Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weekend Links: Discipline to Bilingual Storytime

Time Outs Don’t Work Anymore? Try This Alternative. :: Modern Mami

Kids learn to be multilingual at home :: Poughkeepsie Journal

Home School: Why Ethnic Families Are Saying Yes :: New America Media

Bilingual kids have tuned-in brains :: Futurity

Latino Children Regress In School, Study Finds :: NPR

How to Make Aguas Frescas with the Kids :: Tiki Tiki blog

And if you live in the Santa Barbara area, check out Bilingual Conversation and Storytime Circles in French and Spanish at Peanuts Kids & Maternity Boutique. Sounds so very fun!

Paso Partners Offers Integrated Program

      photo by benketaro

Paso Partners is a partnership of three public schools, an institution of higher education, and SEDL specialists. Together they have created a curriculum and resource guide for bilingual teachers of K - 3rd grade. On their website you can download (for free) lessons and a guide with a curriculum plan, instructional strategies and activities, suggested teacher and student materials and assessment procedures. Printed copies are also available for purchase.

Each grade level comes with three units that include teaching and learning strategies that will excite children about the world of mathematics, science and language. Each unit is available in English or Spanish. But be sure to visit their Introduction page, for a good overview of the entire program. The lessons are as follows:

The Five Senses/Los Cinco Sentidos
Spiders/Las Arañas
Dinosaurs/Los Dinosaurios

1st Grade:
Plants & Seeds/Plantas y Semillas (The picture above is of chile pepper seedlings!)
The Human Body/El Cuerpo Humano
Good Health/La Buena Salud

2nd Grade:
Oceans/Los Océanos
Weather/El Tiempo
Sun and Stars/El Sol y Las Estrellas

3rd grade:
Matter/La Matería
Sound/El Sonido
Simple Machines/Las Máquinas Sencillas

I'm looking forward to exploring the 1st-grade units - especially The Human Body/El Cuerpo Humano since I have recently bought some other materials for teaching this subject!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Homeschooling Your Kindergartner, Part Three

This post is part three of my homeschooling kindergarten series. Be sure to check out the other posts:

What to teach your kindergartner

So I’ve decided what method I’m using (I think) and now I’m ready to start but my biggest question is: What exactly do I teach?

Now, you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want, but complicated doesn’t necessarily mean better. Your child is only 4 or 5, maybe 6, and can easily get overwhelmed with too much information. Your method of choice should provide you with some sort of guidelines. I think it is safe to say that the main topics to concentrate on are:

• Letter recognition
• Phonics (or letter sounds)
• Beginning reading (simple words & sight words)
• Number recognition (1-20)
• Color recognition
• Shape recognition
• Patterns
• Matching/Sorting
• Five senses
• Weather/Seasons

Many children are already ahead of the game, especially if parents have been actively helping them to learn these key concepts. If so, it is a great idea to review these at the beginning of the year to build up your child’s self-confidence.

You might also consider creating/finding lessons on one or more of the following:


• The earth
• The solar system
• How plants grow
• Living vs. non-living
• Animal classification (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, etc.)
• Habitats (desert, ocean, mountains, rain forest)
• Water cycle


• Simple addition and subtraction (single digits)
• Money
• Time
• Fractions
• Counting by 2’s
• Double digit addition and subtraction


• Occupations
• City vs. country
• Presidents
• Holidays
• Cultural traditions


• The United States
• The seven continents
• Your heritage country

These lessons don’t have to be complicated. The goal is to simply introduce these subjects so that later, when they are covered more in-depth, your child can say, “Hey, I already know something about this!” (or “¡Ah, sí! Ya sé algo de esto.”) which, again, helps with self-confidence and to create a positive opinion of learning.

Easy resources for Kindergarten core subjects and beyond…

There is a movement that promotes the value of a core curriculum. The idea is that this core curriculum is a uniform body of knowledge that all students should know at each grade level. I think they are a good reference, but that it all depends on your child and we should let them develop at their own pace with our guidance. Here are several easy resources that discuss or cover the core subjects of a quality Kindergarten curriculum:

Brain Quest

The Brain Quest Workbooks are available  at most local bookstores. They touch briefly on the main subjects from Pre-K through grade 7. The also have some fun question-and-answer sets for early childhood development. The downside is that they do not have materials available in Spanish as of yet. So if you are homeschooling in Spanish only, you will have to translate the directions (but chances are your children couldn’t read them anyway, so you’d be there to help.) I have already visited their site and suggested they create a Spanish line. You can do the same here.

The Core Knowledge Series Books

I LOVE these books. I just got my copy of What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know. It is great and I’m looking forward to using a lot of the material this coming year. The book itself is divided up by subject: Language & Literature, History & Geography, Visual Arts, Music, Math and Science. It was not originally written for homeschoolers per se, but rather as a supplement for parents wanting to get more active in their children’s education. This series is a byproduct of the Core Knowledge Foundation whose mission is to improve our national education system through the creation of a specific guidelines that promote a sound foundation and which builds upon itself. In other words, it is sequential and each grade builds upon the knowledge that was learned in the previous grade. I am still learning about it, but if you would like to read more, check out their Homeschooling Network site.

Con mucho cariño…

Did you enjoy this article? Are you thinking about homeschooling your child? Let me help! My book - The Latino Family's Guide to Homeschooling - covers everything you see here and more. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homeschooling Your Kindergartener, Part Two

Yesterday I said that imagining a traditional public/private school scenario in your home was ludicrous and it is. Expecting your child to sit at a table or desk in your home for hours is a little unreasonable. Even in public school, there are a lot of breaks and playtime scheduled into the day.

Remember, the method you choose will heavily influence your lesson plan. But be flexible and prepared to change anything that doesn’t work. When I first began homeschooling, my schedule looked something like this:

(Three days a week)

• (Drop off youngest at preschool by 8:30) start school at 9 am
• Discussion (1-5)
• Math (10- 20)
• Reading Comprehension/Language (10-15)
• Break (15-20)
• Reading/Writing (20-30)
• Science (10-20)
• Arts & Crafts/ Games & Activities (5-30)

By the end of the year, I felt more comfortable moving things around and shortening days or lengthening according to how my child was doing. A few times, we only did one project that really captivated her attention. Most of the time, these projects counted towards her reading, writing, and science anyway.

Timing is Everything

Now I imagine the list above seems like a LOT, but keep in mind that the amount of time spent on each subject ranged from 5 minutes to no more than 30. And this was a KEY POINT for my child. Before I had this curriculum to help me learn how to manage our time, I was simply using workbooks that I bought at the bookstore and was beginning to have difficulty keeping my child’s attention. Once I began breaking up the subjects into short intervals that were long enough to learn a new concept (or simply review ones she had already learned), and then moving on to the next one, we were much more successful.

Also, I don’t mean that we did Reading and Writing after break. I mean that we did one OR the other. Reading Comp OR Language, Arts OR Games.

Soon after I began homeschooling though, I discovered that we needed to change things up a bit. And our routine sometimes varied according to the day and my daughter’s mood. I really preferred starting off with a discussion and math, because she enjoyed them a great deal. However, I learned that the later I put off reading, the harder it was. I eventually figured out that her brain was using up so much energy with other subjects that it was harder for her to focus on reading (which apparently takes A LOT of concentration and expenditure of energy!!) and would result in a meltdown. So I switched things up a bit and alternated it with the reading comprehension. Sometimes I’d start with it first and bump math. And sometimes I’d go ahead and give her a little snack beforehand for an extra little boost.

Placing the Arts & Crafts/Games & Activities at the end was a perfect reward for celebrating the work that she had accomplished during the lesson.

Now the curriculum I was using suggested a timeframe of about 9 am to 12:30, but we eventually worked it out so that we started around 9 and finished around 11:00 or 11:30.

But some days, school just didn’t work. My daughter was out of sorts, impatient, or simply couldn’t focus. So the biggest lesson I learned last year was: DON’T BE AFRAID TO STOP AND TRY AGAIN LATER!!! There’s absolutely no point in forcing your child to do school when they can’t (or won’t) participate willingly.

Here’s the thing: You’ll be able to go as fast or as slow as your child is able. Chances are your child will learn much faster anyway because of the one-on-one attention. So if Tuesday looks like it’s going to be a bust, just try again on Wednesday.

The Bilingual Aspect

As I’ve mentioned before, teaching my children Spanish is taking a lot of effort on my part. So in the end, I realized that the best thing was for me to actually assign time during our lessons and choose a curriculum to help me supplement what I had already taught them through our reading of bilingual books and the sporadic Spanish that I injected into daily conversation.

Bilingual and Bicultural Books

I review so many books for the Latin Baby Book Club that it is easy for me to substitute these for some of the curriculum books used in the Reading Comprehension section. Once I did a few of the ones in my curriculum, I learned what the key points were for developing reading comprehension in my child. So it was easy for me to take one of our stories and read it, then ask the right questions such as:

• Who was the main character in the book?
• What was his/her problem and how did he/she solve it?
• Where did the story take place? or What was the setting of the story?
• What happened first… (sequence)
• Do you think this could be a true story or a make believe one?
• How does this story compare to the one we read yesterday? How is it the same? How is it different?
And so on…

Language Lessons

You can also switch out the Reading Comp section and replace it with a Spanish (or English, if your are teaching in Spanish) curriculum. This coming school year, Spanish will be its own subject in our house. I think learning a second language should be implemented early and taught on the same level of importance as any of the other core subjects (i.e., Math, Reading, Science, etc.) This does not mean that you can’t practice the language at any other time (quite the opposite, really!) or that you shouldn’t designating time/days for speaking the second language only. But by incorporating it into your school lessons, you assign the learning of this second language to be of equal value to your other subjects.

Arts and Crafts

I really enjoyed using the Arts & Crafts time to incorporate cultural activities that either complemented the bilingual/bicultural book we read earlier in the lesson, or to introduce a new idea or concept. For example, we read Playing Lotería by René Colato Laínez. I supplemented the book by having my child create her own “Lotería” board, which we later played. Or when Día de los Muertos rolls around, we may read Yuyi Morales’ Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book and then follow up by making a calavera mask or puppet (she has some great crafts on her website.)

So regardless of whether you are teaching in Spanish or English, it is possible to structure your time so that you can incorporate a second language. And if you are worried about how to schedule your day, remember that the method you choose will help you to organize your lessons.

Anyone else? How are you scheduling your days?

Tomorrow: What do I teach my Kindergartener and where do I find it?

Con mucho cariño…

Did you enjoy this article? Are you thinking about homeschooling your child? Let me help! My book - The Latino Family's Guide to Homeschooling - covers everything you see here and more. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Homeschooling Your Kindergartener, Part One

So a few weeks ago, I strongly urged you to look into buying a curriculum from an accredited company if you were homeschooling for la primera vez and you had no experience teaching. I still stand by this, because if nothing else, you will get an idea what does and what doesn’t work for you and your child. This might also very well help you figure out how your child learns best.

But for those of you who are starting to homeschool your preschooler or kindergartener, you may be wondering, do I REALLY need to invest so much money in a curriculum?

To be honest, no. IF you are a teacher with experience and/or provided that you do your homework and find out not only what your child should be learning, but how. What your child needs to learn in preschool/kindergarten is pretty straightforward. But it is essential for all the other subjects soon to come.

During this time you are laying the groundwork for literacy, math, and even science. But your number one goal is to develop your child’s love of learning and to view learning as a stimulating, enriching process that is fun and rewarding.

Structuring Lessons

In the end, these are the three things that determined how I structured my lessons:

• My child’s learning style

• The method I chose to follow

• My family’s daily schedule

Learning Styles

I’ve talked briefly about how children learn in different ways. Most are visual learners and do well with an image-rich curriculum. Others are auditory learners who need to listen to directions and do better with a literature-based curriculum. And some are kinesthetic and learn best with hands-on activities. In addition to these three learning styles, some children need a lot of repetition and take a little time to absorb concepts, while others quickly catch on and need to move on to the next thing or they quickly get bored. But there are other ways as well. In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences. You can read more about them here to help you determine your child’s learning style.

Homeschooling Method

The method you choose to use to teach your child will have a huge impact on how you structure your day. A few are textbook oriented, but most are not. If you follow the Charlotte Mason method, there will be a LOT of reading involved, but if you prefer the Montessori style, you may be spending a lot of time using manipulatives. I teach my child using the Eclectic Approach, pulling from the methods that which I feel works best for us. Read more about the various methods here.

Your Family Schedule

If you work outside the home (or even in the home!) your work schedule will affect when you homeschool. And if your child participates in extra-curricular activities like sports, music, or art, you will have to schedule your class time around them. My daughter took music lessons one morning a week and art lessons at the local museum one afternoon a week, so our lessons worked around these times.

I think that most of us have an idea in our heads from our own childhood of what Kindergarten is supposed to be like: a bright classroom, filled with toys, blackboards and other educational tools that children attend from 8:30 am to 3 pm, five days a week.

But now that you are homeschooling your child, you should throw that idea out the window!! Your days can be as rigidly or loosely structured as what works best for you and your child. And it will be unique. Tomorrow I will share what worked for us our first year and how quickly it changed. But what works for me and my child, will not necessarily work for you and yours. We’ll also talk more about what to teach.

Con mucho cariño…

Did you enjoy this article? Are you thinking about homeschooling your child? Let me help! My book - The Latino Family's Guide to Homeschooling - covers everything you see here and more. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Working on Critical Thinking Skills

One of my goals is to help my kids develop their critical thinking skills. So, naturally, I was especially happy earlier this year when I happened to find this awesome little boxed set of manipulatives at my local TJ Maxx - and at a greatly reduced price! I had been secretly yearning for recently discovered some of these attribute blocks after I had read about them in a catalog from the Critical Thinking Company™.

This particular set is put out by Mighty Mind®. Now, I don't know that I would exactly say that it keeps kids busy for hours, but it certainly held my children's attention for the better part of one. (Okay, okay, I'll admit, I really liked doing a few on my own, tambien.)

The kit comes with 30 puzzles geared for beginners. The player begins with card #1 and steadily works through the puzzles in numerical order. They start off very easy so that young children do not get discouraged. These beginning cards actually show you which pieces to use in the puzzle.

Then, each one gets a little bit harder than the last, until finally you have a really challenging one that may involve all the pieces.

Some of the harder puzzles are also layered.

But I love how once my daughter discovered this, she now sometimes adds her own decorative touches and places extra pieces on the top to personalize her piece.

Overall, we've had a lot of fun with this game. And the Mighty Minds® kit was a great introductory set. It is great for starting off the day with a bang, for using during a break, or for ending the day on a good note. I'm definitely looking forward to purchasing more attribute blocks for the coming school year.

If you'd like to buy your own set of attribute blocks, visit La Librería.

Con mucho cariño...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Few New Projects for Mommy Maestra

Mommy Maestra was started as a way to keep track of the many, many resources for homeschoolers that I have been finding on a daily basis. Some of these are in English while others are in Spanish. It is also a way for me to record some of the ideas I have for future lessons with my kids. But I would also like for it to be educational and inspirational to those of you who are reading along.

I know that there are many Latinas out there who are either homeschooling their niños, or who looking for ways to supplement and be involved in their children's education. Some of you are raising kids in Spanish only knowing that it is only a matter of time before they learn English. Some of you are raising your kids in English, with an emphasis on their bicultural heritage. And others, like me, are somewhere in the middle trying to give your kids a strong education that is a mix of the two languages and cultures.

So here are some of the plans I have for the coming months:

A few homeschooling Latinas have graciously agreed to share their experiences in homeschooling. My goal is a series of monthly posts focusing on Latinas who are homeschooling their children in each of the ways I mentioned above. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions about this subject, too. Please consider sharing your story with all of us. I know that as mothers, we are always in need of encouragement and inspiration for this monumental (but ultimately joyous!) job that we undertake everyday.

Also, in August, we will begin our first "Virtual Week Abroad Series" here on MommyMaestra. I would love to challenge you all to engage in some sort of similar activity with your own children and share it with us.

If you are like me and you can't always take your kids everywhere you want to, then the next best thing is to learn about the culture. Maybe even do a week long unit study! I've been giving serious consideration to doing this once a month, or once every other month anyway, because I want so much for my kids to grow up appreciating other cultures. We already read a lot of multicultural books, but I've decided that necesitamos más.

So to start us all off, here is THE WEBSITE that serves as the inspiration for our first Virtual Trip. It is in Spanish, but you can use Google Translate to read it in English if you prefer.

¡Buen Viaje, Amigos!

The Power of Hands-On Learning

My local homeschool group recenty started a 4-H club. It has turned out to be such a blessing for all of us, because each month we are now given the opportunity to get together to:

• let the kids talk, work together, and play

• let the parents share their discoveries and ask questions

• help the children to "learn by doing"

I never had the opportunity to participate in a 4-H club growing up and for some reason assumed it was similar to an agriculture club, or something. But in reality, a 4-H club can be about anything or everything. Their main goal is to supplement a child's education by providing them with opportunities to "learn by doing."  The National 4-H Curriculum is available to all of their members. It focuses on 4-H’s three primary mission mandates: science, engineering and technology; healthy living; and citizenship. (They even have a ¡Qué Rico! Latino Cultural Arts curriculum! I can't wait to try it!)

Six families in our club (including mine) decided to try out the Embryology curriculum. So at our last meeting, our county agent brought each of us a copy of the curriculum as well as all the equipment necessary for us to complete the project. We all took home incubators, eggs, a rearing box, waterers, feeders, substrate, food, etc. We set up the incubators the same day, added the eggs the following day, and have been carefully recording our observations and actions. The curriculum is loaded with information about embryology and includes several related activities for the children. And this is all FREE. We just have to turn all our stuff back in (including the chicks) at our next meeting.

Last month, my daughter also participated in a regional Activity Day, by presenting a poster on eggs. Over 200 4-hers from the district gave presentations on the topic of their choice. The children were divided into different age groups:

• "Cloverbuds"  (ages 5-8) get the opportunity to give a presentation in a non-competitive setting.
• 9-10 year olds
• 11-13 year olds
• 14-19 year olds

The older kids who received a medal (gold, silver, etc.), also get the opportunity to compete at the state level.

This entire process was a great experiece for my child. Not only did she have a blast learning about her topic, but it helped her begin to develop her skills of research, goal-setting, organization, and oral presentation. In fact, she enjoyed putting together her posters so much, that we have decided to investigate this process a little more through lapbooking other topics. (More on lapbooks later.) Here is a look at the posters my daughter put together...


So if you have a 4-H club in your area, I would strongly encourage your to join one, or create your own! There's no reason you couldn't create a club that focuses on "bilingualism," "multiculturalism," or "world cultures!"

Con mucho cariño...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Will My Homeschooled Child’s Social Skills Suffer?

© Can Stock Photo / pressmaster

One concern that potential homeschoolers have is about their child’s social life. Will my child learn how to interact with other children if I don’t put him in school? Will my child learn how to become a team player? Will my child learn the concepts of cooperation, trust, and fellowship?

There’s no doubt that as madres y padres, we want our kids to grow up to be well-rounded and able to form meaningful relationships.

So the real question is not “Does my child need social interaction with other kids?” but rather, “How MUCH socialization does my child need with other children?”

Fortunately for most homeschooling families, there are a number of ways to provide your child with an opportunity to interact with other kids their age. Here are some of the most popular:

Homeschooling Co-ops

Groups of homeschoolers are being established all over the country. I would never in a million years have guessed that there were so many families homeschooling in my area until I learned about some of my local homeschool groups and organizations.

The great thing about them is that they usually organize weekly or monthly field trips to local museums and other attractions to allow children to get together on a frequent basis and in a healthy, monitored atmosphere. This is a real benefit not only for the children but also for the parents who are then able to share and learn from each other.

There is also power in numbers and by joining a co-op, you may be able to benefit from the association, as many pool resources or receive discounts to local businesses, classes or events. In addition, joining may help keep you updated about local classes or other activities available to homeschooled students. To find a co-op or other support group in your area, click here. Or just look for homeschool groups in your area on Facebook. After you join a group, you can ask what co-ops are available.

Extra-curricular Activities and Classes

Do a little investigating and you may discover a number of learning opportunities for your child. Check out your neighborhood museums for science or art classes. Or how about your local symphony? They may offer music classes or have a list of private and group teachers.

Do you have a zoo in your town? Many times they offer weekend classes and summer camps on conservation, ecology, or wildlife management.

And don’t forget your local YMCA. Many have swim teams, soccer leagues, gym classes, and other activities that you can sign your child up for.

Libraries and Bookstores

Most libraries offer weekly storytime, as do many bookstores. Some even offer bilingual storytimes, so be sure to ask your librarian about it. If not, maybe you can volunteer your services to start one!

Both may also have active book clubs, so be sure to ask what kind of opportunities for children they may have available.

Cultural Centers

Large cities – and sometimes small towns – often have a Latino cultural center that offers cooking, art, writing, or traditional (i.e., Folklorico) dance classes. I think that this is a wonderful opportunity to foster pride in our children of their heritage and culture.

Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World levels. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.


Playgroups are another way to get together with other families of similar ages, lifestyles, or goals. Bilingual playgroups especially are on the rise.

Civil Air Patrol

My son joined our local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron last year and it has been an absolute blessing. CAP is a non-profit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. CAP is a volunteer organization with an aviation-minded membership that includes people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and occupations. Their cadet program for kids ages 12 - 18 teaches their young members all about aviation, flying drones, cybersecurity, rocketry, and so much more. Cadets wear uniforms and pass online tests to advance. And the best part is that they can qualify to have their pilot's license paid for by the organization. It's a fabulous opportunity for both young men and women!! Our son's squadron has around 30 kids participating. And he's already gone up for his first flight. 


Look to see if there is an active 4-H club in your area. If there’s not, why don’t you start your own? 4-H is an awesome opportunity for your child “to learn by doing.” The club’s members run the meetings and are exposed to a number of opportunities to make presentations, learn new things, and develop their own leadership qualities. Clubs may be centered around one particular theme (i.e., bilingualism, Spanish, multilingual living!) or random

Somewhat along the same lines are the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts. These clubs are great for socializing in a “fun” atmosphere where all the children are working together towards the same goal.

Your Church

If you belong to a church, check-in and find out if they have a children’s choir or other youth organization. Chances are you already know most of the kids and families anyway!

As you can see, there are many opportunities for homeschooled children to get together with others of similar backgrounds or interests.

Con mucho cariño…

Did you enjoy this article? Are you thinking about homeschooling your child? Let me help! My book - The Latino Family's Guide to Homeschooling - covers everything you see here and more. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teacher Resource: El Hogar Educador

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this fantastic resource for Spanish homeschoolers: El Hogar Educador is a Spanish-language magazine that is put out three times a year and is filled with useful resources for homeschooling families. And the best part is that it is FREE!!

Previous issues can be viewed on-line at their informative website, in addition to articles and videos.

For those of you with questions about homeschooling, I would highly recommend reading Preguntas y respuestas.

Con mucho cariño…

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tips for Teaching Your Child to Read - in ANY Language!

photo by John-Morgan

Here are a few things I have discovered while teaching my child to read:

1.) Have Patience!

Remember that while reading words may be super easy for you, your child has only been at it for a few months. When we read, sounds and images pop into our head instantly. But children have to memorize a bunch of squiggly lines and the different sounds that are associated with each one. And on top of that, when two or more are together, they produce an altogether different sound. Yikes! How easy would it be for you to read an alphabet in a foreign language?

2.) Timing Matters

Watch to see when your child performs best. You may find that practicing reading at the beginning of the school day is better than at the end. Try to avoid reading lessons right before lunch and dinner when your kids are really hungry and before a nap or bedtime when they are tired and sleepy.

3.) Supply Brain Food

What your kids are eating really makes a difference because reading is hard work and the brain uses up so much energy. Just as you supply your body with a good diet before working out at the gym, the same holds true for your brain. Sneak in a good breakfast or a snack high in protein before you sit down to read.

4.) Use Appropriate Materials

There’s nothing wrong with using easy material to help boost your child’s confidence, but be sure to space it out in between books that gently challenge your child. Using material that is too hard for their level will only discourage and frustrate your child. To find out if the books you are using are appropriate for your child’s skill level, or to test their reading fluency, check out this simple test on the Homeschool Parent.

5.) Keep It Positive

Take time to praise and encourage your child as he or she reads to you. Don’t hesitate to help them with words that are not easily sounded out (such as sight words or those with letter combinations which produce different sounds that your child hasn’t learned yet). Chances are after helping with the same word just a few times, your child will begin to recognize it and learn to read it. NEVER belittle, chastise, or get angry at your child for struggling to read. This just makes a difficult situation worse. And try not to get impatient (see point #1). In order for your child to enjoy learning, they should not be made to feel bad or ashamed for their efforts.

6.) Review Difficult Words

When you notice your child struggling over certain words or word groups (sight words or words that produce multiple sounds) review the words in a fun way. Make up flashcards and invent a game using them. Or have your child practice writing them out on a dry erase board. But try not to use more than four and five at a time or it can be overwhelming.

7.) Shorter is Better

Keep you sessions to 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Your child will probably get tired if you go any longer. And it is better to end on a positive note, than a cranky one!

8.) Don’t Be Afraid to Stop!

If the session just isn’t working out, end it. You can always try again later, but if you try to force your child to read when he or she is having difficulty, then they won’t be learning anything anyway.

9.) Reward, Reward, Reward!

Always take the time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments.

Help your child create a reward poster that they can add stickers to for each book they finish reading. You write the titles down and let them make a path and/or decorate the page. Hang it in a spot that your child can easily reach. When he or she completes the work and fills in the poster, get creative and think of a big way to celebrate as a family. Possibilities include going to the movies, bowling, baking a favorite meal or dessert, or taking a trip down to your local bookstore so your child can choose the book of their choice.

Learning to read isn’t easy and the road to literacy is long. Keeping these tips in the back of your mind can go a long way towards making the journey more pleasant.

Con mucho cariño…

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teaching Your Child to English

For those of you homeschooling your children in English, there are plenty of programs out there for teaching your child to read.

This is our experience: Because my daughter is English dominant, I decided the easiest thing to do was to teach her to read in English. She had already learned the alphabet and sounds in the (English-)only nursery school in the area. The curriculum I was using was a little slow, not fast paced enough for my daughter. So I followed the advice of a friend and picked up a set of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read K-1st edition. I'm so glad I did.

At first I wasn't sure I liked it because it seemed too structured. Children are provided with a workbook and a CD, as well as some flashcards and books. A lesson basically starts with the child listening to the CD and following along in the workbook. There is great emphasis on repetition. Students focus on ending sounds ("at", "en", "ig", etc.) and work their way through a page with a short list of words. Afterwards, they may read a short story in the workbook, or an acutal small book that they can color afterwards. Some spelling games are mixed in with the book, building on the letters and sound combinations that have already been mastered. And the program also works in sight words that are not easily sounded out. My daughter had a little trouble with these. So we have worked on them in different ways. The set comes with a reward poster and children can keep track of their progress by putting stickers on the title of each story after they finish reading it.

So like I said, I though it would be too structured ("do it this way"), but I was amazed to find that it worked and that my daughter actually enjoyed it.  She zipped through the Kindergarten edition in about 3 months or less and then we started the 1st grade level. It is divided into 2 sections and we finished the first in about 4 months or so. There did seem to be a bigger jump between the two levels than what I thought there should be, so we took it slow and worked on it with a lot of patience.

This set is too expensive to buy directly from the company, but I found mine new on ebay for less than $30. (I later found it for $14.99 at my favorite store in town - aargh!)

Overall, I found this particular program worked well for my first child. But I did discover that teaching a child to read is much more difficult than I anticipated it to be. She easily got frustrated if I pushed too hard or expected too much. I had to remind myself that even though this was easy for me, it was all new to her.

Tomorrow: Tips on how you, as a parent/teacher, can make your child's learning-to-read experience more enjoyable!

Con mucho cariño...

Monday, July 12, 2010

How to Organize and Keep Track of Your Child’s Lessons

When I began homeschooling, our mornings were extremely structured. I had no earthly idea what to expect, really, I suppose in my head I was envisioning a classroom-like setting, only at home.

Once our first school year had ended, I couldn’t get over how much had changed. I am a pretty flexible person, and it didn’t take long to figure out what did and didn’t work. As I have become more comfortable with homeschooling, I have been able to experiment, explore and branch out. Our lessons are more relaxed and creative. The same will be true for you.

As your child gets older, it will be important to keep careful track of your lessons, not only for memory’s sake, but also to review and – more importantly – to keep track if your state’s laws require it. Each state is different, but many require a record of your work.

I also think it is important to keep a record of your progress because it is something tangible that you and your child can look over at the end of the year and see how far you’ve come. I think this is terribly important for boosting not only your child’s self-confidence as a student, but yours as a teacher.

It’s also very helpful to settle your mind and help you teach more effectively, especially if you are not following a strict curriculum. Being organized in this small way will help your schooling to flow more smoothly, allowing for balance and routine.

Over the years, my record-keeping has changed. Here's a look at some of them.

There are a variety of tienditas online selling cutesy lesson plan books, and you may even find some you like at your local teacher supply store or homeschool shop.

But if you are trying to save money, just run to your local dollar store. I used to shop at Family Dollar for little school doodads. On one such trip, I found this little gem (Perdona the scratches. It is well-loved!)…

Ooops! Did I say “cutesy”? Don’t get me wrong, I could just have easily picked up a plain spiral notebook at the grocery store and it would have worked fine. Or you might just try a simple binder with sheets of paper that you can remove, add to, or rearrange.

The structure of your lesson plans will depend on the homeschool method that you are using to teach your child. Try to keep it as simple as possible. Before you write or plan it, ask yourself: Do we need this? If not, leave it out.

Here's a look at my journal that I kept when my older kids were in elementary grades and the class structure that worked best for us:

This is what worked for me: I spent Sunday nights preparing for the coming week. I sat down and tries to plan for no more than 4 or 5 topics each school day. Some days we got through all of them, some days we didn’t.

When my child was in Kindergarten/1st grade and is a kinesthetic learner, I tried to focus primarily on hands-on activities to keep it "fun” and engage her senses. I was also sure to include at least one book per lesson and one cultural activity, though sometimes these were one and the same.

During the lesson (or afterward), I just made a little checkmark in the margin so that I knew what we’d finished and if I still needed to go back and cover something the next time.

Those little asterisks in the right margins are to indicate activities that are primarily independent or hands-on so that I can make sure my child is not zoning out on a worksheet or mindless work.

If something didn’t work out for my child (she gots frustrated, bored, etc.), then I would circle it. I wanted to know what my child is having trouble with so that I knew how to approach it differently if need be, or what simply needed repetition.

Finally, I left room at the bottom for notes or to make last-minute changes.

Your lesson plan book should be different, designed around the style that works for you and your child. Just don’t forget to KEEP IT SIMPLE!!!

Remember, the main reasons for starting a record of your lessons are to:

• organize your thoughts
• keep track of what you have covered
• identify trouble areas
• and as a physical record of your accomplishments

As my kids grew older, I switched to planner pages that I created myself. It was more organized and helped me stay on track as far as subjects. And the more subjects I added, the more reminders I needed! I could print them on both sides of the page and keep them in a binder.

Each year, I tweaked the layout to fit my needs. The good news is that I saved all of them and they are now available as a download. 

Or, if you'd prefer to keep track of your lessons on-line, check out Homeschool Skedtrack, which is a FREE online lesson planner, scheduler, and tracking system rolled into one. This is an incredible tool that is accessible from anywhere in the world. It comes with video tutorials and screenshots.

Con mucho cariño…


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