphed into an interest-led unit study, the best kind. And I was worried we weren't learning enough!

Life happened, learning happened.
Having to keep written records of our school year is not only a requirement in our state, it is a blessing in our home. Those records help me see we are indeed accomplishing something. There is another added blessing. When learning happens as a result of life, my kids remember what they learned because the content meant something to them, they were involved and interested. For our youngest learners, this is learning at its best. I am posting the contents of our impromptu dog unit (not comprehensive by any means, but a start for those who might be faced with an impromptu unit). I hope it encourages you to see the learning that happens while you enjoy your days with your children.

  • Researched dog breeds, discussing differences
  • Studied the history and country of origin of dog breeds
  • Read Top 10 Dogs for Kids, Gaines
  • Daughter added "a dog" to her prayer list. Mom added "perfect dog for our family" not thinking one really existed :)
  • Made a dog lap book with pictures cut from used magazines and information printed from the internet.
  • Watched the National Dog Show
  • Went to a local dog agility show
  • Went to the Tricky Dog Show
  • Watched a video about dog care
  • Visited three local pet shops
  • Adopted a dog (talk about learning by doing!)
  • Took our new dog to the vet and had a discussion with the vet about care
  • Read Taking My Dog to the Vet, Susan Kuklin
  • Read Your Pet Dog, Landau
  • Read: Hero Dogs, Jackson
  • Discussed working dogs
  • Read: Mush! (about the Iditarod), Seibert
  • Learned about mushers and dog sledding
  • Found Alaska on the map
  • Followed the Iditarod trail on the map
  • Read: Grouping at the Dog Show, Ribke (Math)
  • Read: Cocker Spaniel, Wilcox
  • Read Dogs, Slim Goodbody
  • Read: A Puppy is Born, Cole
  • Read: Looking at Paintings: Dogs, Roalf
  • Read: Dog Food, Freymann
  • Used Draw 50 Dogs (Ames) to draw dogs
  • Older children listened to Call of the Wild (London), Book on Tape

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bible Memory Tips

Dear friends,

My 10 year old son Micah and 8 year old daughter Naomi are preparing to compete in the local Bible Bee. The full version of the Bee was too overwhelming (100 passages, plus multiple choice Scripture knowledge questions) so we opted for the 50 passage Mini Bee instead. We try to work a little bit on it every day, but sometimes we miss. My 6 year old son Ben reads the verses to me, but hasn't memorized many yet, while 4 year old Melody tries to recite a few words from hearing her siblings say them.

I formatted four pages of the verses for the Mini-Bee in a way that makes it easier to memorize. This is the passage that Micah memorized this morning.

1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you
that is not common to man.
God is faithful,
and He will not let you be tempted
beyond your ability, but with the temptation
He will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.

Notice that each line has only one or two logical phrases in it. This helps the concepts fix into the mind and makes the words easier to remember. We try to repeat the words rhythmically several times. For longer passages, I start out by saying the short words, and they have to fill in the key words, such as temptation or overtaken. Repetition and accuracy are the keys. Over and over, word for word. Micah can pretty much do a whole page of over a dozen passages without stopping.

Dr. David Murray gives a video lesson on How To Memorize: 10 Fast Facts, which is specifically geared for Bible Bee folks but very helpful to anyone. (I love the Scottish accent!) This article & video on Tim Challies' blog will also be encouraging for adults: Memorizing Scripture - An Interview

A finally, an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.


“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,
and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Colossians 3:16-17
Why is Bible memory such a big deal for home schoolers? Since Scripture is the cornerstone for our lives, we should always have it instantly accessible to our hearts, our minds and our tongues. When we have decisions to make, what impressions will come to mind? It will be the ones we have taken the time to hide in our hearts. Children are like sponges, ready to soak up Scripture -- if we make it a priority and a regular habit! That’s the why, now for the how.

Use relevance. The verses you choose should have some interest to a child. Basic theology (who is God and what is he like?) and Christian living (how should I act?) are the best choices at this age level. You might find that the memory verses that your child brings home from Sunday School are sufficient. You could also choose a series of verses that will reinforce a certain principle. If your child is struggling to develop a character quality like patience or kindness, this is an obvious topic for memory verses! Here is a list of good starting verses:
  • Psalm 119:105 and 119:111 and 139:14
  • Proverbs 17:17
  • Matthew 4:4 and 11:28-30
  • Mark 16:15
  • John 14:15
  • Romans 3:23 and 5:8 and 6:23
  • Philippians 4:7 and 4:13 and 4:19
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • James 1:22
  • 1 Peter 5:7
  • 1 John 4:7-8 and 4:11 and 5:14

Use repetition. A non-reading preschooler can memorize Bible verses by listening to you say them over and over, and eventually repeating after you phrase by phrase. A friend told me that her two year old daughter memorized a large portion of Proverbs 2 just by overhearing her two older brothers do their memory work each day. An older child can look at the verse while saying it out loud. If he is memorizing more than one verse in a passage over a period of days, he can recite as much as he knows every day, and then add a little bit more. “For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there." Isaiah 28:9-10

Use explanations and vocabulary. If there are any words that he doesn’t understand, take the time to explain them to him, and see if he can tell you what they mean in his own words. How can this Bible verse be applied in his life? This is a vital time to learn basic theological words like: Heaven, eternal, everlasting, faith, mercy, grace, sin, transgression, deceive, salvation, sacrifice, Lamb of God, high priest, Pharisee, Gentile, ransom, redeem, witness, holy, pure, righteous, obedient, command, exhort, evangelize, and gospel.

Use a chanting rhythm. Ephesians 6:1 can be emphasized this way: “CHILdren, obey your PARents in the LORD for this is RIGHT.” Proverbs 20:12 is another good one for young children: “EARS that HEAR and EYES that SEE -- the LORD has MADE them BOTH.”

Use hand motions. “Everyone who hears (put your hand to your ear) these words of mine (point up to God) and puts them into practice is like a wise man (tap head) who built his house (make a roof with your hands) on the rock (make a solid place with your hands).” Matthew 7:24.

Use music.
You can also listen to and sing Bible verses set to catchy tunes. I’ve made up my own little ditties for verses I want my family to learn. My faovites: Hide 'Em In Your Heart by Steve Green -- two volumes of Scripture memory songs for children on CD or DVD.

Use games.
Simple games can also be quite effective for teaching Scripture memory. Write the verse on a chalkboard or a whiteboard. Erase one word at a time, and try to recite it from memory. Write a verse in large letters on paper, and then cut it apart. Can your child arrange it in the correct order? (For more adventure, hide the pieces around the room first!) Or, for an even more tactile experience, write each word of the verse on a different pebble. A kinesthetic child might want to recite the verse while jumping rope.

Use verse cards. My first introduction to this was on a Teen Missions team when I was 15. We had packets of about 40 verses each year, and I can still recall many of these over 20 years later. I wish I had started as a young child! You can make your own using index cards. If you want them to look professional, you can print them from your computer on special business card paper.

Use little homemade booklets. Fold over several sheets of paper and staple at the edge. Write out a Bible passage in large letters throughout the pages, and draw simple illustrations. Read through the book every day for a few weeks with your child and see how easily she remembers the verses.

Use writing.
Let your older child copy the verse several times, first looking at the text, and later doing it from memory.

Use review. Check periodically to see if your child can say the verses from memory. Go back to the verses you have learned in past weeks and months. If you don’t take the effort to make this a priority, it is unlikely that your child will stick with Bible memory. Many families have quiz nights, or brief daily review times.

Use discretion. My only caveat about using games or other memory activities (including hand motions) is that some are so silly that they trivialize Scripture. A memory method should help your child focus on the true meaning of Scripture rather than distract him with puns that will put distorted images into his head.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Got a Hand, Make a Puppet

Children are born storytellers, always looking for an audience with which to share their newest inspirational plot. It is the telling and retelling of stories through creative puppetry, pretend play, and flannel graph which helps children meet and understand storybook characters. Through their acting and imaginative play, children engage themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially in the learning process.

Think back to the stories of your childhood. What do you recall about the stories that impacted you most? Did you act out your stories? Did you create a puppet? Did you dress the part of a character and perform for friends and relatives? Did someone tell you the story with flannelgraph characters? The list of questions can be endless, but the answers are often linked to a person's memories of multi-sensory, literary experiences. Puppets allow the written word to take on an exciting, new dimension. Storytelling and pretend play, when complemented with puppets and theatrics, can speak to the heart and soul of the child.

Puppets are a valuable treasure for a young child. Puppets can read a book, talk to an audience, encourage a friend or teach a new skill. Understanding the value of puppetry, many publishers are currently marketing children's stories with an accompanying puppet. These puppet and book packages can be found at an educational learning store or local bookstore.

Finger Puppets

Young children love finger puppets, perhaps because the puppets can be worn all day and do almost anything. They wonder into laundry baskets and travel many miles in the car. Moms reminisce about finding a child cuddled up in the corner talking to her small storybook friends, unknowingly practicing conversational skills.

Finger puppets are cherished for their versatility and mobility.

Making finger puppets with your children can be rewarding. One of the quickest, easiest finger puppets to construct is the gingerbread man (good thing he runs through a classic tale). Cut out a gingerbread friend from construction paper to fit your child's finger (or trace a cookie cutter gingerbread man onto paper and cut it out). Tape the gingerbread man to a paper cylinder, fitting the circumference of your child's finger. If one finger puppet isn't enough, purchase gardening gloves at the dollar store and make a puppet for each finger. Add pom-poms and puff paint features. Puppets in hand, literally, your child will tell the story of the Gingerbread Boy over and over.

All Kinds of Puppets

Children of all ages enjoy making puppets of their own, personalizing faces and clothing. Puppets can be made from a wooden spoon, a sock, a discarded pair of pantyhose, a Popsicle stick, or a small brown paper bag. Hand puppets can be cut from felt and sewn or hot glued together.


For the parent who wants to make puppets with children, resources abound. Many helpful books are available at the local library. Check out:

  • Clap Your Hands: Finger Rhymes chosen by Sarah Hayes
  • Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Chin Chopper by Tom Glazer
  • Little Hands Fingerplays and Action Songs: Seasonal Rhymers and Creative Plays for 2-6 Year Olds byEmily Stetson and Vicky Condgon

On the Internet visit

Happy puppet making!

Leading Up to Reading: Activities for the Pre-Reader

Want to give your child a jump start to reading? Pre-readers need plenty of varied experiences and exposure to hands-on activities to ready the brain for reading. Most of these influential activities happen very naturally in the course of a day and are therefore easy to provide. Nurture your pre-reader with foundational experiences from which they will build reading skills. Listed below are a few of the many activities which ready the brain for reading:
  • Reading aloud to children, even if only for a few minutes a day.
  • Touching the pages and looking at the pictures while reading.
  • Placing inviting reading materials in the home environment.
  • Visiting zoos, government buildings, historic landmarks, museums, post offices, public gardens, grocery stores, airports, doctors’ offices and hardware stores.
  • Providing an assortment of writing materials such as chalk, colored pencils, pastels, markers and crayons as writing and reading are closely related.
  • Digging in the dirt, collecting rocks, counting acorns, and searching for sea shells, making verbal observations along the way.
  • Smelling the aromas and tasting the flavors in different ethnic restaurants.
  • Touching textures: tree bark, soft cotton, silky ties, cold snow, rough sandpaper, bumpy tires, scratchy bricks and more.
  • Talking about family history with an older loved one.
  • Looking at family photos, dialoguing about what is happening, where the pictures were taken and who is present in the pictures.
  • Cooking and baking which requires measuring, observing, chopping, mixing and tasting.
  • Helping with household responsibilities: setting the table, caring for pets, emptying the trash, folding the laundry, making the beds, organizing the pantry, and unloading the dishwasher.
  • Making and pretending with many types of puppets.
  • Interacting with people of differing cultures and races.
Not all of these activities are feasible for every family. Do what is reasonable and resist the temptation to compare your family with others. It is more important to relax and enjoy what activities you can with your children rather than to feel guilty about what is not experienced. Happy pre-reading!

(This blog entry is an excerpt from You HAVE to Read This One: Raising a Contagious Reader by Cheryl Bastian)

The Beauty of Reading Aloud

by Virginia Knowles
from Common Sense Excellence

Reading aloud is a child’s first introduction to good literature. Why is this so important?

Reading aloud connects parent and child. It links you together in a personal way around interesting ideas and words. Young ones are soothed by the sound of our voices. I tend to be so much more calm when I am snuggled up on the couch enjoying a great book with them, rather than chasing them around the house trying to keep them out of mischief. Reading aloud builds warm memories, too! What will they fondly remember looking back to their childhoods -- pages upon pages of worksheets or the great stories they read with Mom?

Reading aloud gives your child a splendid vocabulary. Good literature is rich in descriptive vocabulary. Your child can gain an impressive arsenal of new words to use in speaking and writing. A child can encounter a word in print, and even know what it means, but not know how to pronounce it. Is the word charade pronounced CHAIR-ray-dee or shuh-RAID? If he hears you say it while he is looking at it, he can make the connection and hopefully remember it the next time.

Reading aloud to a child prepares him for learning to read. Study after study has shown that being read to often as a young child is one of the crucial factors for success in learning to read and in performing well in the rest of academics! The more words a child has in his spoken vocabulary, the easier it is for him to decode them when he sees them in print. He also knows how sentences flow, so he can figure out new words from the context of the sentence.

Reading aloud allows you to teach your child information about the world. This is especially important in the early years. Easy phonics books are fine for “learning to read” but many children aren’t fluent enough to comprehend core curriculum content (literature, history, geography, science) until they are eight or nine. How will they get maximum exposure to these subjects without being driven to frustration? Reading aloud is the key.

Reading aloud gives your child the benefit of your wisdom and knowledge. Even a child who can technically read the words may not fully understand the concepts in a book. He doesn’t have the storehouse of background information and insight which you possess. When you read aloud, you can explain things as you go along, and check to see if your child comprehends the ideas. I even do this with my middle school students for history.

Reading aloud keeps you intimately involved in your child’s education. You know what they are reading because you are reading it with them. You have a common experience that you can talk about later. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the story that we can’t set it down. I’ve been known to read aloud over 100 pages in one sitting on more than on occasion! Yes, I was hoarse when we finished, but these are “moments with momentum.”

Reading aloud sets an example of serving others. Use the power of imitation! What they see us do, they will do. As I’ve gotten busier with our family of 12, my children have found ways to help fill some of my gaps. I love to see my preschoolers and even our young neighbors lined up on the couch with one of my daughters reading aloud to them! It’s a great way to get in some extra reading practice, too! It boosts their confidence to know that they are making someone else happy at the same time. This is such a practical way to use reading aloud as a service to a busy Mommy and eager tots.

I implore you to continue reading aloud to your children all through the preschool and elementary years (and beyond)!

This is an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.

How to Read Aloud and Enjoy It

by Virginia Knowles

Be all there! Set aside everything else you are doing. Let the answering machine take care of phone calls. Cuddle up on the couch and enjoy the story with them! Oh, that sounds so cozy and sweet. Yet often it is such a jumble of little bodies with jostling elbows and kicking feet wanting to get close to Mom and the book! What’s a Mom to do? If you have three children wanting to listen, seat the smallest two next to you and let the oldest one sit next to the youngest. Or, have them take turns sitting closest to you, perhaps for the book that they personally chose. I must admit that sometimes my children even drape themselves over the back of the couch to get a good view.

Use an expressive voice, changing your tone and style for different characters. The classic example of this is that when you read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” you vary your pitch for Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Children love this! If you have a hard time being spontaneous, then read the book ahead of time to yourself and practice it. Or, take a clue from the “experts” and visit the library during story hour to see how the children’s librarian does it.

Let your child pause and study each page. He may want to point out or count various objects, or express his opinions about the story. If he doesn’t offer spontaneous comments, you might ask: “Where is the blue boat?” or “How many birds are on this page?” or “Is it night or day in this picture?” or “What season is it?” or “What do you think that Sam is feeling right now?” or “Why did she do that?” Some children love this, some don’t, and some like it once in a while. Be sensitive to your child’s desires each time you read.

Ask your child to “tell back” what you have read. When a child has a longer attention span and can remember things that aren’t right in front of her at the moment, you can close the book and ask, “Can you tell me what happened in this story?” or “Tell me what you thought about ______ in this story.” Charlotte Mason used this method of oral narration to determine whether a child understood what had been read. This is such a natural and powerful method of evaluating comprehension -- much better than fill-in-the-blank worksheets! Whether or not you use oral narration, be sure to give your child a chance to contemplate what you have read (or what he reads independently), before rushing on to the next item on the school agenda. He should delight to ask himself questions about what he is learning, not because someone else will quiz him on it, but because it is worthwhile and interesting.

Encourage your child to act out the story. Get out the dress-up box and let her choose costumes and props to go along with the story. Make finger puppets or hand puppets, and put on a show. A blanket draped over a piano bench makes a fine puppet stage.

Don’t be afraid to read the same books over and over and over. This develops auditory memory. After a while, your non-reading child might be able to repeat whole pages word for word after seeing the picture as a cue. My oldest daughter memorized whole picture books word for word when she was just two or three. She was so proud of herself that she could “read” as we turned each page. It’s such a valuable pre-reading skill! When you get to a word that you think your child remembers, pause and see if he fills it in for you. If not, just read it and keep going. Many stories and poems, such as “The House that Jack Built” use repetition, which makes it easy for your child to participate in the reading process.

Aim for maximum interest. Stop reading a book if it turns out to be boring for your children. You may need to give it a few pages to get going, but if it’s really a dud, bail out before you ruin the experience for your children. If you have to interrupt a great story, leave it at an exciting spot so your children will be eager to get back to it. Don’t be too surprised if they try to sneak off with it and finish it by themselves!

The AlphaVirtues Song

This is a song I made up to go with an integrated early years home school curriculum that I was developing many years ago. Sing it to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me." We only do the chorus every three verses or so. Don't sing the letter name -- it's just there for easy reference! Start with only a verse or two each day, and work up until you know them all.

The AlphaVirtues Song
by Virginia Knowles

A I can be ALIVE today!
Jesus died to make the way.
Now I can be born again.
Eternal life will never end.

B BELIEVING in the Lord is right.
We walk by faith and not by sight.
When we come to God in prayer,
He will show us that he cares.

C COURAGEOUS people are so brave
Because they know that God will save.
They go ahead and do what’s right,
And turn the darkness into light.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

D DILIGENT means working hard.
Don’t be lazy! Do your part!
When you have a job to do,
Keep on working ‘til you’re through.

E We should be ENCOURAGING,
Saying only helpful things.
You can share about God’s grace,
With a smile upon your face.

F FORGIVING is the way to win.
Jesus pardoned all our sins.
You should pardon others, too,
When they do bad things to you.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

G We should be so GENEROUS,
With what God has given us,
To the needy, to the poor,
We should give and give some more.

H HUMBLE people know they’re small.
God is bigger than us all.
We should serve, but never boast
About how we love God the most.

I Jesus was so INNOCENT!
He had no sin but still he went
To the cross and took our place
So that we could know God’s grace.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

J JOYFUL, joyful people sing,
Praises to the Savior King!
When they see someone who’s sad,
They will try to make them glad.

K KIND to others, we should be,
Doing all the good we see,
Don’t be rude! Be kind and sweet,
To the people that you meet.

L LOVING others is the way,
To make God happy every day.
Jesus loves to see us care,
For other people everywhere.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

M MODEST clothing we will wear,
Not too fancy or too bare.
A gentle spirit and quiet heart,
Is the very place to start.

N A NOBLE man makes noble plans,
And by noble deeds he stands.
But first he takes the time to pray
For the Lord to guide his way.

O We should be OBEDIENT,
When we do wrong we should repent.
If we follow God’s commands,
He will guard us with his hands.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

P PATIENT people learn to wait,
Even when it seems so late.
When other people bother us,
Let’s be calm and never fuss.

Q A QUIET person is not too loud,
Or too busy or too proud.
Listen when God speaks to you,
So you’ll know what’s good and true.

R REVERENT people seek the Lord,
And they love his holy word.
They worship God throughout the day,
As they work and as they play.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

S SELF-CONTROL is good for me,
I can do what’s right, you see.
I tell myself not to be bad,
Because it makes my Savior sad.

T TRUTHFUL, honest, we should be,
Living with integrity,
We tell the truth and we will try,
To never ever tell a lie.

U UNITED people make a team,
God has given them a dream.
Strong and weak each do their part,
And work together with one heart.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

When there’s a war inside of us.
More than conquerors we shall be,
Jesus’ power can set us free.

W Jesus wants us to be WISE.
To choose the best, to win the prize.
Don’t be foolish, just be smart.
Let Jesus be Lord of your heart.

X EXCELLENT doesn’t start with X,
But still it tries to do its best.
Learning new things is the way,
To get better every day.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

Y A YIELDED person wants to please.
He seeks God’s will and then agrees,
To do whatever God will say,
With happy heart he serves all day.

Z ZEALOUS people keep God’s word, They preach so that it will be heard.
The glory of the Lord comes down,
And fills up hearts all over town.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

Teaching the Bible to Young Children

This is just a small section of the chapter on teaching the Bible from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them,
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God
like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms,
put his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

“...and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures,” 2 Timothy 3:15

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.” Psalm 8:2

Even tiny children and infants can know the embrace of their loving Creator! We don’t expect them to be theology experts, but we do know that Jesus wants all of us to come to him with the simple faith of a child. With your own children, start small, but do start early. Here are some ideas for preschool Bible time:

Make devotional times very brief. A few songs, a story, a prayer, and a verse to memorize will be quite sufficient for preschoolers. If you insist on an extended time, you will lose their attention and your patience.

Keep it simple.
If you have had several years of exposure to the Bible, you already know so many of the stories and concepts yourself. It’s easy to forget that your child is starting from nothing. It’s up to you to teach him little by little, and not assume that he can automatically understand the concepts that you are introducing.

Do it regularly. Bible time is an acquired habit for parent and child. If you do it daily from a very young age, it will be much easier to keep up the flow, and they will know what to expect!

Begin with cheerful music. Choose a few energetic songs to sing -- the kind that get your child marching around the room! We often sang the song, “Only a Boy Named David.” At the last line, “...and the giant came tumbling down” all of the children would fall to the floor and lie as motionless as possible. We had a contest to see who could be the most “dead.” Of course, they would complain loudly if the toddler tickled them and made them laugh.

Read colorful picture books about Bible themes.
These will acquaint your children with Bible stories, characters and ideas. Your local Christian bookstore probably has a wonderful selection of attractive board books.

Talk about who God is and what God says. Informal “along the way” discussions build on these ideas. Tell them over and over again how God made them and loves them more than Mommy ever could. Even from the early age of two, I encourage memorization of short verses or phrases.

Respect the Ages and Stages of Childhood Learning

This is an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.


God has designed human beings to grow into their responsibilities. We don’t birth miniature adults! Children progress through natural stages of learning as they mature; much of our frustration can be avoided if we learn what we can reasonably expect. Then we can avoid the temptation to pressure our children to do things better or faster than they are ready to do them. Parents often ask, “When should I start?” You already started educating your child at birth, and you’ve been doing it ever since. The question really should be, “When should I introduce this or that skill?” or “When should we start more formal academics?” or “What methods should I use at this stage of development?” Here are some tips:

Keep it basic.
Elementary education doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s supposed to be just what it says: ELEMENTARY! The dictionary definition of elementary is: “dealing with or arising from the simplest facts of a subject; rudimentary; introductory.” Your child does not have to master each and every concept that he encounters. You don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t get around to dissecting a frog or diagramming a sentence. Think about what he needs right now. Can he use it in his daily life? Does he need this skill to build on in future months and years? Is he even interested in this subject? Can he reasonably interact with the information on his own level, or is it way too much for him? Use these questions to determine how advanced you want your child’s education to be right now.

Establish good habits early on. Work on basic reverence, respect, kindness, diligence, or orderliness from a very young age. This investment of time and energy will pay hundredfold dividends in the future. Imagine teaching a child who is cooperative, willing to work hard, and cleans up after himself! Work on it every day!

Introduce a skill when your child is ready, shows an interest, or needs it to function. There is no set age at which a child is ready for focused paper-and-pencil seatwork, and it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing anyway. You could be doing short phonics or math sessions without having three hours of “school” each day. If you still want a guideline for what your child could be doing at each grade level, you can take obtain a scope and sequence from a curriculum publisher such as A Beka (, or from your local school district. Our county schools actually put these on the Internet.

Use concrete methods, rather than abstract methods, for a young child. Hands-on learning is so important in a child’s developmental progression. Young children can’t automatically understand abstract concepts. They must start with concrete learning experiences using things they can see, hear, touch, move, smell and taste. Just watch a toddler explore the house -- opening and shutting drawers, banging a spoon on the table, pouring juice from one cup to another, dumping out a bucket of blocks, and hopefully putting them back again. Math is another great example of the principle of concrete learning. You could show a four year old a piece of paper that has “2+3=5” written on it. The squiggles on the paper, and even the spoken words “two plus three equals five” are abstract symbols for something. Unless he can decode the symbols and translate it into real life experience, it means nothing to him. He will get frustrated if you expect him to make sense out of it. But if you put a pile M & M candies on the table, you’ve got his instant attention. He counts out two groups, shoves them together, and counts the total. That’s concrete learning. That’s common sense learning.

Start with the simple and move toward the complex. In nature studies, a preschooler may be able to tell the difference between a zebra and a giraffe in a picture book, but the older student will learn about how they live, what they eat, why they have their unique markings, etc. In story telling, a picture book usually has very simplified plot, setting, characters and ending; a more advanced story adds details, throws in some sub-plots, and develops the personalities of the characters. In math, the young child counts and adds small numbers, while the fifth grader will encounter mathematical terminology, symbols and processes (dividend, divisor, quotient, various formats for division problems, how to do long division, etc.) Looking back to the preschool years, it’s hard to believe that a child has learned so much, because it has come in lots of little baby steps, with an occasional quantum leap forward.

When giving instructions, use the KISS formula: “Keep It Simple, Sweetie!” You can say, “Give me the book!” to a toddler who has it right in her hand, while a kindergartner could understand, “Go get the red book on your bed.” A 2nd grader could handle a two step command such as, “Look on the bottom shelf for the book called Polar Bears and read it before you eat your lunch.” A fifth grader can follow an even more complicated sequence, like “Go ask Susie where her polar bear book is, then finish reading it to her, starting at chapter five. Be sure to write it down in her record book!” If you need to give a sequence of instructions to a child who has trouble with multiple steps, either write them down, have her repeat them back to you, or give one instruction at a time and then have her come back for the next one.

Work on “readiness skills” with young children. Read stories, recite rhymes, and sing songs. Introduce them to the foundations of early education: letters, numbers, shapes, colors, sizes, sequences, etc. Let them draw, string beads, stack blocks, and do puzzles. This seems like play, and it is! But it also gets them ready, in a gentle and pleasant way, for the more serious stuff down the road.

Use the Three-Period Lesson.
Dr. Maria Montessori developed this three-step approach to teaching young children about names of objects, as well as characteristics of size, color, shape, texture, etc. Most parents do this naturally, without knowing what to call it, but here is a summary of the three steps:
  • Period 1 -- Recognition of Identity: The parent tells the child what the object is. This may take several times, perhaps by looking at the same pictures in a book each day. For example, the parent might point to a picture and say, “This is a daisy,” perhaps adding a little description to help the child recognize it in the future. Nothing is required of the child but to look and listen.

  • Period 2 -- Recognition of Contrasts: The parent tells the child to select a particular object from several which are similar: “Which one of these flowers is the daisy?”

  • Period 3 -- Discrimination Between Similar Objects: The parent asks the child, “Which one is this?” and the child must give the correct name -- “Daisy!”

Many workbooks use this Three-Period Lesson concept when teaching letters, numbers and shapes. In a Period 1 lesson, a book may show groups of objects with corresponding numerals, such as five apples with the numeral 5. In Period 2 lesson, the child might be told to match groups of objects with their corresponding numerals, perhaps by drawing lines. In Period 3 lesson, the child might be shown a group of objects and told to write the number, or shown a number and told to draw that many objects. You can also do this concretely by playing with hands-on objects or flash cards. As your child gets older, he will be able to make more subtle distinctions, such as identifying a bird he has just seen, or classifying his rock collection. He will know what characteristics make each specimen unique from the others.

Let the seen explain the unseen. This is another extension of moving from the simple to the complex. There are some things that children cannot see up close and personal, but they can still begin to understand based on what they can see. A child can’t see the electricity running through the wires behind your walls, but he can see the room light up when he flips the switch. If he visits a zoo and lingers to observe each animal eat and move around, he will have a much better understanding of those species that he can’t see in their own natural habitats. If he watches his parents make a budget and then try to stick to it, he can begin to comprehend how business or government leaders must decide where the money goes. We can also use the seen/unseen principle to start teaching about God. Romans 1:20 reminds us: “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Even a very young child can grow in appreciation for the things in his own life that God has made (pretty flowers, their beloved pet dog, yummy strawberries, fun siblings and playmates, etc.). As he watches your example of Christian living and listens to the testimonies of others, he may begin to understand the need for personal salvation, and also vicariously see the consequences of wise and unwise behavior before he has a chance to make the same mistakes.

Build a mental framework and fill it in as the years go by.
When a child learns new information, he needs a place to put it in his brain. He should develop the capability to create mental hooks to organize the information, especially in relation to what he has already learned. “We are learning about butterflies. They are insects. Ants are insects, too.” or “George Washington became President after the Revolutionary War.” You can help this process by pointing out the natural relationships as they come up. Unit studies are a good way to organize information so that it hangs together in the child’s mental file cabinet. If you are studying pioneer times, you can find a typical wagon route on a map, show pictures of covered wagons and pioneer clothing, eat cornbread, make candles, go without electricity for an evening, and read a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. Your child begins to associate all of these mental images with frontier living.

Aim for at least a basic acquaintance with major topics. As your child builds the mental framework, make it your goal not to leave any glaring gaps. In the early elementary years, the focus is usually on basic skills (reading, writing, and arithmetic) with science and social studies tucked in as you are able. However, by the end of elementary school, a home school student should be somewhat familiar with all of the major historical periods, continents of the world (and some specific countries), kinds of plants and animals, major branches of science, how the human body works, and so forth. You won’t be able to teach everything your child will ever need to know, but you can at least give him a good start! In this book, I try to give a comprehensive overview of possible topics to cover for each subject. What Your First Grader Needs to Know, and E.D. Hirsch’s other core knowledge books can be a big help here.

Develop your child’s ability to work independently. A preschooler or kindergartner is pretty much dependent on you to read to him, help him with written work, explain math concepts, and show him how to do things around the house. Once he learns to read fluently, however, you can often hand him a book to study by himself. By about fourth grade, he might be expected to produce regular written assignments, such as original short stories or factual reports. He can also pursue his own topics of interest, perhaps checking out several related library books on his own. He may even help you select his own curriculum from home school catalogs. Later elementary grades are when home school parents often turn to more structured curriculum for math and language arts, if they haven’t done so already. This saves time, provides for a continuity of skills progression, and gives a child “something to run with.” In Horizons Math, fourth grade is when the work book pages present new concepts directly to the child; there is less reliance on oral instruction from the parent. Throughout this process, you will still be there to provide help, but there is less hand holding and more coaching.

Math Skills Checklist from Preschool to 2nd Grade

by Virginia Knowles

 Recite the number words in order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5...).
 Tally the number of items in a set. (How many pieces are there?)
 Group objects into a set to match a given number. (Give me five pieces!)
 Compare quantity of items in two sets (more/less).
 Compare size (longer/shorter, bigger/smaller, heavier/lighter) without specific measuring.
 Add and subtract with hands-on object sets or pictures.
 Recognize, name, and write numerals up to 999.
 Read and write number words up to ten or one hundred.
 Match written numerals with sets of real or pictured objects.
 Count by multiples -- twos, threes, fives, tens.
 Identify whether a number is even or odd.
 Recognize and name shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle, oval, etc.).
 Learn characteristics of shapes (lines, corners, angles, numbers of sides).
 Recognize and name geometric solids (cube, cone, cylinder, sphere).
 Classify items by size and shape, and group similar items into sets.
 Introduce Roman numerals 1-100 (I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100).
 Introduce ordinal numbers in numeral or word form (1st, 2nd, 3rd... first, second, third...)
 Memorize addition facts up to sums of 18.
 Memorize subtraction facts up to minuends of 18.
 Introduce fact families (4+5=9, 5+4=9, 9-4=5, 9-5=4).
 Recognize math symbols (+, -, =, >, <).
 Do basic written arithmetic problems (add and subtract).
 Introduce two-digit addition and subtraction with regrouping (borrowing and carrying).
 Do hands-on or visual multiplication and division (groups of equal sets).
 Practice simple word problems, and be able to choose the correct arithmetic operation.
 Use logic to solve more complicated problems.
 Check to see if an answer is reasonable.
 Read and understand a simple graph or chart.
 Understand visual and hands-on fractions (1/2, 1/3, 1/4).
 Introduce place value (ones, tens, hundreds).
 Recognize money (coins and paper currency) and compute value.
 Recognize time on clock (start with whole hours, then smaller increments).
 Understand calendar time (days, weeks, months, years, decades).
 Understand time vocabulary and abbreviations (AM, PM, BC, AD).
 Understand relationships of time increments (1 minute=60 seconds, 7 days=1 week, etc.)
 Introduce standard versus metric scales of measurement.
 Introduce measurement vocabulary, abbreviations and symbols (inch/in./”,
 Select the correct measuring device for a task.
 Measure length using inches/feet/yards and centimeters/meters.
 Measure weight using ounces/pounds and milligrams/grams/kilograms, etc.
 Measure volume using teaspoons, ounces, cups, pints, quarts, milliliters, liters, etc.
 Measure temperature using Fahrenheit and Celsius/centigrade scales.
 Use estimation for measuring.

Just a few others notes from my math chapter...

"I want my children to develop a sense of wonder as they explore math concepts, as well as lay a solid foundation for further study. Math may seem like such a neutral subject, but its fascinating principles reflect our Creator’s design. Math teaches us about equity, order, structure and absoluteness. Gaining excellence in this area enables us to be people of integrity and accuracy in a world where cheating and shortcuts are too easy. Children who have a hard time seeing the relevance of the worksheet in front of them may gain a new appreciation and motivation for math if they see that these skills are vital for hobbies, cooking, travel, personal safety, business transactions, and career success.  In the elementary grades, I want my children to understand concepts and memorize facts. These essential and complementary facets of math education should not be pitted against one another, but used to balance and enhance each other. Demonstration and drill are both important. Sequence and structure are not as romantic as pure “discovery math” but they become more and more crucial as students advance past the primary grades. Hands-on discovery math is still very important as it supplements your math program."

Thanks for stopping by! You most likely found me on a web search for math skills, but while you're here, let me invite you to pop on over to my main blog, Virginia's Life, Such As It Is  or my middle school blog

May God bless you richly as you learn to COUNT on him today!  His VALUE is immeasurable, and he MULTIPLIES blessings!  (Sorry, couldn't resist the puns!)

The Mom Alphabet

The Mom Alphabet
by Virginia Knowles

Accept, admire, affirm, and appreciate your family.
Boldly believe our big God for beautiful, bountiful blessings.
Calm courtesy communicates care and combats chaos.
Diligence and delegation dutifully do daily deeds.
Encourage by enthusiastic example.
Face, fix, forgive, and forget foolish faults.
Grace is given where grace is needed. Glory to God!
Have a happy, humorous, harmonious, hope-filled home.
Include imagination, inspiration, and interesting information.
Juggle your jobs judiciously and joyfully.
Kiss your kids!
Listen, then lovingly lead.
Meet many marvelous mothers.
Notice new needs.
Overcome obnoxious offenses with optimism.
Pray, prioritize, plan, and prepare for productivity and problem prevention.
Quick and quiet, not dawdling or riot.
Rules without relationships reap rebellion.
Serve sacrificially.
Take time to teach and train truthfulness and thankfulness.
Understand until united.
Virtuosity is victorious.
Wise words will win.
Xpect excellence.
Yackety yack, no talking back.
Zippety doo-dah, zippety ay, my oh my what a wonderful day!

Learning to Read

Learning to Read
by Virginia Knowles

Before I get into specific methods we use, let me digress into a little educational philosophy. There has been constant controversy between proponents of phonics instruction and those who favor whole language. Phonics teaches a child how to decode each word, exactly as it is written. The emphasis is on rules for systematically learning letters and their sounds. Whole language teaches the child to use context clues, sight word recognition, pictures, and previous experiences to extract meaning from a story. Here is the conflict. If you emphasize phonics too much, your child might get bored and frustrated. He isn’t reading anything real, just isolated words and sounds. If you emphasize whole language too much, your child may not learn to read accurately, thinking that guessing is good enough. This defect can cause him major trouble later. Let me put my two cents in. WE NEED BOTH! As home schoolers, we are not the least bit limited by what the school board chooses to use in public classrooms! YEAH!

I have taught nine of my children to read, though actually they are the ones who should get most of the credit. It’s truly been a jaw dropping experience to see them take the accumulated tidbits I have given them over the months and years, and then when they are ready, launch themselves into the world of books. Four of them were reading quite well at age four, one at five and the other four at age six. They are equally bright overall, but had very normal variations in readiness for this particular skill. When people ask what method I use, I am quick to tell them that I’ve never stuck to one packaged program or text book. I like what I have nicknamed tandem reading. (Picture a tandem bicycle, with two seats and two sets of pedals.) Tandem reading is basically participating with our children in the reading process as we transfer the skill to them bit by bit.

Try to keep the sessions brief and fun. You might not do these exercises every day, and perhaps not at all until your child is willing and interested. I personally don’t prefer to push learning to read very hard. When the child is ready, she will learn fairly quickly, and won’t have as many negative feelings about the process.

First teach the alphabet -- the names and sounds of each letter. I know some people say that you should teach only the letter sounds and not confuse them with the names yet, but that’s how we do it. You can do whatever is easiest for your child. We use puzzles, games, flash cards and other low-key methods at a very unhurried pace throughout the preschool and kindergarten years. Computer software like Jump Start can greatly help in this process since it offers fun drill and feedback. When Julia was four, we made letter pages. I would draw the outline of a very large letter on the page, and she would fill it in with pictures (cut out or hand drawn) of items starting with that letter. For c it might be cookie, car, carrot, and cat.
  • Use hands-on experiences to make learning letters more effective.
  • Feel the shapes of letters using a wooden alphabet puzzle or sandpaper cutouts.
  • Play with lower case alphabet magnets on your refrigerator or magnet board.
  • Glue string letters onto index cards.
  • Trace the letters on paper with a pencil or use fingers with bright washable paints.
  • Use fingers to trace letters in a tray filled with sand or cornmeal.
  • Mold letter shapes from play dough.
  • Do crafts with alphabet shaped hard noodles or stickers.
  • Make letters shapes in the air using fingers or whole arm motions.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt for household objects which begin with a given letter.
Drill letters with a good set of flash cards. One weakness of many sets of illustrated flash cards is the poor choice of example words, such as n card that has a dark starry “night” sky, or a picture of a rocking horse for r, or an owl for o. Too ambiguous and confusing! Choose a set with good pictures, or no pictures at all.

Start with lower case letters. Uppercase may be easier to write, but your child will primarily encounter lower case letters in reading. Your child should learn both fairly quickly. One common flash card exercise is to match the uppercase letters to the lowercase letters.

Familiarize your child with a variety of letter styles. Children might become temporarily confused by seeing letters in different styles. For example, handwritten letters are different from those printed by a computer. My four year old said, “There are three a letters!” He pointed to upper and lower case in a workbook (A and a), and then to a lower case a on a poster. The difference is that the one on the poster had no serif on it (this is called sans serif). Serif letters are easier for the eyes to read, but sans serif letters are easier to write. I also once realized that my third grader could not read traditional loopy cursive, since I usually write in italic hand. It only took her 15 minutes to learn to decode cursive, but it was still a surprise to me that she hadn’t done so already!

Use alphabet books as a supplement.
Alphabet books can reinforce letter learning, but since there is a lot of other information on the page to capture the child’s attention, they are not usually sufficient for direct, concentrated alphabet teaching. The same goes for the alphabet song, which is great fun for learning the order of letters, but does not, by itself, teach your child to recognize them by sight.

Aim for instant sight recognition of letters and their sounds. Hear it, touch it, see it, say it, write it, and play with it. Get those letters down pat -- names and basic sounds! You don’t need to teach all of the sounds right away. For c and g start with the hard sounds found in cat and goat, rather than the soft sounds in cent and giraffe. For vowels, teach short sounds found in cat and get before the long sounds in cake and gate. Blends and unusual pronunciations can wait much longer. Stick to the basics at first!

After teaching at least a few basic letters, move on to some words! Some of these will be phonetic (decoding letter sounds), and some will be sight words (memorizing whole words that are relatively non-phonetic). Using bright colored markers and index cards, make a set of simple flash cards. At first, use only a few cards at a time, and then work up to a dozen. Show the child how to sound out the letters from left to right, and practice until she can do these without errors before introducing new words. Lay the cards on the floor and ask the child to find the ones that you name or spell. Or have her pick ones to read to you. (Do you notice the Three-Period Lesson concept again?) Here is one possible (and very general) sequence of word types:
  • Short vowel phonics words with the same endings: cat, rat, mat and fat. Once they learn the common ending (at) they just have to figure out the first sound.
  • Short phonics words with the same vowel but different ending sounds: Add can, ran, man and fan to the previous words. Here they have to learn the difference between words that start the same but end differently, like cat and can, or mat and man. Notice that I have only used the vowel a in these words so far.
  • Other short vowel phonics words: on, if, get, leg, fix, pin, sun, fun, hot, fox
    Easy long vowel words: go, no, so, me, be, he, me, we, my, by
  • Easy sight words: the, of, to, from, they, are, you, was, were, family names, etc.
  • Easy two-syllable short vowel words: picnic, basket
  • Long vowel “silent e” words: cake, Pete, bike, poke, cure
  • Consonant blend words: ship, trick, trap, bark, stump, scrap, sing
  • Adjacent vowel combinations: boat, read, meet, coin, loud, diet, joy, book, food
  • Longer concept words: numbers, colors, and other commonly used words
Use computer software to reinforce letter and word skills. We can’t depend on this entirely, but software does give children an extra boost, and it is fun for the child and time-saving for mom. This has been a huge help in our family.

Use the word cards to make simple sentences. “I hug and kiss Mom” and “The cat sat in the hot sun” are easy ones to do. Let your child make some sentences, too. This will help him learn that each sentence needs at least a noun and a verb.

Display your child’s progress! Do you have a child who is proud of her accomplishments and likes to show other people what she knows? Give her a key ring or necklace strung with small cards all of the words she has learned so far. Take her over to Grandma’s house and let her do her stuff! Or turn on the video camera! Anything to motivate!

Use the “tandem reading” approach. Let your child try figuring out words in a book you are reading together. Don’t wait until a child is really fluent with flash cards before you start tandem reading with real books. When she is able to decode just a few short words (at, in, on, the), try reading an easy book to her, and then pause and point when you get to a word you think she knows. This does not always have to be a short simple word; it’s fun to try longer words which are often repeated and distinctively recognizable, such as Rumpelstiltskin. Your child can try the word, and if she can’t get it, just read it and proceed. As her skills progress, she can read harder words, and more words. She does what she can, at her own comfort level, and you do the rest. Eventually, as her fluency improves, and if a book is at the right level, she can read almost all the words, and you are merely there to listen and help with the few she can’t get. There is a gradual transfer of the reading from you to the child. This low stress approach creates a spirit of teamwork and comradeship between parent and child. Don’t tandem read for every session; sometimes you should just enjoy the story for its own sake. The real beauty to tandem reading is that it is real reading from the start! It never pushes the child beyond what he or she is comfortable doing. The process might take several weeks, or several months, or even a couple of years, but it works.

Work on page skills. Show your child how to read a page from left to right, top to bottom. (Unless you are reading Hebrew or Chinese, and you read right to left!) You can do this by tracking along under the words with your finger as you read aloud, which also helps make a more direct connection between the spoken word and the written word. If your child loses track of which line he is on, have him hold an index card just below the current line and move it down the page as he goes. While you are working on page skills, you may as well demonstrate how to turn a page without ripping it. (Those who like to snuggle up with a book on their laps often catch the edge of a page on their clothing.)

Write your own very short stories using the words your child knows. The stories may only be a few sentences long and use a lot of repetition, but they can be fun. I jot them in neat handwriting on regular notebook paper so we can store them for safekeeping.

Use early phonics readers as necessary. Yes, I know that some people think that children should never use basal (controlled vocabulary) phonics readers, but these have their place in the scheme of things. Here are some we have used:
Use phonics texts or workbooks as needed. You can get simple phonics workbooks at Wal-Mart or any bookstore if your child likes to do this sort of thing. As far as phonics texts or guidebooks, here are three that you might want to try:

Reading Aloud is as Easy as Apple Pie

Reading Aloud is As Easy as Apple Pie
by Virginia Knowles
Dear friends,

I love to read picture books to my kids! In fact, I think that in the early years, this can be the best strategy for home schooling. I’ve always said, “A little phonics, a little math, a little handwriting, and LOTS of cuddling up with picture books on the couch!” The beauty of it is that it is so simple and satisfying. It’s as easy as apple pie!

I recently picked out a stack of picture books from the library that all feature apple pies somewhere in the story line. The differences in them illustrate various ways you can use picture books to teach more than just reading to your kids. If you click on the titles, you can see the books and their summaries on the Seminole County library web site. (Scroll up to see each cover picture on each page.)

How To Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman: I can’t count how many times I’ve checked this one out! It’s a funny story about a little girl who wants to make an apple pie, but the local market is closed, so she travels around the world gathering ingredients. It’s a good opportunity to look up different countries on a globe or world map, and explore the culture of at least one of them. This book is one of the selections in the Five in a Row curriculum. I can’t wait to see the author’s newer book, How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A.

How to Bake an American Pie by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon: This whimsical rhyming book on how to “bake an American pie” symbolizes how to build a strong country. There are plenty of literary and visual allusions to such things as the song “O Beautiful” and Mt. Rushmore. I appreciate the reference to faith as well, in such lines as, “Now roll out a top of spacious skies to cover this country of ours. Place in God’s grace and allow to rise. Then garnish with fifty bright stars.”

The Apple Pie that Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathan Bean: Written in the same add-on style as the poem “The House That Jack Built” this warm tale celebrates nature and family. The illustrations are an amusing folksy primitive style, brown and black with splashes or red. My kids like me to read even the longest lines all in one breath!

Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine explores how a young American girl, daughter of Chinese immigrants, blends both cultures. “No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July, I say. We’re in apple-pie America, and my parents are cooking chow mein!” Illustrations are cut-paper style.

The President and Mom’s Apple Pie by Michael Garland: Portly President Taft is in town to dedicate a new flag pole, but gets distracted by the smell of something really yummy… This book, full of Americana and bright computerized illustrations, and might be a good way to introduce an American president who isn’t quite as well-known as Washington and Lincoln.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley is a tribute to the childhood of famous African-American chef Edna Lewis. Edna and her kin make the best of the bounty of the earth, from wild blackberries to pecans, as they also cultivate family ties. You’ll also find folk rhymes, recipes, and a very informative author’s note in this loving water color painted picture book.
“There’s so much to do with good apples!” says Edna. “With bushels of apples in the cellar, we’ll have apple butter and apple cider and applesauce all winter long. But today I’ll make apple crisp, sweet and tart at the same time.”

Then she sings:

“Don’t ask me no questions,
an’ I’ll tell you no lies.
But bring me some apples,
an’ I’ll make you some pies.
And if you ask questions
‘bout my havin’ the flour,
I’ll forget to use ‘lasses,
an’ the pie will be sour.”


If you like the idea of reading aloud, especially as it relates to food, be sure to check out my friend Cheryl Bastian’s books, Flip 3 Pancakes With 1 Spatula (which integrates cooking, literature and math), You Have to Read This One! Raising a Contagious Reader, and its companion guide, Check These Out, which is a unit study on library books.

I was trying to think if I had already posted a certain excerpt about reading aloud from my book Common Sense Excellence on the web. I hadn’t, but some home schoolers in Australia put it up on their site after I had sent it out by e-mail a while back. That saved me a step today! You can find it here: The Beauty of Reading Aloud. (Please note that the web address they have for me on the bottom of the page is obsolete!)

A post about apple pie books would not be complete without a reference to an excellent library cook book, Apple Pie Perfect: 100 Delicious and Decidedly Different Recipes for America’s Favorite Pie by Ken Haedrich, which features such delicacies as Traditional Lattice-Top Apple Pie, Apple Plum Pie with Coconut Streusel, Skins-On Apple Pie with a Whole Wheat Crust, Apple Cheesecake Burritos, and Sam and Jim’s Butterscotch Apple Pie for Kids. (We made this last one: simple and satisfying!) I drool just browsing through this book, and I sure enjoy the author’s commentary and stories behind each recipe. Check it out!

Goodbye, goodbye, you’re the apple of my eye! (Hey, did you know that expression comes from the Bible? Psalm 17:8 says, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” We’re special to God! Keep that thought with you today, no matter what you read or eat!)

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