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Using Reading Eggs to Supplement Reading Practice

Disclaimer: I received these products for free in exchange for my review. I was not obligated to write a positive review. All opinions are mine.

We’re relaxed homeschoolers. We don’t follow a daily schedule or have checklists that need to be done every day. Instead, we read aloud, explore together, and chase our interests.

In things like reading and math, so much of what we do is based on context, and while that’s good, sometimes we need extra practice. As a former English teacher, I’m rather picky about what materials we use. This year, Reading Eggs came out with some great workbooks which were just what I was looking for, especially for my twins, who are almost five and starting kindergarten this year.

Why We Chose Reading Eggs

As I started thinking about my girls’ kindergarten year this year, I knew I wanted them to feel like they were discovering language and reading themselves, not overwhelming them with repetitive worksheets. We’ve been talking about sounds and words since they could talk, and they’re figuring it out, slowly but surely.

Since I have twins, and they both have different strengths, I was looking for something that could individualize practice without making them feel singled out. The app and online portion of Reading Eggs does just that. It’s fun, moves at their speed, has different options for activities, and doesn’t feel like repetitive worksheets.

The pages in the books are similar. I appreciate how clearly Reading Eggs has broken down reading into individual skills, so it’s easy to find which one to practice.

How We Use Reading Eggs Workbooks

My girls have most of their sounds and some sight words figured out already, so we don’t need to work through the books sequentially. Instead, as I notice that one of them is working on a particular skill but needs extra practice, we turn to the book. It’s well-organized, easily accessible, and I don’t have to scroll through pages of PDFs looking for the content I want. Who has time for that?!? (I don’t)

Beginning phonics
Kindergarten phonics practice

Using Reading Eggs and Mathseeds Online

We’re a family that limits our technology time – to less than 1/2 hour per day. It’s a personal choice, not a judgment, but when we do let our kids get on the computer or tablet, we want to know that what they’re doing is safe and meaningful.

I was impressed with the Parent Portal for Reading Eggs and Mathseeds for a few reasons.

  • It let me easily have an overview of all 3 of my children, what they’ve been doing and what progress they had made.
  • When my son (7) intentionally got questions wrong on a placement test, I was able to manually go in and override his placement. This is amazing. Or if my daughter has passed a level but a couple weeks later seems to be struggling again, I can manually take her back to that place and let her redo it.
  • While they earn points, it’s not overly “gamified”. Last year, my son tried another online math program, and he basically skipped the content to play the games. This one, the content is meaningful enough and presented in a way that he wants to try it. I was particularly impressed with how thorough their presentation of symmetry was. Kids have to get 7/10 correct to move on, but they push towards 100% mastery, which I think is great.

Overall, I know there are lots of great resources out there. It’s hard to know which one is best for your family. Reading Eggs is a solid program with both online and paper materials which correlate well together and are easy for a parent to navigate…. and the skills the kids are practicing are logical, thoughtful, and not tedious.

As a special bonus, Reading Eggs and Math Seeds are offering a free trial (4 weeks!) on their online learning platform, which can be accessed both on the computer and via the app store, interchangeably.

Discount offer: click here for a four week FREE TRIAL, which offers access to everything in the Reading Eggs Suite

  • Reading Eggs Junior: 2 – 4 years
  • Reading Eggs: 4 – 7 years
  • Reading Eggspress: 7 – 13 years
  • Mathseeds: 3 – 9 years

If you’re interested in the workbooks, use Promo Code WK105KZU7TE for 10% off both the Reading Eggs and Mathseeds Essential Skills Workbooks.

 

Get Out of Those Desks! Learning Can Happen Anywhere!

As a classroom teacher for 10 years, let me let you in on a little secret: classrooms are organized for the benefit of the teacher, not the students. When I taught a group of 35 10th graders, I needed to be able to move quickly through the space, have every student in my line of sight, and distribute papers and materials in a quick and organized fashion.

Because teaching high school English in 50 minute blocks required efficiency and organization, we sat in rows. I even created seating charts with the students’ faces on them to help substitutes know the kids weren’t playing tricks on them.

Homeschool, although still called school, should NOT seek to emulate a classroom designed for challenges that home environments simply do not share.

There is a Better Way

Schools have been recognizing that kids need to move, to use different muscle groups and to help them focus. They’ve been experimenting and innovating with flexible seating options, and while this is a great start, they still have the responsibility of keeping those kids confined to that room for the designated period of time.

Research has shown that students taking tests do better when they fidget, and even more recently, that the ADHD brain tells the body to move because it learns better when moving.

Desks or Tables only when Beneficial

Now, there are times that sitting at a desk or table can be helpful. Formal writing assignments, messy projects, certain art materials or games work better on a raised surface. Any kind of work with a toddler around …. needs to be out of said toddler’s reach.

Desks are convenient because they provide a clearly defined space, but they are not necessary. And we choose not to use them because we want our learning to be as natural as everything else we do, rather than compartmentalized into a specific space that separates it from the rest of life.

We learn in the car. In bed.

On a swing car in the gap between the kitchen and living room.

On the kitchen floor.

At the science center, the nature center, and wherever else our adventures may lead.

On the back deck, even with jackets on.

Our favorite spot is probably this couch.

We learn wherever we are, because learning is a natural, organic outgrowth of waking up in the morning, and we choose to celebrate that beautiful, often messy, truth.

A Lifestyle of Discovery: 3rd Grade Unschooling “Curriculum”

First, a definition:

Unschooling is, for our purposes, an educational philosophy of providing rich, engaging resources and support but allowing the child to set the pace and have significant control over what he wants to learn and how he chooses to pursue this learning.

All analogies fall apart eventually, but it’s like providing a rich buffet including some “make your own” stations instead of cafeteria-style menus with pre-prescribed options and portion sizes.

If you want to read more, Fearless Homeschool has a great write-up here.

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. ANY LINKS TO RESOURCES ON THE AMAZON WEBSITE ARE PART OF THE AFFILIATE PROGRAM. WE ARE A PARTICIPANT IN THE AMAZON SERVICES LLC ASSOCIATES PROGRAM, AN AFFILIATE ADVERTISING PROGRAM DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A MEANS FOR US TO EARN FEES BY LINKING TO AMAZON.COM AND AFFILIATED SITES.

This year, I will have a 3rd grader and two preschool/kindergarteners in the house.

We live in New York State, which requires that we submit a curriculum plan (IHIP) before the start of the year.

The problem is: boxed, do-the-next-page curricula don’t work for us. Based on our kids, their learning styles, and our family rhythms we have chosen an eclectic, unschool-y approach. So far, it’s working pretty well.

My kids wake up ready to learn. They’re reading or exploring before breakfast. They’re asking questions in the car and at bedtime. We don’t have school hours as much as we have an ebb and flow of active and focused time.

It’s what works now. If (when) things change, we will adjust.

What we love:

Read-alouds

I love our library.

LOVE our library.

They’re amazing, and they make this homeschooling journey possible and affordable.

Instead of using a prescribed list, I’m constantly on the hunt for good literature. My son, J, has a very low tolerance for anything suspenseful, sad, or mean. He loves humorous, gentle stories.

We use Give Your Child the World and Read Aloud Revival for inspiration, and I’m constantly on the lookout for good, engaging, gentle stories.

Some of our most recent favorites have included

The Littles

Gooney Bird Greene (Kindle Edition currently free with Amazon Prime)

Curious McCarthy

Zoey & Sassafrass

Math

For the last couple of years, we’ve been using Life of Fred as a math resource. My son loves the books and devours them, but this summer we changed things up and tried Beast Academy.

With Life of Fred, J never wanted to stop and do the “Your Turn to Play” practice questions. With Beast Academy, he seems to enjoy the workbooks and want to complete the puzzles, so when he finishes his current book, he will “earn” the next series.

Gameschooling

We practice lots of skills using games. The kids go through phases about what they want to play, and we have learned not to push it. When they’re ready, they’re ready.

We love single player logic games like Kanoodle and Laser Maze.

We love the Gamewright card games like Sleeping Queens and Too Many Monkeys.

We love geography games like The Scrambled States of America and math games like Prime Climb.

We love language games like Scrabble, Apples to Apples (Kids), and Boggle.

Everything Else

Beyond that, we usually pick one skill to develop (typing, cursive, etc), while periodically remembering to practice the others. One of my hopes this year is to introduce piano and music reading. We tried last year, and he wasn’t ready, so we will try again.

We participate in German school, Sunday school, sports, play dates and field trips.

We have a small homeschool coop where we practice public speaking and collaboration/teamwork in a supportive environment.

We follow rabbit trails and dive deep into areas of interest (like chemistry).

We take care of the house, run errands, and practice kindness in our environment.

Because we don’t have a strict schedule, nice days are filled with beaches, parks, and watercolors on the back deck.

I keep a daily journal of what we’ve accomplished, and it continues to convince me that we’re on the right path. My kids love learning. They don’t dread “doing school”, any more than I regret going to a Thanksgiving dinner. Learning is an amazing feast, and our kids deserve a rich variety of high-quality fare.

Want to read about other experienced homeschoolers’ curriculum choices for this coming year? Check it out here!

IHN Linkup Image

Chemistry Resources for Curious Kids

For a year now, my seven-year-old has been in love with chemistry. He has other interests and will participate in other activities, but on an average day, he probably spends 2-3 hours in chemistry-related activities, just because he loves it.

He tells people he’s going to grow up to be a chemist. I don’t know if this is true, or if this interest will wane like astronomy did a couple years ago, by for right now, this is the world we’re living in. I thought I would share some of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) resources in an approximate order of complexity or academic level, in case anyone else shares a similar interest or wants to explore.

THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. ANY LINKS TO RESOURCES ON THE AMAZON WEBSITE ARE PART OF THE AFFILIATE PROGRAM. WE ARE A PARTICIPANT IN THE AMAZON SERVICES LLC ASSOCIATES PROGRAM, AN AFFILIATE ADVERTISING PROGRAM DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A MEANS FOR US TO EARN FEES BY LINKING TO AMAZON.COM AND AFFILIATED SITES.

We started out with this book. It’s wonderful, as are most of the Basher books. The reading level is upper elementary, and the periodic table is divided into groups based on properties, and then all of these groups and elements are given comic figure status, with short, dynamic descriptions of what they do.

Basher also has a Chemistry book which can be helpful in identifying terminology and how things work, but if you’re going to start with one, I would definitely go for Elements in Style.

At about the same level, ASAP Science has a great updated Periodic Table song.

Quick note: not all of ASAP Science’s videos are G-Rated, just as an FYI.

J was enamored by this point by the Periodic Table. We got him this shirt from Amazon. It’s his favorite, and he wears it as often as it is clean. It’s super soft, for those with sensory issues. We love it.

After he had the basics down, we borrowed and then bought Theodore Gray’s Elements trilogy. These are his favorites. His books are falling apart because he’d read them so much. The writing is at a high school level, but the thing that exudes from these books is someone who truly enjoys what he’s writing about. He includes silly puns and writes intelligently, but not patronizingly. And the photography is gorgeous. There’s also an app, which we don’t have, but I hear it’s pretty cool.

Around this time, we borrowed a bunch of other resources from the library. Our favorite of all the middle-high school general info books was The Elements by Dan Green, who incidentally also wrote Basher’s Chemistry book. His writing is good, and he manages to communicate the vibrant nature of chemistry rather than dry facts to memorize.

A neighbor who had seen J drawing the periodic table on our driveway recommended the NOVA documentary “Hunting the Elements” (Season 39, Epsisode 6). It’s great – very accessible and interesting for kids and adults, and there’s even a segment where Theodore Gray (above) shows off his Periodic Table table and demonstrates some reactions.
http://www.pbs.org/video/nova-hunting-the-elements/

Around the time that J started studying Gray’s 2nd book, Molecules, we also picked up The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry, which is intended as a study aid for AP or college level chemistry. He has been through it a few times, and each time he seems to pick up more about how reactions work, balancing chemical equations, and other phenomena.

My family also gave J a book for Christmas that’s not exclusively chemistry but does a great job putting everything into perspective. It’s probably geared for grades 5-8 but is accessible for other levels too.

PBS made a fascinating series called The Mystery of Matter, tracing the development of the periodic table. It’s currently available for free on Amazon Prime (April 2018). We skipped about 20 minutes of Episode 3 because atomic bombs and WWII are still too mature for my crew, but we loved how actors dressed as scientists and spoke and demonstrated the equipment used to make their discoveries as it traced the journey from alchemy to the present day.

I was looking for something more practical regarding how molecules form, etc., and that’s when we discovered the Valence card game. We played it for 60 days straight. No joke. It does a great job introducing oxidation numbers and modeling simple reactions. Then we discovered Valence Plus, which has even more elements and combinations, and that is now our game of choice.

Our most recent fascination is powered by Happy Atoms, a molecular building set combined with an iPad app that lets you photograph and “discover” and learn about hundreds and even thousands of common molecules, using the most common elements. I’ve been very impressed with this app and building set. It’s unique in how it models ionic and covalent bonds, and because of its magnets, it’s easy to see whether all of the electron bonds have been satisfied.

These have been our favorites thus far. I will update this post as we discover more great resources.

Some other interesting things we’ve found have been

BrainPop videos – geared to upper elementary, short explanations (subscription service)

Usborne’s “What’s Chemistry All About?” – J asked for this for his good night story tonight. It’s written at a middle school level and has nice, straightforward introductions to terminology and concepts.

Usborne also came out with a Periodic Table Lift the Flap book. We don’t have it, but it seems to be a good intro-level resource.

Kahn Academy has good video descriptions/lectures for various topics, so we have occasionally gone there if there’s a concept he wants to understand that I can’t help him with.

Other good resource lists:

https://www.steampoweredfamily.com/activities/chemistry-for-kids/

https://my-little-poppies.com/chemistry-resources-kids/

App suggestions:

https://unschoolrules.com/homeschool-chemistry-resource-guide/

What about you? Do you have any favorite resources?

A Scooter, a Walker, and a Tricyclist – a tale of processing speeds

This morning, we went for a walk at a beautiful nature preserve. One on a tricycle, one on foot, and one riding a scooter (their choice).

It was a beautiful day as we started down the gently curving mile-long path. 

The scooter glided easily. In fact, more than 50% of his time was spent waiting for others to catch up. Again and again, I reminded him to wait, that I needed to be able to see him, because gliding is easy, almost effortless. It’s easy to keep going.

The tricycle started out slow. She pedaled with persistence and diligence and kept her trike on the middle of the path, but she was, by far, the slowest. And hills were nearly impossible. I had to push her up anything beyond the slightest incline. But she kept going, enjoyed herself, and was proud of her independence.

My walker was the most flexible. She could run ahead to where the scooter waited or could slow down to stay with me and the tricycle. She didn’t really notice the gentle, sloping ground, and her hands were free to touch the fauna along the path, finding juniper berries and various textures of leaves. 

Because we we’re pushing her abilities, she had time to enjoy her surroundings, to notice and ask questions. I held her hand for a bit and even carried her on my back when she was tired.


Cracks and breaks in the path were a hazard to my scooter, who could easily get toppled if he wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t phase the other two in the least.

At one point, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a raised pathway. We stowed our wheels, and suddenly, these three kids whose paces were so disparate were now close to unison. 


Sure, by the end of the path the tallest was slightly ahead, but it was nowhere near the difference seen with the various wheels.

Now, I know that all analogies break down eventually, but they can be useful too, so hear me out.

We’re all outfitted with different brain processing speeds. They’re innate characteristics of how we’re made. They are NOT intelligence. Some of the most brilliant people I know take a long time answering a question, and the opposite rings true as well. 

Someone with a slower processing speed will have the experience of constantly being helped along, pushed, nudged, dragged, pulled to keep up with the group, and will have little experience with downtime in a classroom or group setting. They’re constantly being told to finish things up, save it for later, switch gears to something else & then come back.

Someone with a faster processing speed isn’t showing off or intentionally leaving the group behind. It’s how he’s wired. He may have already passed by that tree, categorized it in his mind, and have moved on – and would be reticent to come back and rehash what to him is already in the past. 

My walker was made for this trip, and we saw that when everyone got down and walked/ran. They were able to run together, adjust their speeds to the group, and have a shared experience which was almost impossible for the tricyclist and required enormous amounts of restraint for the scooter.

Do you know what I said most often to the tricyclist? Let me help you.

And to the scooter? Wait.

And to the walker? You’re right – you found ________________.
So…. what’s my goal with this post? Empathy & understanding for our kids and their innate speeds – not judging someone as less intelligent because she happens to take longer to get there – and understanding for that kid, too, who has to hear “wait” 50x when all he wants to do is keep going. 

5 Steps to Learning a New Skill

Learning something new isn’t easy. As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was to practice and develop the coordination necessary to swim, ride a bike, or tie our shoes, but at one point, we all went through 5 basic steps of learning a new skill.

I post this because we sometimes think that we (or our kids) should be able to jump from step 1 to step 5, from modeling to independent mastery, but we forget the steps in between that are so vitally important.

So here we go. These steps are largely necessary, though some people may occasionally be able to skip some of them. And they may also take longer or shorter amounts of time to move through.

  1. Modeling. An expert shows a beginner how something is done. A parent reads a book to a child. An older sibling shows a younger sibling how he ties his shoes, narrating the process. A potty training video breaks down the steps with visual cues “potty potty wipe wipe flush flush wash wash”, anyone? Grandma mops the floor while the grandkids watch from a safe distance.
  2. Participation. The expert still has control over the situation, but the learner is allowed to give limited input. This could involve the learner chanting along to the tie your shoes rhyme, a little stirring or pouring while baking cookies, throwing the socks into the washing machine. Rather than one plateau, this is a gradual stage where the learner takes on more and more responsibility until we get to
  3. Self-direction. The expert/teacher is still right next to the learner, but now the learner is in control of the situation. It’s the driver’s ed student finally sitting in the driver’s seat, though the instructor still has a brake pedal and is able to grab the wheel. It’s a 4yo deciding which toys to put away first, but his babysitter right there next to him, helping with the process and finding the missing pieces. The 6yo holding his own shoelaces and going through the rhyme, with helping hands right there to steer the process or catch some slack as needed.
  4. Partial independence. The learner is now in charge of the situation, but the expert/teacher still checks to make sure it was done properly. The mom still checks her 5yo’s teeth to see if he missed a spot. The dad runs a brush through his daughter’s hair just to check that she got everything. The teacher walks around the room, glancing at papers to make sure her students are carrying the ones in their subtraction lesson. The 8yo bakes a cake with her mom in the next room. By this point, students feel confident in knowing what they need to do, but they still need oversight, just in case. 
  5. Full autonomy. The skill has been learned, and the individual can be trusted to accomplish the task without outside help of reminders. You send your 10 year old into her room, and when she comes out everything is clean & put away. It’s time for bed, and you don’t double check that your child has remembered all the necessary steps because you’ve practiced so much that it becomes habit. The kids do their own laundry, no questions asked. You trust their math calculation at the farmer’s market and don’t double check it. This is the holy grail, what we’re working toward.

But so often, we forget that the intermediate steps are vital. And messy. Some may take a long time, and you may have to go back & repeat earlier steps. 

Learning is a process. And as much as we want our kids to have learned, we want, even more, for them to know how to learn. To be comfortable with asking for help and being learners, in those messy intermediate steps. We don’t want to shame them for not moving along fast enough, because that will diminish their desire to try again and learn something new.


So if I could encourage you with anything today, it would be to remember the process and be a willing partner to your kids along the way. 

Homeschooling Reflections

I was homeschooled in the ’80’s. Before it was cool, and before it was even legal in some states.

DS090302095235

My sisters and I (4 of us) weren’t primarily homeschooled for religious or cultural reasons, but mostly because we lived in a rural area with mediocre schools and a long bus ride, and my parents thought there was a better way.

We called our “school” Harmony Hollow and even had pencils made with that inscription.

All four of us did eventually transition to public schools once we moved to a different location, but the years we were able to stay home were magical, even though I’m sure, especially for my mom, there were many days she wouldn’t have described it that way.

What I Loved

  • We had time. Lots of time. School didn’t take that long, and then there was the required music practice and helping around the house, and we still had hours to play. We played in the basement playroom, outside in the treehouse and on our 2.5 acre property with a creek in the back, and read. A lot.DS090302100715
  • We went to the library. Every week. And maxed out our book limits. We read, and read, and read. Except for math and science, most of our curriculum was sourced through the library.
  • We went at our own pace. When we were done, we were done. No need to turn over your paper and doodle on the back. No need to be told to find something quiet to do. We could be done.
  • We worked at our own levels. Spelling words, math questions, book reports – they could all be adjusted to our abilities, skipped if not necessary, or enhanced as needed.
  • We were self-motivated. There were no report cards to work towards, no fancy incentive systems with tickets for meeting expectations or participating. It was expected that we would learn for the sake of learning, not for some external reward.
  • We were flexible. Beautiful day? Let’s read outside. Field trip or museum visit? Sure! A couple hours hiking on a local nature trail? Why not!? DS090302095835

What Could Have Been Different

  • One thing that was difficult transitioning to public school (5th grade) is that I’d only been around “nice” kids before. We had church, music, & homeschool friends, but they were typically well supervised and on their best behavior. It took a while to adapt to a public school setting, and middle school girls can be mean. I wish I hadn’t been as clueless, but I don’t know what my parents could have done differently.
  • I wish we’d spent more time throwing a ball around. We were plenty active (dance, running, biking, swimming), but somehow I managed to largely avoid any interaction with ball sports, with the exception of tennis. As a parent, I wish my ball handling skills were better as I seek to work with my own kiddos. At least right now we’re learning together!
  • My handwriting stinks. My mom even got me a handwriting tutor for a while in 3rd grade or so, but it was bad when I got to public school and is still sub-par to this day. Not sure how much of that would have been different with public school, but maybe it would have been better.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience as our family now starts on its own homeschooling journey. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I’m grateful to my parents for the opportunity they gave us to be home for a while and all the benefits that entailed. Hopefully, when my kids look back on the experience, they can find the “magic” in our days as well. 🙂