Monday, August 15, 2011

Level Up

I discovered something a few weeks ago that made me very happy, fulfilled and increased my confidence at homeschooling my son.

When my son was more than a year old, I bought him a book about his favo
rite movie Cars. He loved the movie so much as soon as he saw it with me and his Dad; that there were times when he’d watch it every day and if we’d give in, he will watch it twice a day. I thought that it would be unhealthy for him to spend so much time watching television so I thought of ways to channel his interest to other things. That led me to my search for books that are related or about his favorite movie. Thank God, I found many books about it. It was also then that I discovered for the first time the different reading levels; because the book that I bought my son had a classification of Step 1 or Level 1. I was glad to discover that there are books made after popular cartoons or movies and were made to fit the different reading levels of children to help them read and appreciate reading slowly but surely. Whoever thought of these great ideas are geniuses and big blessings not only to children but to parents and teachers as well. Let me share with you their definitions per Step or Level.

According to th
e book introduction, there are 5 Steps to reading success. Their goal is to take the child into an exciting reading journey where they will end up as independent and confident readers.

STEP 1: Ready to Read (Preschool-Kindergarten) The books are characterized by big type and easy words, rhyme and rhythm and picture clues. This is for children who know the alphabet and are eager to begin reading.

STEP 2: Reading with Help (Preschool-Grade 1) The books are characterized by basic vocabulary, short sentences and simple stories. This is for children who recognize familiar words and sound out new words with help.

STEP 3: Reading on Your Own (Grade 1-3) The books have engaging characters, easy-to-follow plots and popular topics. This is for children who are ready to read on their own.

STEP 4: Reading Paragraphs (Grade 2-3) The books are characterized by challenging vocabulary, short paragraphs and exciting stories. This is for newly independent readers who read simple sentences with confidence.

STEP 5: Ready for Chapters (Grade 2-4) The books are characterized by chapters, longer paragraphs and full-color art. This is for children who want to take the plunge into chapter books but still like colourful pictures.

The introduction portion of the books says that the grade levels are only guides and that children can progress through the steps at their own speed, developing confidence in their reading, regardless of grade or level.

The book on Cars I bought my son was entitled Old, New,
Red, Blue and classified as Step 1, Ready to Read. The book was an instant hit for my son. Well, for one, it was about his favorite movie and it talked about the characters in the movie which he was very familiar with. It was also right for his level at that time because he was just starting to recognize the letters of the alphabet then but he was very eager to read books. Actually, he loved books since he was a baby. He was still a bit clumsy in handling the pages. I didn’t mind much though; for what was important to me was that he loved books, he loved reading and he found it a very interesting and stimulating activity. Soon, by the time he was one year and a half, he has mastered the letters of the alphabet and has learned to handle book pages better. At age two, he started reading a few words almost every week. And this Step 1 book has been a great help to him and me as his teacher.

I have bought him more books to give him a variety of books to choose from for his reading time. I thought that it would still be long before he would move to the next level because I felt that he was still very young, he was still a baby. But I was wrong. My son learned to read quite fast for his age and I already lost count of the number of words he has learned to read and spell. He’s only two years old and nine months as of this writing but he recognizes many words already at this stage. He still enjoys being read to by me or by his Dad but he already reads his books on his own.

A few weeks ago, I saw and heard him read his Step 1 Cars book on his own inside our bedroom. I was amazed at how good he was at reading and turning the pages of his little book. I tested him if he simply memorized the words in the book or if he truly recognized the words. I asked him to point at some of the words and use his finger to point as he reads. He was able to do so with ease! He was really reading his book!

That was when I was moved to review the definitions for the different steps or levels in reading. I felt that he was ready to move to the next. Then, I discovered that my son has not only moved up one step or level but he has moved or advanced two steps/levels up! Wow! I should buy him the Step 2 and Step 3 books then for this series.

Last April, his developmental pediatrician told me that I should already give him activities and lessons fit for Kindergarten students because he’s quite fast or advanced for his age. He was only two and a half years old then. A little more than three months later, he is already
at Grade 1 level of reading. I was elated!

I was hesitant at first to try homeschooling my son especially that he’s gifted because I felt that I’m incompetent and inadequate. I didn’t have an education background and I felt that I don’t have the patience to teach very young children. I was afraid that I would not be able to provide him with enough stimulation fit for his age and intelligence. But discoveries and victories like this one encourage and motivate me to go on homeschooling my son. I felt proud not only of what he has accomplished but also of what I was able to teach him in the past months. I felt good and happy that I was able to teach my son this valuable skill – reading.

I thank God for the people he has sent my way to introduce the concept of homeschooling to me and to give me confidence and tips on how to do it. I’m still very new at it and very much finding my way through this maze but every little accomplishment and progress that my son and I make increases my determination to learn and grow with him. This morning, I also realized further what a great blessing homeschooling is.

I remember when I was in elementary and high school. There were a lot of times when I would tune out from listening to my teachers because I was getting bored with the topi
cs being discussed. Like my son, I was a fast reader and I like devouring my books. When my parents buy or get me my complete set of books during the summer right after enrollment, I read them all from cover to cover. That’s why, during the year, I’m already familiar with some of the topics discussed. So when they are discussed lengthily or repeatedly by the teacher, I already get bored. And when I was bored, I did many crazy things.

I would daydream while looking out of the window or at something inside the classroom. I would doodle, sketch or draw in my notebook. And my subject could be anything that enters my mind, which could include any of my classmates or my teachers. I would try to notice odd or funny things about my teachers. I would chat with my seatmate or seatmates either about the teacher or about anything that I find interesting or amusing. Sometimes, I would resent my classmates whom I felt were the reasons why our teacher took so long to move to the next lesson.

There were times when my teacher would notice that I was not paying attention or talking to my seatmate and would call my attention but I would usually escape from being scolded because I would make it appear that I had a question or insight about the topic being discussed. As I said, I already knew usually what she was talking about. Hence I would lie so that my teacher would not get angry with me and I would not be humiliated.
I also enjoyed sharing my amusing thoughts and discoveries about the odd and funny things I noticed about my teachers during break times. My classmates and I would make fun of our teachers and we would even imitate them emphasizing their funny or odd mannerisms. We would sometimes roll and cry with laughter. We thought it was so much fun laughing at them.

Looking back, I realized that it wasn’t really funny. I realized that it wasn’t right at all to lie and pretend that I was listening. My teachers did not notice that I was not really listening because it didn’t show in my grades. Deep inside though, I knew that I lied. Deep inside I knew that I was not showing respect to my teacher and that in a lot of ways, I was distracting my fellow students from focusing on the lessons being taught. I knew it wasn’t right to pick on other people and to make fun of them. However, I still did it and sometimes led my classmates in noticing these things in our teachers. I knew that I should have compassion for my classmates who had difficulty grasping the lessons being taught and that it was not enough reason to resent them simply because I was bored. As a mother and a more mature person, I realized that those teachers deserved my utmost respect, no matter how strange or odd their ways may be because they made a lot of sacrifices just to teach and grow young minds. Making fun of them and highlighting their mistakes or strange mannerisms was not really funny. I realized that I should have been more helpful and compassionate to my classmates although there were also times that I helped out some of them with their assignments.

Having these thoughts made me realize how blessed my son is now to be home-schooled. He can move up from one step or level to another without being limited by a group of classmates. He can stay and master a certain level at his own pace without being pressured to move up with everyone else. He doesn’t need to put up with lessons he already know or has mastered simply because the lesson plan dictates that it is discussed this number of times before the teacher moves to the next lesson. He doesn’t need to go through the same crazy things I went through because of boredom.

It makes me shiver just thinking that my own son could probably do the same things I did if he is in a traditional school. I don’t want him to go through that. I don’t want him to lie, show disrespect for his teachers, make fun of other people or waste his time being unproductive. I don’t want him to resort to these things because they might develop into habits once he discovered that he can wing it. Once they become bad habits, they could be very hard to break. I know this to be true because I carried some of these habits until I was in college. I tried to wing some of my subjects even when I was already studying at the University of the Philippines. Sometimes I would skip classes or I would be physically present but mentally absent. There were a lot of times that my parents and teachers did not notice that I wasn’t studying hard because my grades were still high. But something more important was deteriorating and that was my character. I was cramming most of the time for exams. Wasting my time has become a bad habit. I became proud that I didn’t have to study much and still get good grades. It took a lot of pruning from God for me to shape up and learn to become more responsible. Thank God, I learned my lessons; though I learned some the hard way.

This is one thing I like the most about homeschooling. It can help me shape my son’s character a lot, if not better. I can teach him positive alternatives if he eventually gets bored. I can tell him to simply be honest with me if he wants to talk about a different topic or he wants us to change our activity because I can be flexible and I’m not his teacher only, I’m his Mom and friend. More than the flexibility and freedom that homeschooling offers, I like that it gives me and my son a different kind of bonding that we might not have if he had a different teacher at this age and time of his life. I love it that we can get creative on how to learn new things or master old lessons and that we are not stuck to a certain way or method that doesn’t fit his or my personality or learning style. I love it that we can make learning fun and that I and his Dad can journey with him as he goes through this wonderful adventure of growing and learning.

So, these past weeks, not only did my little boy level up from one reading level to another; but I also grew in appreciation of homeschooling. In a way, I also moved from one level to another. Praise God for these discovery and wonderful insights!

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