Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Kindergarten Year in Chapter Books

.As I wrote last summer, N. got interested in read-aloud chapter books in earnest last spring.  Here's what what we've read to N. between roughly March 2009 and June 2010, excluding daily fairy tales, nonfiction, and of course many picture books.  Several of these books were read multiple times.  A few, as you can see, were abandoned unfinished because N. didn't like them or lost interest.  Reading chapter books to N. has primarily been my province, for some reason (Tim reads many other things to N.!) so I've noted if the book was read aloud by Tim.  The books are listed roughly in the order in which we read them.  I am keeping records both at LibraryThing (click the "chapter book" tag for complete book info) and at Listography.  I readily admit I am bragging here; I think this is an awesome list.  And I think it's accurate to say that N. loved every book on this list that we completed. It's been a very fun read-aloud year!  What should we read next?  Recommendations?
  • The Five Little Peppers by Margaret Sidney
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgred
  • Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Besty, Tacy, and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
  • Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
  • Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
  • James Herriot's Treasury for Children
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
  • More About Paddington by Michael Bond
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (did not finish)
  • Tales from Centerburg by Robert McCloskey
  • Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (did not finish)
  • The Boxcar Children No. 1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Stuart Little by E. B. White
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (read by T.)
  • Winona's Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (did not finish)
  • The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager
  • Knight's Castle by Edward Eager
  • Felicity: An American Girl, 1774 by Valerie Tripp (almost finished)
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (read by T.)
  • The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles (read by T.)
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager
  • Higgins and the Great Big Scare by Rebecca Caudill
  • The Magical Ms. Plum by Bonny Becker (did not finish)
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The King in the Window by Adam Gopnik (did not finish)
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
  • Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
  • Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston

Monday, June 14, 2010

Delivered to Our Door

Newspapers and magazines (home delivery, not online) are a major homeschool resource for us.  We subscribe to our local daily paper, and even though it has declined shockingly in the past few years and beyond local coverage is barely a worthwhile news source for adults, it is a perfect newspaper for a 5-year-old boy.  N. and I read the paper together every weekday morning over breakfast.  There are almost always front-page stories with lots of big photos about local road work and other construction projects as well as stories that help us learn about the history of our city and upbeat local stories about kids and cultural events.  The national and international news is very basic, and thus just at N.'s level.  Through reading these stories we've had lots of good introductory civics lessons on elections, protests, forms of government.

Even though our newspaper is politically right-leaning, it is still relentlessly cheerful in tone, and nothing like TV news (which we don't watch).  Depressing stories are buried deep in its very slim pages, making it easy for me to censor what N. is exposed to (for example, I shield him from photos of bombings in Afghanistan or elsewhere).  Although I don't want him to think the world is perfect, I am very wary of exposing him to images that are too disturbing for a five-year-old to process, that will make him too worried and sad about the future he is growing into.  The other downside of the newspaper is the huge ads.  Tim and I have always found Rousseau's exhortation in Emile (1762) so compelling, if hopelessly romantic: "form an enclosure around your child's soul at an early date."  I would love that enclosure to be ad-free; I wish N. never saw an airbrushed face, a lingerie model, or a brand logo, but that is obviously impossible.  I fold the paper down to get large ads out of our sight-line when I can, and when I can't I explain what I don't like in the images.  We also get the Sunday New York Times (though not everyone in our household agrees that this is a worthwhile expense), which right now is much less useful as a homeschool resource for N. precisely because it is an adult newspaper with adult content and even more inappropriate ads.  N. and I do, however, enjoy the Travel section! 

We get other magazines, but our National Geographic subscription comes in N.'s name and plays an important role in our "curriculum."  He looks forward to getting it every month and Tim and/or I read through it carefully with him, learning what we can from it as well as using it as a point of departure for many other inquiries.  Science and nature, history, geography, and anthropology are just some of the academic subjects that the magazine regularly spans.  We like the adult magazine rather than National Geographic Kids because the photography is so compelling, the articles have much more depth, and the approach doesn't pander to kids' supposed interests or supposed short attention span.  Again the magazine has ads, and they are ads that are particularly hard for a kid to distinguish from editorial content, which is more pernicious (luscious photography of a luxury car in an exotic locale, for example).  But we still think it's a good resource.

So, reading the newspaper daily and National Geographic monthly has become part of our learning routine, although we didn't exactly set out explicitly to make this happen.  I read the paper every morning over breakfast, so I started sharing that with N. from an early age whenever there was a story I thought he'd like, and the habit has grown as his interests have expanded.  We subscribed to National Geographic when N. was born, hoping he would like it, and it too has become habitual.  The daily newspaper is so important to N. that if I am running late for work and skimp on reading the paper to him (or God forbid, try to skip it all together), he gets extremely upset.  He loves routines and regularity, so it is easy to make anything he enjoys a regular part of our daily life.  Too bad journalism is a dying industry.  N. will probably grow up to be the last American reading a print newspaper.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading Update: Dick and Jane

I had never actually seen a Dick and Jane reader, but Tim bought one of the reissued "treasury" compilations a few years ago and stored it away for future use.  Since N. was sounding out words with great pleasure and read Dr. Suess's "Hop on Pop" completely by himself, we thought we'd pull out Dick and Jane, just for fun.  The books are every bit as ridiculous as I'd always heard: dull, repetitive, saccharine, white, and blond.  Once you see them you can easily understand why they became controversial both from a pedagogical standpoint (the vocabulary is limited to train children through repetition to recognize whole words rather than to sound them out) and a political standpoint (they do not depict the multicultural America, even with the addition of a black family to Dick and Jane's neighborhood in the 1960s).  It's easy to imagine that, as Rudolph Flesch argued in Why Johnny Can't Read (1955), these books would turn a child off of reading rather than inspire him.

As it happens, however, N. loves Dick and Jane.  He loves the pictures, he thinks the repetition is hilarious, and he enjoys the stories.  With his taste for all things vintage and retro, he admires the dad's car, the kids' toys and clothes.  He's proud of being able to read the stories; each one is very short and quickly produces a gratifying sense of accomplishment in the reader.  We don't do any formal reading lessons with Dick and Jane (or any other text) but N. routinely asks to read a few of the stories aloud to me at bedtime.  Since part of the books' fall from favor was due to a return to phonics-based reading instruction rather than Dick and Jane's whole-word/look-see method, I was interested to see that N. uses both methods when reading these stories: he sounds out new words, while the repetition reinforces words he can read without sounding out.

I certainly wouldn't want Dick and Jane to be any child's only exposure to the world of reading, but I've been pleasantly surprised by N.'s enjoyment of this much-maligned classic.  Next I want to get my hands on the McGuffey Readers that Dick and Jane replaced!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plus ca change: Joseph Andrews

In Henry Fielding's novel The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews (1742), the eponymous hero and his mentor Parson Adams engage in a dispute about the merits and disadvantages of "public schools" (such as Eton, Harrow, or Westminster, what 21st-century Americans would call elite private boarding schools) and "private education" (which in eighteenth-century England meant the education of a small group of children in a domestic setting by a local clergyman or perhaps a parent).  Their discussion turns on the issue of what is known to today's homeschoolers as socialization.  Is the socialization, or initiation into the social codes and behaviors of a large community, provided by school beneficial or detrimental?  

Parson Adams is partial to a private education, since he offers that service to boys in his parish.  He takes a protective stance and believes the socialization learned in large boarding schools has a negative effect on boys' moral development.  "Public Schools are the Nurseries of all Vice and Immorality.  All the wicked Fellows whom I remember at University were bred at them. . . . Joseph, you may thank the Lord you were not bred at a public School, you would never have preserved your Virtue as you have."

Joseph, although privately educated himself, demurs, citing the views of his employer, Sir Thomas Booby.  Joseph and his employer make the familiar argument that children need to learn to navigate the school community as preparation for navigating society at large after completing school.  "It was his Opinion, and I have often heard him deliver it, that a Boy taken from a public School, and carried into the World, will learn more in one Year there, than one of a private education will learn in five.  He used to say, the School itself initiated him a great way, (I remember that was his very Expression) for great Schools are little Societies, where a Boy of any Observation may see in Epitome what he will afterwards find in the World at large."

"Hinc illae lachrymae [hence those tears], for that very Reason," replied Adams, "I prefer a private School, where Boys may be kept in Innocence and Ignorance: for... Who would not rather preserve the Purity of his Child, than wish him to attain the whole Circle of Arts and Sciences; which, by the bye, he may learn in the Classes of a private School?... A Lad may have as much Learning in a private as in a public Education."

Joseph points out "And... he may get as much Vice, witness several Country Gentlemen, who were educated within five Miles of their own Houses, and are as wicked as if they had known the World from their Infancy."

The discussion ends at an impasse; Fielding does not advocate one side of the question or the other, but highlights with typical Augustan balance both pros and cons of each mode of education.  Children are not automatically protected from vice by a domestic education, neither are they automatically learning less by not going to a large school.  We shouldn't complacently assume that the mode of education we happen to favor is actually superior.  Instead we have to be engaged actively as teachers, parents, and students to make our education yield the results we desire and to counteract its disadvantages.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Barbies and Sewing Lessons

N. and I have been sewing Barbie clothes for some time now.  It's a collaborative process: he chooses the fabric and has a strong vision for what he wants the clothes to look like.  We measure fabric, cut pieces out freehand and together talk through the process of machine sewing: threading the needle, placing the bobbin, the different presser feet,  etc.  Sometimes N. pushes the treadle while I guide the fabric through or vice-versa.

Here he is experimenting with the various fancy embroidery stitches on my machine, working the whole thing by himself. 

Recently, inspired by some adorable clothes my mom made for the Barbies and gave N. for Easter, we actually used a basic pattern.  Here he is tracing the pattern markings on the fabric.  So we had a little lesson in garment construction and the art of turning a flat piece of fabric into something three-dimensional.  What is the effect of darts?  Why do we sew with right sides together?  The end result is every Barbie's dream: a floor-length strapless Bob the Builder gown! 

It's fair to say that this year N. interacted with fewer kids his own age than he would have if he had gone to kindergarten.  He plays almost daily with the neighbor girls and he has other friends he gets together with, but as the neighbors start school next year, one of my major goals is to get us more plugged in to the local homeschool networks for regular play-date purposes.  Meanwhile, however, I think that because N. hasn't been to school and doesn't watch TV or movies, he doesn't restrict his play by socially imposed gender codes.  He loves playing with trucks and Barbies, often together.  I am really proud of this, even though as a feminist I am ambivalent about Barbies.  I played with Barbies as a kid but in a strongly feminist household where we talked a lot about the consequences of cultural images of women.  I don't think that in and of themselves Barbies are damaging to girls' self image, but Barbies can work in concert with images that can have negative effects on girls.  So, what about their effect on boys?  I am pretty sure I have never read anything studying this!  The main thing we worry about is that the Barbies become some kind of female ideal in N.'s eyes.  But from the moment he saw two Barbies in a box of my old toys in the basement, he wanted to play with them, and we couldn't justify denying him this pleasure.  Instead, while still validating N.'s play with dolls, Tim has talked to N. about why he personally doesn't like the impossible physical proportions of Barbies, and we try to counteract the image of the generic blonde by not calling them Barbies (and by seeking out brunette dolls); instead N. gave each an individual name.  His current tribe (whose provenance is the basement and rummage sales) includes Iris, Linda, Myrtle, Violet, Tulip, Millicent, and Nora.

Overall, the Barbies have provided N. with myriad opportunities for pretend play and an introduction to sewing, a very useful life skill that I hope to help him develop.  I'm so glad that no one has told him he shouldn't sew or play with dolls.