To a Beginning Reader

This post was originally published in 2009.  I am re-publishing it because I am nearing this milestone with my youngest.  I wouldn’t trade this moment — witnessing my own kids’ first encounter with reading — with any teacher in the world.  It’s one of my favorite moments on the homeschooling path. 


Dear Child,

Today you read your first word. It was “at.” You then proceeded to read “am,” “an,” and “ad.”

These are small words as the English language goes — just two letters, and one little syllable each — but you have begun one of the most wonderful journeys that this life has to offer.

Today you haltingly said the sounds, “aaah…tttt.” You struggled to discipline your eyes to stay focused on the dark forms on the page. You listened carefully as I explained what “sounding out” means. You could hardly contain your excitement to become a READER.

Your excitement is childlike as you embrace a skill that you’ve seen your older siblings master. You are eager to follow in their — and your father’s and my — footsteps. You long to be able to decode the words and sentences…the stories that all those brightly-colored books contain. You learned a long time ago that there is more to them than just pretty pictures.

And what of all the books that Mom and Dad read? Why are they so interesting? Most of them don’t even have pictures.

Child, you’re on your way! With the skills you began to develop today, you will read poetry…adventure.. .biography…theology.

You will laugh at the crazy weather in Chewandswallow. You will cross Beacon Street with the ducklings. You will knock on Mr. Badger’s door with the Water Rat and the Mole.

Before long, you will enter the Giant Peach, sticky and giddy with nervous excitement. You will talk to Wilbur in the barn, smelling the hay and the cows’ breath. You will weep for the loss of Old Dan and Little Ann. You will get to explore Narnia alone, without holding Daddy’s hand.

Then you will stretch your muscles some more, and walk a while with Christian in Vanity Fair. You will learn something about “gentlemanly behavior” and virtue from Elizabeth Bennett. You will scratch your head at the beautiful inaction and dilemmas of Hamlet. You will long for a friend like Sam Gamgee.

Most importantly, The Word will unfold to you. You will fearfully rejoice with the Israelites as they eat the Passover supper with their shoes on. You will read of the Word Made Flesh. You will find yourself in Paul’s treatise in Romans 7. You will understand better the promise of God, and how it is YES and AMEN in Christ. Oh, how I pray that the sweeping beautiful epic story of Christ’s love for His Bride embraces you, from the first breath to the wedding banquet. It is all about Him, from Genesis to Revelation.

There is much to see. But today, it began with “at.”

Let the adventure begin.



Scene:  Older two boys completing their writing assignment.  They are learning to insert dialogue into their paragraphs this week, so we do a little role-playing to help them dream up dialogue.  What might Pope Gregory say to Augustine of Canterbury to ask him to go to England to increase the spread of Christianity?

Ben (for our purposes, the Pope):  Augustine, you must go to England.
Cameron (or, Augustine):  Why?
Pope:  To spread Christianity to the barbarians!
Augustine:  But they are rude!
Pope:  (blank stare)

At this point, Mom jump-starts things by saying, “you’re right, probably at that point, the Pope said, never mind, you don’t have to go.”

Pope, trying again:  You may take forty monks with you.
Augustine:  May I take weaponry?
Pope, giggling:  No!
Augustine:  May I throw rocks at them?

…aaaaannnnndd, scene.

Hither and Yon

Well, we have almost survived the length of a two-week stint without Dad home. It’s the longest we’ve been apart since we married, and definitely the longest the kids have gone without him.  In some ways, it’s been easier than when he left when they were littler.  The older boys help a good bit more now and the little ones come along for the ride.  We’ve even had a dog here for the last week, since some friends of ours were out of town and they needed a sitter.

We started school this week (dang!  STILL haven’t taken a picture!), and it’s going really well so far.  This year’s history covers a broad swath, from the Middle Ages to early Colonial America.  I am really glad to be out of Ancients.  Ancient history just does not excite me.  It brings about memories of my freshman year World History book with an Egyptian head on the cover.  So dry.  So boring.  I know, I know — bad for a teacher, but there it is.  We all have our preferences.  For their part, the boys are eating up the information about knights and castles, and they even like the stuff about how barbarians didn’t bathe and they ate their meat raw.  Plague and pestilence for the win.

Friday is our lighter school day, where we wrap up loose ends and finish up the details of the week.  Today we were done before 11.  I know that won’t always be the case, but it was nice for today.  And then we finished up our work with a bang, by watching this video and laughing ’til we cried:

Welcome to Donwell: Juxtaposition

If I were to ask you where a homeschooling mother of five children spends most of her time during the day, what would you say?

Three rooms — kitchen, schoolroom, and laundry — are where I spend most of my waking hours.

So here’s the great thing about this place:  the laundry room here is RIGHT NEXT TO the schoolroom.  It actually comes off of the schoolroom.  So I can fold and keep an eye on people doing their math.  I can switch loads in between reading and science.  It’s really quite amazing.

Of course, now that it’s summer, I avoid both of these rooms like the plague.  It’s vacation, after all.

School at Our House: All the Other Stuff

So far this week we’ve covered our main curriculum choice, math and science, and English language studies.  Today I’m going to round up all the loose ends and touch on everything I haven’t covered so far.

For those who are wondering, “Where is the Bible, history and geography?”, that is all included in our Tapestry of Grace curriculum.  Tapestry is all-inclusive in that way; when we study one time period, we cover the pertinent world history, geography, and church history for that time.  Later on in high school, worldview studies become a bigger part of the picture.  This approach is quite natural for me, since it’s the way I was taught to teach in college.

My older two boys aren’t doing a modern foreign language yet, but we’re doing koine (Biblical) greek using the program Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek.  They’ve begun the third book, which is when they start translating the book of I John.  It’s been great to have them exposed to the original language of the Bible in this way, partly because David knows Greek.  He can reference a Greek word in our family devotions and the boys will perk up if they know it.

We attend an area co-op every Tuesday, which supplies the kids with experiences that I could not provide on my own.  This past year, for example, the younger two boys had a French class, a geography class using the Flat Stanley books, and Maddie did some special books and lapbooks.  I had a chance to teach my older two boys a class from The Dangerous Book for Boys (lots of fun!), and a biography class using the book Ten Boys Who Made History.  These are all “extras” that are beneficial and fun, but we just don’t have the time and energy to fit them into our every day schedule.

Andrew watching his Pinewood Derby car intently.

The oldest three boys also participate in a local scout troop.  This has provided field trips, goals, and social activities that supplement our homeschool routine.

Ben and Cameron take piano lessons each Friday.  They are learning in an unconventional way through a program called Simply Music.  Someday I will blog about the program, because it’s worth talking about.  We have, I think, one of the greatest piano teachers in the wide world.  I am really grateful that we heard about him — he does not advertise, and through word of mouth he has a waiting list a mile long!

That sums up what we do around here to piece together a (I hope) great home education!  Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments.

School at our House: Reading, Writing and Grammar

This week we’re running through what I use here at home for schooling our children.  If you’re interested, you can read about a major curriculum change I made at the beginning of this past year or read yesterday’s post about math and science.

I’ve taught every one of our (currently literate) kids to read using the book The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.  Andrew just finished it up a few weeks ago.  I like the simplicity of it; the lessons progress through the vowels, the consonants, and then through the typical rules of phonics in a logical way.  It’s taken all of the kids just shy of two years to complete the whole book, assuming they had about three lessons each week.

SPOILER ALERT:  The final few lessons are entitled “Building Your Reading Muscles” and have the students read four- and five-syllable words.  The very last lesson has them read just one word:  a selection from a rather famous movie about a plucky British nanny.  If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious.

We use the Getty-Dubay Italic system for handwriting.  The system begins with printing and then moves on to cursive in the middle of second grade.  They kids have also dabbled in typing practice here and there; I plan to work some more of that in this summer.

This past year we began more rigorous writing instruction for the older two boys using resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  This program has suited me as a teacher quite nicely, partly due to the fact that it is similar to the way I learned to write in school.  It just makes sense to me.  It’s so nice when that happens.

Lastly, for grammar instruction in the past we’ve used English for the Thoughtful Child.  This was a fine resource, but I needed a change.  I can’t put my finger on why…I just didn’t take to the book.  Instead, this year we’ve been using a free online resource called KISS grammar.  The author is a teaching instructor and everything on his site is FREE.  For the sake of introduction, I used the third grade book for Ben and the sixth grade book for Cameron.  KISS teaches grammar in context.  It uses selections from famous children’s books and has the student dissect the passages grammatically.  So far, so good with this one.

School at our House: Math and Science

This week I’m running through what we use for home educating our five kids.  You can learn about our overarching curriculum choice here.

Today I’ll touch on math and science curriculum.  My older kids use the computer math program called Teaching Textbooks.  It is a bit pricey at first glance, but we reuse it five times, so it’s well worth the investment.  Each year I reuse the CDs and buy a new consumable workbook.

I appreciate the thoroughness of TT; my kids’ test scores have improved with every year of use.  Plus they love the ownership of doing math on the computer.  They are in charge of all their materials, and I let them figure out how they will manage their time.  Later on, after they’re done, I can log into the password-protected teacher grade book and see what their scores were, whether or not they attempted each problem more than once, and if they watched the tutoring session with each incorrect problem.  I can also delete answers — or entire lessons — and make the kids re-do them if necessary.

Prior to beginning with Teaching Textbooks in third grade, the kids use a British math program (“programme”) called the MEP.  This curriculum teaches algebraic thinking very early on — it covers things I didn’t think first and second graders could understand.  In fact, my pediatrician basically told me I was nuts for thinking they were understanding it.  Oh well.  The only hurdles we find with MEP is in the area of money and measurement; being an export from the UK, the program teaches the metric system (not bad) and uses shillings, pence and pounds for money.  In the money problems dealing with simple addition, I just tell the kids that “p” stands for “pennies” and they’re none the wiser.

Oh, and there is the wonderful matter of the workbook spelling “color” as “colour” and calling trucks “lorries.”  I’m sure you could guess that I find that charming so it’s not a problem as I see it.

In science, we have used the Apologia textbooks written for elementary kids so far.  We’ve done Botany, Astronomy, Flying Creatures, and Human Anatomy.  This next year we’ll be doing Land Creatures.  In fact, I’ll be teaching it at our co-op beginning in the fall.

Science is an area where I am weak, so I am always eager to work it into a co-op setting for the sake of accountability and group encouragement.  If the kids are responsible to get their reading done and I do a little discussion at home, then the experiments are best left to a group setting.  I have been extremely grateful to have co-ops for the last two years where we’ve done science together.  This past year the boys were privileged to have a nurse teach them human anatomy.  Recognizing my own shortfalls, I am happy to fall on stronger arms in these cases.