Category Archives: Reading

My Reading Challenge!

My family loves reading challenges. Last year, I did a reading challenge at goodreads.com. I committed to reading 100 books, and finished my goal. My kids love working on the reading challenges hosted by our public library. The library gave them goodies after they had completed the challenge.

Last year, Katie completed the Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading Program for Grades K-3. She got a certificate of completion from Mensa and a nice t-shirt. Right now, both of my kids are working on the Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading Program for Grades 4-6.

When Katie was working on her K-3 reading challenge, I noticed that there were lots of good books that I hadn’t read before. Having grown up in Philippines, these books were not familiar to me. Out of the over 60 books that she read, I only disliked two of them: The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales and Rabbit Hill. Some of my favorites are All-of-a-Kind Family, The Tale of Despereaux, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, The Cricket in Times Square. I love the last two books so much that I read the other books in the series.

Like most parents, I do not have lots of time to spare. When I pick up a book to read, I want it to be good so that I don’t feel like I wasted my precious time on it. This year, I decided to work on the Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading Program for Grades 7-8. I did not set a deadline for myself, just like I didn’t set a deadline for my kids. I don’t want to stress over reading. I want to read because it’s fun, not because of a self-imposed deadline.

I finished reading The Hobbit. I have seen the movies and they were spectacular. Watching them made me really want to read the book that they were based on. So, I was really glad to find out that it’s in the 7-8 category. If it’s in the Mensa reading list, then it must be good. And the book was indeed very good. It was better than the movies.

I’m going to try to write about my reading journey. I can’t wait to read the next one in the list.

Yeh Shen, A Chinese Cinderella Story

I have multiple subscriptions to Scholastic magazines. I recently posted my review on Geography Spin. Go read it if you haven’t already! This post is about Storyworks Junior.

Storyworks Junior has several great articles in different genres. It was very difficult to decide which one I should do first with the kids. For several nights now, the kids have been asking whether my husband and I would like to watch their doll show. They usually ask when it was bedtime, so we always said no. This morning, as soon as they woke up, I asked them if they would like to do their doll show. Of course, they said yes. So, I picked a play from the October 2016 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks Junior: Yeh Shen, A Chinese Cinderella Story. One of the good things about Storyworks Junior is online access to archived issues; even though I haven’t been subscribing since October 2016, I still have access.

Both of them were already familiar with the Cinderella story so they picked out the characters. They decided which Disney dolls would play the characters in Yeh Shen. Katie had read the play so she just explained to Jessica that there’s only one step sister and they didn’t need two dolls for step sisters. After picking out the dolls, they decided on a costume for themselves. They only have one Mulan costume, so one of them became Elena of Avalor instead. Katie said, “let’s pretend that I’m attending a Cinco de Mayo.” Next, we read our lines for practice. Jessica can’t read fluently yet, so I told her the lines and she repeated them. After our practice, I made the video. The finished product is below.

The kids said it was a lot of fun and they would like to do it again. It took us about four hours for just one article. Storyworks Junior comes in 6 issues per year and each issue is 32 pages. I don’t know whether the classroom teachers who have subscriptions are able to go through the whole magazine with their class in two months. The good thing is that if they don’t, the kids get to keep the magazines and can share it with their families for more fun activities at home.

After our first activity using Storyworks Junior, we’re going to try to do all of the plays first. Currently, there are 6 issues available in Storyworks Junior so there’s 6 plays. I think this is great training for the future, for when I plan to ask the kids to write their own play. They are already coming up with impromptu plays (which they call “doll shows”) on their own, but having exposure to plays written by professionals would enhance their play writing skills.

The magazine is marketed to 3rd graders, 2nd-grade readers and struggling readers in the upper grades. However, I think this would be a perfect resource for gifted first graders as well. Most of the kids in my daughter’s first grade gifted class have been reading chapter books but they were reading decodables at school because all first graders are issued the same books, gifted or not. Storyworks Junior would provide highly engaging material to gifted first grade readers. For $7.85 per year per student, this is a great bargain for gifted first grade classes.

The magazine also comes with a teacher’s guide. So far, all of the skills sheets that I have seen in the teacher’s guide are language arts related skills. I have been looking for arts integration into the articles like the coloring sheets that other Scholastic magazines have, but so far, I have found none. The plays could be a lot more fun if there were cutouts for kids to color and pretend to be the characters in the play. However, even without any changes, I think Storyworks Junior is already great for its price. You get more than what you pay for.

Geography Lessons

I recently subscribed to Scholastic’s Geography Spin. I got it as an add-on when I subscribed to Scholastic News Grade 3. It costs $1.09/year (including shipping and handling) which is a great deal considering there are 8 issues per year.  Each issue is 4 pages long. That’s 32 pages per year. But that’s just the start. The best part is that it also comes with online access to the website, which is amazing. The Geography Spin website has a section for the digital version of the issue, video, vocabulary, games, teacher’s guide and printables. It also contains more than a year’s worth of archived issues.

I think Geography Spin is an awesome way to learn about geography. We start our lesson with the vocabulary section. It has a definition (read aloud by the computer) and a picture of each word. After listening to the word and its description, I ask the kids (six and four year old, respectively) what it means in their own words. I want to make sure that they understand these words because it will help them understand the video and the magazine later. Next, we watch the video together. I do not stop when we watch it the first time. But when we watch it for the second time, I stop it from time to time to ask questions to make sure that they comprehend what they are hearing. I also ask questions that are relevant to the video. For example, have you been there? Do you want to go there? What do you think of ……? I ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Sometimes when they do offer their own commentaries, I pause the video so that we can talk more about it. The videos are amazing. It’s quite engaging for me and the kids. It’s also very short – no more than 5 minutes – so it’s great to keep their attention. Plus, it takes us about 20 minutes to watch the video, re-watch it and discuss it, which is just the right amount of time for me.  Afterward, we listen to the magazine. Just like the vocabulary section, the magazine can be read by the computer. I love it because I don’t have to read it aloud. I like to save my voice for discussion. Also, the narrator is very good. It doesn’t sound like a robot at all. It’s probably a human recording. When the kids start to goof off and stop listening, it doesn’t yell either. I just click on a section that the kids missed and starts again. Sometimes, my 6-year old daughter reads the magazine so it’s also great for practicing her nonfiction reading skills. There are some words that are very unusual in fiction so the magazine really helps widen her vocabulary.

From time to time, I pair the lesson with arts and crafts. Arts and crafts always makes the kids happy. Furthermore, I use this time to have my own peace and quiet. They’ll spend at least half an hour working on their art project while I do whatever I want at the same time.

Scholastic's Geography Spin lesson.
Scholastic’s Geography Spin lesson Make Way for Monarchs

I originally got the map below to teach my 6-year old, Katie, about states. I ask Katie to search for a random state each day for two weeks. I also used to ask her which states we had visited, but that became too boring for me. After subscribing to Geography Spin, the map is relevant again and it’s more interesting to study the states when paired with a story and a purpose. I love this map. It’s very colorful as you can see. I can use a dry-erase marker on it and wipe it off after our lesson is done. There are also not a lot of city names which is great for little kids starting to learn geography. It can be quite frustrating to search for a specific location when there are too many details. As an added bonus, it  is also great for hiding children’s fingerprints on the wall. 🙂

Monarch Butterfly Migration Pattern
Monarch Butterfly Migration Pattern

Geography Spin is not just good for learning about geography but also science, reading/listening comprehension and arts integration. For the April/May 2017 issue of Geography Spin, Make Way for Monarchs, I was also able to insert a Bible lesson. When the video talked about how nobody knows how the second generation of monarch butterflies are able to go to the same trees in Mexico that their parents originally came from without being there before, I told the kids that there is somebody who knows and that is Jesus because he’s omniscient. Jesus knows everything.

I think Geography Spin is a must whether your kids are homeschooled or your kids go to a traditional school. If the school does not subscribe to it nor have the budget for it, it is definitely worth sponsoring the whole class for a classroom subscription. It’s quite difficult to find a Geography resource that is as engaging as Geography Spin. Scholastic is offering a free 30-day trial on their website. Check it out here.

Products used for this lesson:

Afterschooling My First Grader

When my daughter started kindergarten two years ago, she was initially excited. It was her first year in a “big girl” school. However, it didn’t take long before she got bored with the lessons at school. She was able to read and write before she entered kindergarten, so most of the lessons were just a review to her. By the time half of her kindergarten year had gone by, she didn’t like school at all. She wanted to be homeschooled because she said that she wasn’t learning in school. She told us that they were doing baby stuff in kindergarten. So, I looked into homeschooling and decided that I really didn’t want to do it. I loved going to school when I was a kid. It was fun to hang out with the other kids. I don’t want her to miss that experience. But at the same time, I do not want her to hate school either so my husband and I found a school for her that offered a gifted program.

The school that Katie is in for first grade is a lot better than her kindergarten school. Her teacher provides her more challenging material than the regular class. However, when we had our first conference with the teacher, she suggested that we move Katie to a gifted magnet program. She needs more challenging lessons and she thinks it’ll be good if Katie can be with other kids who are closer to her level. There’s probably two or three other kids who are about the same level as Katie in her current class, and while the rest are advanced compare with the students in the regular class, the variation in skill level is still wide. Fortunately, her teacher is awesome so Katie is not bored in class. When Katie finishes her work, she does not give Katie more of the same work just to keep busy. She let Katie play with educational toys that she has in her classroom, or read books.

What Is Afterschooling and How We Do It

For the past year, I have been afterschooling Katie. If you haven’t heard of the word afterschooling, basically, it means homeschooling after kids go to their regular school. Katie has been reading chapter books since kindergarten. She likes reading a lot. I subscribe to Raz-plus.com so I just let her choose any books that she likes. She also has great comprehension. Raz-plus.com has comprehension questions, which she gets right most of the time. The good thing about Raz-plus is that the books are for K-5th grade so Katie can choose any reading level she wants. She tends to pick books from 2nd grade and higher. The books are longer so they have more interesting story lines. I also take her to the library and let her choose any books that she wants to read. If a child is reading books that are interesting to them, you won’t need to force them to read. Since her reading and comprehension skills are several grades ahead of her math skills, we mostly focus on her math skills. She uses a program called ST Math, which is a visual game-based program. We play math games such as monopoly, abacus, card games, ten-frame blocks, legos, and etc. It is a lot easier for her to remember her math lessons when she is having fun so I try my best to find materials that would make math learning fun. Below are some of the items that we use for our math lessons. In addition to her afterschooling, she also goes to swimming lessons and piano lessons. She loves to play in the water with the other kids. She gets a lot of exercise while having fun as well. I love her swimming lessons because it helps regulate her sleeping schedule. The school that she’s going to does not provide music lessons in first grade, so I just signed her up for piano lessons for half an hour a week. It’s quite interesting to hear her play. She also has Bible lessons from me. I want her to learn about God. We have been listening to the NIRV version of the Bible. We listen to Bible stories, and recently, we started memorizing Bible scriptures. Go to the bottom of this page for a list of products that I am using and have used in the past.

Benefits of Afterschooling

I believe that parents are their children’s primary educators. In my case, I afterschool my child in order to provide her with lessons that are interesting to her and for her to continue her growth. She goes to a class where the reading levels of the kids span multiple grades. Even if the kids in her class are advanced, most of them are not as advanced as my daughter. Her teacher is amazing. But it is quite difficult to provide instruction that would make sure each child is challenged to his/her level. The core curriculum that the school provides is for their grade level. Schools do not have the budget to provide multiple grade levels that would be just right for all of the kids. Imagine: if your kid starts reading at first grade level at the beginning of the year and decides to keep reading at home for pleasure, chances are your kid will be reading at a level that is higher than the other kids who were not reading at home in just a few months. At home, I can easily look for programs that match my daughter’s level since I do not have to consider whether twenty four or so other kids would benefit from it. I can also tailor the content to whatever subject my daughter is currently interested in. There’s a lot more individualization that I can easily provide at home compared to she gets from school. No matter how great the teacher is, it is quite difficult to know each kid at the same level that a parent can.

If you are reading my blog, chances are you and your spouse are working full-time because I usually put the links to my blog in Facebook and most of my friends are working. So, if you are interested in afterschooling, my best advice to you is do it every day even if it’s just 5 minutes a day. Find something that is interesting to both you and your child because it’s quite difficult to keep on doing something in the long term if one of you is not interested in it. You will be surprised at how much of a difference five minutes each day can make.

Finally, if your first grader is still not reading chapter books, please check out my posts How to Convert Your Reluctant Reader to an Enthusiastic Reader and How My Non-Reader Child Came to Read Charlotte’s Web in 8 months.

List of Products

Headsprout.com has two components: early reading and reading comprehension. For kindergarten, Katie used the early reading section. For first grade, she is currently using the reading comprehension. The reading comprehension section of Headsprout is for 2nd-5th grade level readers. I like that they introduce different genres. It includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. It also teaches map skills, analyzing charts in addition to reading strategies.

ST Math is an online game-based program that teaches math. Katie is a visual learner. This program has definitely helped her understand math concepts easily.

Raz-plus.com is an online reading program. It literally has thousands of books. It has both fiction and non-fiction stories. I like it a lot because the stories are very interesting.

This NIRV audio Bible is great for little kids. It’s an easier version. It’s a great introduction to kids to the Word of God.

STEM Toys

I love these toys. I bought them because I figured if my kids are not interested in them, at least someone else would be. It turns out that they like them as much as I do!

History for Kids

After immigrating to the United States eleven years ago, I often heard references to people, places and events that I know nothing about. I did not know much about American History nor European History. I went to school in the Philippines until I graduated from college. We did not discuss much western history. I had a World History class during my senior year in high school but it wasn’t deep enough for me. The focus of our history lessons was the Philippines and other countries surrounding Asia.

Once I quit my job to take care of my kids, I had more time on my hands, and decided to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about American and European history. I bought several books about it. I finished reading the “The Story of the World” series, which is written for children. I liked it a lot because it was told in narrative form.

Currently, my kids and I are listening to the “Who Was…?” audiobook series. We have listened to “Who was Amelia Earhart?” and “Who was Queen Elizabeth?” so far. I asked my eldest kid to write about these people after listening to the audiobooks. It’s interesting to read what stuck to her the most.

I have also read “Who Was Queen Victoria”, “Who Is Malala Yousafzai”, “Who was Sally Ride”, and “Who Was Marie Curie”. So far, I love the books that I have read. Each book is about one hundred pages so it’s not too short or too long for kids. When I was in school, I only recall hearing of one female scientist (Marie Curie), which was only mentioned in passing. So, it was really interesting to read more about her. I also love these books because there are several women in the series. I want my daughters to learn more about accomplished women and I think the “Who Was…?” series will be a good start.

If you are interested in learning or teaching history to your kids, you can start with the recommended titles below.

 

Below is a paper written by my daughter, Katie after listening to “Who Was Amelia Earhart”.

Amelia Earhart

Did you know Amelia’s big dream was to fly a plane? Amelia liked to be the first one to do everything. Amelia wanted girls to be able to fly planes. Then, her dream came true. Amelia finally flew a plane. Amelia had set many records.

Free and Subscription Based Read-Along Books

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Every time we take our kids to the pediatrician’s office for wellness checkups, we are reminded to read to our kids. I know we’re supposed to do it. Most people know the benefits of reading to their kids. But when both parents are working full-time, or kids are being raised by single parents, then there’s really no time nor energy (perhaps both!) to read to kids after work.

This was our typical day when Katie was two years old.

7:00 am    – Dropped off Katie to the day care center. Katie was usually one of the first kids to arrive. She had been going there since she was 5 months old, so she already knew the routine.

5:00 pm    – Ethan and I left work to pick up Katie.

6:00 pm    – Picked up Katie. At this time, there were probably two or three other kids aside from Katie left at the daycare center. There were about 20 kids in Katie’s class.

6:30 pm    – Arrived at home. This was when Katie usually went to her bookshelf to get a book for us to read. I would tell her, later after dinner. Ate the dinner that we bought somewhere on the way home.

7:00 pm    – Katie would get the book again and asked somebody to read to her. At this point, neither Ethan nor I really have the energy to read a book to her. Sometimes I would read to her,  sometimes I wouldn’t. I would ask her to watch videos instead.

I remember one time, I told her I couldn’t read to her and she just laid down on the couch, staring at me, like a poor, sad, little puppy. Only it’s worse, because she’s not a puppy. She’s my daughter. I felt guilty because she wasn’t asking me to buy her some expensive toy. She just wanted me to read to her.

Then, one day, I found out about the Los Angeles  Public Library online books. It offers a huge selection of read-along books. Some are available in CDs, some are available as an electronic resource. I use their online website quite often. The good thing about the online website is you don’t need to go to the library to borrow books. You can just go online and search the database for books that you are interested in. Another advantage is that you don’t need to worry about late fees. When the book or audiobook is due, it will be automatically returned. If the book that you want to borrow is not available, you can also place it on hold. You will be notified through email when the book becomes available. You can choose to automatically check it out for you or you can login to your online account to check it out yourself. If you live in Los Angeles, you can sign up at any location for free. Your minor kids can also sign up. I signed up for both of my kids so that we can borrow more books.

In addition to the public library, I also have/had subscriptions to other websites. The kids sometimes want a variety so I would switch from one subscription to another. I’ve listed them here.

ABCMouse.com has lots of learning activities. But the kids’ favorite part is the stories. They have a huge selection of read along books. Our favorite stories are from Aesop’s fables.

Disneystorycentral.com has a monthly subscription for $7.99, for which kids can listen or read any books in their website. There are books about many different Disney characters, including books about the princesses, Cars, Planes, Toy Story, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, etc. They have over 300 read along books that kids can listen to over and over again. The good thing about these books are they are very interesting so I can watch them with the kids without being bored. They sometimes ask me to snuggle with them and watch the read along books with them.

Raz-Kids has a yearly subscription for $110/yr. It is free for us because it is provided to Katie as part of Katie’s computer programs from school, but anybody can subscribe to it.

If you find any other interesting websites with read-along books, leave a comment! I’d love to know about them and include them in this list.

 

Prioritizing Testing Over Learning: A Recipe for Failure

In my experience, implementing Common Core Standards has provided multiple benefits. First, I was able to find out what my child was expected to learn by the end of the school year. Second, I was able to keep track of Katie’s progress relative to expectations.

Third, I was able to provide remediation. I was told that Katie was advanced in her writing, but because of the Common Core Standards posted online for everyone to see, I was able to easily figure out that Katie wasn’t performing on par with the sample writing provided in the Common Core Standards document. She might be advanced in her class but still behind Common Core expectations. Once I found out that Katie was behind in writing, I purchased a program called Strategies for Writers and we have been working on improving her writing skills.

Continue reading “Prioritizing Testing Over Learning: A Recipe for Failure” »

How to Convert Your Reluctant Reader to an Enthusiastic Reader

School is almost over! Hurray! Summer is about to start. Both of my kids (and especially Katie) are looking forward to Summer. Katie doesn’t have to go to school, and she would be spending time with me. For some reason, she prefers to stay with me over going to school and being with the other kids. She said it’s more fun to be with her mommy and her little sister. This is her first year of formal schooling, so I don’t know how long she’ll feel that way. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to summer as well because I got to play more. However, the excitement usually lasted about two weeks and then I got bored. I was excited to go back to school again. I had too much free time. Watching TV several hours a day became boring after a while. The only books I had at home during my kindergarten to 4th grade were textbooks. Some of them were good, like my reading textbook and the Filipino textbook, because they had lots of interesting stories. But I had already read them so I wasn’t interesting in reading them again. That is why I made sure that Katie and Jessica would have access to books that are interesting. I want to encourage my kids to read. In order to achieve that, I try to look for books that are interesting to them. However, given that the children’s books only take a few minutes to read but a lot of time to find the interesting ones, I am quite grateful to God for helping me find a great reading list. Katie already started reading the books from the Mensa for Kids – Excellence in Reading K-3 list. Most of the books that Katie read from that list are quite interesting – which does not surprise me, as the books from the list are mostly classics and books that have won multiple awards. What I have noticed is that if I put good books on the coffee table where the kids can easily see them, they will often come ask me to read to them or they will pick it up to read it themselves (in Jessica’s case, “reading” is looking at pictures).

So, if you want to get your reluctant reader be interested in reading, check out the list of books from the Mensa for Kids – Excellence in Reading below and ask the kids to pick out the books they want to read themselves.

PICTURE BOOKS

CHAPTER BOOKS

KATIE’S RATING:

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