Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm So Proud Of Them....

You know, one of the reasons that I haven't been blogging as much lately is that I've said it all already.

Well, it's not entirely that way. But a little something happened today that caused this Daddy's heart to swell with pride in his little girls. So of course, I wanted to blog about it; but I vaguely remembered that I'd done a post on a similar topic at one point, and I Googled my own site...

And came upon this post. And it said pretty much everything I was hoping to say this time around.

Darn, I scooped myself again! You see my problem; when you write numerous blog posts about family life, after a while the same themes come up over and over, and it takes some serious work to think of new things to say. After a while, you are reduced to saying the same things over and over again, just in different ways. As time progresses, you're tempted to use less and less originality (since that takes work), and you just link to yourself and say, "Read this one again."

It's a little like what I suppose comic strip writers go through. Every year, Lucy would hold out that football; every year, Charlie Brown would try to kick it; and every year, Charles M. Schultz would have to try to think of a new way to make that scene funny. It's to his great credit that he usually succeeded; I remember the version of that strip where Charlie Brown and Lucy were discussing the three things that are inevitable in life as they were setting up for the kickoff. Charlie Brown could only remember two: death and taxes. He couldn't think of the third, and Lucy kept teasing him that it was so obvious, clear through to the panel where Charlie Brown was lying in pain flat on his back....

I understand that Bill Watterson had the same problem with the character of the Sadistic Babysitter in Calvin and Hobbes. The Babysitter was one of the fan base's favorite recurring characters, of course, but apparently he dreaded having to come up with new storylines for her every year or so. How many different ways can you write a funny story about Calvin trying to outsmart his Babysitter, and the Babysitter using threats of physical violence toward her charge (and extortion of his parents!) to keep everyone in line? Ultimately, Watterson (wisely) decided that Calvin and the Babysitter actually had more in common than either cared to admit, and that they'd get along famously in the right circumstances; his last storyline involving her had her learning the "rules" to Calvinball (the only rule: no rule is ever valid more than once) and having a blast trying to beat Calvin at his own game.


But I digress. Wildly.

I've mentioned before that we've been using the method of Blend Phonics developed by Hazel Loring for teaching our kids basic phonics. I've mentioned this method here and here. (Unfortunately I can't seem to open the web site of Don Potter, where we first found the link to Hazel Loring's stuff. Is this site just not loading, or has it expired and been taken down? Unknown at this time....)

But the method itself is very simple: the teacher sits down with the pupil, with some kind of writing pad. We use a Magna-Doodle for this--and find it to be the perfect tool for the job. The teacher will explain whichever phonetic rule will be used in the lesson, such as "The letter A usually makes the aaaaaaaaaa sound..." or "when you see P and H together, it makes a sound like ffffffffff." Then the teacher will start taking words from a list. For each word, the teacher spells it on the Magna-Doodle one letter at a time; as each letter is drawn, the student sounds out the word so far. It looks a little like this:

Teacher writes F.
Student says ffffffffff.

Teacher writes an A next to the F, making FA.
Student says fffffff-aaaaaaaa.

Teacher writes a T next to the FA, making FAT.
Student says fffff-aaaaaaa-T, then recognizes the word fat, and becomes really happy.

Then the teacher has the student use the word in a sentence. Then, on to the next word on the list, continuing for as long as the kid's attention span allows. (In our three-year-old's case, this is no longer than 15 minutes, or slightly upward of a dozen words.)

This program has 44 lessons to it. When teaching the Pillowfight Fairy, Tonya broke these lessons up into multiple sessions, because there were far more words in many of the lessons than could comfortably fit within her attention span. It took the Fairy about three months to work through the whole thing, at which point she had most of the phonetic rules down (although she still preferred to read by sight instead of sounding out; but that's another issue--and one in which she's greatly improved over the last year, I might add).

Well, now it's the Adrenaline Junkie's turn. She's approaching her fourth birthday, so she's about the age that the Fairy was when she was learning to read. And the Junkie has become fascinated with the stories in all the books; she loves to be read to; she occasionally tries to read short words; and she occasionally draws lots of letters on the pictures she draws. So Mommy decided that it was time to start. She pulled out the notebook with Ms. Loring's program, and started going through the process.


Now, here's where it gets interesting. The Fairy rather squirmed her way through this process when it was being taught to her. She was interested at first, but then it got boring and she wanted to do other things, so we occasionally had to sit on her, practically, to keep her still long enough to do the lesson with her. But now that it's her sister's turn, she's so enthralled with the process that Mommy has to keep warning her not to blurt out the answers before the Junkie can answer them. The Fairy is fascinated at watching the same process being done with her sister as was done with her, and she wants to help in any way she can.

I guess it's less fun being the one lectured to, than it is being the one doing the lecturing. What can I say? Some of us love to explain things to others. I suppose it gives us a sense of power and status. ;-)

At any rate, the Fairy definitely inherited this love of explaining things from her Daddy. And so now that the Junkie is in the position of learning things that the Fairy has already mastered, the Fairy wants a little piece of the pedagogical action, it would appear.

So today, when the Junkie wanted to "do her words", and the Fairy wanted to administer the lesson, Mommy pulled out Ms. Loring's notes, turned to the correct lesson, pointed the right list of words out to the Fairy, and set them both loose.

And the Fairy--little, not-quite-six-year-old girl, administered the phonics lesson to her three-year-old sister. And she did great.

The only quibble that Mommy had is that it took longer than normal, because the Fairy wanted to draw illustrations of all the nouns and verbs in the list. But this is of course a very minor quibble.

(Yes, she illustrated the verbs too. She illustrated the verb "tell" by drawing the profile of a face, with a big empty speech balloon coming out of the open mouth...)


Now that is something to make a parent proud, and it does so on multiple levels.

For one thing, it's something of an article of faith in a big chunk of the Homeschooling world--especially that corner of it that's influenced by the thinking of Charlotte Mason--that you've never truly learned a thing until you are able to teach it to another. The ultimate test of subject mastery is that you're able to help someone else master the material. And pretty much any teacher will verify that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it. This is one reason that Charlotte Mason so advocated the discipline of narration: it gives the pupil the chance to explain things, briefly to become the teacher.

And my 5.9-year-old daughter is teaching her 3.8-year-old sister how to read. This is absolutely splendid--not just for the Junkie, not just for Mommy (who managed to get out of teaching a lesson today!), but especially for the Fairy.

The Fairy loves words. She loves reading stories, she loves reading comic books, she loves poetry; she loves writing down her own stories (as regular readers of this blog know). She doesn't always love writing her assignments; but that is in part because there is other stuff she'd rather be writing. And now, she's seeing that her sister is starting to enter her world, so to speak; the Junkie loves being read to, as well, and the Junkie also likes poems and stories. Tonya thinks the Fairy is becoming excited by the fact that her sister is beginning to figure the reading thing out, because now she'll have someone to share her enthusiasm with. And that enthusiasm, in turn, is infecting her younger sister.

So she's very excitedly jumping in and pushing this process along in whatever way she can. When the Junkie wants a story, but Mommy and Daddy are tired, we can often ask the Fairy, "Would you read a story to your sister?" And she'll do it! And the Junkie loves it!


Sometimes we homeschoolers wonder whether we're doing this stuff right; whether we're doing enough; whether our kids are going to fall behind. But one of the joys of the homeschooling lifestyle is that we occasionally have days like today, in which we can see real, tangible proof that we're at least doing something right.

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