Thursday, 30 April 2009

#1 Women's Gathering

I ran my first Women's Gathering at BCC this morning. It was hectic, but also wonderful.

Jeff had an early meeting at church, so he left home shortly before 7:30am. I got the kids into their clothes and drove Joshua to school. Next we drove to a nearby shopping centre and picked up a few things for our lunch and extra supplies for morning tea for the children's program. As we left the store I realise I had forgotten to buy milk and then Jeff rang to say the one thing we definitely needed was milk. But I already had the three kids back into their seatbelts, so we drove off to pick up J and then G, and stopped at a deli near G's house to get the milk. I think we were the last to arrive of all the women there, but at least Jeff was there with the morning tea things all out and his kind assistant, one of the retired men from our church, was ready as well to look after the children. As well as our three youngest, there were two other children, which was great.

We had eight women altogether, with a mix of older and younger women, and women who have been at the church for a long time and others who have been there less than a year. Pretty much what I had expected! A few women who had said they would come were not there, so I shall remember to remind them this Sunday. Two of the women who came had only decided in the last week that they would be able to fit the morning into their schedules, so I was particularly pleased to see them.

We studied Acts 1:1-14 together. I prepared the Bible studies myself, with three sets of questions:
1. Context - examining the historical or cultural background to the passage
2. Content - digging deeper into the passage
3. Connect - discovering how the passage applies to Christians, and in particular, ourselves.
I think this can be a very helpful way of studying any passage from the Bible. When I prepared the questions, I also paid particular attention to what the passage tells me about the nature of God and other matters of doctrine such as sin and salvation.

I think everyone got something from the Bible study. Although I had prepared thoroughly, I was excited when our discussion of the identity of the "men in white" who spoke to the apostles after Jesus ascended to heaven. They were angels, of course. But this led us into a completely unexpected conversation about the way people with New Age-style beliefs describe angels, and how different the Bible's portrayal of angels is. In the Bible, angels are messengers from God. They tell people important things, such as the angels at Jesus' tomb telling the women that "Jesus is not here. He is risen!" or the angels who we read about today, who told the apostles, "This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back..." The news of Jesus' resurrection and His future return are very different messages to those received by people who claim to have heard from angels today. And so, next time the topic of angels comes up in conversation (or an email), I will recognise this as an great opportunity to begin a Gospel Conversation. I am very thankful to God for the way He used this study to teach me as well as the other women.

The Women's Gathering is not all about Bible Study. We also split into small groups (two triplets and one pair) for prayer together. These groups will remain the same throughout this term, and hopefully we can draw a lot closer and pray for each other more pertinently than was possible before. I am looking forward to getting to know the women in my triplet a lot better.

This week I asked the women to spend most of their time just getting to know one another better, then having a short time of prayer. The time in my triplet seemed to fly past.

At the end of the time we had an informal chat over a late morning tea while the children were let loose from their room next door. In between purloining food from the adult's morning tea, they ran around and had a great deal of fun. I had enough time to check in with each of the women and all said they were pleased with the morning. Hooray!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

First Day at the New School

Joshua had a "very good" first day at his new school. He asked Jeff to drop him off, which was handy as it was also the first day back at BSF for me and the other three children. I went to collect him at the end of the day.

I spoke to his teacher for a little while after the end of the day and was pleased to hear that he had a good day and settled in well. She had time to chat with me about a few organisational details as well. I was pleased that she wasn't too busy to make time for a brief chat with a parent - without an appointment for an interview!

I dropped into the school office to find out when the second hand uniform store would be open. While I was there I saw one of the women from my monthly mother's group, and found out that she has children at the school also. Not only that, but she helps with Joshua's Japanese lessons. Apparently his class had been learning to count to 10 in Japanese today... and Joshua already knew how to do it because he remembered the sequence from his Karate lessons last year! This made a positive beginning to something that might otherwise have been daunting.

As I walked back to the car park with all of the kids, I found myself welcomed into a conversation with two other mothers. It was brilliant to find out that other parents from this school are friendly and welcoming as well, and this really cemented my confidence that we have made the right decision in moving Joshua to this school that is nearer to where we live.

Thank you God for going ahead of us in the matter of Joshua's schooling. Help us to continue to make good choices about our children's education, and not to be burdened with fear of the unknown. Help us to trust in You!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Narration of Anansi and Turtle

Anna and I began Term 2 together yesterday, even though Joshua does not go back to school (his new one) until tomorrow. We are up to chapter 11 of Story of the World 1, learning about ancient Africa. Yesterday we read about the Sahara Desert, and how it prevented the people in the south from having much communication with the people in Egypt and along the Mediterranean Sea. Today we read the first Anansi story included in SoTW1. I asked Anna to narrate it to me, thinking she would be able to use her narration for copywork. I soon realised she can narrate a far longer story than she can write!

Anansi and Turtle Were Greedy and Would Not Share
By Anna Jackson

Anansi had put all of her yams from her garden in her oven and was sitting down to eat, but just as she looked around she saw Turtle coming to her house. She looked at the plate of yams. “There would be enough for me, but if Turtle eats half and I eat half I will still be hungry,” Anansi thought.

She said in a grumpy voice, “Help yourself.” But she shouted at Turtle, “Do was your hands before you eat!”

“Where will I wash?” asked Turtle.

“At the river a kilometre away.”

When Turtle got back he reached for one yam. “Did I tell you to wash your hands before you eat?” Anansi said. “Go back and wash your flippers and then come back.”

Turtle was determined to go carefully on the grass but when he got back the last crumbs were gone.

Turtle said, “Thank you for dinner, Anansi. When you come to my place, you can have dinner with me.” And he went away hungry.

Anansi was passing by Turtle’s house and she knocked.

“Dinner’s all ready. Come and let me show you where it is. It is right at the bottom of the river,” said Turtle.

Turtle dived into the water and started eating away.

She peeped into the water. She tried jumping but since she was so light she just stayed at the top. She tried swimming down but she did not know how to swim. So she grabbed a few pebbles and put them in her jacket pockets and sank down to the bottom like a rock.

Turtle was there. Turtle pushed over the plate and said, “Help yourself, but it is very rude to wear a jacket when you’re eating. Take your jacket off.”

But when Anansi took her jacket off her sleeve she popped back up to the top of the water.

She put her head back into the water and saw Turtle eating the last few bits.

And she said, “Thanks for the meal, Turtle.” And she walked off, wet and hungry.

Moral: Don’t be cruel and share instead.

After we read the story through once, we talked about what Anansi and Turtle did wrong (be greedy and not share) and what they should have done (be generous, also Anansi should have apologised to Turtle and Turtle should have forgiven Anansi). Then I re-read the story before Anna narrated it to me. I found it interesting that her "moral" was nothing like the one from the book, which says something along the lines of "Don't try to be too smart or someone else is sure to outsmart you." I like Anna's moral better.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

A Typical Saturday Morning

I am not a morning person, but I wish I was, because my kids sure seem to be. In our house, we have a Play Room that was originally a rear verandah, so all the bedrooms have windows that open into this room. This means that whatever time it is when the first child wakes up and goes to the Play Room is wake up time for me. It is fairly hard to sleep when you can clearly hear what sounds like a 2yo climbing up an eight foot bookshelf to get his older brother’s toys that I have purposely placed out of his reach. If I manage to roll over and sleep through that, it is a lot harder to sleep through the ruckus that ensues when the newly wakened 6yo arrives in the Play Room and discovers aforementioned 2yo with his toy. So, despite not being a morning person, I am usually awake by 6:30am.

I often try to read my Bible over my breakfast. This requires that I first sort out the ruckus in the Play Room between the two boys and also help my 3yo daughter find a toy that the 2yo, now deprived of his older brother’s toy, will not want to steal from her. In order to do this I must also help the 2yo settle with his own toy, which may require a short time of playing alongside him. Then I need to calm down my 5yo, who is also not a morning person, but who has been woken by all this commotion. And admire the beauty of the 3yo in her dress-ups, the magnificence of the 6yo’s Duplo creation, and the realistic nature of the farm animal sounds that the 2yo is emitting in a voice that, shall we say, could be a touch quieter.

Having done all this I am able to retreat to the kitchen to make my breakfast and sit down at the table to eat and read. By this time, however, the children have realised, en masse, that they prefer being in the same room with Mummy to playing in their Play Room, so they congregate around the table clamouring for me to get their pencil cases down and provide them with pictures to colour. Once they are all seated at the table with paper and crayons, pencils or textas (according to age), we have silence. For about two minutes: Until the 3yo has her crayons stolen by the 2yo and decides that the best recourse is to throw the 5yo’s pencils to the floor. So I move the 2yo to the lounge room, still in his high chair, and face him to look out the front window, then instruct the 3yo to pick up the pencils, hand them back and apologise to her sister. Then I escort the 3yo to the 2yo so he can apologise to her, before we both settle back at the table and I finally get a second spoonful of my yoghurt. Shortly after the third spoonful, the 6yo asks me to explain what his picture is about and so, after encouraging him to read the caption himself, I listen and prompt and encourage him through the reading. Around the time that I finish my bowl of yoghurt, having read and thought about the Bible passage, the natives are once again restless. So I tell them to pack up their stuff and, after supervising that, I herd them off to the Play Room once again.

It takes a while for them to pick up the toys they were playing with earlier, despite the knowledge that when it is done they can watch the Mr Men DVD. The 2yo needs me to stay with him and walk him through the process of picking up his toys, and I briefly reflect that I need to spend more time training him in this vital responsibility. If I don’t be careful, he will suffer the terrible consequence of my neglect; or rather, I will! The 5yo wants to share the foam couch with the 2yo to whom it belongs, rather than sit in a plastic chair, so I help her negotiate that privilege. Then the 3yo cannot decide what type of seat she wants so I guide that decision as well. I briefly wonder where the 6yo has gone, but realise that he is almost certainly playing with the little Lego in the Small Games Room, which is fine by me. About thirty seconds after the strains of the Mr Men theme song finally begin, I realise that the kids are all still in their pyjamas and the 2yo has yet to have his night nappy changed. So I press the pause button and let them all know they need to get dressed and make their beds with pjs under their pillows before I will press play again.

The 3yo picks out her own clothes and gets dressed while I coax the 2yo into taking off his beloved Tigger pjs and help him dress him for the day. Meanwhile the 5yo is also nearly dressed, but she has a hissy fit when I won’t help her make her bed because she didn’t say please. The 3yo asks the correct way, and when the 5yo sees how quickly I help her, she asks much more politely for help, receives it, and we all head back to the Mr Men DVD. In passing, I tell the 6yo to get out of his pyjamas and put his clothes from yesterday in the wash basket, and also grab the hairbrush from the bathroom. The second time the Mr Men theme song starts, I take the opportunity to brush and plait the girls’ hair while they are preoccupied with the screen.

It is only when my husband emerges in his dressing gown that I realise none of them have had breakfast yet and I am still in my pyjamas as well. Three hours have gone by in what seems like the wink of an eye.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Anna is 5!!

Hooray for Anna!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I'm studying Acts

In preparation for the Women's Gathering (for Bible Study, Prayer and Friendship) that will be starting at our church next week, I have been reading through Acts and have begun studying it more deeply than ever before. As I have prepared questions to discuss with the women, as well as optional extras for them to study further at home, I am seeing many things more clearly myself. It has been quite eye opening to realise that Acts isn't just a historical account of the actions of the apostles, it is also a detailed theological treatise based upon the actions of the Holy Spirit (without sacrificing historical accuracy). While there are specific passages in other places in the New Testament that teach explicitly about the Holy Spirit, Acts is the book where we can see Him most openly at work.

As well as reading the text of Acts several times and making my own connections, I have also begun reading the earlier chapters of a few commentaries on Acts. I began with The Communicator's Commentary series volume on Acts by Lloyd J Ogilvie (thinking it would be helpful for someone seeking to teach others) but found it had not enough substance and was a bit undisciplined for my taste. Then I tried the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries volume on Acts by I Howard Marshall and found it wonderfully rich but unfortunately just a bit too heavy for me at this time, although I would love to read through it another time if I can find enough of it! I have finally settled on The Message of Acts by John Stott, from the BIble Speaks Today commentary series. This is a great mix of explanation of the Biblical text and helpful connections to present-day Christian life, and matches well to my present needs for helpful teaching.

I am also getting help from Jeff as he reads my draft questions and helps me refine them. He has shown me where I have gaps in what I have brought out from the passages, or where I have missed the mark by a long way, going off on a tangent rather than focussing on the main emphasis of the text itself. It has also been helpful to have him giving me handy hints from his knowledge of the original Greek. Yesterday, for example, he explained to me that the word used for "other tongues" in Acts 2:4 is completely different from the word used later by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:1) which speaks of "tongues of angels", so the two should not be confused.

Main Lessons from Acts 1:1-14
~ Luke wrote Acts as the second volume of his "orderly account" for Theophilus, which began with The Gospel of Luke. (See also Luke 1:1-4.)
~ Jesus promised that His apostles would be baptised with the Holy Spirit, the gift of God the Father.
* Jesus told the apostles that with the power they would gain when the Holy Spirit came on them, they would go out to the world as His witnesses.
~ The angels explained that Jesus had gone to heaven and promised that Jesus would return again.

Main Lessons from Acts 1:13b-2:41
~ Jesus called and chose the 12 apostles for a specific apostolic ministry: to be witnesses of Jesus' time with them and His death and resurrection.
~ The three dramatic signs of Pentecost (wind, fire and speaking in other languages) indicated the commissioning and equipping of the apostles by the Holy Spirit for this apostolic ministry.
~ God was in control of Jesus' death and resurrection, according to His own previous plan, and it was God who exalted Jesus to the judgement seat of heaven.
~ It is God who calls people to Christ, granting the gift of the Holy Spirit.
* The fourth sign of Pentecost - the ability to confidently and clearly state that Jesus is Lord (having authority over the believer's own life) and Jesus is Christ (aka Messiah, the promised Saviour, who has saved the believer from the consequences of their sins) is the defining evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence within all Christians, including those of today. (See also 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Romans 10:6-13.)

For more of what I am learning from Acts, you can check out my other blog, Following the Star.

Reading about teaching reading

I have just finished reading the Endeavour Reading Programme Teacher's Manual Pre Reading to Stage 18, and returned it to my library.

It was very helpful to read the teacher's manual, since I am using this series of readers with Anna, and also supplementing Joshua's school literacy experiences with them over the holidays. I wrote a bit about the readers and teacher's manual earlier.

All I wanted to add today is a word of encouragement:
If you are trying to teach your children to read, and you are using a series or set of readers that has one, you should consider reading the Teacher's Manual!

You will gain insight into the way that the series was constructed that may help you to order your use of the books. You will also gain insight into the way the series was intended to be used, according to its creators, so you will probably gain ideas for your own teaching.

You may also gain ideas on assessing your child's reading skills (this TM has a great checklist which I will definitely be using with Anna). This can be particularly helpful for home schoolers who don't have connections with people who are trained in reading teaching. I am not saying that homeschooler's can't teach kids to read - obviously we can! It does help to have a list with the finer points of learning to read specifically stated, so we can see where there might be small gaps in our children's progress, so we can focus extra teaching where it is really required.

For example, my list breaks down "knowledge of phonemic/graphemic correspondence" to:
~ Single consonants
~ Consonant blends
~ Short and long vowels
~ Vowel digraphs
~ 'Controlled' vowels
~ Dipthongs
~ Variant vowels
~ Variant consonants
Now I knew about all these things, and I have been teaching Anna to decode them all, but it is nice to find them all listed in one place.

There are other skills that we are only beginning to teach, such as:
~ Structural analysis
~ Syllabication
~ Recognition of larger word parts and syllables
as well as things that I have only just begun to quantify, or have not yet thought to consider:
~ Retention of new words learned
~ Interest and attitude
~ [Own choice of] Reading selection appropriateness.

There was also a great list for "general adequacy of reading comprehension":
~Main ideas
~ Facts and details
~ Unaided recall
~ Accuracy of recall
~ Organisation of recall
~ Locating answers
~ Following directions
~ Drawing conclusions
~ Making inferences
~ Making judgements and evaluations
~ Appreciation of author's purpose or style.


Friday, 17 April 2009

Easter Bilby extravagance

"Hello Granny! Thanks for my Bilby!"
"White chocolate keeps my teeth shiny and white."
"What shall I eat next now I have devoured the ears?"
"Daddy, Mummy, Bilby ears gone. In mouth."

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter with Nanna and cousins

Aren't they cute?
Posing with Nanna:
Enjoying ice creams after dinner out at fasta pasta:(Can you spot the cousins who love each other so much they can't stop holding hands even to eat an ice cream?)

Look at that smile!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Holiday Hiccup

Joshua hid some crayons today. Apparently, he wanted the girls to guess where he had hidden them. Can you guess?

He hid them in his ears. Blue crayon in the left ear, yellow crayon in the right ear. Apparently, he only remembered after he had put them in that he a wasn't meant to put anything in his ears.

Anyway, I got the blue crayon out with tweezers, but the yellow one was too far in. So, after ringing Health Direct for information on the closest Accident and Emergency dept that accepts kids, I took him in to Princess Margaret Children's Hospital in the city.

We had a bit of a wait, but as I said to the clerk taking our details, I was glad that I was out in the waiting room with my son with a crayon in his ear, instead of inside with my son being resuscitated - they had two "flashing light arrivals" turn up just before and after we arrived at the A&E, so it was easy to count our blessings.

When the doctor checked Joshua's ear, "Hmm, that old chesnut", he could see the crayon fine, but when he tried to grab it out with some funky cross between a pair of scissors and tiny tweezers, Joshua yanked away and burst into tears. It was painful and loud, so the doctor worked out that the crayon must be pressing against the ear drum.

So the doctor said he needed the expertise of an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to get the crayon out. Unfortunately for us, on public holidays the ENT people from the city service the entire state of WA (presumably via the flying doctor) and we are way down the list in terms of importance. So we have to go back to PMH at 8am tomorrow to see them then. Unless he wakes up in the morning and finds the crayon lying on his pillow, having fallen out overnight. One can but hope!

[Update Tue 14 Apr: Jeff took Josh back to the hospital this morning and, after another attempt with the tweezers, the doctors ended up simply flushing out the crayon with a squirt of water! Apparently it popped out of his ear like a cork out of a bottle. I am very glad they didn't have to velcro him down to be still, Amy! Joshua certainly displayed no ill effects at all: he was unusually bouncy for the rest of the day.]

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Commemorating the first Easter

Most of our Easter remembrance is organised through food. (Other than church attendance that is.) On Thursday night, we celebrated the Last Supper with a lamb roast with bitter herbs (well, rosemary and garlic) and unleavened bread (lavash from the shops), and dark grape juice in lieu of wine. Then last night (Friday) we had home-cooked fish and chips, but I am not sure where this more Catholic tradition originates. The kids will be having an egg hunt on Sunday morning and we'll be having a smashed egg cake (the hollow egg on top symbolising the empty tomb, with white icing to remind us that our sins are gone and God will judge us innocent in His sight) with dinner that night. HT to Nicole for the cake idea.

My grandmother, Nanna, is visiting from Adelaide (South Australia) for Easter and my brother and his family have come across from Kalgoorlie (a mining town a day's drive to the east). It is lovely to celebrate with family, and for Nanna to come to church Easter Friday and listen to Jeff preach. Daryl and his family will come to the Easter Sunday service, and Jeff is preaching then as well.

Happy Easter, from my family to yours!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Multitasking and the Sticky WWWeb

"Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on. ... Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy. ... A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing." ~ Walter Kirn, "The Autumn of the Multitaskers" The Atlantic

Kirn describes a situation where he was distracted from his task by an online image of Kevin Federline and became enmeshed in a rolling snowball of unnecessary and undesirable activities, taking him away from his core task. Here is the Big Words Explanation from Kirn's article: "What the avalanche overwhelmed was a mental function that David E. Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, calls 'adaptive executive control.' Thanks to Federline, I lost my ability, as Meyer would say, to 'schedule task processes appropriately' and to 'obey instructions about their relative priorities.' "

Perhaps we could all benefit from exercising our adaptive executive control by sticking a little closer to our To Do lists. I know I could, so now I am off to have my shower, which I should have done half an hour ago before I read this article by Nicholas Carr that hyperlinked me to this one on multitasking. I'd like to blame Meredith's post for starting my own personal avalanche this morning, but the truth is I only have my own propensity for multitasking to blame!

Monday, 6 April 2009

One's own reading habit

Meredith has been very honest about the stumbling blocks to regular reading in this post, which also includes some encouragement and pointers for people who are finding it difficult at the moment.

And having read Meredith's words, I will now head back to my copy of Orthodoxy which I have yet to finish despite March being well and truly over, (sorry, Amy, it was heavier than I thought!) and read some more. My comments on the next few chapters are fermenting in my brain still, just in case anyone is waiting for them to appear on the blog.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

And Loving Literature

We began reading The Trumpet of the Swan by EB White this evening. After a week or so with only picture books for our Read Alouds, I knew the kids were itching for something a bit longer for their night time listening.

We read the first four chapters tonight. Abigail loved realising that, "Mummy, there are two Sams: one in the story and one here in our family [pointing to Samuel sitting listening intently next to her]... and there is another Sam that we know as well..."

The character Sam writes in his diary at the end of each day something of the day's events. As soon as I announced that was enough for tonight, Anna headed off to get her "diary" - a lined book we gave her for Christmas back in 2007 - and began "writing" in it. When she "writes" like that, it is just a line of up and down zig-zag scratchings, but she says aloud what she wants the writing to say. She explained to me as I looked over her shoulder that I couldn't read what she had written, but she knew what it said. I asked if she wanted me to write it down in her diary in normal handwriting, and she said yes. This is what she dictated to me:

I like the book because it had baby eggs in it. They hatched in Chapter 4. It was very nice because they hatched and went over to Sam. They all, but except one, said "Beep", but one just opened its mouth but it couldn't say anything. But it just pulled his shoelace until it was untied.

(In case you are wondering, Anna read the chapter titles for me for each chapter, that's how she knew it was Chapter 4 when the eggs hatched. Technically it was Chapter 3, but Sam only discovered the newly hatched chicks in Chapter 4.)

Anna even asked me if I could write it out for her into one of her writing books (with 18mm ruled dotted thirds lined paper) for her to trace tomorrow. What a perfect penmanship exercise for her! It is slightly longer than her usual tracework tasks, but because it is her own words, I don't think she will have any problem with enthusiasm for the task, even if physically she needs to take it in two sittings.

[Cover image from Dymocks.]

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Rolling on with Readers

(I couldn't resist the alliteration for the title after yesterday's post on Stepping into Spelling.)

Anna has read through four sets of Bob Books and now she needs something that will challenge her to read longer works, without increasing the phonetic difficulty too markedly. I found the fifth box of Bob Books was quite phonetically challenging, so we have put that to one side for the moment. We'll get back to it at some stage. Or not.

Instead, I have bought an almost complete collection of Endeavour Readers very much second hand. The collection includes books with school stamps from all over the country, as these books were being used as classroom readers when I learnt to read. I have finally realised why I think that certain ways of writing letters are "correct" compared to others - it is because my idea of what certain letters really look like was formed from exposure to the Endeavour Readers' chosen typesetting font. So watching my daughter read through these books is aesthetically pleasing to me, if nothing else.

The Endeavour Reading Programme was produced in the 1970s with a very Australian ethos. The stories tell of typical Australian situations, use classic Australian literature, or present Aboriginal legends. They are written with an eye to developing not only the child's literacy skills but also their social understandings as well. Of course, having been written three decades ago, the Australia they portray is not quite equivalent to the Australia of today. They (so far, at least) have managed to heavily focus on the family of two kids/mother/father plus pet/friend, which is nice for someone like me who strongly values our own nuclear family. There are other things which have raised eyebrows in my daughter, however, such as the complete absence of seatbelts in the car on the holiday travelling scenes of Basic Reader 2, Holiday with Jim. I am sure the scenes of Pam and Sam playing with Digger with the hose spouting water randomly all over the back yard would cause consternation in the eastern states of Australia, which are on far stronger water restrictions than here in Perth. But these have mostly led to interesting conversations, rather than being a cause for confusion.

I first ran across these readers when Joshua brought some home from school for his reading homework. Having sourced and bought a set online, Anna read through the first set and is now on to the second. The entire Programme consists of a few "pre-readers", then nine levels of 1 basic reader + 2 extension readers + 2 or 3 "library" readers (the third library readers were published later than the rest of the set and are harder to acquire now). After the nine groups of readers there is a further series of "Reading for Pleasure" Books 10-21. I have borrowed the Teachers' Manual through my local library on inter-library loan, so have been reading up on how they are all meant to be taught. Originally, there were also workbooks and reading cards (with cloze reading type exercises) to accompany and support the books. Each of the first nine levels was planned to take about one term (at that stage, one third of an academic year) to get through, taking the children through grades 1-3.

The teachers' manual is very helpful in that it tells me just how the language for the readers was proscribed. The authors of the Programme didn't have the same understanding of the importance of phonetic teaching that I do, but there was a very careful structure to the decoding skills necessary in each level. The approach is not whole word, but they have been more careful about the introduction of longer, more complicated words than the Bob Books readers. So the first set introduces V+C words (eg "on") and C+V+C words (eg "dog"), then single grapheme C+C+V+C (eg "trip") and C+V+C+C (eg "went") words, then words with digraphs ("ship" and "with" and "black"). However, they introduce vowel digraphs very very slowly compared to the later levels of Bob Books readers (which were fantastic at taking things slowly in the earlier stages). A few "high interest" words with vowel digraphs are introduced in the sight words mentality early on (such as /ou/ in "out") but it isn't until the second level that the "e at the end of the word makes the vowel say it's name" rule is used regularly. I am hoping this will help Anna to consolidate her phonics knowledge steadily at the same time as she is increasing her ability to concentrate while reading more pages each containing more text.

Anna, who is technically in the pre-primary cohort, is presently doing well with the level 2 readers, and with the phonics instruction she has had already and the spelling instruction I am now introducing her to, I see no reason why she should not continue to read through about two levels each term, possibly even taking her almost to the end of the grade 3 readers before she begins school. Of course, this requires that she will continue to be able to concentrate for the length of time necessary to read the books as they gradually get longer. I don't think this will be a huge problem because at the same time as we have been working through these readers, she has already begun to ask me to listen to her read other books, such as Frog and Toad stories after her brother started reading them, her Beginner's Bible New Testament and a Leapfrog book from the library with a simplified version of The Nightingale (originally by Hans Christian Anderson). She is enjoying the poetry that is introduced in the second set of readers also. And five or six books in five weeks isn't that big an ask.Joshua is going to be getting a dose of Level 2 readers over the coming school holidays as well.

I am very impressed with the way Anna has begun to look at herself as a reader, and not simply as a listener to, or teller of, stories. Yesterday during our reading lesson she told me, "Mummy, I will read stories to my kids when I am a mummy. I will read stories to my ten kids and I will teach them to read and I will bring them to visit you and you will love it when they visit." I'm looking forward to meeting those ten kids one day!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Stepping into Spelling

Anna finished her phonics workbook at the end of last week, so now we are moving on to spelling, using Christian Liberty Press's Building Spelling Skills Book 1. I was not sure how good Anna's spelling skills already were, because she doesn't usually write anything without a model in front of her (except her own name), but she had been doing well with understanding the rules for adding "s", "ed" and "ing" appropriately in the last workbook. So I decided to test her through the spelling book until we got to a place where she can work with the right balance of challenge and confidence.

The first day we tried spelling I ran into a problem. Having not had much practise at writing without an example, Anna finds it very tiring to do so, even if she knows what letter she wants to write. So I decided, rather than exasperate her or give up on the spelling idea altogether, I would find a different way of doing spelling tests.

So I gave her an A4 sheet with the alphabet written on it. I say the word aloud and she sounds it out phonetically. Then she has to point to the letters which represent each sound in that particular word. I write down the letters she points to. Then I get her to check what I have written and tell me if she thinks it is right. if she does, we move on to the next word. If not, she tells me how to correct it and then we move on.

At the end of the word list, I go through it with her and tell her which words she spelt wrong. We use a red cross, green tick, yellow caution system. If the answer is wrong, I write a red cross, briefly explain where she got it wrong, rub out the wrong answer leaving a blank and write the correct spelling to the right. Then that word gets added to the list fro tomorrow's test. I figure once she starts missing too many, or not getting them right on the second go, we'll begin working through the curriculum properly from there. So far she has done fine on re-spelling every word the second time through.

If the word is correct, I give her a green tick "Go!" A yellow caution is issued if she got it right but had initially spelt it wrongly before her self-check caught the mistake. Yellow caution words get added to the next day's list.

Doing things this way has, in some ways, made things more teacher time intensive. But Anna isn't quite five (three weeks to go) so I don't mind helping her out any way I can! Not only that, but moving through things this way means that she is getting to know her alphabet a bit better (she is making less b/d reversals and self-correcting on these now). Also, by separating the act of spelling into the acts of identifying the phonemes and determining the graphemes for each phoneme, and not including the skill of writing the grapheme without a visual example, I am helping Anna to spell using her brain and not just her hands.

(Addition 4/4/9)
I forgot to mention that Anna does eventually write the words herself. Once we have checked them for spelling together, she traces over the list I have written from her instructions (and any of my corrections). This way, she is practising writing the words, but she is never actually writing them wrongly. Sometime soon we will probably change this from tracing the words to copying them, but not quite yet. She already does a lot of tracework - History is now up to six full lines (three extended sentences) - so an opportunity for copywork would not go astray.