Monday, August 24, 2009

What Are Your Gifts?

Now and then I find myself comparing myself with someone else. A mom homeschools with more enthusiasm than I do, or another one gets more writings published than I do, or someone else is a better all-around homemaker than I am. Have you ever found yourself comparing yourself to someone else...or maybe feeling inadequate when you look at another person's life?

As I've browsed various parenting and homeschooling blogs, I've sometimes seen people leave comments about "How do you do it?" When my children were younger, people used to ask me that, just about raising my children (just because I had three children; never mind six or homeschooling). Sometimes the answer is that it's more about the why than the how. We can do an awful lot when we are motivated. But that doesn't mean we - or the friends we observe - can do it all; and it certainly doesn't mean that we - or the people we see - do it perfectly.

So tonight when I saw this post "How to Do It All...Secrets from a Perfect Wife and Mother", I just had to share it with you. This mother points out that it's not just about what she does, but also what she does not do. I soo agree with this. Each one of us only has 24 hours in a day...and we have to use some of that time for sleeping. So we can do a lot, but there have to be some things that we don't do.

Have you ever heard the admonition, "Don't do a half-way job"? For some areas of life, that's true and important. But in many areas, my philosophy is a little different: "Better to do a half-way job than no job at all". For example, maybe I intend to vacuum but it turns out that I don't have the time I thought I would. I can't vacuum the whole apartment that day, but I can vacuum the heavy traffic areas. Maybe I would like the house straightened up and I don't have the time to straighten the whole house but I can straighten one room or one counter-top. If you are a better housekeeper than I am (there goes that comparison-thing), you might be shocked or chagrined by my examples. But maybe there are other things that you do not do in order that you can have a "white-glove" house...or whatever is your own gift, in other words, in order that you can do all that you do feel called to do.

And that, after all, is the key, isn't it? To do what we feel God wants us to do. To do our best, yes, but also to rest peacefully in who we are and in the gifts God has given us to rest only in the gifts he has given us the time to do today, which might be different from the gifts we used in the past, which might be different, also, from the gifts we may use at some time in the future.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Resources

Where, oh, where do I begin on today's post? How did I get started on this quest to share so much information on such a broad topic? Oh yes, it started with sharing our curriculum for the year. A couple of people then asked me if I had ideas for low vision children in the primary grades. I had intended to provide tangible help...but, until this post, I have shared only general ideas and methods. But honestly, it was those general ideas that kept me calm and confident when my son suddenly became legally blind at the age of nine and we could no longer keep up with the type of curriculum I had used with my older children.

Perhaps your child doesn't have vision issues. I will include resources about Braille and low vision, as that is where my experience is, but they will be last in the list; and, most of the other ideas and resources should be very helpful for reluctant readers, as well. Also, I am Catholic so some (though not all) of my resources are by Catholic writers and some (but not all) of their resources may be Catholic resources. So, if you are not yourself Catholic, not to worry; there is still plenty here for you. I used to hear that the first rule of writing is "write what you know". I am writing what I know and love, and what I have dealt with. I am sharing with you what I have found in case it might help you in any way with what you are dealing with. And if your children are neither low vision students or reluctant readers, frankly, much of what is here could still be helpful.

If you are coming to this post without having read the three previous posts, I would like to invite you to scroll down (now or later), below my signature, to links where you can read those posts.

What Drew Me to a Charlotte Mason Education by Karen Andreola

Free Homeschool Curriculum (Charlotte Mason) - Ambleside Online

A Free Online Catholic Charlotte Mason Curriculum - Mater Amabilis

Free Books Online!


A Picture Perfect Childhood by Cay Gibson
Includes many lists of beautiful picture books to get from your library or for your own person library, even including a list for "Teenaged Readers and Reluctant Readers"
Read an Amazon review of this book here.
For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann
Includes lists of whole books for history, science, art and other core subjects.
Read my Amazon review of this book here.



While I'm generally in favor of reading primary sources and "the real thing", sometimes it can be good to get the flavor of a writer, such as G.K. Chesterton, or the culture of a writer, such as William Shakespeare.
Easy-to-Read Shakespeare
Although I have not read these graphic novels myself, the Timberdoodle people recommend them. The caveat they offer is that although the books are written at a fourth-grade reading level, Shakespeare's topics involve humanity at its best and worst. I am thinking we might try these next year in our senior year of high school.
Tales of Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
This can be a great way to get a simple overview of the story lines, although it's not a substitute for hearing the language of Shakespeare himself.

Chesterton's writings are difficult for many adults (myself included). However, his Father Brown mystery stories, such as The Innocence of Father Brown, provide an interesting introduction.
The Father Brown Reader by Nancy Brown
Provides three of Chesterton's Father Brown stories, adapted for children (and interesting for adults, too!).
Read my Amazon review here.


Children with low vision sometimes find it a lot of work to read with magnification. For some, it might always be work and might fatigue the eyes, but for some it's just about learning how to track, and getting comfortable with the adjustment. Some of this might depend partly on what the particular eye condition is.

Personally, I think it's great to let students do the fun things they want to do, and let them work up to doing the "school" things you want them to do in tiny steps. (Remember that you can always read to them, or let them listen to tapes, for content subjects.) My son learned to track with his CCTV (video magnifier) by using it one summer so that he could play Gameboy like his brothers and friends. He learned to use his hand magnifier when he wanted to look at Lego instructions in his bedroom (the CCTV being in the living room). He is improving his reading by reading articles in Sports Illustrated. One of my mottoes is: Whenever possible, let them learn skills by having fun.

All Children Have Different Eyes, Learn to Play and Make Friends by Edie Glaser and Maria Burgio, Ph.D.

This is a cool, colorful book for children, perfectly suited both to the low vision child and to other children so they will understand, in a positive way, the needs of people with low vision.
Read my review of the book here.

When you think of Braille, perhaps you think of blindness, not "low vision". Actually, there is a fine line between "low vision" and "blind"...or more accurately, there really isn't much of a line. At any rate, I am glad that my legally blind son and I took the time for him to learn how to read Braille, even though it has not became his primary reading medium. I recommend it, so that your child can read restroom signs, labels on tapes, and so on. And if there is any chance that he or she might lose more vision, learning Braille now will make it all the easier for him or her to become proficient with it if it ever becomes necessary.

Kester Braille
A great introduction to Braille for the young child...and especially friendly for parents who do not already know Braille themselves. Developed by a retired Braille teacher.
Read my review here.

Patterns: Primary Braille Reading Program
If your child is legally blind, you should be able to borrow this book on Federal Quota funds. If you don't know what I'm talking about...or if you want any other information on homeschooling blind and visually impaired children, I would suggest joining the Yahoo group where you can ask questions and there's always someone there to help:

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Writing What a Child Dictates is Not Just for First Graders

When I was a little girl, I remember the teacher passing around this cool newsprint with widely-spaced lines on the bottom half and, on the top half, a big blank space for drawing a picture. She would talk us through making up a story, and then she would write it on the chalkboard. We were then supposed to copy it onto our paper and draw a picture to go with it.

When my youngest son became legally blind at the age of nine, I didn't expect him to do much writing by hand, as we struggled with his magnification needs. But he didn't yet know how to do keyboarding either. So while we taught him keyboarding as one subject; as part of another subject, I would sometimes sit down at the computer and ask him to describe for me a book-on-tape that he had just enjoyed. While he narrated the story, I would write it down for him. Then I could read it back to him, as well as put it in his school portfolio to demonstrate that he had both read and understood the story.

As my son grew older and mastered keyboarding skills, I would sometimes give him a writing assignment for literature or history. He would be discouraged, trying to combine his great ability to explain and describe something with his slowly-growing writing skills. The one was no match for the other. So I told him to just write, not to worry about capitalization, punctuation and spelling for now. After he finished writing, I would read and grade it for content. Then I would clean up the "mechanics" and let him read the polished version. At another time of the day, as part of an English class, he would be studying capitalization, punctuation and spelling. This has worked very well for us.

The other day I was telling one of my college graduate sons that when I grade a paper for history or religion or science, I grade that paper solely on content. Is it comprehensive? Does it show an understanding of the topic? Does it show that the student is really thinking about it? I save grading the English mechanics for English class. My son told me that most of his college professors did the same thing...not all of them; a few might grade on spelling and punctuation for a history class. But he said that most of them graded based on the class subject.

So, again, as with reading, my suggestion for teaching children to write is to have two separate classes (the younger the child, the shorter the classes). In one period, the child is learning how to write, whether it is handwriting or keyboarding, whether it is structure or mechanics. In another period, he is dictating about some topic of interest, while the parent or a mentor writes for him what he says, or writing without worrying too much about the mechanics, and someone helps him with that afterward.

In this way, the child can learn at his own pace how to write, while at the same time experiencing the joy of seeing or hearing his intelligent thoughts expressed as written words.

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Reading Aloud is Not Just for Kindergartners

Post 1 on Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students -
Reading Readiness is Not Just for Preschoolers

Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Reading Aloud is Not Just for Kindergartners

When each of my children learned how to read to themselves, I stopped reading aloud to him or her. You might be nodding in agreement or you might be shaking your head. Neither response is wrong, exactly...and all of my grown children have gone to college...and still love reading. So I don't look back and feel that I short-changed them. And yet...

Yet, I am more and more convinced that the philosophy of reading to your children at a level substantially ahead of their reading level can be a great thing. Here's how it works. When your child learns to read at a first grade level, he can read little first grade readers and maybe some picture books (some picture books are easy to read; others are not). When she can read at a second grade level, she can read second grade readers and maybe little chapter books. Personally, I found that the Boxcar Children and Magic Tree House series of chapter books were interesting and simple enough to get many second or third grade kids to enjoy reading on their own. "Simple" is good when it comes to the child decoding and understanding the words on the page - and delighting in his or her ability to do so. But "simple" isn't everything. It doesn't always stretch the mind and lift the heart, and provide the depth and breadth that we can soak up from really good literature.

Enter the "read-aloud-to-your-children" philosophy...a thing I had mistakenly thought was just for preschoolers and kindergartners. Busy moms might say, "I already don't have time for everything." The beauty of this is that you can read while nursing or sipping a cup of tea. Older siblings can read at their older level of reading. Grandparents can read. And, although the child can't snuggle up to an audiotape (or CD), he can listen to someone who has read and recorded the literature. Listening above the child's own reading level can provide a depth and breadth of literature that can help give him or her a love of reading, a love of learning, and a love of creation.

For children who are still struggling to learn how to read the words on a page, or who may be slowed by issues of low vision or other reading challenges, enter the read-aloud-philosophy. If this is great for the young reader who is reading "on schedule" (whatever that is, and not to worry, half of my children did not, and yet became great readers)...if this is great for the average child learning to read, think how great it can be for the child who has not yet learned to read and the child who is struggling to learn to read.

I do not advocate auditory reading as a substitute for learning to read for oneself. I think everyone should learn how to read, even if the process develops slowly over a number of years, or even if it has to be done with magnification or in Braille, depending on the challenges of any particular student.

The two different processes - listening to someone else read great literature - and learning how to comprehend the written words on a page - can work side by side, not interfering with one another but complementing one another.

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Writing What a Child Dictates is Not Just for First Graders

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Reading Readiness is Not Just for Preschoolers

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Reading Readiness is Not Just for Preschoolers

After my post about our curriculum for the coming year, I received requests. In essence: "Do you have suggestions about homeschooling low vision children who are younger?" I do. I always have ideas when it comes to educating our children. And I know that if you are homeschooling - or parenting - you do, too. And I think that if I share ideas with you, it might trigger additional ideas of your own.

Unbelievably, it has been a month since that post. (I'm so sorry.) I've jotted notes on various scraps of paper (Where are they?). I've thought about how I can combine low vision with other reading difficulties. (Will it be too cumbersome?)

I've struggled to figure out just how to write this. So I am going to stop hemming and hawing, and just begin. So here goes...

First of all, I feel badly that we are getting closer and closer to a new school year and here I am finally writing this. However, I don't endorse any one particular curriculum as having all the answers, anyway, so it's not like I'm "too late".

Reading Readiness is Not Just for Preschoolers
Learning is about life and life is about learning. Children with low vision, and children in general, comprehend more of what they read or study when they have some familiarity with the topic. Let me go a step further and say that this applies to all ages. The books I enjoy the most (both fiction and nonfiction) usually have some aspect - whether geography, characterization, history, philosophy, or whatever - that I am already familiar with.

My #1 recommendation: Saturate your children with wholesome "life experience".

Our children have always - from "babes in arms" through high school (and sometimes the college students) - gone with me to do the weekly grocery shopping. I have never made a contrived teaching experience out of it, but what a great place for intuitive learning! Just a few of the things that can be learned in the grocery store include: thrift; marketing and advertising; math; foods from different countries; seeing (and sometimes talking with) people of different cultures (especially if you live in a big city); seeing different kinds of work...not just the cashiers, but the managers, butchers, bakers, and the custodians. As my children see me treating the person who runs the store and the person who cleans the store with the same friendly respect, they learn a lesson I could not teach them from any book.

I might be spending too much time on one facet of my family's education. (Maybe I should be writing a book instead of a blog post.) But the fact that this one thing has been important in our lives fits with something I feel strongly about: What is important in your lives? What do you do well? What do you love? Music? Crafts? Gardening? If you can, share that with your children. Don't force it on them, or expect them to love it as you do (some will; some won't). But share it with them; give them opportunities.

What do you or your husband do that you don't particularly love but that you do well or often because it needs to be done? Home repairs? Cooking? Sewing? Share it with your children...and you may even find that one of them does love it. (Ah, and the serendipity of it is that now you might not have to do as much of it anymore.) For me, cooking has always been something to do because I like to eat...and feed my family, but definitely not my hobby. However, I always let my children help - from the time they could stand up on a chair at the counter - and not only did it increase their math and reading (without any intentional "school-type" lessons), but some of my children love to cook (thank you, thank you).

What about field trips? It was not until this past year that my son and I went on field trips with a homeschool co-op. That was great and we enjoyed it a lot...but anything can be a field trip. Over the past 25 years of educating our children, most of our field trips have been with Dad on the weekend or on a family vacation. What's in your area? What's enroute to Grandma's house? Your child (and you) can become fascinated with nature, history, you explore parks and museums...and even as you just take walks in the neighborhood or work in your backyard.

What in the world does all this have to do with reading?...or with educating a child who is low vision or a child who is a reluctant reader? Well, first of all, although I am an avid reader myself, and a great believer in the importance of reading, I have learned that reading is not where all learning comes from. Secondly, I believe that life experience is the best preparation for both life and learning.

I will write more - and cover some other aspect of learning, some aspect of teaching reluctant readers and low vision children - in another post. Hopefully, we won't have to wait a month for the next post. I say "we" because I have enjoyed writing this and sharing with you. I hope that you have enjoyed it, too.


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Reading Aloud is Not Just for Kindergartners

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Writing What a Child Dictates is Not Just for First Graders

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