Psst…

IMG_20141008_063428295Lauren beckoned me over to her the other night and made me lean in close, a glimmer in her eyes and a grin playing on her lips. She cupped her hands around my ear and whispered, “I can read some words now”. It was a beautiful moment. She was so proud of herself, so pleased at her progress – and totally justified in those things.

This morning, she set about showing me her wonderful new skills. She got out the silver box containing all the early readers, and selected one. She ran her fingers along the words, glancing at me for encouragement. We went over some of the basic skills of learning to read again and off she went. It was awesome. I love that she’s decided she is ready, that she is excited by the prospects – even if after reading through every single book she decided that those ones were boring (this was the same issue we encountered last time). I agree, they are boring. The extra words she added to the stories made them all better. It’s not just a whale, but a humpback whale – she wanted to know why they just said whale? And that shark is a great white, why do they only say shark? And the fish in this book aren’t just laughing together, they are pulling funny faces…

IMG_20141008_063440690It was an interesting contrast to me. I remember when Ivy learned to read at school and how she didn’t ask questions, never pushed past the story on the page or embellished, adding her own details that made it more interesting to her, and I wonder if this is a reflection of the way I’ve changed, more than anything else.

After she read the stories the ‘right’ way she went back and made up her own, adding things to her hearts content, and then passed the books on to Natalie who mimicked her big sister – I can see that they will be learning to read fairly close together if this continues, an unexpected benefit of having kids less than two years apart. Natalie never likes to be left out of anything, and Lauren is kind enough to want to help teach her little sister.

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A nook

We’ve been doing some shuffling of rooms around the house over the last few days, culminating in the big move today – back across the hall from the kids. I’m hoping this gives the house more flow, with the school/play room coming off the lounge, and the bedrooms both in the same part of the house. We’ve been here for almost 6 years now, and I think I might have finally cracked it.

IMG_20140930_144139651An unexpected, and wonderful, result of this has been the creation of a quiet nook in our bedroom. We’ve gone for a slightly unusual layout, and I love what we’ve created. It’s a little room created in a corner behind the headboard when you shut the door.

Natalie (4) has needed a lot of time out lately. She’s working through her emotions in a practical way and has decided that when she feels bad/angry/sad about things, the best thing for her is some quiet time. Now, I’ve never sent her to time out – it’s just not something we do in our house – so it’s completely under her own steam. I think I must use the phrase ‘time out’ when I need some space and peace, because it’s what she says.

Because the girls all share a bedroom (their own choice), it can be hard to get some alone time, and sometimes it’s not very convenient for having ‘time out’ when it’s bed time and everyone else is trying to get in there. We’ve found ways to work around it, but she has been quite desperate for a quiet space she could go.

IMG_20140930_145049436And I am so pleased we’ve been able to create one.

The girls have spent a lot of time today relaxing in the nook. Natalie took a book in and that gave me an idea. I suggested we get a little box and put some things in it that might help whoever needs the nook to relax and the girls thought it was a brilliant idea! So I found a box, and they came up with the things they wanted in it. Awesome 🙂

On Reading

I have just finished reading an article – a very timely one I might add. It seems like every time I get that itch to force my kid to sit down and start focusing on reading, something like this crops up. It’s so very hard at times, to be doing what we do, and to know that it goes against everything that the majority of people believe. To give your kids the space to learn when they are ready to learn, and not buy into the pressure of rushing them. To fight back that clawing panic that you’re doing them a disservice.

And yet, I know that when you do relax and let things unfold at a natural pace, great things happen.

Ivy enjoyed learning to read in her first year at school, but it quickly got too hard for her and she hated it. Loathed it. Rejected it wholly with force. She wouldn’t even let me read chapter books to her, because it reminded her that she couldn’t do it yet.

If you press a child hard to do something when she is really developmentally unable to do it — I made that mistake more than once, and our schools make it every day — the psychological shutdown that occurs is catastrophic. Simply catastrophic. Let me repeat this: when you push a child to do something she simply developmentally can not do, you create a profound belief that (a) I hate this; (b) I can’t do this; (c) I will never be able to do this, and (d) There’s something wrong with me. – from A Thousand Suns

So we read a lot of picture books. We made up stories of our own. We took ALL the pressure off and never mentioned reading to her. I got graphic novels out of the library thinking that perhaps that might be a gateway, she thrived on those for a little bit. And then, Lauren told her that I had cried at the end of one of the books we’d read together, and Ivy desperately wanted to know WHY. What had happened in the book that had driven me to tears?

She asked Lauren if she could read the book, she took herself off, and she read the whole thing and then we talked about the ending, how it was sweet and lovely, and we were so pleased that all the puppies found a home. And then she read another book, and another, and even though she isn’t taking her meds now, she hasn’t stopped reading since. She sometimes reads four chapter books a week, and I KNOW that it’s because I let her take that breather, forget about her reading experiences at school and come to it again on her own terms.

Coupled with the research which shows the following, I think I just need to step back and let my kids be kids. They are starting to read, words here and there, words that have meanings to them. I want my kids to LOVE reading, to love story the same way that I do, so I’ll do anything to foster that love.

By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later – Article link here.

Medication update – all the books

nancyWe’ve reached the point where we have finally found the right type and level of medication for Ivy. She’s been stable on it for about two weeks now and… well, the change is dramatic. This one is long lasting. She takes her pills in the morning and that’s it for the day. There are no top-ups, no roller-coaster of emotions as the pills kick in and wear off, and best of all, no complete meltdown when they wear off for the day. She is still prone to feeling fragile towards bed time, so it’s not perfect, but we’re aware of that and do our best to mitigate it.

And, she’s doing really well on it! She’s reading, all the books, for the first time in her life. I started getting her some graphic novels (Nancy Drew) and she’s been devouring those, branching out to the other things I’ve been bringing home from the library. Sometimes she will finish one in a day, and because she’s been having so much success reading when on the meds, she’s more prone to picking up a book even when she’s not medicated.

It’s been really encouraging that she’s doing this under her own steam. I’ve not sat her down and forced her to do it, merely picked some books I thought she might like and left them lying around. It’s been really hard over the last few years not to pressure her with reading – I’m a writer, and I LOVE books and am always reading at least one. It’s only normal that I’d want to share this passion with her – but I knew that if I pressured it was just going to make her hate it even more.

Despite not reading much of anything for almost two years, her reading comprehension astounds me. She has all the tools to figure out any word she doesn’t know, and when a friend picked up and flicked through one of the Nancy Drew novels, she looked surprised and asked ‘Does Ivy know all these words?’ I got to say, she does, actually lol. It’s really nice to know that I made the right call not to pressure her, and really shows that even when you’re not trying, kids are learning. You just can’t stop them!

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my childhood favourites with her, it’s been fun bonding over Nancy Drew to begin with 😉

Homeschool day in the life (9, 5 and 3yr old girls)

WP_000280After reading a bunch of great posts over at the Simple Homeschool site I decided that  I wanted to pitch in too! Our days can vary wildly, depending on how the oldest is coping, but yesterday was a pretty good example of what a school day looks like – it’s full on, and a little crazy, but it’s a lot of fun and super rewarding.

The kids start waking up around 6am normally. The youngest, Natalie, is normally up first and then Lauren slips into my bed as well, and as soon as she hears the other two moving around Ivy gets up. She wants to eat as soon as she wakes, so I try to be organized with some food. Breakfast can span a couple of hours because the kids all like to eat at different times – for example, I ended up making porridge 3 times yesterday morning because they all wanted it, just not at the same time. Between eating (Ivy has 3 breakfasts!) the girls normally play, setting up their town for the day and deciding what they’ll be using. 

As I posted about yesterday, I’d just signed Ivy up for a class online, so around 9am we set up the lounge PC so that she could watch some of the videos and do the pop quizzes, and then we moved to the kitchen table to do some colour mixing, and for Ivy to make a colour wheel. The little girls joined in and did some painting as well, and then had a bath to clean themselves off. 

WP_000288After a quick snack, Lauren reminded me that I’d said she could do some of our new fun thing where she draws the letters and then turns them into pictures of a thing starting with that letter – her favourite is O, so she can draw octopuses. I’m finding this is a really great way for her to learn the shapes of the letters, and the sounds of them when used to start a word. 

Then she wanted to do some maths stuff and we did some counting out with matchsticks, up to ten and back again, and she practiced writing the numbers and embellished with the right number of stickers. She loves this kind of thing.

Ivy decided that she wanted to do some stuff too, but couldn’t settle on anything so we glued her colour wheel into her project book and I suggested that we throw some ideas around for the triptychs that she will be creating over the term. 

WP_000287I asked her what she wanted to do, and reminded her that she wanted to do one with Leeloo, so we started making a plan for taking the photos. She made some notes in her book about what she needed, and then moved on to the beach idea she had. And then she asked if she could try taking some photos now, and took the ipod touch to the lounge where she threw Leeloo’s dinosaur squeaky around so she could get the shots she wanted. 

We spent a little time outside before lunch – I hung the washing and the girls bounced on the trampoline. We did some bird spotting with the binoculars, and looked at a cicada which landed on the washing. Lauren and I followed where it flew off too and could hear a bunch of cicadas on a particular tree, so we’ll be trying to see if we can spot some cicada shells soon. 

The girls snack on and off pretty much all morning, so we shared some corn together for lunch so we could sit and chat. Natalie was beginning to get tired, but bounced back when the girls decided to go and play with their toys in the bedroom. 

I’m very much about child led learning, following the kids interests and letting them have some control over what they learn and when – as long as we cover the main things over the course of the week, it’s all good. Ivy is very much the type of child who needs a little control, because most of the time when I make suggestions (even when she asks me to) she will reject them, and this path leads to a difficult day. They go through phases and I find are most motivated when they are interested about something. I’d love to unschool, but left to her own devices Ivy would just want to play computer games. Forever. And I just don’t feel good about that. Normally we try to get the school work done in the morning, and do other fun stuff in the afternoons like visiting friends, or going out, or just playing.

WP_000296That said, it wasn’t long before she was back and wanting to do more school work! lol Some days, she can be super hard to motivate to do anything, and other days, she has an endless amount of energy for learning. I make the most of those days 😉

She pulled out one of the books I got her for Christmas – a maths puzzle book – and we started the story. We did that for around half an hour, taking turns at reading the clues and working through the problems together. She’d have happily kept going, but by this time it was mid afternoon and I had barely had a break to sit down. We normally do twenty minutes of one-on-one time with each of the kids and I told Ivy we could do some more then. 

But, after a small play with her sisters, she grabbed the book and plonked herself down on the couch and kept working at it for the next hour or so until she announced ‘I’m finished!’. I was so proud of her – she’s normally so resistant to reading that I was really surprised that she did so under her own steam. I am pretty careful when selecting books for her, and this suggests I’m getting a little better at finding things she will engage with. 

After this they wanted to make some movies with the toys – this is a common thing. Ivy usually does the filming but they all discuss what will happen and the roles that the toys will play. I love watching them negotiate and plan, and then seeing it all come together. They are desperate to have their own Youtube channel, but I’ll be holding off for as long as possible – once Ivy gets involved in new technology it’s all she wants to do! lol They also spent some time playing learning games on computer/tablet/ipod touch. We have enough devices that they can all use them at the same time, which avoids arguments and gives me a little bit of downtime to do the things I need to (study, blogging, writing etc).

It was only yesterday, but I feel like I am forgetting stuff… That happens a fair bit. Our days ebb and flow, are punctuated by meltdowns and quick turn arounds of mood and interest. We can go from doing maths to talking about the meaning of life in a matter of moments, and I certainly can’t track all that we cover in one day.

I spent a chunk of the afternoon playing with Natalie because she was tired. She likes to sing ‘1,2,3,4,5, once I caught a fish alive’ and pretend that she’s the fish and I am catching her, and then it was a matter of making sure she stayed awake until my Dad came for his visit. He was in town on work and only had a small space to see us. Which was great, he got to do all the bed time reading and playing of games while I sat down for a bit! And it was just as well Ivy finished off her book by herself, or there would have been tears before bedtime.

Finally, 8pm rolled around and by 815 they were all asleep. I was well and truly ready to be ‘off-duty’ for the day. 

The kids are all so different, all at different stages, and have different interests, so at times it can be hard juggling them all. They’ll be asking me questions all at the same time, wanting me to help with three different things in three different places. It’s only been in the last 6 months that the smaller two have made the move from not wanting to do school stuff, to wanting to be involved with everything (or have their own versions of school in Natalie’s case). Now that Lauren is 5 I’ve been giving her a lot more space to learn, but I can tell that Natalie isn’t going to be too far behind. I’m looking forward to the years to come, when they are all a little more independent and don’t all need me at the same time.

I might be able to breathe then 😉 And in the meantime, it’s a lot of fun, and I sleep very well at night (well, when the kids let me lol). 

And the new term finally begins!

Term one of 2014 started yesterday, and boy, am I pleased that school (the traditional kind) is back in session. While we love the school holidays because it means our friends who go to regular school can hang out any time (this break I’ve had 5 kids in the house most days, and up to 8 on others!), we also love school going back so that we can enjoy the many wonderful resources of Taranaki without their being masses of other people there. Trips to the library, museum and pool are actually a lot more enjoyable without the chaos. And because it means we can get back to learning about all the things that interest the kids.

Personally, as an introvert, I love this return to normal life. It’s by no means slow or peaceful – there are still three energetic and boisterous girls in the house, and barely a day without an activity scheduled – but it means there is more time to enjoy each others company and deepen our learning, and at least the occasional quiet patch 😉

So far my postings seem to have mainly focused on Lauren, who, since turning five seems to have decided she wants to do all the things. Ivy has made the most of the summer break though and just hung out like the regular school kids. I think she needed it because she seems refreshed and ready to get stuck into some cool learning this term.

The first weeks of February will mostly be about finding our new rhythm. With two school kids, and one pre-school, it’s going to be different again from last year, and I can already see that there will be plenty of challenges along the way. I’m hoping that by the end of the month though, we’ll have discovered a good pattern, and found some things that work for us. The girls too have been contributing to discussion about how we can best maximise our day by letting us know what they need.

Both older girls have said that they really want some one-on-one time, not just with me, but also their Dad, and over the last month or so this has begun to happen naturally, just not at a time I ever thought to include school – right before bed! The girls have been hanging with Dad and playing DragonBox, a fantastic app which teaches the concepts of algebra, and then this last week, we’ve also been working on reading. So, to take this a step further, we’ve decided that once the youngest goes to bed, Ivy will have 20 minutes with me, and Lauren 20 mins with Dad, and then we’ll switch. The girls will make sure they are organized with what they want to do before dinner so that we can get stuck straight into it when that time of the night rolls around.

Not only will this add in some special one-on-one time which the girls need, but it also means that there is another 40 minutes of school type stuff, where the girls can get some focused attention on anything they want – it could be an interest, or a subject they are loving at the moment, or something they are struggling with. It’s their choice, and I’m really interested to see how they decide to use the time.

On top of this, we did some brainstorming yesterday for topics they would like to cover over Term One (and possibly beyond! there are a lot there lol). I’ll be sharing that with you in a separate post, as it’s quite long…

I love that the girls now feel confident enough to tell me what they need, and I’m focusing on trying to say ‘yes’ more often this year.

An interest in reading

As seems to be Lauren’s nature, she has now decided that she wants to be able to read. She doesn’t really want to learn to write though, and isn’t interested in learning the letters and the sounds they make. She just wants to be able to read. Preferably yesterday.

WP_20140119_005This came on night two of our reading sessions – she always has a cuddle before bed, but after spending a few weeks reading Harry Potter with Ivy at bedtime, Lauren decided she wanted a book instead of a long ‘talk time’ so, we brought that in. The second night, she took the book off me and declared that she was going to read it, and then gave it back, admitting she didn’t know how.

I’m learning to think outside the box a little when it comes to Lauren. She needs to make instant progress, and so I grabbed the tablet from beside my bed and flicked onto the Eggy Sight Words app. She’s not been overly interested in this until now, in fact, I think Natalie has played it more than anyone, but I figured she could learn a couple of words, and then read those ones for me when we reached them in the book. On her first night, she learned ‘the’, ‘and’, and ‘to’. Thankfully, there were a lot of those words in the book, and she had fun practicing reading them. She was full of smiles, and a beautiful sense of achievement, knowing that she could ‘read’ some words.

Eggy sight words is a pretty cool app, though it’s a little slow in some regards. You have a word to recognise, and it flies across the screen in eggs. There are other words flying around too, and items like potatoes, pans, regular eggs, and pigs. If you touch something that isn’t the word, you lose a life, and if you miss an egg with the right word, you also lose a life. Sometimes the eggs move so fast that even I can barely tell what’s on them, and other times you can sit there for a full minute without the word coming up. There are smiley face eggs that give you life back, and also puzzle piece eggs, and I think they also count as a word.

WP_20140119_009Lauren doesn’t need to get to 25 words (which is what it takes to win a level) before she can recognise them, and she is more interested in putting her new knowledge to the test than finishing a game, so typically I will tap away while she grabs the book we’re reading to find the words she has learned.

The main down fall of the game is that the flying pigs are just SO much fun to squish! lol she can’t seem to resist them. It becomes a game in itself, of her trying to catch the pigs and then counting her lives and making sure she has enough not to lose (and winning some back when she gets a smiley face egg).