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Part 5 of Our Third Grade Curriculum: Reading

Said the schooled kid to the homeschooled kid with thick-laden haughty sarcasm,

Of course you have time to read more. You’re homeschooled.”

–Not my vignette, but it has stuck in my mind from something I read a few years ago.

Read and Be Read To

Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handboook, which I received 7 years ago from a wise, well-seasoned pediatrician colleague of mine in Kentucky after the birth of my second daughter, breaks reading success down to a simple formula:

  •  Read
  •  Be read to.

Read and be read to.  It’s that simple, and it summarizes our reading curriculum for third grade and all grades up to this point.  Our reading curriculum consists of silent reading by the children and read aloud by mom to the kids.

Although my copy of Trelease’s book is now worn, marked up, and dog-eared, as a still-working physician mother of a newborn and 20 month old married to an orthopedic fellow, I kindly thanked my colleague and thought, “I’ll never find time to read this!”  Plus, I was already an advocate of reading aloud.  Why would I need to read it?

But one early, early morning as I nursed the baby over my morning cup of coffee there it was still lying on the kitchen table, never stashed away somewhere yet.  So I started reading it.  And read it each morning over my early coffee-nursing session and carried it around the house to finish it at opportune times.  And read-aloud became much more to me than just a simple bedtime story!

The Read-Aloud Handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook,  in addition to its great anecdotes and personal opinions from the author, actually helps to quantify and provide convincing statistics to support read aloud as an invaluable tool to develop reading skills.  It pulls together and cites research studies and reports supporting reading to improve measurable knowledge.  At the end, Trelease provides a “Treasury of Read-Alouds”,  lists of recommended books (picture books, short books, novels, and poetry) with a synopsis, related literature, and recommended listening ages for each book.  After finishing The Read-Aloud Handbook, I felt thoroughly comfortable with a “read and be read to” based-curriculum, and my choice of read-alouds most often come from the lists so helpfully provided in the book.  Of all the books he recommends for reading-aloud, we’ve only not finished one.  His selections seem to be right-on.  His age recommendations mostly correct.  When we pick out our own read-alouds, we’re only about fifty-fifty on its success.  So his lists of recommended books are very helpful.

“An essential element in reading aloud is what you choose to read aloud.  Not all books are worth reading aloud…The style of writing–if it’s convoluted or the sentence structure too complex for the tongue or ear–can make your read-aloud choice unsuccessful…the aim of the Treasury is to list books whose subject matter, style, and structure make successful read-alouds.” Jim Trelease from The Read-Aloud Handbook, 4th ed.

In addition to reading aloud, the book covers silent reading.  Again, the statistics are astounding and speak for themselves.  But what I really appreciated was his helpful advice on stepping back, and letting the child choose the silent reading selections ON THEIR OWN.  I need to hear this.  I want to hand them books and say, “Read this.  It’s important.  It’s a good one.”  Or, “Read this chapter book.  Get out of those baby books.  You can read better than that.”  What I do instead is pick out a few books on our library trip and put them in the library bag with their own selections.  If they choose to read them, fine.  If not, I silently return them.  I love to ask them about what they read.  If I have time, I love to read what they’re reading.  We don’t do book reports much yet.  Maybe one or two a year.  But I hear an awful lot verbally about what’s happening in these books.

He Who Pees First Does Not Pee Best

My oldest daughter has always loved stories, but she never took an early interest in reading.  Not a bit.  It required all of my self-discipline to not scream and yell because I knew she was capable, and I was afraid the kid would never learn to read!  She would listen attentively and answer my questions about whatever I read to her (usually from the Read-Aloud Handbook selections) and often ask me to read to her whatever I might be reading myself at the time.  But read something herself!  Uh-uh.  No way.  Not having it.  Wouldn’t alternate every other line with me.  Wouldn’t read Learn to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with me.  Pre-school passed.  Kindergarten passed.  First grade passed.  My wonderful mother-in-law reassured me, “M1 will love to read.  She loves stories.”  And she was right.

I think 1) some children’s brains developmentally take longer to decode words and develop reading strength and speed and 2) kids can understand so much more than they’re capable of reading–and that may bother some of them a lot.

“Finland has higher reading scores than the U.S., despite that its laws forbid the formal teaching of reading until the child is seven years of age.”  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, 4th edition, quoting from Gerald W. Bracey, “American Students Near the Top in Reading” Phi Delta Kappan

“According to experts who have studied children’s listening skills, it is a reasonable assertion that reading and listening skills begin to converge at about eighth grade.  Until then, they usually listen on a higher level than they read on.  Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than anything they could read on their own–which has to be one of God’s greatest blessings for first-graders.  The last thing you want first-graders thinking is what they’re reading in first grade is as good as books are going to get!”  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, 4th editon

In Closing

As long as I am making a point to read aloud to them nearly daily, I feel comfortable and confident with our reading program.  When I stop doing that, which happens occasionally as certain interferences arise, I feel unsettled inside.  I know I’m dropping the ball.  We high-tail it back to my comfort zone ASAP–right there on the comfy, cozy couch. DPP_0355

And lately, I’ve been trying to make it a point to read written material in a book to myself for them to see.  As I’ve taken to researching nutritional issues on the computer, they’ve started to want to be on the computer, the phone, and the Kindle more and more–like me.  So back to basics, model the behavior which I want to see.  And that means I’ve also taken to handwriting my blog posts in a spiral bound notebook.  Ouch!


“Do you like it, Mommy?”

Picture after picture after picture.  Princess after princess after princess.  What can I do with all these precious pictures that narrowly escape the fated doom of “THE TRASH CAN”?

Paint up a magnetic wall in the kitchen!

wpid-IMAG2162.jpgWhat I learned when I painted a magnetic wall:
1.  The Rust-Oleum paint stinks to high heaven!  We opened all windows and doors and used fans to exhaust to the outside for several days.  The smell was pretty much gone by the end of a week.
2.  The paint spatters like crazy!  Drop cloth and good taping required.  Gloves and old clothes.  Spills cleaned up right away.
3.  The metal shavings in the paint make the magnets stick to it–thus “magnetic.”  The shavings need to be distributed throughout the paint to work well.  I had the store mix the paint for me, and I mixed it well again before use.
4.  I did not sand the wall smooth because it was smooth drywall, and I was not making it into a chalkboard wall.  I sanded it with fine-grained sandpaper when finished.  However, in our schoolroom, I painted a magnetic-chalkboard wall, and I sanded between coats and when finished for a smooth finish.
5.  I used a roller and brush designed to give a smooth finish.  I disposed of them and the paint tray when finished.  Didn’t try to use them again.
6.  I applied at least 4 coats.  I waited for the paint to be dry to touch before painting another coat.  When my desired magnets stuck how I wanted, I quit.
7.  Regular refrigerator magnets WILL NOT hold on this wall except as a decoration, if you are lucky.  Our letter magnets and poison-center magnets do stick, but they won’t hold a thing.  I had to buy the neodymium rare earth magnets, which are dangerous.  The neodymium magnets that worked best for me are the ones about the size of a nickel with a hole cut out of the center like a donut.  I keep them out of reach of toddlers, and they are off-limits to the kids in general.  Like a sharp kitchen knife or mandolin slicer.  The magnets hold up our art well and will even hold up to 5 sheets of printer paper.

Would I do it again?wpid-IMAG2171.jpg
As long as I was prepared for the mess, the overwhelming smell (no different from any other oil-based paint smell, if you’re acquainted with that), purchased neodymium magnets, and felt confident the magnets would not be manipulated by little hands.  We like our magnetic wall, and it’s always full of art, call schedules, snack calendars, and meaningful quotes.

An Online Game for Practicing Syllable Division

Finding online games to help practice problem areas can be time consuming for a parent when homeschooling.  I know there are TONS of good online games out there, but sorting through them for me is too time consuming.  So I just usually leave ’em be.

Today, I took time to regroup for our semester, and I decided we were a little weak on grasping syllable division.  We have already used up our worbook pages on syllables in Explode the Code and other printed resources that I found online for free in the past.  And I didn’t want to sign up to become a member of anything to get more practice worksheets, but in searching I came across this site with free site with fun stuff!

In case you think your students are weak on syllable division, too, you may want to check out http://www.vocabulary.co.il/syllables/ .

I only did the syllable games.  I looked at K-2 and 3-5.  Some games had 4 words and some had 8.  Eight words doesn’t sound like many, but it was enough in one game!  I played a few games of eight words, and it was just right.  The words are fairly challenging, and you can click on the hints to give you the rules for dividing up the words to help you.  I got stumped on “liq-uid” and had to look it up to make sure they were correct.  They were.

Any favorite websites that are free and easy to navigate that you use?

Long Vowel Chart

Although I’m feeling this post should actually be titled “The Learning Curve for Stupid, Ignorant, Non-Savvy Bloggers”, suffice it to say that I finally got a semblance of a table up.  You ought to be able to print it off if you are interested.  It can only go better and more quickly the next time around.  Short vowel sounds and schwas–watch out!  I will eat you alive.

How we use this chart:  When it’s time to learn the long vowels–probably around first semester of first grade–we learn the actual long vowel letters, the sound the vowels make when they’re long, and the sign to show they are long (macron).  Then, I show them the chart and say something like, “The long vowel SOUNDS can be made by other letters and letters all mixed together!  Isn’t that crazy!?  So we will keep working on all the different combinations to make the long vowel sounds in phonics and spelling this year and in the years to come!  But don’t get confused!  A long “a” sound can be made many ways!  Let’s work on a couple.”  Then over the next three years, we layer it all on, as some of the combinations are quite tricky.  Then they’re not thrown for a curve when “ea” says long A sound and long E sound!  And as I go along the letter combinations, I’ll point out what else the combinations can say.  For example, the “ea” also says short e sound as in breakfast!  I don’t linger on it all–I just point it out.  So when we formally study it or they see it in passing, they’re not frustrated and misled.  Sometimes at a good vowel review point, I’ll have them list all the combinations they can think of for each long vowel and write a word for it.  My first grader doesn’t do really well yet.  But she gets the common ones presented in early phonics primers.  My third grader has really blossomed with this this year.  And now, she automatically lumps the words in spelling categories in her head.

Best wishes!

Part 3 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Spelling and Phonics

I have posted a long vowel chart with all the letter combinations I could think of that formed those sounds:  Long Vowel Chart.

Today M1, my third grader, and I did a brief, oral phonics review.  I started with the letter A, and I asked her to tell me all the sounds she could think of that the letter A made and word examples.  Next came B.  Then C.  And so on.  We proceeded through the entire alphabet in this manner.

  • “A says short ‘a’ like cat, long ‘a’ like cake, ‘a’ as in ball…”
  • “B says /b/…”
  • “C says /s/ like city, /k/ cat…”

Some days, we reverse that a bit.  I will say a sound, and she must then list all the letter or letter combinations that can say that sound, giving me word examples.

  •  Me:  “What makes the sound of long A?”
    M1:   “‘A’ as in ‘a’, ‘ay’ as in ‘day’, ‘ea’ as in ‘steak’, ‘eigh’ as in eight, ‘a consonant e’ as in ‘make’,  ‘ai’ as in ‘daisy’, ‘ei’ (veil), and ‘ey’ as in ‘they’, and I can’t remember the rest!”
  • Me:  “How about the sound /h/?”
    M1:  “An ‘h’ as in ‘heat’ and ‘wh’ as in ‘who’.”
  • Me:  “And how about /k/?”
    M1:  “A ‘ck’ as in ‘back’, ‘ch’ as in ‘Christmas’, ‘c’ as in car, and ‘k’ as in kitten.”

About a year ago I decided to embark on my own phonics and spelling curriculum for my daughters.  We had already finished consonants and short vowels.  We had worked through an Abeka first grade phonics primer and supplemented with Explode The Code books.  I had just bought Spelling Workout, and we had started through it.  Well, when we hit long vowel sound a , I just knew I couldn’t take it any longer.  Only one lesson devoted to long vowel sound A.  Only ten words; only two letter combinations , “a_e” and “ai”.  Sure, later in the book, “vowel pairs” were introduced and “ay” was introduced.  But what about “eigh”, “ey”, and “ea”, which all can say long vowel sound A?   Abeka phonics, Explode the Code phonics, and Spelling Workout do not present the letter combinations that can make the vowel sounds together as a group.  They are spaced too far out in sequence and may even be in separate books.  Some consonants make more than one sound (or even two sounds), and the possible sounds were presented in disparate lessons–and maybe only the most common sound was presented. Mary learned “s” says /s/ as in “yes.”  Later on she learned that “s” can say /z/ as in hers.  Certain brains don’t learn this way.  These brains want to know all the ways to do it all at once.  Why not present it this way?  Each curriculum has some great strengths, but they just don’t seem to put it all together.  Not comprehensive and not logically sequential! Or if it’s comprehensive, it’s not logical.  Or if it’s logical, it’s not comprehensive.  That it be logical, sequential, and comprehensive is important to me.

You see, M1’s father, a highly intelligent orthopedic surgeon (basing this biased statement on grades, board scores, and absolute level of smart-alecness), struggled in early elementary language arts.  Hated it.  Struggled with the material.  Struggled with his teachers.  A terrible reader and speller until sixth grade.  Then at 11 years old, his reading miraculously kicked in, escalating him from the absolute lowest reading class to the highest reading class.  He remembers distinctly the feeling of reading all coming together for him.  Spelling, on the other hand, well, it continues to stink!  He doesn’t know the combinations of letters that can come together to make the sounds.  Sure, he knows some, but as his reading skills developed past the point where phonics and spelling were being taught formally, he has huge gaps.  Clearly not in understanding or reasoning.

It seems crazy that, I on the other hand, following the exact same curriculum and having the exact same teachers as my husband, excelled at both reading and spelling.  In fact, I won my school’s fifth grade spelling bee.  I was always in the highest reading classes.  My husband and I attended the exact same elementary school!  We both did great in college and medical school?  What gives?  Why were our elementary language arts experiences so polar opposite?  As M1’s brain seems to follow her father’s brain wave patterns, alarm bells were going off all around me as we struggled through Abeka, Explode the Code, and Spelling Workout.  It wasn’t working for her.  As I searched and learned, I stumbled across Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide.  Lines from her book jumped out at me:

Logical students do not tolerate inconsistent rules.  The smattering of phonics usually given to them is not only unhelpful; it is damaging…But why don’t all students struggle?…Though intuition [in young, learning students] is a great strength, their logical/literal counterparts who are attuned to detail should not be marginalized.  Teaching both [all] sounds right from the beginning allows all students to succeed and prevents student and teacher frustration by eliminating unnecessary exceptions…If they [students] can learn advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, business structures, and even other languages, they can easily learn the 104 pieces that explain English.” (pp 27 and 28, 1st edition)

Aha!  Intuition versus logic.  I am intuitive.  It’ll work out fine.  Brandon is not.  Show me how it will work out fine.

Rather than waste time and money on a new, published curriculum, I decided that with the internet, the books we already owned, and the couple of books I purchased to help me understand phonics, we could master phonics and spelling in a logical, sequential way.  To make sure I wasn’t missing anything due to my independent streak and superiority complex, in addition to Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide, I bought Handy English Encoder Decoder by Harvey Bluedorn.  I read Uncovering the Logic of English from cover to cover right away.  Absolutely wonderful.  It will be my checklist as I continue homeschooling my three children.  My girls will have a great grasp of the English phonics and spelling system if I make sure and hit each point in this book.  I don’t plan to do it in one year.  I plan to layer it in from first grade through probably fifth or sixth grade–unless the child masters it all early.  Layer, layer, layer.  My first grader doesn’t really get it, but as we repeat it each year, I believe she will grasp more each time.  M1, my third grader, seems to be really grasping it.

I continue to use Spelling Workout, Explode the Code, and internet sources for worksheets in each area that we cover.  And I peruse them routinely to make sure I’m not excluding anything I need to cover.  I have Spelling Workout B, and I will not purchase the next books in this series.  However, I did buy all of the Explode the Code books, and I will continue picking and choosing what I need from them throughout the upcoming years.  Although I wish the curriculum was more sequential and grouped topics differently, I really like the lessons and do feel they are pretty comprehensive.  I use the words from the lessons as spelling “tests.”

Let me here point out that I don’t see the point of separating spelling from phonics.  I absolutely see the difference between decoding (reading and phonics) and encoding (spelling), but something in me doesn’t think they should be separated.  However, from my own experience (n=2, this means sample size of 2, which does not really make it a good study!), I clearly see that decoding and early phonics come first.  My first grader is an awesome decoder but not so great encoder–YET.  I firmly believe it is developmental and will come as I feed the machine.  Again, no sources to quote.  Somebody may be able to enlighten me.  I am pleased with my third grader’s interest and progression in spelling and phonics.

In upcoming posts, I will post the tables that I have/am constructing for us to learn from.  We have been hammering the long vowels intermittently for the last year to year and a half.  If you think that’s too long, perhaps you’ve oversimplified long vowels.  The more complicated long vowel spelling patterns she has seen–but we have not focused on.  But when we see a word in a poem or read-aloud, I point out the unique spelling pattern and show it to her on the chart.

And early on, we really liked our set of pretty complete flashcards.  We used those quite a bit last year.  We have one set just for vowels and one set for consonants.  I found once she knew these, she had mastered a lot.

Our phonics/spelling also includes segments in the past and in the future on:  consonants, blends, diphthongs, “r” controlled words, schwa sounds, syllables, some rules, and some etymology (as it applies to helping us understand phonics/spelling).  I will post our summaries in future posts.

Steal the Small Moments: A Fast Craft for Kids


“Can we bake a Christmas cake?”
“Can we make coconut donuts?”
“Can we do a craft?”
“Can I paint my fingernails?”

With the extra decorating, designing and ordering Christmas cards, planning a cookie exchange, choosing photos for our annual calendar, my girls and I haven’t had enough time doing fun Christmas stuff together.  After church today, we had lunch then I tidied up the kitchen.

“Well, look at that!  We have a half-hour before going to see The Living Christmas Tree!”

I chose an impromptu craft, and we went to work.  Within 15 minutes, we’d glued up these cute angels.  Then we had a heck of a time giggling over the results!  Check it out!  I’m so happy I took that time with the girls rather than checking e-mail, calling Mom, or picking up the living room.

wpid-IMAG1788.jpg  Okay, for real.  I’m embarrassed to tell you how to make these because I know you’re thinking, “Hmmm…those are quite the angels…”  But they were fun and super easy.  I’m thinking about having the materials out for our cookie exchange for kids to make if they want.  Instead of using a glue gun, I think glue dots might work.


Missing from photo: glue gun and yarn

3 coffee filters
2 cotton balls
colored ribbon of your choice (we used gold)
pipe cleaner for wings, hook (we used gray)
glue gun or maybe glue dots may work
pipe cleaner for halo (we used yellow)
paint (for eye color, lips, cheeks, eyelashes, and nose)
Optional:  yarn for hair and small cardboard to wrap it around

Step 1:   Place cotton balls inside one filter and gather filter around them.


Step 2:  Insert a second coffee filter inside the first and gather the filters together around the cotton balls to form a head.  Tie off with ribbon.



Step 3:  Fold third coffee filter in half and gather in center to form wings.  Tie off with the pipe cleaner.


Step 4:  Hot glue the wings to the “neck” of the angel.  Form the pipe cleaner into a hook and cut to length desired.


Step 5:  Form the pipe cleaner for the halo in to a circle of desired size.  Snip off the rest.


Step 6:  Hot glue the halo to back of the head.


Step 7:  Put a tiny bit of desired tempera paint colors onto a palette.  We used blue for eyes, black for nose and eyelashes, pink for cheeks, and red for lips.  Use the toothpick to paint onto the faces. Markers and other paints will bleed.


Step 8:  While paint dries (it does so quickly), make the hair if you wish!

Step 9:  Wrap yarn of desired color around about a 4-6 inch piece of cardboard (we used a flashcard) about 10 times (or more or less depending on how thick you want the hair) and cut.


Step 10:  Snip about a 4-6 inch piece of the yarn and use it to gather all the yarn on the board together in the center.  Tie a knot.


Step 11:  Slip the yarn off of the board.   Cut the yarn opposite of the string used to tie it all off.


Step 12:  Hot glue hair to angel.


Inspiration:  Kaboose (http://www.kaboose.com/)

P.S.  Glitter on the skirts would be beautiful!

My kids are ages 8, 7, and 3.  These angels take us about 15-30 minutes–depending on how particular we are

Have a good one!


Part 2 of “Our Third Grade Curriculum”: Grammar

Although neglected for five years of pharmacy school, four years of medical school, three years of residency, and six years of my medical career, grammar was a favorite subject of mine in high school.  I loved punctuation and how moving a comma or adding a colon or pushing in a hyphen changed the feeling of a sentence.  So sad to say my grammar wasted away with disuse.  Oh, well.  I’ll live vicariously through my children’s education!  Ha!

Our choice for grammar has been Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 with accompanying Daily Grams Student Workbook-Grade 3 (with the answer key) to complement it by Wanda C. Phillips .  What do I love about this program?  Two things:
1.  It’s concise.  Short.  Brief.  And doesn’t take M1, my daughter, forever to complete!  Like maybe 10-15 minutes tops!
2.  The worksheets are cumulative, reminding me of Saxon math.

Let me break it down just a bit:

Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 textbook:   Presents the grammar lesson and gives practice problems focused on that particular lesson.  It also has teaching tips and the answers.

Daily Grams Student Workbook-Grade 3:  Compiled only of 180 brief (about 5 questions per page) cumulative worksheets reviewing the material of The Easy Grammar:  Grade 3 text.  The worksheets cumulatively review the material from the Easy Grammar textbook.  Conveniently, the Daily Grams also provide brief grammatical rule summaries in case she has happened to forget the particular grammar lesson from the textbook.  Sometimes we’ll do a couple worksheets in a day, skipping the questions she absolutely knows.

How does M1 like it?  Her words:  “Grammar is easy!”  Yippee!!

The program focuses mostly on “the rules” of grammar summarized in a very brief fashion.  There is little to no creative writing, although in the Daily Grams there are daily exercises where the student combines two sentences of varying lengths and types.  I don’t mind the lack of creative writing because we supplement Easy Grammar with our own writing exercises.  Oh, boy that sounds great!  “Writing exercises”.  Ha!  What I mean is we write either a letter or a short story once a week.  And since my daughter dislikes the physical act of handwriting, these are typically 3-4 sentences long.  But it’s enough to reinforce her grammar textbook’s information.

I feel teaching grammar an integral part of my curriculum at this age and have not considered leaving it out.  However, I have one homeschooling friend who is an editor.  She still has not started formal grammar for her 4th grade son.  She feels it can wait until he actively pursues creative writing over the next year or two.  But she’s an editor.  I’m a doctor.  I don’t teach formal science yet in my curriculum probably for the same reason she doesn’t actively teach a section on grammar.  I just promote curiosity and reinforce math and reading, skills necessary to excel in science, and teach a little science here and there as the opportunity arises in our learning.  But, I have to brush up on the grammar!  So I’m not able to remember and point out “imperative” sentences and comma rules like my friend can on a whim!

Easy Grammar works for us, and I’m glad to have stumbled onto it by the recommendation of a fellow homeschooling mom (not the editor–a piano teacher).

My Parenting Mission Statement

To raise daughters who are physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. 

I want them healthy.  Inside and out.  It’s my job.  I want them at peace with who they are, where they came from, and what they have (and don’t have).  I don’t want to raise lost souls wandering without aim.