Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ask And Thou Shall Receive!

Here's an email I received today from a reader:

Hi, I have read most of your homeschooling posts. I am so amazed at your teaching capabilities and at your children's ability to grasp everything and do so well. Really, is it your kids who are super smart or do you really think any reasonably intelligent kid can perform at this level? How do you do it? Can you write a post on how you structure their day/do they never complain/ask to watch TV etc? Your son's blog posts are unbelievable. He is not even 6!!!

My son is in Kindergarten. His preschool teacher and another professional who did an evaluation said his cognitive abilities are way above his age level and in language testing for his school he tested as advanced for his age. I don't really feel the difference - but I do know he is pretty smart and he is very curious and loves to learn and thinks a lot about the things he reads about. When I see your posts I feel like I am not doing enough to nurture my son's capabilities. He may not be able to do as much as your kids have but reading your posts makes me feel like he could certainly do more. For example he reads level 2 books comfortably but if I bring him a magic tree house books (which we have read to him for a year now) he would prefer that I read it to him saying "it has too many words". I don't want to force him to read if he is not keen on reading it on his own. But I know he can do it. I have a daughter who is almost 3.5 yrs old. Your daughter is also so ahead of most kids her age.

Anyway - if you don't mind please do give me some tips or write a post on how you discipline them w/out them feeling scared or stifled as children to do so much academic work.

Okay. There are a lot of good questions in there.

Are my kids *super smart*?

I really don't know. But what I do know, is that I do many things that no other parents I have met do.

First off, increasingly my advice to EVERYONE is to eliminate color TV - eliminate it almost completely. Even an hour or 30 minutes a day, I now firmly believe, does irreparable harm to nascent brains.

I know full well how hard it is for a parent to give up this sedative crutch. Dinner needs to be cooked; phone calls need to be made; the days can be darn long for parents of young children; and losing *outside* in the winter-time is a damn tough void to fill. After all, the brats are up 14 hours a day!

But still, the TV needs to go. (BTW, *educational television* is an oxymoron in my book.)

It's going to be tough to pull this off if Mom and Dad sit in the living room everyday and stare at the idiot box themselves. I only watch television in my bed, late at night, far out of sight from impressionable children; and when they come into my bedroom in the wee hours I immediately turn it off - like I'm a teenager sneaking a drag! Our living room television NEVER gets used. When someone comes over, namely Grandpa, and puts the ballgame on....I turn it off right away and tell him to play with or read to his precious grandkids. My kids are now at the point where they think people who watch TV all day are practically diseased. They call their grandmother, the MIL who lives with us, they call her *TV-head*!

Once the TV and the video game player are gone....kids' imaginations will percolate naturally and seek an outlet. I remember reading about some homeschool mother who couldn't get her kids to read until they went on a *around-the-world* sail. Eventually, on the boat and bored out of their minds, the kids picked up those dusty books and magically morphed into voracious readers.

Look, I don't blame your son for not wanting to read those Magic Tree House books by himself - they are brutal!

In fact, my wife has been long dreading having to read them to our daughter.

If memory serves me, most of those books my son read along with his mother. (I co-read a few at the end.) I believe she coerced some reading out of him as he was prone to offer the exact same rebellion. I think she made him read a paragraph here and there, and then the first page of each chapter or something. That was the deal, if he wanted to be read to that night...

Having bashed the books, I must say my son absolutely loved them. They are a great intro to history, science, biography, and geography. Click here to read the post I wrote on them last year.

One thought on reading to your child...

I've heard homeschoolers who are really into reading (Charlotte Mason-types) say that while it's important for a child to read to and along with a parent, it's also important to have some books that are strictly read to them - even up through advanced ages like 14.

So what you could do is read a few books at a time, and stagger the reading levels. Have some easy stuff that he should read on his own; then the intermediate level material like the Tree House series; and a higher tier of books that you read to him without any pressure for him to help out. For that last group I suggest the Great Illustrated Classics: Ben Hur, Robin Hood, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, etc. All libraries have them.

And for the easier stuff that you want your son to be totally self-propelled in I suggest looking at the goofier books. My son loves the graphic novels more than anything; he simply devours them in single sittings. And I think what really got him into those were the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

Mostly just keep your eyes peeled (after you have removed the tele-mind-poison!) for whatever seems to pique his interest. Once you find it, start reading the book and then procrastinate finishing it. This will cultivate his desire to discover the ending and read it himself! I believe this momentous event happened with my son in the Andrew Lost series.

Okay, so how do I structure my day?

After breakfast, always stay at the table for *seatwork*. If they tire, tell them to go get dressed and take a 15 minute break. Use the timer; be strict. At this point, my kids just think it completely normal to do workbooks every single day. Yeah, all summer, and Saturdays and Sundays included! We even do work in the morning when out at beach houses, when house-guests, on ferry boats, on park picnic tables, and in the backseat of our car. Everything might be a deal - if you want to go to the park...you must do X pages of this workbook. You can have dessert AFTER you finish your *work*. Read my guest post for more on my *work, work, work* philosophy.

I guess when I look back, my daily edu-structure was to start early, taking breaks all morning long for dressing, LEGOS, outside time, lunch, drawing, computer time, etc., with the end goal of being done by 3pm.  At that time, I would generally take my kids to the playground for 2-3 hours (or the pool in the summer).

My kids are older now and involved in many organized activities so a somewhat variable schedule dictates when we do our work. But mainly it's still done in the AM.

For a schooled child, family reading at night, which you obviously do, is a no-brainer. If there's an opening for additional work, I'm guessing it's on the weekends and those vacation-type days.

I say just do 15-20 minutes for starters on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Once the regimen is in place, it's fairly easy to ramp it up.

Of course, most all kids will push back; they are simply testing the parents. In that case Mom and Dad have to take away something. I know very few parents who actually mean *no* when they say it, very few who follow through on threats to 3,4,5, and 17 year olds. I am most certainly not that person. I am as strict as they come. And yeah, I do smack them here and there for emphasis.

And I completely understand that the last thing a working parent wants to do at night is come home and discipline a child....but sometimes often that needs to be done, sternly.

It's amazing how smart these kids are. Mine give my wife such a hard time for things they WOULDN'T dare try on me. But she's soft, Italian, works 12 hours a day, and is *their mother*. As I type this I just had to go up and stop my daughter from screaming her head off after my first wife put her to bed. The second I opened her door and she saw me the ducts went dry and she laid down. I deadpanned:

"If you don't stop crying right now, I'm going to take away your night-light and your radio..."

My wife simply does not demand or command that type of respect.

As my kids have gotten older, they've learned not to mess with my *if-then* threats and have become far better behaved - particularly my son. That's the hard part about 3 year olds....they just don't comprehend threats yet!

I am by no means a sage Greek god or anything - heck I've only been a parent for 6 years. Pretty much all I do differently is more work, more discipline, more one-on-one instruction, far less TV, and far less scurrying around. Oh yeah, and I do a whole lot of computer-based stuff with them. I've yet to meet anyone else who utilizes the PC even a fraction as much for learning as we do here. Definitely keep that in mind.

One question from the email I haven't answered yet:

Really, is it your kids who are super smart or do you really think any reasonably intelligent kid can perform at this level?

First of all, let me say that the 5.99 year old Prince is incredibly slow and lazy! There are a host of things he doesn't do well at all - probably a good subject for a future post.

I hear it, and sense it, all the time - that my child is an aberration. "He's C-Nut's son, so of course he's a genius."

Those would-be geneticists need to meet my father....(sorry, Dad!)

Heck even my own mother, who's well aware of how much time we spend personally educating our kids, has remarked, "I think he (the Prince) is just really, really smart."

I can't tell you how much that comment infuriated me and my wife - if only for a year or two. Note my mother is a government school teacher, so no one who's paying attention a little bit should be surprised.

There are many reasons I publicize my children's educational progress. Sure I'm proud of them, and of myself, but to infer mere boasting would be erroneous.  I believe in homeschooling so much and disbelieve in age-graded, curriculum-bound government schools so much more that by sharing our experiences and successes in this space I hope my posting will inspire others.

Can other kids do what mine are doing?

They most certainly can - and go far beyond!

See my posts on these two important books - books that dovetail perfectly with my everyday edu-regimen:

Outliers - A Must Read

Book Rec - Talent Is Over-rated

One final note - because I could go on forever(!) - reading is important but there are plenty of other fun and effective ways you can supplement your son's education.

Of course there's art and music. Does he like to build? Everyone knows about LEGOS, but there's also Knex and Erector Sets. And my son absolutely loves Snap Circuits.

The term *afterschoolers* describes parents who try to supplement school work on their own. In fact I know a guy who tried to formalize this endeavor with his daughter, for years. It simply doesn't work - for a variety of reasons. And this guy has since pulled his daughter out of the system entirely.


Taylor Conant said...

This is without a doubt, and without engaging in overstatement, one of your best, most instructive posts ever. It's a good summary of some of the techniques and strategies you've mentioned in other posts and therefore it's extremely useful for being a "synthesizer" of the disparate parts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post answering my questions. I will write more after reading it a couple of times. But I wanted to thank you immediately for such a detailed and useful post. I don't know if I have the courage or the dedication it takes to home school two children but you certainly inspire me to do more rather than sit smugly and just be content. It is very nice of you to share all that you do and help people who are interested in nurturing their children in every way. More comments to follow later.

Anne Galivan said...

I will just say one thing:

I have had the same comments from people in regards to my children "just being smart."

Yes, my children are intelligent. So am I. I am not going to project some kind of false modesty. My daughter has often said that I am the closest thing to a genius that she has ever met. I am a frickin Einstein. :)

HOWEVER, and this is a big however (which is why I used all caps) - I believe other home-schoolers who say that to me are simply making excuses for the fact that they don't want to make the effort with their kids.

Now, I am talking here about other home-schoolers. Don't get me started on those who choose not to home-school and all their excuses.

But that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about fellow home-schoolers who make excuses for not teaching algebra to their kids. My kids do Pre-algebra in seventh grade, Algebra I in eighth grade, Algebra II in ninth grade and Advanced Math (trig and pre-calc) in tenth grade. At that point they are ready for College Algebra which they take in eleventh grade at the community college (and ace it by the way).

This may not compare to what your kids are doing CNut (i.e. you've got a six-year old doing algebra) but believe it or not there are home-schoolers who don't even require their kids to do algebra. For heaven's sake if it's not your strength - hire a tutor!!!

So because I require my children to excel, because I don't make excuses, that means they are "brainiacs" (as someone said to me once). No it doesn't. It simply means I expect them to take on challenges and excel because I know they are capable. So are most kids. But as I've said before, our kids generally live up to our expectations. Unfortunately, most parents are too busy with their own activities that they "need" to engage in because they are so "stressed" to actually parent their kids. They don't expect anything more than the anti-social, hyper-sexualized, animalistic behavior that is typical today.

Anonymous said...


Excellent stuff.

I have been using some of the websites you suggested in earlier posts for my 3.5 yr princess but they have been focusing on letters and the alphabet. Any suggestions on a website for numbers? Also how did you overcome the issue with holding the pencil correctly. My daughter gets real frustrated when i attempt to correct her but it is hampering her ability to write and trace the letters. This is real informative and your experience is really helping me with my daughter.


CaptiousNut said...


Oh, the pen holding....that brings back unpleasant memories.

The kids do seem intractable on this one. My son gripped too tightly and his hands tired (and sweated). But I think my daughter was much better - though I can't quite remember.

This one I think they just have to figure out on their own. Mostly they have to just loosen the grip and slid the fingers down. Sorry I don't really have any help on this one.

Nor do I have much help to offer for introductory math online. But I am in the process of researching that particular question for my new site. There's got be some good interactive sites out there, I would think.

At 3.5 you're still firmly in the *counting* stage. So just keep counting everything vocally and with objects. Math is inherently theoretical so it's the goal of a teacher to make it real. My kids have to say "six plus six equals twelve" OUTLOUD, every single time - as opposed to just writing the answer down silently and moving on.

Backwards counting is important to for subtraction. Start with 3-2-1, then 5-4-3-2-1, then from 10, etc. - and make sure you use your fingers and have them right in front of her face as you fold them down. I still count all the time with my kids - skip counting fractions and negative numbers with my son and finger-counting with my daughter: "Show me 7 fingers....now take away two. So 7 minus 2 =...", etc. The math facts have to burn in before moving on to geometry and pre-algebra.

Mastering arithmetic (through grade 6) is nothing more than *owning* the number line and the operations: +, - , /, *. The more I think of it and teach it, the simpler it seems.

Kfell, I assume you have her typing on the computer, right?

CaptiousNut said...


I heard a homeschool mother just the other day tell someone else that she was not going to homeschool *high school* because it was *just too much work*.

I don't quite know what to make of that.

Everything in this world worth doing requires *work*.

And like you said, HIRE A TUTOR!

Personally, I don't think there's a high school out there, that I can afford, that will meet the needs of my kids when they are 14. So I can't at all envision them going to a high school. At 14 they need to be working to pay my country club dues!

I could only imagine a public vocational, technical, or fine arts high school.

Anne Galivan said...

The fact is, if you're doing it right, homeschooling in high school is incredibly easy because your kids should be doing 95% (at least) of the work independently.

Granted, I was a little intimidated homeschooling my first child through high school...but I still did it. Now I can do it with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back.

P.S. Remember I told you a couple of weeks ago about how my oldest son was "paid" to go to college because of his high academics? One of the things that money went to was his membership at the golf course down the street (that he's been playing at since he was 13).

Anonymous said...

in the music realm, we have enjoyed the classic composers in story form for kids, such as http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Lives-Upstairs-Barbara-Nichol/dp/B00000212L/ref=sr_1_7?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1290045452&sr=1-7

and quite a few others like it. This would usually be bedtime listening. My son is now a jazz man, but he can recognize an amazing amount of classical stuff. If classical isn't your own favorite, this is a soothing way to introduce it to them.


CaptiousNut said...


Just reserved the CD at my government library. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Check out Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis two men with the blues if your son likes Jazz. Great album.