Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Well Deserved Rest

As of last week we finished our first six weeks of school. We have kept on schedule and didn't have any missed days (excepting the important holiday of Mommy's birthday). The Pillowfight Fairy has been making steady progress, so to celebrate we are taking a vacation week this week.

Her writing is improving. I have determined that she has neater writing on the smaller lined paper (1/2 in size) rather than the big stuff (1 inch?) used for young learners. She has done well enough with the written narration pages that I've upped her from one sentence to two sentences on topic. If she finds the reading interesting, she is usually wanting to compose the sentences herself. If she isn't interrested enough to compose, Mommy comes up with them and she gets dictation practice. She also has shown me that she does better verbal narrations when she has done the actual reading herself instead of listening to me read it. (I understand that some people do better the other way around, go figure.)

She is right on schedule with her math work. Which reminds me that both with her math work and her spelling work, she now has tests. Every ten lessons in math (once every two weeks by our schedule) and twice a week in spelling, she has tests. She is having to learn to follow the instructions exactly without reminders and do her work without Mommy checking it until she is done. That is a bit challenging since she likes to do things her way and prefers immediate feedback, but even so she has done excellent work.

The new subjects this year are History, Science, and Bible. She seems to have mixed feelings about history. She gives the impression that she isn't interested most of the time, but later on she will say or do something that tells me that she did pick up some of it. I keep reminding myself that she is a first grader. The object is to introduce these facts and ideas to her now so that they can be built upon later. I suspect that she actually has very good retention for a not quite six year old.

In science, we have been learning about animals by reading through an animal encyclopedia and any science books I can find from the local library. One book series that her Daddy and I find annoying, but she enjoys immensely is the Magic School Bus. So far we have checked out one that talks about bees and one that talks about Ocean life. She rereads them several times a day when she has them and can tell you all you want to know about bees. The one covering ocean life impressed her more with the plot line of the story than all the animals it talked about, but she can still talk about many of the animals listed. So now every time I go back to the library, I check to see if they have a magic school bus book on a topic we are covering.

In her Bible studies we are reading through the Bible starting at the beginning. I've tried to keep the readings small, so that it would be simpler to do narrations. I haven't left much out. I was concerned about how much to read in some of the stories since the Bible doesn't hold back on some of the nasty stuff people do. Also, as my husband has pointed out in his blog, the version we are using is at a third grade reading level making the text understandable at a third grade reading level. I finally decided to use a simple rule of thumb. If I can't explain something to her with a simple, quick explanation, it is probably better to leave that story (or part of the story) for another reading when she is a little older. As a result, she is reading about all sorts of villainy that is easy to explain. I've only held back on just a few stories because they dealt with more complicated villainy than usual. Still, I've noticed that you can't leave too much out because those stories are referred to later on. The biggest gap so far has been a few paragraphs in the Sodom and Gommorah story and the story of Lot's daughters after they all fled to the hills. It is still an exciting read even so. She liked the story enough to illustrated a picture of it along with her usual narration page.

We do have a pretty full schedule, but she can usual finish most of her work by lunchtime if she stays on focus. My biggest challenge is to juggle keeping The Pillowfight Fairy going with schoolwork (sometimes with me, sometimes on her own) while keeping the Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy going with appropriate activity. Some days that works just fine and some days the house is a disaster area at the end of "school-time." There are usually a few times when I can read to the other two or play with them. They can also play on their own at times. But, I need to find a way to get a consistent time with the Adrenaline Junkie so I can start working on her reading skills. She is right at the prime time for learning to read. She is interested. She knows her letters and the sounds they make. She can even write most of her letters. She has learned how to sound out simple three letter words that don't have anything tricky about them. With practice and a little teaching, she will be well on her way to reading. But I need to find some time every school day to spend time with her doing it.

The Happy Boy is sort of in his own category right now. He wants Mommy's attention. He wants Mommy to read any book he wants repeatedly ad infinitum. If left to himself he would climb into off-limit places and cause havoc. He is also in the midst of teething his last four molars and eats everything. Tim wants to change his pseudonym to the Omnivore. I'm holding off, because I think he'll grow out of it. He is now eighteen months old and seems to be entering the terrible twos a little early (all of ours hit it about this stage). He gives the biggest tantrums of our three kids. I think that part of it is fed by frustration. He hasn't learned to say very much yet. He laughs for "yes" and he shakes his head for "no." He is making sounds like he is attempting to say things and gets close enough for me to recognize it in context. But, no one would call what he says understandable talking. Added to it all, his wishes are getting more complicated than he is able to communicate. This causes frustration and big tantrums. Ironically, he has fallen in love with our videos that teach the Junkie reading skills. He knows his letters and their sounds already. He is acting like he would like to learn to read before he has finished learning to talk. So, I keep trying to encourage him to try to say simple useful words. He's made some progress, but the same sound can mean half a dozen things. Some day I'm sure the switch in his brain will flip and he'll start talking in full sentences. In the meantime it is frustrating for all of us.

After writing that, I realize that I will probably get people saying "don't worry about it, lots of kids don't talk until two or after." Yeah, I know that already. I'm not worried about it. I'm frustrated because he is hard to understand and he's frustrated because Mommy isn't reading his mind. You see, I never had a kid this age and this stage not talking yet. Both of his sisters were earlier talkers than this. The oldest was saying perfectly pronounced words at ten months. The second was starting to say her first words around one year (less understandably). So, this is a new experience for me. It is unusual to me to have an eighteen month old who can't verbally tell me what song he wants or which book he wants or what food he wants, but who has all the same preference levels that his sisters had.

So, this is our vacation week. I've decided on a break roughly every six weeks. That seems long enough to make progress, but not so long that we get burned out. So what do we do for our vacation break. We play more, we read for fun, watch an extra video a day, we play our video games. The Pillowfight Fairy still has piano practice. We still go for our morning walk. But the schedule is just a lot more flexible for doing fun things. When I told the Fairy that we were taking a week off from school work she said "I don't want a vacation!" (this from the child who complained nearly every day that she didn't want school work). So, whether the Fairy wants it or not, Mommy gets the vacation. Would you believe that on the first day of our vacation all three kids were showing signs of a variety of mystery illnesses (one cold, one fever, two with intestinal issues). So much for the vacation. At least the illnesses are currently mild, so we can still have some fun. maybe the worst will be over by next week and we can pick back up with work again.