What to do with toddlers while trying to home school older kids is a pretty big question among teach-at-home moms. I've read lots of great ideas but here's one I never considered: Teach them to read.
We started using Reading Bear a couple of months back to help Amanda learn to read and to keep everyone busy while I was nursing the baby. It was a while before I clicked on the [more] link on Reading Bear's home page that lead me to Larry Sanger's blog about teaching his toddler to read. I still haven't read Larry's entire article but I have started using the free program with the little girls instead of just trying to have them keep quiet while Amanda goes through it.
Using some of the concepts I learned in the Madsen Method, this is how I have been engaging the little girls:
We listen to each presentation on the slowest speed. We sound out the words with the program while either signing each letter or using the index finger of our right hands to touch each finger (starting at the thumb) as we make each sound. Making learning multi-sensory improves the focus, retention and understanding. It challenges their brains and tires them out. (Bad behavior is often the result of under-stimulated kids at our house.)
Then I read and say the sample sentences when it is displayed on the screen and spoken. Then I encourage the girls to repeat the sentence with me once the picture is being displayed. Speaking in unison with a class is an important skill and it's is challenging for them (and me) to remember the sentence that was spoken and repeat it. Amanda has really started reading and sounding out words since starting the program. It's frustrating that English has so many rules and exceptions though. She has learned so much but in reading a short book, she comes across so many word challenges. She is really motivated to keep trying.
One of the things, I learned from Madsen is to ask kids a question and then give them the answer and have them repeat it after you. I don't let Amanda struggle with a word or answer to a question very long. If she's struggling, I will begin to help her sound things out. This has led her to ask me not to say anything and let her try on her own. If I had demanded that she do it by herself (like I did with Tyler), she would have become frustrated and wanted to quit.
Yesterday, I had the idea to go through the presentation on the slowest setting but with the sound off. Then Amanda got to be the teacher and led the sounding and signing of each word. She has many of the sample sentences memorized but some of them I would pause so that she could sound them out.
One of the important things I missed yesterday in the process was quitting when she lost interest. For a while, I kept trying to get her to come back and try to finish reading the sentences to us but then realized what I was doing. I wanted to complete the presentation (because I like closure and completion) but it's so important to follow their clues and not make it a battle. So, I took over the teaching role and signed and sounded out the rest of the presentation for the little girls. The little girls like closure too and don't like me to quit the program before it ends.
I have also been employing another principle I learned from Madsen. When we are going through a presentation, I don't allow non-script conversation. This means we only say and do what is played and displayed on the program. Amanda likes to chat about the picture that is displayed and often misses the beginning of the next word. Not allowing her to chatter cuts down on the distractions and confusing messages to her brain. Sticking to the script is important for students and teachers. It means she does not talk back or argue and I don't get side-tracked by scolding or admonishing. Both of those things hinder learning and damage relationships. I do need to remember to go through them sometime with the specific purpose of looking at and talking about the pictures.
We've also started using flash cards. In the Madsen Method, they are called Quick Response Cards. We have a set of the McGuffy Readers and each lesson lists the new words at the top of the page. So, I just made flash cards of the words contained in the lessons. We'll work with the flash cards for a while and when Amanda's really fast with them we will sit down and read the lessons. The reader has five lessons and then a review so that's how I've grouped the flash cards for now. I thought I would just go through the first set with her but she wanted to see all of the cards I had made so far. I don't know if it's me or her but she sure seems more enthusiastic to learn and practice than my first student. I down-loaded the flash cards from Larry's site but have not been able to print or view them yet due to software issues that I keep forgetting to ask Mike to resolve.
I know I've talked a lot about Amanda, but what about the toddlers? Well, they are just in the background much of the time absorbing and repeating what Amanda is doing according to their abilities. Ana really wants to learn to sign and tries to copy. Tali just watches quietly and will sounded out and speak up when she can. I don't allow them to chatter or talk during the presentations either. They are welcome to join in a speak along but not allowed to be a distraction. Since I'm usually nursing when we're going through the presentations, I don't have two free hands to teach and demonstrate the signing or finger touching. Maybe I should have Amanda teach them. That would be a great activity while they are waiting for me to get food on the table.
So, I'm feeling a lot better about the progress we're making with school or rather my ability to stimulate Amanda's brain like she has been craving. It will be interesting to see how the little girls progress but for now I'm just happy to have found a way to teach Amanda that is engaging for the little girls.
The final resource that we have been using from Reading Bear is the Power Point presentations that Larry made for his son. Discovering those was like getting a whole new bunch of library books. They are like children's picture books only I don't have to try to hold the book, make sure everyone can see, and try to turn pages while nursing the baby. There is a wide range of educational topics that will expose the girls to science, arts, history and geography. Hopefully there's some math and grammar there too. I haven't looked at them all yet.
I think we are going to be doing a lot more of our school work on the computer with this second round of kids. There is so much great material available on-line and it will really reduce the amount of clutter in the house. I'm may actually be ready to give up my set of 1978 Encylopedias. ;)
I still plan to use the Madsen Method to teach the girls to write when everyone is a little older and I'm not spending so much time in the nursing chair.
Here are the links again:
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6 years ago