Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I wish I had known

When Willem was around 18 months old, he read the letters on my husband's T-Shirt, complete with ASL fingerspelling. "C-A-L...Cal."

I was blown away but at the same time totally lost as how to encourage next steps. I knew I wanted to avoid drilling, flash cards and employ child directed learning. Even when he started recognizing all the letters, I still didn't know where to go next. Now I regret that I didn't seek out what I could to learn about the natural development of reading skills then.

Even as a preschool teacher, I learned how to instruct children in pre-reading skills, but I was not taught the next steps. We were basically trained to leave that to kindergarten teachers. Additionally, I was familiar with the European model of early education which maintained that children were not instructed in reading and writing until age 8 or third grade--obviously not a popular practice in the United States. What I didn't realize--and what I wish I had known--is that it has been a tradition in Jewish and Japanese communities for children as young as three years old to start reading, naturally in a child directed way. That definitely would have sparked my interested and I would have been all years to learn how it is those ends were achieved, in order to decide for myself if that was developmentally appropriate (much in the same way I was incredulous about elimination communication but learned that it is indeed possible).

Its better late than never, though. I didn't know about EC when Willem was a baby and started late with him, but when Belle was born, I did have that knowledge and started with her from the beginning. And now it is now with reading, Belle is starting late (based on the following steps written about in the book The Secret of Natural Readers (available for free download).

The book offers case studies of a number of children who were intent on reading at a young age and led their parents along in learning about letters, their sounds and words to the extent that they were definitively reading during early preschool. There is some background, historical information as well as a discussion of implications for early readers in the school system, but the meat of the book is Chapter 11 where the How, When and Where are described. Parents are offered a framework for how to support their children's print awareness and tips for bridging to the next steps (which is what I needed). The strength of the book is that is employs "talk story" to illustrate the methods that children found most interesting and helpful to inform their skills.

One thing I realized is that teaching reading comes more naturally to some parents more than others. I definitely needed this book to provide a framework and introduction to reading acquisition because I did not figure it out on my own.

With that information, now I feel like I can run with it and find creative and fun ways to turn phonemic awareness into games. Belle, who is now 42 months old, is totally in to it. She has a love for story time and reading out-loud that Willem is just discovering (for some reason, he was totally resistant to sitting down and being read to until just recently). We find that the car is a great time to sing songs about the letters and sounds, in particular the LeapFrog Song for the letter sounds. For digraphs, we sing a variation of "Here we are together" that put letters together like B and R or S and H (Belle's favorite AND its helps to calm a fussy baby).

Stages for the Development of Reading Skills:
Stage 1: A preliminary period of gaining awareness and general knowledge about books and prints (starting any time during the first year).
Stage 2: Learning the names of the letters and acquiring a beginning sight vocabulary (starting between twelve and eighteen months)
Stage 3: Learning the sounds of the letters (starting between twenty and twenty-four months)
Stage 4: Putting words together (starting between twenty-four and thirty-two months).
Stage 5: Reading aloud from familiar books (starting between twenty and thirty months).
Stage 6: Sounding out short, unfamiliar words (starting around thirty-two to thirty-four months).
Stage 7: Independent reading of easy, unfamiliar books (around thirty-sex months). 
Stage 8: Reading for enjoyment of content (around forty-eight months).
Other resources we are using include Starfall.com, The Starfall Speedway Game, Bob Books, and The Reading Lesson. Pinterest is also a great resource for DIY reading games. Also recommended to me was Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons but the online reviews convinced me that The Reading Lesson would be more kid-friendly. So far, the guide regarding attention span ability by child's age (3 pages at a time for a 5 year old) is right on.

Willem also requested that I start teaching him piano lessons and after a generous gift from a neighbor complete with Teacher's Guide and all the Level A books, we are having lessons about twice a week.

But you are probably wondering, what did Willem decide regarding homeschool? In my last homeschool post, I mentioned it was up to him. He did decide to go to kindergarten (the school is just around the corner from our home) and he is really enjoying the classroom culture and the other children. In the last 2 weeks, the novelty has worn off and I am beginning to suspect that near Christmas time, he might tell me that he's ready to switch to homeschool. I will cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now, I am trying to keep a low level of academic parental involvement that runs parallel to the school curriculum. Maybe that will offer a low-stake way of getting some positive homeschool interactions under our belt and build up our confidence and comfort with working together as teacher and student.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: The Conflict

The Conflict, written by Elisabeth Badinter tells about the cross-section of feminism and attachment parenting, making the case that the attachment parenting movement is a retrenchment from the feminist movement of the 1970's and 1980's. The book is not subtle about its main argument: Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

I'll be honest, I was dreading reading this book because its very common for books written about me (because I am one of those "modern mothers" she is writing about) to be offensive in their characterizations of their subjects. Not surprisingly, I was right. The author writes about AP mothers, relying on research and prior journalism to make her case, rather than actually interviewing any women who were examples of the mothers of whom she was writing. In doing so, she fails to go to the source to understand modern mothers' motives and decision-making.

In describing the historical arch of women adapting to culture and society amidst the changes of the last 60 years, Badinter paints a picture of mothers today responding with dissatisfaction to the way they were parented by their mothers 20-30 years ago.  On that, she does indeed accurately capture my experience. I am the daughter of a "liberated" woman and after seeing the gender roles she lived, I decided I wanted a different kind of life for myself when I became a mother.

My mother who was a teenager in the late 60's, worked my whole childhood. Unlike her childhood, I was not cared for by grandmothers while my mother worked. My grandmother was a real anomaly of the early 50's. Influenced by the entry of women into the work force during WWII, she took my mother to work for her early months. After that point, my mother was cared for by grandmothers until she entered kindergarten.

Both my mother and grandmother were lucky to be able to bring their babies to work for the first few months, but after that point, I was in childcare from 9 months on and I remember spending a large portion of my childhood in after school child care, at my mother's office, and with my bipolar father, while my mother was cared for by her grandmothers. Throughout my childhood, I often found myself reaching out to my mother but feeling guilty that I was interrupting her work to do so.

Because of my experience, I quickly realized that I would be able to be more available to my children by staying home to care for them. At the same time though, I was educated and found that the pace of staying at home with a baby was a hard adjustment intellectually. My graduate program and thesis was just the outlet I needed.

Because of my education in child development, I easily incorporated the research regarding attachment parenting into my parenting philosophy. Scientifically, breastfeeding makes sense, co-sleeping makes sense, homebirthing/out-of-hospital/unmedicated birth with midwives makes sense. Politically and philosophically, homeschooling makes sense.Though Badinter does a good job describing the research regarding the benefits to mothers and babies to the name parenting behaviors, her tone remains snide toward mothers who seek to be guided by the research promoting healthy development in little humans.

Contrary to what Badinter portrays in The Conflict, attachment parenting is not mutually exclusive to women working. Instead of attacking an employment/economic system that compels people to live to work, she attacks mothers for choosing the path they feel brings them the most happiness in the face of such a inhospitable and family un-friendly system. It seems evident to me that Badinter is not familiar with some of my favorite books on the topic of family friendly, worker-friendly emplyoment policies, namely: Equally Shared ParentingRadical Homemakers, The War on Moms, and The Motherhood Manifesto. Though she had nothing but disdain for the choices I--and my peers--are making in regards to making motherhood and womanhood work, I find a good deal of satisfaction in envisioning and engendering a part-time worker/part-time parenting team with my husband. I do believe that the longer we are at it, the easier it will become; in part, because we will get better as we go along and because cultural and policy changes will occur to be more respectful of workers' desires to work to live and then to life fully outside of work.

The greatest failing of The Conflict was the author's inability to take into account the ocean in which women are swimming. The author appears to blame children and parenthood for why women and men cannot compete in the marketplace of professionalism, without taking thought on the ways that professionalism is a cultural construct that did not develop in a way to promote the natural state of procreation and parenthood that ensure the survival of the species. The history of employment is built on the twin pillars of slavery and exploitation--the big boss man taking advantage of all that a serf/laborer/employee will give him, and then twist his arm to take some more. At some point, a generation is going to turn the employment structure around to value the workers are the basis for the success of companies so that workers, of whom 80-95% are parents, make a living wage and are present and involved as the primary caregivers to their children. Badinter appears to throw her hands up in defeat towards any efforts to alter attitude towards workers' family lives without taking the next step saying that its just a matter of time before culture progresses in such a way that employment respects and values the contribution parents make towards an equal and balanced society.

In the end, the author concludes with a point that I can wholeheartedly agree, "insisting that the mother sacrifice the woman delays her decision to have a child and possibly discourages her from having one at all." if only that had been the framing used for this book, instead of an attack on parenting in general.