Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting Your Child to Read Good Books

Wow, I'm just a font of unsolicited advice this morning, aren't I? (Who am I kidding? I'm always a font of unsolicited advice!)

My oldest daughter (age 7.5) has really changed in the last year.  At this time in 2010, getting her to struggle through an "I can read" book was pure torture.   She hated reading. It was slow. It was boring. It was a waste of time-- why should she have to groan through Green Eggs and Ham when I could read her Narnia?  

Less than 12 months later, she devours books.   She worries that she won't be able to give up TV for Lent this year, because she doesn't even really like TV anymore, except for Antique Roadshow.  She doesn't just read many books, she reads good  books.

So, how do we get her to read really good literature in addition to Choose Your Own Adventure and Magic Treehouse

It's actually pretty easy.  First of all, we ask for good books for Christmas, and we look for good books at library sales. (Last year my parents got us several Betsy-Tacy books.  I'd loved them as a kid, and my daughter loves them too.)  Then, I gave my daughter two "Big Girl" shelves of her own on one of the parental bookcases.   There are still low shelves filled with picture books for the younger kids, but she's the only kid who can easily browse the special shelves, and they're filled with books she likes.   I keep the shelves filled with a mix of classic children's literature and the goofier stuff (like the Choose Your Own adventures I mentioned earlier.  My husband apparently owns ALL of them, and a couple of D&D based ones as well.)   I don't have room for all the books we've accumulated for our kids, so I cycle through them.  Once a week, I move some of the ones that she's read and doesn't feel like rereading back to the tubs, and I replace them with a new mixture of books. 

I don't force "Good Literature" on her for its own sake-- I try to pick the books that suit her current interests or that I remember as being especially wonderful.  And I throw some I didn't like into the mix too, since she's not my clone.  (I hated Misty of Chincoteaque.  She adores it because she likes horses more than I did.)  

After she reads a book, she usually wants to talk about it, and we're working in one book report a month (August's was Homer Price, another of my childhood favorites)  She picks the book she wants to report on and fills in one of the forms from this site. 

I think the key to introducing your child to good literature is to like it yourself.   A good book has to be a treat, not a punishment.  And if your child is a reluctant reader (as my oldest was) and doesn't want to try harder books, read them to her.  If you pick books she enjoys hearing, eventually she'll start reading them too - if only because a chapter a day seems WAY TOO SLOW.

Teaching the Faith to teens

It seems like every few months I get involved in a discussion about teenagers and catechesis. (Which is funny, since my kids are all under 8!)  Today it's going on over at Simcha Fisher's blog on the Register.

Anyway, I wanted to point you all to a great article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on teaching teens about the faith.  Some of the advice applies to non-Catholic families as well, so if you plan to have teenagers some day, it's probably worth a read and a bookmark for future reference!

Longenecker focuses on what I think is a huge problem for many families trying to raise children in a society that seems hostile, or at least indifferent, to their faith:
Many parents view the teenage years as difficult. They are usually so if the parents have not understood how the critical instinct is crucial to positive adolescent development. Oppressive parents continue to use methods that were appropriate for young children. They expect their teenagers to obey without question and to accept the authority of their parents blindly. This is a recipe for disaster.
 He gives concrete advice on how to handle a teenager's questions, and how to give your kids a faith that we'll be theirs,  not a punishment forced on them by overly authoritarian parents.   And while he draws heavily on the work of Msgr. Guissani, the founder of Communion and Liberation, I think the  approach to catechism and doubts would work for anyone raising kids in the Judeo-Christian tradition.   (I don't know enough about Eastern Religions to know if a Hindu or Buddhist would find this helpful.)

Anyway, give it a read! I apologize in advance for the lousy choice of text-color.  I used to be able to find this piece on other sites, but it seems to have disappeared!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Public Service Announcement Concerning Librarians



Today is the Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr.  He’s also the patron saint of Librarians and Archivists.   So say a prayer for your local librarian today. 

I wanted to pass on something very important about your public librarian.  HE WANTS TO HELP YOU.    This shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement, but apparently, some people are afraid to ask for help. 

Whenever I recommend consulting the public librarian in internet forums, people react with disbelief.   “Well, sure, that’s fine if you’re really good friends with the children’s librarian, but who will help me find excellent books about the Civil War?”

Librarians don’t get paid a lot.  Their benefits aren’t particularly great.  They took the job because they love recommending books to patrons and want to help people find the information they need.  Chances are, if you’re looking for information on a unit like “Middle Ages” or “Civil War,” they won’t even need to look for books for you – they actually spend some of their time compiling lists of good resources on popular topics.

So, ask you librarian for help.  She’s not like the lady down at City Hall who seems to exist to give people the runaround or like the cranky teen at the fast food place who resents you for interrupting her texting so you can order some fries.   Your librarian wants to help. All you have to do is ask.

Thirty Things I Don't Count as "Doing School."


A lot of my friends and family who use traditional schools are amazed at how much my girls and I can accomplish in two hours of school a day. (We also go 6 days a week, year round except for brief breaks here and there.)   When I was looking at what we do all day, I realized:  The “two hours” do not include things that most “schools” count as part of the “school day.”

So here is a partial list of the things I don’t count as school.

1. Drinks of Water
2. Snacks
3. Trips to the Restroom
4. Time Spent Disciplining One or More Students.
5. Computer Time (Even if it’s typing, web searching, or educational games!)
6. Videos (Even when they’re educational documentaries. And especially not when they’re Disney.)
7. Oral Quizzes on Reading, Spelling, Math facts or History (Especially if I conduct the quizzes while folding laundry, washing dishes, or driving.)
8. Locating Places on World and US Maps (This is “Recreation” around here.)
9. Silent Reading of Independently Selected Books
10.  Recess
11. Exercise/ Gym
12. Arts and Crafts
13. Music Appreciation
14. Dance
15. Cooperative Play
16. Any Project Done in a Group
17. Discussions of Current Events
18. Lunch
19. Trips to the ‘Nurse’
20. Crosswords, Word Finds, Mazes, Coloring Sheets, Magic Squares, Logic Puzzles or any other ‘Game.’
21. Set up and Clean up
22. Time Spent Looking for Lost Papers
23. Feeding Pets
24. Doodling
25. Sitting at Table While I Work with Siblings
26. Attendance
27. Errands
28. Announcements and Calendar Stuff
29. Lunch Orders
30.  Getting into and out of Coats

It’s not that my kids don’t do all of these things.  In fact, they do most of these on a daily basis.  But we don’t call these things “School.”

School is the time they spend on-task, either receiving one-on-one instruction or completing the work that goes along with what we’ve just covered.  They get 12 hours of this ‘school time’ a week.   How much does your average kid get IN school?   And for how many weeks a year?    That’s how my family accomplishes so much—we may not spend a lot of time every day, but the time we do spend is focused and on task.  (And that’s in spite of the ADHD daughter!)

Back to School Time...

Well, actually, I make my little darlings do school all year round.   They forget less, we cover more, and our routine is easier to maintain.   We take off for Grandparent visits and illnesses, of course.    But the rest of the time it's school, school, school.

In spite of that, this time of year always screams "Back to School!" at me.   I've got education and curriculum on the brain.  The next few weeks of posts are probably going to be very education/home school focused.   So if you prefer writing, religion or politics, be warned.