The Reading Lesson

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This is the desk in the girls’ bedroom. I purposely put the book there to take this photo, not because I love revealing the level of chaos our home tends to run at, but because it illustrates one of my favorite aspects of this particular book.

When I put together our first term curriculum, I knew that we would be making a trans-continental move smack dab in the middle of it. But the truth is that even under the most pristine of circumstances, I have a flair for the disorderly. I joke with my husband that on the rare occasion I finish all of the laundry in the house, someone immediately gets a stomach virus (creating mountains of super gross laundry to fill my sparkly clean baskets) or our machine breaks. Therefore, I knew that we needed a few key elements that we could simply pick up wherever we left off. No extra supply gathering, no late night printing, cutting, gluing extravaganzas, no actual planning at all required. (For what it’s worth, ALL of those things are a part of our homeschool life… But I wanted to have a few key subjects that essentially ran themselves for those times when chaos rears it’s all too familiar head.)

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We had heard one recommendation after another for Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, and no, I didn’t choose The Reading Lesson because it boasts only twenty. (More on those twenty lessons in a moment.) However, the glowing reviews were scattered with the occasional parent who hated it or the child who found it too boring to bear. Of course, all materials will work for some and not for others… Which is the beauty of homeschooling! Getting to tailor materials to your child’s learning style. What deterred me from picking up a copy and giving it a shot was that those who didn’t like it REALLY didn’t like it. Since one of our main goals for this first year was to cultivate the idea that learning is something we enjoy, I was wary of starting off with something that we might all come to disdain. In all fairness, loads of people love it and I have no actual opinion because we’ve never used it! Just explaining how we came across this alternative.

So I did what any sensible person would do and spent a couple days totally freaking out, researching every well rated option I could find, and convincing myself that if I chose the wrong one my children would never learn to read and we would all hate school forever. Then I had some iced coffee and called a friend who reminded me that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. So I went back to researching a bit more calmly and somehow stumbled onto this little gem. The reviews were almost unanimous. This book worked and most enjoyed the process! I previewed the pages on Amazon and loved the clean, simple layouts. Plus it was cheap, so if we hated it we could simply move onto the next option without too much stress.

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Here’s what we love about it:

Each of the twenty lessons is meant to be worked through slowly (sometimes it’s taken us two weeks to finish one). Sticking with Charlotte Mason’s ideal of short lessons, we typically only spend 10 minutes or so each day with this book. The first lesson introduces the five most common letter sounds and builds words using them. Each consecutive chapter adds in three new letter sounds, incorporating digraphs (two letters that make a single sound, like “sh” or “ou”) into the mix. These words get built into short, easy to read stories that get longer and more complex as they learn new sounds and words.

There are occasionally simple activities to solidify new letter sounds or words, but we’ve even found it easy to create our own activities within the book. For example, one of my children reads very well by sight but loses focus easily if there’s more than a word or two that she’ll have to sound out. So when we start a new page, we’ll spend some time identifying the sounds. I’ll ask her to circle all the “-at” words and draw a rectangle around the “-et” words, then we’ll go through them together and sound out the beginning letters until we’ve read them all together. Then I’ll let her read the story by herself. So it’s been easy to customize for her without even making my own materials.

Most of all, we all enjoy it! When we started The Reading Lesson, they could only read a handful of sight words. They knew all of their letter sounds, but blending them to make words was still a mystery. We’re only in Lesson 4 (we spent some time reviewing after our break) but it never ceases to amaze me watching them read each new story with more confidence and speed week after week.

Bottom line – I can’t give you any comparisons between this program or that program because once we started The Reading Lesson, we never looked back! Thankful to have this in my arsenal of ready-to-go, no-planning-required curriculum to carry us through the rough patches.

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Wooden Letter Pieces

This is one of the other elements of the Handwriting Without Tears system that I loved.  This lovely little box includes several long lines, short lines, small curves, and big curves.  With just those four elements, you can create any capital letter that your little heart desires.  You can actually create many of the lowercase letters as well, but there is also a lowercase supplement which allows you to make the entire lowercase alphabet properly.

I know that the actual HWT curriculum has some specific activities for these including some kind of blue mat and laminated letter cards that show them how to build them.  To be perfectly honest, I just saw them and thought – hey, that’s cool!  It seemed that making the letters would come pretty naturally to my kiddos and when I saw a used set for less than $20, I snatched it up.  Thus far when we use the wooden letter pieces, I give one of my girls a word to spell out while I’m working on a reading lesson with the other one.  They love it and we’re reinforcing the reading/spelling work we’ve been doing.

One of the other reasons I love this set is that it packs so neatly into the box.  Not because I’m a neat person in general (I’m not… at all.) but because it fits in with one of the habits we’re working on this term.  If you’ve never read about Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy, find some good reads on her thoughts about instilling good habits in your children.  Maybe I’ll write about it someday, but until then – find something somebody else has written.  Or better yet, read Charlotte’s own writings on the matter.  Brilliant stuff.  So the habit we’re working on is “order” – the concept that “there’s a place for everything and everything is in it’s place”.  Tools like this that have such a logical place for everything make it easy to let them practice that!

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Wet Dry Try (Handwriting)

Even though my girls have been total rockstars with their copywork thus far (one of these days, I’ll have to photograph some of their stellar work) I realized that we’ve never put much focus on writing numbers.  Most of the math we’ve been doing is verbal with manipulatives, but I picked up a nice write on/wipe off addition workbook at Target and when we started working through it I made a mental note to pencil in some practice time for writing numbers.

I picked up this technique from the popular Handwriting Without Tears curriculum.  Although we’re not using the full HWT curriculum this year, I thought this would be a great way to let the girls work on writing numbers.  The idea is simple and requires only a couple dollars worth of supplies.

You will need:

-a 4×6 chalkboard

-small sponge squares (one damp, one dry)*

-broken chalk pieces*

I demonstrated the whole process for them once – using the wet sponge to erase the number, then the dry sponge to dry the damp trail, then the chalk to write the number on the clean slate.  They were so excited to “wet, dry, try” that we went all the way from 1-10 practicing.  I’d write the numbers for them first, letting them watch the direction and order of the strokes, then they went to work reciting “wet, dry, try,” under their breath.  When we moved onto their one on one reading time, I told them they could use the slates for whatever they wanted while they were waiting for their turn.  I imagined they’d draw their usual silly faces and rockets and scribbles, but instead they both just wanted to keep going!  “Mommy? Is twelve a 1 then a 2?”  Awesome.

*I was skeptical when I read that the HWT system specifically uses small sponge blocks and short pieces of chalk because children naturally mimic a more proper pencil grip that way, but it did seem to do just that!  Not to mention, the small sponges let them precisely follow the line of the character instead of just sloppily erasing the whole board.  Trust me.  Cut the sponge.  Break the chalk.  If there was a way around it, I would have found it for you.

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Keeping the Pre-preschooler Busy

So what does the not-quite-three year old do while “school is in session”?

I wish I had a better answer. I had great plans, but you know how that goes with small children. My initial schedule had her sitting with us and only needing to be self-entertained for 10-15 minute blocks at a time with fun and exciting educational toys and then including her in our read alouds and crafts and science experiments and on and on.

And sometimes that kind of works. Sometimes I just do whatever it takes to keep her content and self-occupied long enough for us to get through the day’s work. And sometimes (like yesterday) it results in her giving herself a haircut after she spent about 20 minutes happily cutting the slime we made last week.

Note to self: Safety scissors still require strict supervision… for reasons that extend beyond safety.

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