Friday, September 28, 2007

Teaching Your Child About Death

This is not really a "school" topic, but a life experience. And our stay at home children will experience things like death in a different way when they are at home all day. Yesterday, we lost our fifteen year-old dog, Jessie. While we knew the day would come, we did not expect it to come so suddenly when she was otherwise healthy. One day she was just old; the next day, she was ready.
Jessie is not the first dog our children have lost. Two years ago, our Jack Russell Sandy was hit by a car. This was very devastating for a number of reasons. First, it wasn't Sandy's time to go. Second, we weren't prepared for it. We woke up, found out she had gotten out during the night, and found her on the street behind our house. In a way, I was more angry than sad. I was mad at her for leaving her nice, warm bed just because she could, and following her instinct to chase after cars. She had to travel through thick brush for quite a while to finally reach the lights of the traffic. Didn't she know what she meant to us, and didn't she want to stay with us?
Even though we knew it was Jessie's time, because she had been with us so long it made it especially hard. Ironically, when we moved from Georgia to Kansas, we planned on trying to find her a home to stay in Georgia because we figured she would not live much longer. When Sandy got killed before we moved, the kids would NOT let us leave Jessie behind. Little did we know that she would make the drive across country and live two more years!
We did have a bit of a warm up for Jessie's death, when our last frog from our tadpole project died the week before. My son cried when I told him that the frog was dead, but then quickly said, "Can I get fish now?"
Kids are resilient, and kids view death very differently from adults. I remember when my children's great grandmother died how happy they were for her. This is because I had prepared them ahead of time and we talked about what heaven was like. When I gave them the news, they excitedly said, "Oh good! She is with Jesus now...and Sandy!" She was, after all, 96 I believe, and was ready to see all her friends who had already passed. Of course, adults only think about how they will miss the person who has died, and of all of the memories of that person. We take it more personally, I think.
It is very helpful to talk about death with children during times that they aren't losing someone. My kids know that sometimes babies, children, and even parents die. I do not get emotional when the topic comes up, but I tell them in a matter of fact sort of way that sometimes these things happen, and we don't know why. Since children see heaven as a really cool place, it takes a little of the fear and mystery out of death. Each child has their own picture of what heaven will be like, which is painted by experiences and information shared by loving adults. If I ever start to imagine what I would do if I lost one of my children, I cry when I am not around them. They do not need to fear death, but they need to know that it is part of life.
My son (6) went with Jessie to the vet, but did not view the euthanasia itself. I believe children should get to see this if they want to. When the animal's pain is taken away, a peaceful, loving demeanor is what appears, and this can be very healing for a child, especially if they have watched the animal suffer at all. My daughter (almost 5), upon being told that we had an appointment to have Jessie put to sleep, said, "Mommy, can we go to Wichita today and pick out a new puppy?"
We'll get the fish, and probably a new dog soon. Knowing the risk of having pets (and more specifically losing them) does not make us want to give up on loving critters and making them a part of our family. We all know that the love they give back is far worth the risk that one day we will lose them!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Teaching Your Child to Read

The other day I was reminded about the fear I felt when challenged with the daunting task of teaching my son to read. While I have a teaching degree, it was for grades 4-8, so early education was not really covered. I was terrified. When I was speaking with a new homeschooler who said, "I was so scared of teaching her to read, but I got Hooked on Phonics and it is no big deal," I laughed, because I remember being right there just a year before.
Since then, a lot has changed. At the end of his kindergarten year, my son was reading on at least a first grade level, probably closer to second. Having just turned 6, this was right on track. This year, my four year-old is using the same program as my son- Hooked on Phonics- and is doing beautifully. Since she is already a year ahead, we are taking it slowly and she is so excited to learn reading! And I am excited about teaching her.
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I can't speak of other reading programs, but I can tell you that it's very important to select one that works for you and your child. When I look at other phonics programs, they don't seem very appealing to me, but I know that's only because I have used one method that makes a lot of sense, and anything else seems foreign. Yes, it seems like phonics would be phonics and they all would work the same. But they don't. Phonics programs teach letter sounds in different orders, which makes it hard to leave one program for another once you are into it. But the most important thing is to USE phonics, regardless of the program you select. In the 80's and 90's, many schools ditched their phonics programs in favor of "whole language." This concept didn't last long, as reading abilities in first graders quickly diminished. I believe some schools still use whole language but I'm not sure how many are using phonics in conjunction with it.
Many homeschooling parents have said, "my child will learn to read when she's ready; we're not pushing her." Some parents are perfectly happy when their child learns to read at age 9. I have a problem with that. My son learned to read at age 5. Between ages 5 and 6, he has learned a vast amount of information because of the simple fact that he can read. The ability to read also offers a sense of independence. He can now learn what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants because he has a tool that doesn't require anyone else's help. I am teaching a girl who is seven years old. She entered school a year late, didn't learn to read in the public school kindergarten program, and her ability to learn right now is severely limited. I can't imagine a child not knowing how to read after age seven! Of course this is due to the fact that I refuse to sit and spoon feed information to a child all day. The school system was set up this way; my school is not. Of course, we do activities that don't require reading. But as it stands, I have to read every single piece of instruction to this seven year-old, while my six year-old does it all on his own. Outside of the frustration I feel about this, imagine how she feels!
While I certainly don't think all kids are ready to read at age four or even five, if your child is ready, you need to take this seriously. Missing the window could affect future learning, as the brain needs stimulation when it is ready for it and not when it is convenient for us. Children with September, October, and November birthdays who are put on the school's schedule for learning are being let down when parents don't take the initiative at home to teach what their child is ready for. And even if your child doesn't have to wait an extra year before starting school, do you really think he or she is learning to read effectively in a school setting? I can tell you this. My son ended kindergarten at home with the ability to read as well as most first graders. Our little seven year old friend came out of public school kindergarten and still couldn't read. These are just two kids, but a pretty clear picture of what happens more often than not. (And without going into this little girl's history, it makes a huge difference what parents do with their children when they're home, whether they are home all day or just after school).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Home School is underway...

We started school the day after Labor Day, and I haven't posted because I've been SO busy. I am teaching my two (6 and almost 5) as well as a sibling pair which are 7 and 8. I am also watching a 3 year old and a 9 month old who are brothers. (See why I've been so busy?!) Life would be so much easier if it were just my two, but the two older children really needed a Christian environment in which to learn, and God told me I was the one to fulfill that need. Sometimes God asks us to do things which are not easy, and boy is this one of them!
We have done a couple of activities that I wanted to share because all of the children loved them. The first was last week, when I was out but had a "sub" fill in for me. Each child received a brown sandwich bag with his/her name on it. Inside the bag was a little figure as well as instructions they were to use to build with blocks. Here are the instructions:
Thomas: Build a house for this little man using only blocks that have not been painted. Anna: Build a house for Snoopy using only blocks that have been painted. John: Build a house for your spider using only blocks with curved sides. Vanessa: Build a house for your bear using only blocks without curved sides. I knew this was a hit because they kept wanting to do it over again! Unfortunately, I didn't think to have the sub take pictures so I don't know what the houses look like, but I will have to do that in the future!
The other activity, we did today in honor of 9/11. We talked about the flag, what it meant, and we put our American flag out where our Snoopy flag usually hangs (that reminds me, I need to bring it back in...) Then I gave each child a red, white, and blue piece of paper. They could make anything they wanted, but could only use these three colors, scissors, glue, and paper punches. We later added white and red string as they were "needed." I ended up getting three variations of our flag, and one plane, which pulled an American flag. They were all unique and each child definitely used their own ideas for his/her project. I love open ended crafts like that. They were all given the same tools, and three different projects emerged. In most schools, children are given the same pieces/parts to assemble and they all pretty much have the same outcome. Not my idea of "art!" Anyway, I hope these ideas are useful to some other homeschoolers out there!

Tom Woods