Tag Archives: learning to read

Of Reading and Cookbooks

I’ve been in full on reflection mode lately.  Thumbing through the portfolios, I saw where BalletBoy had set one of his goals at the very start of the year to read five books completely on his own.  He had done it and we listed the books, which, with one exception, were all picture books and easy readers.  Sometimes I get slightly frustrated because he’s not a super fast reader and he only rarely reads for pleasure outside of our silent reading time or when he’s stuck somewhere, like in the car, with nothing else to do.  But he probably read about ten chapter books in the same amount of time over the last month.  Just last week, he devoured a chapter book level graphic novel series (not a single graphic novel, but the whole four volume series) in less than a week.

Mushroom is also plugging along with reading and he seems to finally be getting the message that he can read (and therefore shouldn’t turn to his brother and ask him to read things for him!).  He still has that guessing tendency, but I’ve been working with him on it and he’s slowly improving.

We read silently every day (or nearly).  Usually, I read with Mushroom and let BalletBoy curled up in the big sofa chair and read silently.  But not always.  Occasionally, I read with BalletBoy and let Mushroom read alone.  Sometimes he’ll read something super easy, like a Berenstain Bears book or an Usborne phonics reader.  But often he’ll go get a cookbook.

That’s right.  My son reads the cookbooks.  The other night, it was time for the bedtime story (we were reading Edward Eager’s Magic or Not) and he didn’t want to put down his cookbook.  He sat up in bed reading it, planning an elaborate meal of small dishes for us that simply had to be carried out the the next day for dinner.  That’s why we sat down to an elaborate meal of salmon skewers, arancini (fried rice balls – he made the balls, I did the frying), and bruschetta.  It wasn’t his first big cooking project either.  His favorite meal to make is chicken tikka masala.  And there he is below hard at work on some Swedish meatballs.

Usually, though, there’s not any actual cooking involved.  And he’s not an especially adventurous eater.  I can make him sound that way when I explain how much he loves chicken tikka masala, but really, this kid won’t even try mashed potatoes.

I think the main reason he likes the cookbooks is because he can “read” them during our silent reading time.  They’re more engaging than picture books for him.  But if he could sit down with a book and read it alone, I doubt he would have developed this particular interest.  That would have been a pity too.  I’ve been appreciating his ability to sit and focus on a book even without reading the words.  He appreciates books, so maybe the part where he has to read words doesn’t matter so much yet.  He’ll get there.

Annabel Karmel - You Can Cook  Around the World Cookbook 

Above are some of Mushroom’s favorite cookbook choices.  Unless it’s my dessert cookbooks, he likes ones specifically intended for children best and you can see Annabel Karmel is one of his favorites.  A lot of children’s cookbooks don’t have any actual photographs of the food, just cute doodles.  Let me tell you.  That does not inspire a kid to cook.  We have checked out a lot of books like that, but they’re all just gone back to the library without any real use and once Mushroom “read” them once or twice.  Some popular titles, like Emeril Lagasse’s children’s cookbooks and standards like the Betty Crocker children’s cookbooks all used illustration instead of photos,which was very disappointing.  Williams-Sonoma and Dorling-Kindersley (DK) are the big exceptions.  They seem to have realized what a better look that is for a children’s cookbook.

Now, let’s see if he manages to save up for his own Easy Bake Oven.  He really, really wants one.

Throwing Stuff at the Wall Until It Sticks

Does your 6 year old know the word "blot"?

Some things we learn about, such as science or history, are things that, if the kids don’t perfectly get it or remember it, it doesn’t really matter.  Obviously, it would be great if they remembered every detail of Norse mythology we read about in the last two weeks, but I’m not holding my breath.  If, in a couple years, they can see a reference to the Valkyries and know what that is, I’ll be thrilled.  If they don’t get it, no big deal, we just move on.  I’m not saying it’s not important, but the specific sort of aren’t.  The thing that matters is that we’re doing something.

However, other things have to be mastered, like math and reading.  With Mushroom these days, I feel like we’re just throwing things against the wall until it sticks for reading.  I have no doubt that he’ll get it.  Six and not devouring chapter books is hardly a late reader.  But we’ve had so many different starts.  Here’s some of the things I threw at the wall, so to speak.

Starfall.  Starfall really helped BalletBoy learn to read.  At least, I think it did.  I still don’t entirely understand how BalletBoy taught himself to read last year, but I think Starfall gets some credit.  I tried to get Mushroom to use it some more this year.  It’s fine, but he memorized most of the books and it’s not really doing anything for him anymore.

Explode the Code Online.  That didn’t stick.  It will go down in history as the first big waste of money in our homeschooling journey.  Mushroom quickly figured out how to play it like a video game, clicking things very fast and memorizing pictures.  Clicking things fast is weighed more heavily than getting it right.  He got nothing out of it.

The BOB books.  When he was smaller, he didn’t find these appealing.  Then a friend handed them down and he was willing to give them a try.  He has just never found any fluency with them though.  And they quickly got old.  We still use them, but they weren’t the thing that really got him reading.

The I See Sam Books.  He likes them.  They only cost is the time it takes to print them out and staple them together.  They’re actually really cute.  However, they suffer from some of the same problems as the BOB books for Mushroom.  They’re part of what we’re using, but they haven’t totally made it just click for him.

Explode the Code workbooks.  This is working much better for us than the online program.  There are still some strange words (“Mama, what’s a crag?” or “Mama, what do they mean the pop spills?  What’s pop?”) and some strange pictures that take me awhile to decipher.  However, it’s working, at least a little.  This program, by the way, is going excellently for BalletBoy as a way to shore up his phonics.  It’s just not as good for Mushroom.

Blend Phonics.  It’s free and it has the kind of word lists I wanted in order to play games.  We made cards, we played sounding out games, we used the whiteboard a whole bunch.  I think it helped.  At least a little.

Progressive Phonics.  It’s free too.  We haven’t been doing the worksheets (I thought they looked far too easy).  However, we’ve been trying the readers.  In a way, they’re too easy.  Sounding out one word, when you isolate it, is much easier than a long string of words.  By word number five, Mushroom is worn out and starts mixing up sounds or guessing.  However, it’s a confidence builder to have him doing some of the basic books.

I’m sure if you ask me in another couple of weeks, I’ll be throwing something else against the wall to see if it sticks and I’ll have another resource we’ve tried.  Like I said, I know it’ll come.  I’m just waiting.  Trying new things, circling back to old ones.  Working on it a little every day.  CVC words, blends, silent E.  CVC words, blends, silent E.  Okay, back to CVC words…

How the Kids are Learning to Read

Mushroom looking through Fly Guy.

One of the good things about having twins (and there are many, which is a relief to discover because most of these good things never showed themselves during the infant and toddler years) is that you can see two kids learn the same things in completely different ways.  Mushroom and BalletBoy often leapfrog each other in skills.  They take a yin yang approach to being “the difficult one.”  Mushroom was usually the first to do everything when they were tiny.  Sitting, crawling, babbling and all that.  Not to be outdone, BalletBoy spent months working on pulling up and cruising.  Then, one day, he took off and walked weeks before Mushroom did.  You can’t imagine what a difficult time we spent with poor Mushroom when he realized his brother had a skill he hadn’t even conceived of yet.

In some ways, this is exactly how BalletBoy learned to read.  He spent a long time working out the sounds and putting them together.  While it didn’t quite happen overnight, one day he was just reading, even if it was just some common words and very simple phonics, he was doing it on his own.  Mushroom, on the other hand, initially had the exact same reaction that he had when he saw BalletBoy walk for the first time.  His frustration level with the world, in particular the world of words, went way up.  When he didn’t catch up to his brother quickly, I began to get worried.  I had no fear that he was behind in any way.  My worry was that his frustration would get the better of him or that he would develop a conception of himself as a non-reader.

Mushroom is still struggling to catch up to his brother in reading.  I hope he won’t develop a conception of himself as “the one who doesn’t read.”  He definitely relies on BalletBoy to read all kinds of things, like TV shows listed on the Tivo, notes I leave them in the morning, or cards sent by grandparents.  However, he got over his frustration about it a long time ago and is making a genuine effort to learn to read when we sit down together or play reading games.  He seems to have accepted that different people learn at different rates and in different ways.  He knows there are things he can do that BalletBoy can’t yet, such as swim across the pool.  If he can carry that lesson with him for the rest of his life, then that’s more important than learning to read Frog and Toad before you’re six.  It may also be another benefit of being a twin, like learning to share before all the other toddlers.  The irony is that I suspect Mushroom may turn out to be a better reader than his brother.  He looks for context and has a much better ear for stories.  He can anticipate what’s coming next in a book, even a complex one.  The other day, while we listened to Half Magic by Edward Eager, he immediately understood that a character the children meet in a bookstore was the same character the children’s mother met on the road and that he would probably marry the mother.  He was so excited by the realization, I had to pause the book so he could explain it.  As an adult reader, it’s all very obvious plot devices, but it was the sort of thing I didn’t expect the kids to pick up on until it had been spelled out more clearly.  I was impressed.  Once you get the decoding part down, being able to understand stories and foreshadowing like that becomes pretty essential.

We haven’t been using a formal program for reading.  Next year, we may do something a little more formal.  I once heard an elementary teacher tell a homeschooler that you can’t teach reading without an expensive program, which I find completely absurd, as if money somehow equals quality.  Pardon my sarcasm, but I wonder if the parents of great eighteenth centuries writers had expensive reading programs.  I also see where homeschoolers are sometimes pretty harsh with each other, condemning any early reading materials that were written after the first World War (apparently our grammar is rather cruddy these days) or suggesting that if you let your kids see the pictures in the early readers, you’ll ruin their ability to learn to read.  When I taught, I often told students that there were some wrong answers, but there wasn’t one right answer.  I feel the same about learning to read.  I find it impossible to believe there’s one right way to learn anything, not even learning to read.  I also think, that while it’s good to have studies about what works and what doesn’t, in the end all learning is personal.

We have been using some of the BOB books with Mushroom.  Both the kids have played on Starfall and a few other early reading sites.  Mostly though, we’ve just been playing homemade games, sounding out words on cards and making words with Banagrams tiles or old fridge letter magnets.  BalletBoy especially likes a game we call “Reading Treasure Hunt” probably because it ends with a few chocolate chips.  I give the kids a series of clues that I hide around the house.  If the first clue reads, “Rug” then they’ll find the next clue under the rug.  This used to be a cooperative game, but their levels are so different I break them up now.  Mushroom gets clues like “Look in the pot.” and “Look in the tub.”  BalletBoy gets clues like “Go to the coldest place in the house.” and “Look inside a book with a red cover on the top shelf.”  After about half an hour of scouring the house, they find the final clue, which leads to the chocolate chips.  Chocolate chips and pride, that is.