How to Teach Reading (and When)

There is a new game that’s being played at my house – the rhyming game. The children, it seems, are currently obsessed with finding words that rhyme with each other.

And it’s not connected with reading exercises or anything. The kids do it as fun.

I don’t know when this trend started but it’s recent. I have to laugh at that because I distinctly remember rhyming as something that was always a struggle for both my older children. And here they are now. Not only explaining it to my (as yet) illiterate four year old but making a raucous game of it all!

How My Children Learned to Read

When my oldest daughter was five, we started slow. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. As I said, we started very slowly. If we had problems blending sounds, we put the book away for a week or two and then came back. I did not push.

It was the same with my son. We did not do the writing part of the exercises. If you’ve seen Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonsyou know what I’m talking about. (Highly recommended, by the way. It’s simple, straightforward and short. But feel free to customize it.)

But the rhyming! Oh, the rhyming!

It was a struggle, to put it mildly. And they didn’t get it. So we decided to skip that as well. I checked a few lessons down the road and was happy to discover the book dropped the rhyming exercises, so I didn’t worry about it.

Teaching Reading Need Not Be Scary

Reading is one of the first things most homeschooling parents teach and I think this is where we either develop our deep confidence or think maybe we’re not cut out to homeschool after all. In other words, teaching reading can make or break your homeschool.

Reading is also something children can and have picked up themselves.

So which is it? Is reading difficult or not?

Yes and no. If you start before the child is ready, it will be torture. A very wise homeschooling mom once told me to wait until they were ready. I am so glad I decided to take her advice.

She also told me not to rush after letter recognition, to start teaching reading only after the child was able to blend letters.

Are they ready? Here’s the exercise to be able to tell

The best advice I received was to wait until my child was ready. But what’s readiness? This is. Do this exercise.

After and only after the child is proficient at sounding out letters, offer a two letter word like “at” and see if the child can sound out the “a” and the “t” and blend them. If and only if he is able to do that, introduce a letter before the “at” to make words like cat, rat, etc.

If the child successfully blends these, congratulations, your child is reading and you can now proceed – gently – with other lessons.

What to do while waiting

The hard part, of course, is waiting. There is a push for children to learn to read earlier and it’s easy to get caught up in that. But try to ignore that. While waiting, reading to them will be the most important thing.

If you have the need to introduce something reading-wise, I highly recommend The Letter Factory by Leapfrog. My kids watched this all the time and learned letter sounds very easily with it.

Good luck! And happy teaching!

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News and Views of the Week

Oh, goody! Another Friday! Have you ever noticed that the first half of the week seems positively uphill? And then once Wednesday comes along, it’s like the rest is just easy-peasy? That’s exactly how it went this week.

However, we have more important matters to talk about than the vagaries of my week, so here we go!

First the News…

This post about why Dutch children seem to be the happiest in the world caught my eye. And it seems true enough on the surface, but I have no insight into Dutch culture, so I’d love to know what you think.

And this is a blast from the past, but a good one nonetheless and related to the story above. It popped up in my Facebook memories and I thought I’d share it again. It asks: Are today’s parents getting a raw deal?

In the online world, two stories seemed worth posting. One is about apps like Duolingo, which I love, that make use of waiting time to teach you something new. I must say I love this trend. Another seeks to remove eight of the most common online learning myths.

… then the Views!

Boy, was I glad to be at work this week! Apparently, I don’t do so well when I have nothing to do. This week, I actually discovered gel pens and a fantastic coloring book. And that derailed my reading. So I was only able to get to two good books, but oh, are they good! And long. I’ll have more to say about Three Squares soon.

Remember, Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum is at the lowest price ever now – for preorder until May 18th – get it now and it will be delivered to your Kindle in May. If you are thinking about creating your own curriculum, this guide is indispensable!

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If you’ve read my review of Zak Slayback’s The End of School, (or better yet, read the book) you know that he is a big supporter of entrepreneurship. Which is why I was very excited to get hear of this grant.

If you have a child (homeschooled or not!) between the ages of 16 and 22 with an entrepreneurial mindset, you should pay attention.

Zak says:

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of entrepreneurship among young people. It’s another thing to actually tangibly support entrepreneurship among young people.

So today I am putting my money where my mouth is.

What you need to know

The person applying must be between 16 and 22, in the US, and must have a product or business that has proof-of-concept.

Zak is awarding awarding $2,000 to young entrepreneurs in Spring 2018. The awards will be split into 1 $1,000 grant and 2 $500 grants.

How to apply

The application and details can be found here.  Zak mentions that the focus of this grant is on young entrepreneurs in the Western Pennsylvania region (incl. northern West Virginia & eastern Ohio) – so if you happen to be in those regions, good for you!

But don’t get disheartened if you live elsewhere because applications from outside of the region will also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Good luck!

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8 Skills All High School Students Should Know

This is a guest post by Scott Groza. You can find out more about Groza Learning Center here.

While most people consider high school students to be allowed ample room to become adults in the years to come, the truth is there are many important things that high school students should know that they often are not properly taught. These are a set of life skills they will need as they begin to look to the future of their lives and prepare for adulthood. While many high schools help their students with some outside life skills, few of them work on helping their students master some of the most important life skills they will need as they grow into adulthood.

As an example of some of the deficits, high school teachers often spend a great amount of time teaching children facts and improving some of their basic skills of cognoscente learning. However, one of the greatest areas that high school education can fail students is in teaching student’s comprehension skills. Certainly, life is more than facts. It is not just important for a child to memorize information or learn by watching or inputting data. Teenage kids need to learn how to assimilate the things they are reading and learning in the classroom with the world. Thus, making their newfound knowledge applicable to their life is a critical life skill. Taking in information is only as valuable as knowing what to do with the information to enhance a person’s life once it is learned. This can be vital to allowing information to be put to practical use across all scopes of their education. As an example, math can be used in shopping and cooking and sociology can be used in enhancing personal understanding and societal integration.

The second foremost life skill for teens is learning about history of the world and American history has real uses in life. So often students can live in a cloistered view that the world is simply here and now and nothing else matters. While many students think that learning American History or World History serves no important purpose for their life, being able to take the lessons from history and appreciate the many gifts that so many others have contributed to the world allows a student to learn how they too may be able to make a difference in the future of the world. Additionally, everything that is today can be placed in the context of how far we have evolved as human beings once history is learned. As an example, we know in the realm of political and public policy landscape as well as in enhancing the students’ knowledge of civic participation such as voting, knowing history is often vital to making important decisions for the future of communities, states and nations as an adult.

Another important piece of knowledge that teens need to have is practical knowledge for preparing for life on their own. These include learning about balancing a checkbook, eating nutritious foods, cooking and budgeting. When it comes to finances, oftentimes banks set up special accounts with teenagers that are known as student bank accounts that allow high school students a place to open an account without fees, and learn how to properly use a debit card and use check registers for recording transactions.

The fourth most important acquired knowledge for high school students is teaching students how to plan for their future. While many teens can think that they will have plenty of time to figure out their future, the truth is many high school students go on to be college students who drop out of because their school choice or career choice ends up being too much for them to handle or ends up being of little interest to them once they delve in further. Many high schools fall short of gearing students minds towards building their skills and gifts in ways that allow their mind to explore and define their life and career goals.

Another important life skill is building the student’s overall knowledge of life’s many cultures. In this very diverse world of people this is an essential aspect of becoming an adult. One of the reasons that being cultured is so very important is because it broadens the mind scope and a person’s coping skills when encountering the world at large. Being cultured elevates the person’s self-respect and their respect for others. When it comes to learning more about appreciation for culture, students can become much more well-rounded and interested in developing their own cultural gifts when they see how enhanced life is through the cultures of the world. In addition, helping teenage students learn about culture and the arts teaches teens about global appreciation, diversity and enhances their ability to find good in the world through being creative and appreciating the creativity of others.

The last set of skills are three skill sets in one category. While each is a distinct skill in and of themselves they fall into one category. Of all the levels of knowledge that students obtain in school, this set of skills is the most imperative skill set for students to acquire to keep them mentally
healthy throughout their lives.

These skills fall under the category known as emotional quotient or EQ skills. These are the skills of self-control, self-awareness, self-growth. The skill of self-control teaches students how to build their stamina in the realm of emotional situations. This includes work relations, personal relations and in dealing with the public at large. The skill of self-awareness is a skill that keeps the student aware of their own emotions, thoughts and feelings and teaches them how to process experiences to grow and learn and become a better person.

Lastly, is the skill of self-growth enhancement. As a student becomes an adult there is a whole series of responsibilities that they must be able to handle as an adult that they never needed to worry as much about in their youth. But as they become more adept and mature they too must be prepared to cope with the world in a greater spectrum. This is done by learning to handle rejection and loss in healthy ways so that the person can move beyond their difficulties and seek solutions to their everyday problems and life circumstances.

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The Classical Unschooler’s News and Views of the Week

Happy Friday, homeschoolers! I have quite a mixed bag of news and views for you this week. So let’s get to it.

First the news…

On the international front, homeschooling has now been banned in China. And remember the Romeike family? Well, here’s another family in Germany whose children were taken away because they dared to homeschool.

While not related to homeschooling, this story about a dad in the UK who was fined because he dared to let his child miss school for a trip to Disneyland. His words are what got everyone’s attention on my Facebook page.

“You are not the final arbiter of what’s right for your child,” he said.

In education related news closer to home, student loan protections have recently been withdrawn.

And in things to chew on, this article about what really makes good readers caught my eye. I distinctly remember my daughter using invented spelling before she began to read, but I don’t recall such a thing with my son. Either way, something to think about.

…then the views!

I took most of the week off to catch up on reading and as a treat for finishing my book Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum: A Step by Step Guide which comes out in May. If you haven’t pre-ordered it, you should do so now! The price will go up in May.

I’m still muddling my way through Greek philosophy and drama in my self appointed assignments, but I did have time to delve into the history of the Middle East as well, which I found fascinating and also to read some children’s books!

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The Biggest Lessons of a Read Aloud

If you have read my past posts about read alouds, you know we take them seriously in our homeschool. Some days, that’s all we get done. And that’s okay because read alouds are that important.

I want to focus today on why I’m so crazy about reading to my children. It took us a long time to get around to where we are now, but this is a good place.

So without further ado, here are the two biggest lessons of read alouds.

It doesn’t have to all make sense

“But it makes no sense!” How many times had I said that when I first started homeschooling? I wanted my children to get it and get it all. I wanted them not just to repeat and memorize but truly understand. 

The problem is, that’s not how it works. No one gets it all, not at first anyway. And that’s okay.

As the “classical” part of my classical unschooling style developed, I began to see that it didn’t all need to make sense right away. I began to understand that what we call learning came by degrees – at first the connections necessary for learning did not happen, that much time had to spent in the grammar stage before logic developed.

This was as true in reading aloud as it was in other subjects. I did not have to painstakingly explain every idiom and turn of the plot as I read. It was okay if the children focused on one thing in the story and I enjoyed another – deeper – level of understanding. They didn’t have to get everything I got from it.

The varied experiences serve to deepen our enjoyment of the read aloud; they do not take away from it.

A little bit everyday goes a long way

This is perhaps my favorite thing about reading aloud. Instead of teaching my children discipline, instead of telling them that a little bit everyday goes a long way toward getting something done, a read aloud actually shows them that fact.

We are currently reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsIn the past, our favorite read alouds have been The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit

See a pattern? Besides being fantasies, they were all fairly long. When we first picked each one, we thought we’d be reading them – in the words of my seven year old – “forever!”

But we got through them one chapter at a time. And they didn’t last forever.

One word, one sentence, one page at a time. This is the greatest lesson of a read aloud, regardless of what is in the pages: doing a little every day can accomplish great things.

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The Case For Reading Children’s Books

I will never understand people who like to argue on Goodreads with me about how much I loved or hated a recently read book. See, reading is an intensely personal experience. It’s a bit like saying, “I didn’t sleep well last night.” Jumping in to say, “But I heard you snore!” just doesn’t help matters.

With that said, however, I will admit to feeling a bit snarky lately. And not just annoyed in general, but positively in a rut.

April is the Cruelest Month

This happens every year without fail come spring. Some say it has something to do with the fact that Daylight Savings Time kicks in, allergies are at an all time high which can lead to seasonal depression and it’s tax filing time.

Add to all this the fact that we are so close to summer, we can taste it and yet, it’s not here. Talk about a perfect storm.

Looking for an Escape

So I find myself then constantly looking for an escape, a distraction, something to change it up a bit. Unfortunately, I also homeschool and children if nothing else are creatures of habit.

Most days, we follow a good template. I like our lives, I really do. We stay on track, we get done what we need to and we have lots of fun along the way.

And yet there are stretches of time like lately when there is a distinct sense of feeling overwhelmed that no amount of dreaming, planning or otherwise checking things off my list can overcome.

Enter Children’s Books

When did life get so serious anyway? When did books become about more about wanting to learn something and less about just having fun? Perhaps it’s just me, I told myself. And promised to make reading a throwback to “how it used to be when I was just reading for pure enjoyment.”

It was hard to say what quality I was looking for in a book, really, but if I had to pin it down I would have to say I was going for something akin to what my four year old feels when he opens a book.

I was trying to find a children’s book that I could read that would evoke in me an emotion that would be a cross between Gruffalo and The Tale of Custard the Dragon

I wanted something whimsical and fun, but also something that would hold my interest and just be fun to read.

I’m Not Alone

I’m certainly not alone in reading children’s books. Gretchen Rubin has mentioned in her books that she actually belongs to a book club that reads children’s books. She realized it made her happier.

C.S. Lewis famously states at the beginning of The Chronicles of Narnia that “someday [one] will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Indeed, there are countless writers out there whose work can only be described as something between children’s and adult writing or both. Neil Gaiman comes immediately to mind.

Dreaming With Eyes Open

One thing I think children’s books do very well is keep things simple. Without plots that are too complicated, including characters with not too much nuance and with just a basic understanding of the world, they create situations that can be not just entertaining but also interesting.

They help me dream with my eyes open.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate is that they often tell the story from the perspective of someone who truly notices things as a child. As a mom – and a homeschooling mom in particular – I find this perspective invaluable.

We say we want to teach as our children will learn. We say we want to learn right along with our children. I say to do so there’s no better introduction to their world than through children’s books.
And no better time to begin reading one than now.

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News and Views of the Week

Friday already? Well, well. It’s been a long week. But here’s some interesting news has come out lately that could be of interest to homeschoolers.

First the News…

President Trump says we have to end Common Core and make education policy more local.

Remember the Supreme Court ruling about the boy with special education needs? How will that decision affect the future? Here’s some discussion about it.

HSLDA has been fairly active in the news this week: parents in South Dakota can give “notice” to the school for absence and do not require to “apply” for their children’s leave. It is also trying to work with New Mexico to remove the daytime curfew bill.

And then the Views!

If you missed my announcement last week, here it is again. My new book Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum: A Step by Step Guide is now available for pre order!

Here’s what the back of the book says:

The homeschoolers I know are not content to sit back and accept what a textbook says. Research for them takes up more time than any actual teaching. I will find them in libraries and online groups and message boards, poring over lists and more lists of books. They will go to the conventions, listen to the speakers, unearth books at yard sales and even thrift stores to teach their children.
With this kind of drive, it’s not hard to imagine someone consciously crafting their own curriculum.
If you have a burning desire to create your own curriculum for your children, you have come to the right place. In this book, you will learn the preliminary work that is necessary before you even think about putting something together and then I will guide you step by step into how exactly to do it.

Order it today and it will be delivered to your Kindle when released in May.

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“Give Your Child the World” by Jamie C. Martin

I recently picked up Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child The World. And I decided I simply had to write about it here.

First, a little about Jamie

As you probably know, Jamie is the owner of the most well known homeschooling website on the internet Simple Homeschool

This blog has been around for a long time and just keeps getting better. It has become a resource for homeschoolers from around the world. It is one of those blogs people mention immediately as a recommendation for someone beginning homeschooling.

I’ve been a contributor for Simple Homeschool for almost a year now and I can tell you that all those accolades are well deserved. Jamie is truly one of those genuine people you hear about.

She works hard and she’s got a heart of gold. When she says she cares, she does. Jamie is as real as they come.

About Give Your Child The World

So when I saw that she had a new book out, I had to pick it up. And I was not disappointed. This book was in the works for five years! And it shows.

Meticulously researched and cross referenced by place, date, child’s age, title and authors, this is the perfect resource if you’re looking for something more than just a book list.

The book is divided according to region and the child’s age, so you can quickly choose the right book for the right time. The selections are mostly fiction but there are some nonfiction books as well.

Mostly, it’s about immersing the child in the universe – literally – of stories around the world, which is a great way to learn about a place.

Use it!

The thing I loved about it was that Jamie didn’t just write the book. She also wrote some of her story. And it is incredible. If there was anyone “qualified” to write this book, it was her, with a truly international family.

She also includes tips in Give Your Child the World about how to go about learning about other cultures and countries, how to include learning as part of living in your home and shares some of my ambivalence about bedtime reading.

She believes in the power of the story, but not for its own sake. Rather, Jamie allows these stories to move her to action in her own life. If you want to introduce your kids to different countries, don’t just stop at maps and geography, introduce literature as well! Stories are where the heart is.

Get the book! You’ll be glad you did. And here’s the best part: from now until Sunday April 9th., the ebook is just $1.99 on Amazon!

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Burnout Doesn’t Just Happen in the Winter

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. – T. S. Eliot

It’s that time of year again. Everything is springing flowers, days are getting longer and we’re all eager to get outside and enjoy the weather. Homeschooling should finally get easier than it was in the winter, right?


When I wrote this post, it seemed to resonate with many of you. I wrote it in February, the most dreary month of the year. But, believe it or not, spring can sometimes be harder on you than winter.

Spring is Hard

While you may not be clinically depressed, I think there is something worth paying attention to at play here. Psychologists have found links between allergy season and depression. It seems the cytokines in pollen cause inflammation in your body and the result looks very similar to depression.

Of course it doesn’t help that everywhere around you people are more active. Chances are also good that your social life is picking up as well after the winter doldrums.

If you follow the school year model, you’re also perhaps thinking the end of the year is so close you can touch it, but not quite yet. Besides, you may be rushing to get done with the curriculum.

April sure can be cruel.

What’s the Solution?

The solution is the same as it always was and always will be. Have a plan, stick with it and above all, know yourself. Of course, this can be hard when you’re first starting out, but after the first year seeing some repetition in patterns certainly helps.

Another thing that might help is establishing your goals differently from that of public schools. For us, with all children born later in the year, we begin our new year in January. It makes zero sense for me to begin in August or September, especially in the younger years when they are just not developmentally ready and then feeling like I have to hurry them along.

But then we tend to follow the classical unschooling model anyway, so the pressure to conform to grade levels is fairly low.

So if you think you’re getting burnt out, remember to take a break, but also know that it might not be anything you’re doing wrong. This, too, shall pass.

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