Which Curriculum is Best For Teaching Spelling?

I’ve been thinking a long time about starting a new category here on Home School In Florida for reviews. When I find something that really works for us, or come across an inspiring or informative book I like to tell everyone about it so why not post about these things here?  Sounds like a good idea to me!

Today I’m going to be talking about the spelling and phonics curriculum called All About Spelling. Before I begin I’d like to tell you a story:

When I was in graduate school there was an ongoing debate among educators regarding what was then called “whole language” which basically meant the teaching of literacy using sight words; immersing kids in print-rich environments; labeling common items around the room and/or home; reading lots of good, quality literature while pointing to the words as we read, and often using “big books”, etc.  Sounds like all the things that common sense would warrant, right?  But where does the teaching of phonics fit in to this poetic scenario?

Ah.  Thus the debate.  

There were people on either side of the fence of course, and the pendulum would swing one way or another over the next 15+ years as I began my career and watched this debate continue.

Where did I stand?  On the fence.  Sort of.

Any good teacher knows that one size never fits all and that a combination of teaching methods is often best.  That’s where I fell into this debate.  If I had to join a rank, I’d join the “whole language” crowd, however, I knew that to efficaciously teach reading and spelling to my students I’d have to use some sort of phonics program.

Enter the home school.  My girls are natural readers.  They’re the kind of kids that one might say learned to read on their own with no instruction from me.  Is this true?  No.  This is never true.  My children were immersed in a literate environment from the moment they were born.  They were immersed in the print-rich environment I speak of, they watched me point to words as we read even when they were still considered babies.  They learned to read early and they read way above “grade level”.

Since I know that <a href=”http://www.homeschoolinflorida.com/how-to-1-teaching-writing-to-young-children/”>reading and writing go so hand in hand</a>, I did not dissuade my girls from “writing” whenever they wanted to.  Because of all that, they are both competent writers and pretty good spellers.  But I wanted more.  Why?  Because I want my girls to know the “whys” of the English language.  I want them to be able to decode words and spell words and understand the underlying workings of English.  

Simply, I wanted a good curriculum that would teach my girls the way letters, sounds, and phonemes work and why.  I was not looking for a “teach your child to read” curriculum and I definitely did not want a spelling program which had my girls write over and over and over again a list of words in a notebook.  I didn’t even ask my public school students to do this and would often get up on my soapbox about why spelling lists don’t teach your kid to be a better speller, often to the chagrin of whatever principal I happened to be working for at the time.  

I began to look for a packaged curriculum that fit my standards and what I know to be true about how children learn to read, write and spell.  I asked around on a home school forum I frequent, and one mom suggested All About Spelling.   After reading the website and other reviews I decided to give it a try.  I love it and most importantly, my girls love it.  It incorporates lots of hands-on activities, along with more focused, contracting experiences like writing, but also includes listening for the auditory learner.  

I have been using this for several weeks now and I am already looking forward to getting the next level.  I like it so much, in fact, that I have become an affiliate, and if you order through my link, I will get a percentage of the sale!  

This program is not only for early readers and writers.  No.  It begins at level 1, good for beginning writers or those new to the English language.  It continues throughout all the way to high school.  This program has also received kudos for helping students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

I plan to write more about this solid, well-thought out program in the future.  Keep your eyes open. If you are looking for a great curriculum that will help your children become better spellers, better readers, and better writers, look no further.

Who’s In Control Of Your Child’s Learning?

Should we honor our children’s right to curiosity?  Their right to not only choose what they want to learn, but from whom they want to learn it?  

<blockquote>No human right, except the right to life itself, is more fundamental than this. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you,  but about what interests and concerns us.</blockquote>

John Holt, child advocate and supporter of school reform thinks so. Read more here, and when you’ve finished, please comment and tell us your thoughts! 

Why Play Should be an Integral Part of Your Home School

Lately everywhere I turn homeschooling parents are worried and upset and wondering if their young children are doing enough.  I hear stories of parents who are trying to teach their babies to read (by the way, babies can never be taught to read, but that’s a subject for another day.)  

Phonics lessons and grammar lessons in the morning, music and Mandarin lessons in the afternoon, and in between all that Moms are forcing their young children to work in newly purchased math workbooks and insisting that they complete multiplication and division problems. The words “algebra” and “geometry” are being tossed around at play dates and these parents really think that they are doing the right thing.  They’re giving their children a “leg up” right?

They are not.  Here’s why.

First, young children are not developmentally ready to pursue such academic activities.  Are some seemingly “able” to do this type of academic work? Perhaps.  But a completed worksheet does not equal a deep learning for a subject matter and even if you believe that your child is ready, there is evidence that doing so is more harmful than helpful.  <a href=”http://www.homeschoolinflorida.com/do-you-know-what-mathematics-is-really-about/”>Take a look at this article written by a mathematician </a>for reasons why worksheets should not be used with young children.

Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.

Secondly, the importance of play has been so overlooked in the last decade or two that it is shameful.  Here’s what Edward Miller and Joan Almon say in their book Crisis In The Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

Such practices are contributing to high levels of frustration, stress, and anger in kindergartners, sometimes resulting in extreme behavior problems. At the same time that we have increased academic pressure in children’s lives through inappropriate standards, we have managed to undermine their primary tool for dealing with stress— freely chosen, child-directed, intrinsically motivated play. 

David Elkind’s “hurried child” is now not just hurried but also worried. 

​And this is only one outcome of the push to turn our kindergarteners into first and second graders and our second graders into adolescents.

We homeschoolers know why public (or private) schools aren’t the choice for us.  We’ve heard the stories, and sometimes experienced them personally.  Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to “keep up” with what schools are doing and bring these inappropriate expectations into your home school.

Play is supremely important for developing imagination, for learning to be “thinkers”, not just “do-ers”, for getting the body moving and the blood flowing.  Movement is so very important to brain development (again, a very important subject for another day.)  

Perhaps a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics will be enough to convince:

​Play is one of the vital signs of health in children. 75 Parents intuitively recognize this and often describe the severity of a child’s illness by how much he is able to play. When a child is very ill, play ceases. It returns when the child is well again.

If play is such a strong indicator of children’s well-being, what happens when children grow up without adequate opportunities for play? How does this affect their immediate and long-term health, both physical and mental? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics expressed concern about the demise of play in a clinical report issued in October 2006. Its recommendations included the following:  Pediatricians can promote free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress. They should emphasize that although parents can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed. 

Pediatricians should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from the overuse of passive entertainment (e.g., television and computer games). 

Pediatricians should emphasize that active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.

​What did Miller and Almon find about the effects of the the academic push on mental health?

​The overall picture of children’s mental health is summarized by psychologist Sharna Olfman in this way: The number of American children being diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses has soared over the past decade and a half. The National Institute of Mental Health
(NIMH) estimates that today one in ten children and adolescents in the United States “suffers from mental illness severe enough to result in significant functional impairment.” During this same time period, psychotropic drugs have become the treatment of first choice rather
than the treatment of last resort. Recent years have witnessed a threefold increase in the use of psychotropic medications among patients under twenty years of age, and prescriptions for preschoolers have been skyrocketing. 

Over 10 million children and adolescents are currently on antidepressants, and about 5 million children are taking stimulant medications such as Ritalin. 83 

Having been involved in the field of education since 1990, I have seen the despicable results of such changes in the education system.  Like many things, the pendulum swings to the left, then to the right, and hopefully settles somewhere in the middle.  Right now there is no middle.  Continuing to take away the things that foster and nurture our children can bring nothing but more anxiety, frustration and depression to kids who should be free to love life and all it has to offer.

This is only one study.  There are countless other books and articles on the subject of the importance of play.  <a href=”http://www.homeschoolinflorida.com/when-the-young-child-begins-learning-too-soon/”>Two years ago I added this radio interview with Kathy Hirsch-Pasek </a>discussing her book Einstein Never Used Flashcards.  

Don’t let this blog post be enough.  I urge you to read the entire text of Crisis In The Kindergarten and let the failures of the school system prompt you to make the right decisions for your kids.  When you read, however, keep in mind that this was published in 2009 and so many of Miller’s and Almon’s references to “turning our kindergarteners into first graders” can easily be translated into, “turning our kindergarteners into second and third graders.”  The pendulum has swung that much further in the last two years indeed.  

All quotations are taken from:
<strong>Edward Miller and Joan Almon, Crisis in the
Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,
College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood, 2009.</strong>

The entire text can be found here for free.

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