How to Nurture Young Readers

Reading books opens a world of knowledge, inspiration, and moral guideposts. But learning to read is hard, and reading seldom offers the immediate and continual dopamine rewards that various sorts of screen time promise. What can parents do to help their children develop the cognitive skills to read as well as a love of reading?

Lindsay Journo and Cornelia Lockitch offer an excellent introduction to the topic in their newly released talk (actually recorded last year), “Nurturing the Reader in Every Child.”

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Magformers Promote Spacial Reasoning

My kid loves Magformers, plastic shapes with magnets embedded. He plays with them as toys; I appreciate them because they promote spacial reasoning. You can build squares into cubes, triangles into pyramids, and combined shapes into many complex 3D figures.

They are a bit expensive. I got lucky and bought multiple sets from a family off of CraigsList. One of the sets we got has specialized shapes for building dinosaurs. My son enjoys building the dinosaurs but I don’t consider those packs essential. (Magformers offers many other sorts of packs that can get quite expensive.) If I were going to buy sets new, I’d go with a basic starter pack plus perhaps a gear pack.

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Perler Beads Offer an Inexpensive Way to Visualize Large Numbers

As adults, digit placement is second nature: ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. It’s easy to forget that the way we now use numbers was an important cultural invention. And it’s easy to forget how hard it was to learn digits as a child. One of my biggest surprises as a homeschooling dad of a kindergarten-age child has been seeing what a conceptual leap it is to grasp digit placement. It helps enormously for kids to see visually what we’re talking about.

Of course it’s easy to make groupings of ten coins or whatever. I’ve used wooden cube blocks to illustrate two-digit numbers. But doing ten stacks of ten, and then ten stacks of a hundred, can be a challenge. That’s where Perler beads and pegboards come in. You can get a large set for around thirty bucks and then iron together sets of ten and a hundred. (Or you can save some effort and spend over a hundred bucks on Montessori “golden beads” if you prefer.) You can also do art projects with the Perler beads if you’re so inclined.

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A Pocket LED Microscope Is an Amazing Learning Tool

The Carson LED pocket microscope is, for the money (less than $14), the single-best science tool I’ve purchased (available on Amazon). After using a clunky old microscope with a mirror, the new microscope is a dream. I popped in a AA battery to power the light and immediately got great results. It “only” offers 120x magnification, but for kid use it’s perfect. Plus it’s cheap enough that I won’t worry about it getting broken, so it will be great for backyard and camping use.

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Brain Quest Workbooks Make Great Supplements

If you’re looking for ridiculously cheap supplementary materials for your home preK–6 curriculum, check out the Brain Quest workbooks. Honestly I don’t know how they sell these lengthy (some over 300 pages), full-color (and printed in the U.S.) workbooks so cheaply—obviously mass printings help. And my five-year-old enjoys working in them. If you use these at all, for the money, you can’t possibly go wrong.

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Fun with Magnets and Electricity

Magnetism and electricity are strange and amazing forces. How can one object act on another object at a distance without any apparent intermediary contact? If I blow a piece of paper, I act on the paper via the breeze I create. But magnets do surprising and nonintuitive things. Although young children are not ready for the full theoretical basis of electromagnetism (I’m not even ready for the full basis), with some basic supplies they can explore how magnets and electricity operate in the world.

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Franny K. Stein’s Warning to Overstressed Families

What happens when children and their parents overstress themselves with activities? Grandparents gave us a book that my child loved and that, once my wife explained the story (she’d read the book to our child), I had to read too. The book is from the Franny K. Stein series (which I’d never heard of); the title in question is The Fran with Four Brains. It’s about one stressed out little girl.

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A Spontaneous Lesson on Dimensions

I was working with my five-year-old in Dimensions math, and we came across an exercise that asks the students to circle all of the circles shown. Some of the shapes represent cylinders; one represents a football. Obviously the top and bottom of a cylinder are circles. But what about a football? This led to an interesting discussion about dimensions.

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Dads Homeschool Too

Most parents who take lead on homeschooling their children are moms. That’s fine, but sometimes the dads are overlooked. Although I’ve never met another dad who takes lead on homeschooling, as I do, I know such dads are out there.

Many homeschooling groups on social media are dominated by women, so much so that the presumption sometimes seems to be that only women participate. I regularly run across messages addressed to “Mamas” and invitations to events for “moms.” I’m not complaining. But I would like to gently encourage homeschooling moms to remember that some of us are homeschooling dads—and to encourage the dads to actively participate.

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Watching ‘Class Dismissed’

The 2015 documentary, Class Dismissed, covers the basics of homeschooling in theory and practice. My wife and I recently watched and enjoyed the film, and I would recommend it especially to people first thinking about homeschooling, new to it, or struggling with it.

The film follows one main family as the “grumpy and overworked” kids withdraw from school and the family seeks to homeschool. They struggle with it, and we watch how they change tactics over time. The film spends less time, but important time, with several other homeschooling families.

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