Thursday, November 24, 2011

Teaching your Child to Read Part 2

By Umm Abdurahman

Once your child is reading, regardless of what program you used to get your child there, you might find yourself wondering, “what next?”.  The good news is that the more your child advances in their reading level the more options that become available.  However for some of us, sifting through the many options can be overwhelming, and perhaps confusing.   In this post I’d like to give a list of some of the books and curriculum that we used with and after 100 easy lessons, as we progressed up the reading ladder.

1.       Oxford ReadingTree - read at home series (beginner – age 6 / kindergarten)

As soon as my son understood the concept of blending, we began the beginner books in this series as supplemental reading to 100 easy lessons. At first your child will need a lot of help, and for that reason you should only get him/her to read small increments, perhaps two or three pages. As your child gets better and becomes more confident, encourage him/her to read every other page with you. The best things about this series are:

·         The series follows the same characters throughout.

·         The grading and progression of the language was appropriate.

·         There are questions at the end of each book to check for comprehension.

·         The storylines start off simple and slowly become more complex by level.
The only drawback I found was that in the last levels, they use a magic key which transports the characters into fictional/historical periods. We simply skip that page and overlook all mention of it. We also skipped two books altogether due to content issues. Other than that I would definitely recommend the series.  

McGuffey First Eclectic Reader (ages 6 - 8 / grades 1 - 2 )
They are a series of graded primers that were used as textbooks in American schools from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. I started the first book when my son had just completed ‘’100 easy lessons’’. At this time, his reading abilities were pretty good and so we made quick progress with it. The pros of the McGuffey readers are:

·         The language was very rich due to the literary period of the books

·         The quality of the material was very good

·         There are moral stories throughout the readings

·         Each book is made up of a collection of short stories, allowing flexibility to skip around, or switch texts, while moving at your own pace.
The only issues we had with the books were that the stories weren’t always very engaging for my son. We stopped early in the second level for a change of pace, but plan to return to the books for supplemental reading. We found the first eclectic reader to be very beneficial and I think you will too.
3.       Oxford Treetops Collection Stage 12 - 14 (ages 8-10 / 3-4th grade)

Currently we are reading this series of books. They were a little above his level initially, but with a little help your child will progress very quickly after completing just one book. You will be surprised at the speed with which your child goes through the books. When your child comes across a word he/she is not familiar with, encourage him/her to sound it out, if they get it wrong ask them to try again and if they still don’t know tell them how to say the word and ask them to repeat it with their finger under the word. The positive things we found were:

·         The storyline is always engaging, fun and exciting.

·         They are a great introduction to chapter books. (they are about 55 pages long each)                                                                                              

Bedtime reading
This is a very important aspect of our curriculum just as much as learning phonics or any other step. Reading to your child daily will help instill a love of reading in them, and encourage them to continue reading. Abdurahman's all time favourite book was  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Presently we are going through ‘’The Last of the Mohicans’’ from the Classic Starts collection by sterling. We highly recommend them. They vary from 7-12 years / 3rd-7th grade depending on the individual book.

We hope this list will be a benefit to those of you who are just starting out and need some ideas on what to do next.  As your child advances in his/her abilities, your options will become larger, and the more suggestions you may recieve.  What works for one child doesn’t always work for another, but that is one of the reasons why you homeschool, to find what works best for your child.  We’re always looking to updates our library and to find better reading material so please feel free to suggests your favorite reading materials for your children so that we can add them to our lists.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bedtime Stories

Reading with our sons before they go to bed has become a special time each day for our familiy.  Sometimes we all sit down together with hot drinks and sweets, wrapped up in blankets, and venture into a different world.  We just recently bought 13 books out of this series, and are using them for bedtime stories. The series is called Classic Starts from Sterling Publishing and is based on rewritten novels of classic English literature.  We are currently reading Last of the Mohicans, and found the series is living up to it's description, so we thought we'd share the idea.  

With Classic Starts, young readers can experience the wonder of timeless stories from an early age. Abridged for easier reading and carefully rewritten, each classic novel is filled with all the magic and excitement that made the origional story a beloved favorite.
Please share with us your suggestions for reading material for bedtime stories, or how you make the event special for your children to enjoy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to teach your child to read.

by Umm Abdurahman

Have you ever seen on one of these YouTube videos a child reading fluently at age 3 or 4? Chances are he’s not a prodigy or a genius, his parents just put in the effort.  It’s not impossible, and you can do it too.   Finding the right curriculum is essential, and may take a lot of time, while mistakes through trial and error can be discouraging, we would like to present you with our system which we used for teaching our son to read.

1.   Learning the Alphabet

When to start?  If your child can speak, mimic what you say, and differentiate between three letters, then he/she should be ready to start. There are many different mediums you can use to teach your child the alphabet, from songs, books, toys, and even videos, but we prefer to keep it simple.   To begin with have your child listen to the alphabet song several times, and encourage him/her to sing along.  Once you see he/she starts to recall some of the letters, you can continue on to using flash cards. We used a boxed set of thick cards with the letters on them, any set will do, but having something durable can be beneficial. We started with one letter per day.  I would show each letter to my son, pronounce it for him and ask him to repeat after me.  Then I would check for understanding by asking him “what’s this?”, while pointing at the card.   I would review the letters with my son daily as they accumulated in a similar manner.  Another fun way to review was by laying down an array of letters on the floor and I would call out a letter and he would have to bring it to me. If one letter a day became too easy for your child, slowly increase to two or three until you’ve completed the alphabet.  Don’t forget to celebrate each correct answer with lots of praise and applause

2.       Phonics

Once your child knows his alphabet and can recognize each letter, you need to teach him the sounds that each letter makes. In the beginning we tried a popular program called Starfall.  It worked well at first, but over time I found the pictures and music to be too distracting for my son and we went back to using flash cards. You can teach your child using flashcards in the same manner you taught the alphabet, this time teaching the sounds of each letter.   I would show him a card and ask him what letter it was, and then tell him the sound it makes; ‘’the A says aaa’’.  Occasionally I would allow him to review through Starfall, but no longer relied on it as our primary source. In my opinion I believe it is much better as a supplement for review.

3.       Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons

I had heard of the book but put off trying it, however when I finally caved in and attempted the book, I was kicking myself, wishing I had tried it sooner. It really is so simple that anyone can use it. The author goes so far as to provide the parent with a script of what the parent should say, and it is written clearly in red as to stand out from the rest of the text. The section for the child to read is in black, but in much larger print, making it easy for the child to see.  Although this book is designed to start a child from scratch, we found that because we covered the letter sounds before starting the book, it allowed our son to advance much more quickly.  In about 4 lessons my son understood the concept of blending and began to read. I was amazed at how simple and effective the author’s methods were. He introduces letters slowly and teaches the sounds before teaching the name of the letter. Then when the child has learnt just two or three letter sounds, he/she is taught how to blend them together. Once the child has learned a few more sounds he/she begins to read words, then sentences, then paragraphs as he/she learns more sounds. The author incorporates word games and rhyming which are effective and fun. Occasionally your child may feel bored, and that’s normal. Try changing things around, have your child be the teacher, you be the student.  You can also use supplemental reading material, and have your child read to you beginner level story books. 

The books strengths:

1.  Teaches the child to read from left to right in a way that was easy.

2.  Encourages the child to use their pointer finger as they read, through  the use of arrows under words which the child follows.

3.  Uses simple easy word games to get across the concept of blending.

4.  The book is not overburdened with images and color which can distract your child.

5.  Tests reading for comprehension at the end of every story, by giving you questions to ask your child.

6.  The progression of the stories was very suitable.

What you can skip:

1.  After several lessons you can avoid reading the parental script in red once you’ve got the point.

2.  You can leave out the writing section at the end of each lesson, especially if like our son, your child’s hand coordination is poor, or if you just want to focus on reading.

3.  The author requests you read each story twice, we read it once, and it didn’t harm our son’s progress.

4.  As you progress you can opt out of the keywords at the beginning of each story or select only those you feel will be difficult for your child.

I would like to add that no reading program is perfect, and you should always have supplemental materials on hand.   Also it is essential that throughout any program you choose to use that you continue reading to your child on a daily basis.  These are just some of the things that we tried which we felt were most successful.  We hope you can benefit from them, and we would love to know about your experiences as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Celebrating Success

This small piece is just a reminder to all of us that our children are awesome, and that along the way we need to encourage them and reward them for their successes, large or small.  Today was a great day for Abdurahman.  He completed another book in his English reading series, but more importantly he finishedالقاعدة البغدادية  (which is the best book I’ve seen for teaching your child to read Arabic). It’s been a long journey with ups and downs, with plenty of mistakes on my part, but he finally arrived today at the finish line, and first place in my heart.  I wish I could have given him more, but his reward was a massive ice cream sundae, some high fives, cheering, and a big hug.  A small token for a big success. 

Sometimes I think we’re looking forward to these major milestones, when such great accomplishments only stand on the shoulders of thousands of small ones.  The consistent effort of our children on a daily basis is deserving of much gratitude.  The Prophet peace be upon him said it best in that, “The most beloved action to Allah are the most consistent, even if it were little”.   These little deeds should be massive in our eyes, as they are the foundation of their intellectual development.  Therefore our love, encouragement, and happiness should be expressed towards them accordingly.  May Allah preserve our children and benefit the Muslims through them.

What do you do to show gratitude for your child’s successes in their studies?  Please share with your ideas, suggestions, and comments.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Encouraging our children to read

So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
        - Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Reading is one of the foundational blocks of any education.  It is a source of knowledge, happiness, and pleasure.  A child that is a brilliant reader is a confident child and is able to easily make the change from learning to read to reading to learn.  Anyone who is concerned with their child’s education wants their son or daughter to excel in reading.  Before we go into a “how to” of getting your child to read, we’d like to discuss how to set the stage for a successful experience.   The following are seven steps to create a healthy environment that will encourage your child to love books and love reading.
1.       Reading to your children

The most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading, is to read aloud to them frequently. It’s never too early to start, in reality, the sooner you begin this journey with your child the better. Children as young as a few months old love to be read to, they enjoy seeing the pictures, hearing your voice, and repeating what you read. Story time is one of the most enjoyable moments for a child, and it is a great bonding experience. You will find it to be just as gratifying for you as it is for your child if not more so. For me it is a reminder of my childhood as many of the books I read with them are books that I read as a child, and they are just as satisfying and heart-warming to me now as they were then, the only difference being is I now have someone to share and enjoy them with.

2.       Be an example, let your children see you read

Kids love to mimic their parents, in the good and in the bad, so a parent must realize that they are the best model for their child. Your home must be a place where reading is practiced, valued and encouraged. Don’t expect your child to be an avid reader, if all they see you do is sit in front of the television. It is crucial that your child sees you reading often, whether it is a book, a newspaper, or a magazine. Children who often see their parents reading and studying are more likely to view these activities as a natural part of their own lives.
3.       Make books available to your children from an early age

You want your children to get used to handling books. Have a selection of cardboard books for the little ones who are just being introduced to the world of reading. They will learn to open the books and turn the pages with ease and the colorfully animated pictures will keep them engaged.  Make some advanced books available to them (so long as you don’t mind their going through a bit of wear and tear.) Also give them access to other materials such as newspapers, magazines, atlases, encyclopedias, coloring books, so that they can experience the vast ocean of knowledge that reading opens up.

4.       Encourage their personal interests

Make an effort to find books with topics that they are interested in, if your child loves dinosaurs, purchase story books about dinosaurs, factual books about dinosaurs, picture books with dinosaurs. If your child has a passion for cars and trucks, then find books about cars and trucks.  Encouraging their personal appetite in the form of reading will help maintain their attention. 

5.       Start a personal library for your children

Having a library of their own will give your children the feeling of ownership of their books.  To make it more fun you can have a carpentry lesson where dad “helps” build a bookshelf.  Set up a comfortable space in the house where they can sit to read. Buy them a comfy chair with a desk so that they feel as if they have their own special place.

6.       Take your children to the library or bookstore

We don’t have a library in our city with a good selection of children’s books so we go to the bookstore.  It’s like a monthly field trip.  Let your kids roam through the isles, pick books off the shelves, and look through the books.  Treat it as a big event; use it as a reward for finishing their meal, or playing well with their siblings.  Eventually they will be asking to you to take them again and again.

7.       Buy them books as gifts

Everyone loves a gift, especially children.  Gifts are a way of teaching value.  If it’s good enough to be wrapped up as a gift, it must be important.  This will teach your children from an early age that books are something to be treasured. It will also help to fill up the shelves in their new library.

Practice all of these steps and you will certainly instill a love of books and reading in your children from a young age.  Creating a positive environment is essential to a successful reading experience. These are just some of our suggestions of the things we have tried.  If you have any suggestions or experiences with ways you have encouraged your children to read, please leave a comment for all of us to benefit. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our homeschool curriculum

Originally the idea was, that I was going to teach everything in Arabic and that my wife would teach everything in English.  We would have two math classes, two science classes, two of everything, but that shortly became more than we could handle.  Although I wanted my son to learn the essential vocabulary in each subject, we decided that the sciences, math, and social science should be taught in English.   This was due to three factors.  The first being that I feared eventually I may run into shortcomings with my own linguistic abilities.  Second it was just too heavy of a curriculum, especially on our son.  Thirdly we felt that the higher in education one goes,  you will find most modern educational materials are in English, and we did not want our children to have to deal with any transitional phases form one langauge to another in the middle of a subject.

After discussing these obstacles we came to the conclusion that some subjects would be taught soley in arabic and others soley in english,  and our subjects are divided as follows.   What Dad teaches is colored in Blue, what Mom Teaches in Red, and what we share in black.  Sometimes we’ll cover for each other, especially if the kids have gotten the best of the other, but for the most part this is what we stick to.

Arabic                                                   English
Reading                                                Reading   
Writing                                                 Writing
Islamic Studies                                    Animal Biology
Plant Biology
                                                   Human Anatomy
God willing in future posts I hope to elaborate, with the help of my wife, on how we based our curriculum for each subject, be it from standard homeschool curriculum textbooks, or self developed programs, and our experiences with each of them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why "Abi homeschools too"?

It’s been a goal of mine to homeschool my children long before I was married.  In fact I first discussed the idea when I was in high school.  I was far from impressed with my own experience and believed that there must be a better way.  Although the average individual would always make the standard refutations of the social impacts, the lack of quality education, along with all of the other fallacies, I was never shaken in my belief.  Anyone that went to a public school, and then took the choice to homeschool their children, is aware of the sheer difference and the results speak for themselves. 

I thank God that my wife was never opposed to the idea.  One of the main things you need in homeschooling is the support of your spouse at the bare minimum.  Whether your classroom is run by Mrs. Mom or Mr. Dad, both parents play an equally important role in a child’s education. Discouragement can come in many ways, sometimes from Parents, or In-laws, or just peers.  This discouragement seems to be rooted in an insecurity felt by parents who see homeschoolers as attacking the integrity of the public education system by removing themselves from it.  They assume we see them as lacking in their love and concern for their children and their educational development for not homeschooling.  This results in the defense tactic of; “your child will be an outcast, won’t have friends, or will lack the educational skills to intermingle with society”, in order to justify their position.  These claims are all baseless and only arise from ignorance. Certainly experience takes the edge off of criticism. Again I thank God for the support of my wife, and she’s since become our head teacher. 

While I praise our sisters who have taken the greatest career choice, of being full time mom’s and homeschooling their children, there seems to be a stigma that homeschooling is a mom thing.  While I can’t deny that even in my own household mom is doing more than I can keep up with, I believe I must play a very important role in a child’s homeschooling education.   I don’t think that I’m alone out there, but one small search through homeschooling blogs and you will find that the fathers are missing from the dialogue.  I think it’s great and encouraging that so many mothers have such concern in the development of their children, and I would like to be a part of that encouraging movement, but I want people to know that Abi homeschools too.

My goal of this blog is to encourage more dialogue about a father’s role in his child’s educational journey. Furthermore I hope to be an example for Dads who either have children that are predominantly homeschooled by mom, and  or Dads who may be contemplating homeschooling but are on the fence, by letting them know that Abi homeschools too.  Fathers have different dynamics than mothers, especially if the mother is a stay at home mom and the father is the breadwinner.  Time is clearly a constraint, but through my experience I know it can be managed.   I am a full time student and teacher, my schedule can be exhausting, but the stakes are too high to not play an important role in the development of my children.

Although I’ve stolen the spotlight with the name of the blog, my wife homeschools too, and I hope she’ll share her experience with us.  We hope to network with other homeschooling mom’s and dad’s to learn from their experience, and hopefully benefit others through sharing our own.  I hope you’ll not only read along, but comment, give suggestions, and help us to improve ourselves, our teaching methods, and curriculum. 

* For those of you who don't know, Abi means "my dad" in Arabic, so that's what my kids call me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Homeschool? Top 10 Reasons

1.       Fulfilling your Responsibility in front of God.  Our children are a blessing, not something to show off on holidays or flaunt on Facebook.  No one loves a child more than his/her father or mother.  And as one homeschooling mom put it, “I don’t trust people who don’t love my children to have their best interest at heart.”   Parents should take full responsibility of the educational development of their child so that they can be certain that their child has been given the best education possible.   They are a blessing from God and we will be asked about what we did to raise them as strong believers and also about what we didn’t do.  Such a responsibility should be put in careful hands.  Public education is a risk not only to your child's education but to their spiriutal development. 

2.       Building Strong Relationships     It’s not uncommon in our society today to find a parent who doesn’t know his or her own children, who they are, what their likes are, or what they’re doing with their “friends” after school even though they live under the same roof.  Homeschooling allows for parents to be much more involved with their children developing stronger relationships and bonds.  As a homeschooling parent it allows you to not only be their parent, but their teacher, their role model, and also their friend.  The child feels you have a greater presence in their life and this helps to develop a strong family.   Additionally relationships between the siblings become stronger whereas brothers and sisters become classmates, teachers of each other, and friends.

3.       Educational Results Standardized testing in my opinion was the nail in the coffin for the educational system, but if you buy into the government system and are concerned with standardized testing then homeschoolers are winning.   But one doesn’t need some research paper to realize that if their 3 year old is reading, that they’ve made the right choice.  From another angle, we might ask what is success, and is a standardized test, or a grade on a report card the best measure.    What if what you’re teaching is outside the bounds of a grade?  How do you measure morality, character, love, and having a strong connection with God?  

4.       Flexibility in Learning Styles Children are not factory produced, and each individual is as unique as a snowflake.  We all have different strengths and weaknesses intellectually.  Children learn in different ways, some excel through visual learning, others through listening, others through physically acting out the process, and others with any combination of the three at varying levels.    Homeschooling allows the parents to cater their teaching style and activities to best suit their child.   The second aspect of this is the speed at which a child learns.  Does it really take 12 years to reach basic Algebra?  In public schools skipping grades can be difficult.  A student may excel in math and be slow in reading, but with the public school system you are forced to march with the masses.  This can force a child to either dumb themselves down or at other times run at a pace they cannot keep.  Homeschooling eradicates this problem allowing the student to go as fast or as slow as they want, in each respective subject.   The third aspect of this is having the ability to allow the student more time in a subject that they excel in, and encouraging their own personal educational interests wherever they may be.

5.       Flexibility in Curriculum Homeschooling isn't just about being home.  The World is our classroom. Need a science lesson?  Go to the aquarium for Biology.  Take a walk in the woods and examine plant and tree types.  Play in the rain after discussing precipitation.  Enroll in a karate class in place of kickball at gym.   With the internet the possibilities are endless.  There are countless educational sites on everything from history, to chemistry, to arts and crafts.  Use YouTube, watch a documentary or a how to editorial.  If you’re dealing with a real prodigy who gets beyond your ability of instruction, use ITunesU where university classes are posted free of charge from you’re local state University up to the ranks of Harvard and Yale.  And if you’re not the “do it yourself” type, you have the freedom to choose a more standard curriculum which has been reviewed and recommended by seasoned homeschooling parents on any one of the many homeschooling blogs or forums.  You can choose what to use and what not to use, along with adding additional material when you see fit.  Overall, you’re in control.

6.       Flexibility in Time 7 hours a day?! Well if you look at the public school as a babysitting center while you’re off chasing your career dreams, then maybe that isn’t such a bad idea.  Public schools are filled with busy work, dragging out curriculums for 12 years, keeping students in line with the syllabus, too much time is wasted and subject matter becomes redundant.  While Strangers are raising our children for such a long time, they could be spending quality time at home and learning in half the time.  A child's concentration may be higher in the afternoon or evening.  Children mature at different ages.  Maybe starting at 5 years old is too late? Why wait if they have the ability to start learning?  It is possible they need to wait until they are 6 or 7 years old.  Individual projects becomes more flexible with homeschool.  If the child wants to keep drawing for 2 hours, when art class at school is only 50 min, let him draw.  Homeschooling allows you the freedom to make a program that best fits your child’s individual needs. 

7.       The Environment is Better There’s no need to argue that public schools have become a catastrophe filled with all sorts of social ills.  In general public schools are centers for exposing children to bullying, cheating, lying, immorality, harassment, substance abuse, violence, labeling, social pressures like having a girlfriend/boyfriend, financial pressure like wearing the latest fashions, and exposing your children to ideas contrary to your values and beliefs.  High school can be absolutely crushing for the child’s self-esteem.  Anyone who has run the gauntlet of the public school system has their fair share of stories.  Critics would argue that your children through homeschooling will become social misfits and outcasts but the reality is the exact opposite.  Homeschooling children are often more exposed to adults than peers allowing them to mature faster, and avoid undesirable behavior problems picked up at recess.  As homeschooling becomes more and more prevalent, group meet-ups, trips, and conferences for homeschooling families increase, allowing your children to meet other homeschooled children and make friends.  Your children will not be in a social vacuum, they will have plenty of social interaction in a positive and safe environment. 

8.       Your own personal development Ask any homeschooling parent and for sure they will tell you that it is a learning experience for them, not just in teaching methods, but in the actual material itself.  It is said the best way to learn something is to teach it, well now you have the opportunity to really further your education and in any subject you want.    Things you’ve always wanted to learn about you can turn into lessons for your children.  Kids are full of questions, there are intuitively inquisitive about every aspect of life and will often ask questions that you may have never given thought to and that you don’t know the answer to, rather than blow them off, go find out the answer to their questions, you learn

9.       Protecting the spiritual development of your child.   It’s not just about saving your child from wasting his time listening to monkeyism (otherwise known as Darwinism).  Due to the separation of church and state in public schools children are lacking in their spiritual education.   Even if I don’t agree with one of the major religions of the world, I want my child to know about it, what they believe and why we don’t.  From our own perspective religion plays a major role in our lives and it affects every aspect of life.  We want to study science through the lens of marveling at the creation of God.   We want teach our pilliars of faith, to be able to teach our child moral values, or say a prayer at the end of a class thanking God, none of which can be achieved through a public school.

10.   The teachers are better Have confidence in yourself!  If you can read, write, complete simple mathematical equations, and love, then you have all the tools needed to teach your child from preschool through high school.  Add on top of that, with the internet and some seasoned homeschoolers to get advice from and you’re on your way. Through a little research you can learn and teach almost any subject that is taught in a public school to the required level if not higher.   Also you have to consider the Student Teacher Ratio.  With budget cuts and lack of funding, classrooms are becoming overcrowded with sometimes 25-30 students per a teacher or even more.    Also don’t assume that some college graduate with a teaching certificate is qualified to teach your child. Often teachers are teaching subjects outside of their specified field of focus.   Another myth of homeschooling is that it is something that only mom and dad do. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no reason why grandparents and aunts and uncles can’t get involved, inviting them to teach subjects with which they are familiar.  A carpentry class with Grandpa, sewing with Grandma, or special math lessons with an uncle who’s an accountant.  Homeschooling, when approached with an open mind opens up opportunities rather than closing them.  Most importantly as teachers you’re there to be your child’s biggest supporter, celebrating each and every success, and encouraging perseverance during difficulties.