kitchen table math, the sequel: michellem needs tips!

Monday, August 3, 2009

michellem needs tips!

MichelleM said...
Hi there. I love this blog, I've been reading for a few months.

I'm a mom of a very bright kindergartner, he starts this week. The good news is his school uses Saxon Math curriculum.

I'm wondering if the wise posters of Kitchen Table Math have tips for the moms of kids just starting their elementary schooling adventure.

Thanks so much.

well, can we distill anything down for someone just entering the school system? Other than Abandon All Hope, of course :)


VickyS said...

Michelle, you're very lucky to have Saxon, compared to what else is lurking out there!

My tip is: trust your kid. Kids are born to like school. If they don't, if they are depressed, or feeling down-trodden, or being bullied or bored, don't stay and fight, take a hike.

ElizabethB said...

If he is going to get sight words, teach them phonetically at home.

The more sight words, the more time you need to spend at home working on phonics and the habit of sounding out every word from L to R.

Most schools teach sight words, I've only lived in one public school district that did not. Most Catholic schools don't, and the Protestant schools are a mix.

Here's my how to teach a young child to read instructions:

with a link to a fun game that is really helpful if the school is going to teach sight words--it makes both real and nonsense words, nonsense words are helpful for breaking and avoiding sight word guessing habits.

Anonymous said...

Yes, grab a copy of The Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

Another good one that lays out what you should expect from your school year by year is William Bennett's The Educated Child.

Both books will help you analyze gaps in your school's performance. They also have invaluable tips.

Do not be afraid to hire tutors or to after-school. There are tons of homeschooling sites. Do not let teachers or other parents intimidate you.

Be prepared to teach your child grammar and spelling if your school isn't doing so. Be prepared to teach it if your school is doing it in a hodge- podge way.

It sounds like you have a pretty good school if they're actually using Saxon.

Good luck.


SteveH said...

Saxon Math is a very good sign, but I would still advise you to trust your own judgment. KTM is a very good site for information on all subjects, not just math. I don't have any problems with math, but I've learned a lot here about many other subjects.

Don't assume that everything is fine if your son gets good grades. You need to apply your own judgment and any external, absolute criteria you might want to use. Teach at home or hire tutors if necessary.

My wife and I try to make sure that our son is always ahead. This can be done in many ways. Our son was and is a sponge for knowledge. We just do our best to feed him with real knowledge and skills, not play-time learning.

I would also say that we have micro-managed his schooling; every day and every assignment. This has gotten less over the years, but he knows that we will always check if necessary. He now sees himself as a top student and he is motivated to stay that way.

RMD said...

I'm a HUGE fan of Blend Phonics to help make sure kids know how to decode Left to Right.

It's very easy, and free!

Look here:

One more thought: I believe in making my kids "bulletproof". In other words, no matter how bad the instruction they receive at school, they should still be able to achieve.

Anonymous said...


Funnix Reading by Siegfried Engelmann.

Abacus- Mental Math like "ALOHA Abacus"

palisadesk said...

A great line from a parent activist on another forum is this one:
"I homeschool, and use the public school for daycare."

A lot of wisdom embedded there. Assume nothing and be prepared to "do it yourself." On the other hand, many (not all) schools provide excellent opportunities for developing entry-level skills and interests in art, music, various sports, drama and so on. The academic program is usually the weakest link.

If your son is quite bright, he is at risk of never meeting appropriate challenge or being required to develop good work habits (the required work will be well below the level he can achieve with ease, needing little focused concentration or frustration tolerance, and minimal planning, organization or long-term follow through).

When I taught the gifted program, one depressing statistic I recall is that less than 1% of the instructional time a gifted student spends in class is in his appropriate learning zone. "Gufted" and/or "enrichment" programs, while they attempt to address this, often end up being merely edutainment: cute projects, simulations, field trips, and other activities that are often engaging but do not necessarily stretch the students' cognitive capacity nor extend their knowledge base or skill levels in fundamental and important subjects. Teachers in the gifted program I was in were specifically forbidden (behind closed doors of course) from tackling work "above grade level." No advancement allowed.

MichelleM said...

Thank you all for your comments and tips! I really appreciate them.

I guess I just wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy for wanting to continue with his learning at home as well. I've looked into Afterschooling after reading about it here and I think that's what we'll be doing. My son attended Pre-K last year but he learned to read at home with me. We did Leapfrog videos and Hooked on Phonics Kindergarten reading as well as using other phonics reader books. I'll continue advancing him through the reading programs. He's been spelling off the 1st grade spelling list from his school (since they don't provide one for kindergarten) for months. I'm afraid he won't be challenged at school but I'll keep up the learning at home.

I appreciate all the links, thank you! I have looked at Don Potter and Blend Phonics and will continue. We do need to work on nonsense words.

I like the last line about homeschooling/daycare. My husband and I both work full time so homeschooling is not an option. Plus I'm sure my son will pass me in math in the elementary years. :-)

I also agree with what RMD said, about children being bulletproof. I want my son to be prepared and be above grade level whenever possible. We've thought he may fall into the gifted category but don't know for sure. He's one of the "young kindergartners" because he's not even 5 yet, so I believe starting him this year is better for him because he would be completely ahead of the class if he were starting next year.

The Educated Child is on it's way to me. We do the E.D. Hirsh What Your...Needs to Know books as well. Well Trained Mind is next on my order list.

Thanks for all the tips and suggestions, I will look into them all!

Cranberry said...

Learn as much as you can about your school district. Look up the reports from the body (-ies) which provide its accreditation. Pay particular attention to any areas in need of improvement. Has the district improved in the years since the report was released? Your local library should have the report. You can also FOIA a copy (freedom of information act), should the district not have a copy.

What is the standard progression for bright students in your district? Are there any prerequisites for certain high schools, for example. How many of the children who enter kindergarten in your district later attend the high school?

If your child is gifted, it may be difficult to keep him interested in school. Investigate opportunities to skip him ahead, if possible. If your school doesn't do that, look into other programs for gifted children, such as weekend options.

Research any and all charter schools, private and parochial schools in your area. Don't rely on word of mouth, which is unreliable. If they hold open houses, it doesn't hurt to attend one.

Pay attention to happenings at the high school. Your child will be there in nine years.

The best resources are the parents of older students. They know how closely the school follows its own rules, and what you should pay attention to.

Anonymous said...

Parents of older, similar kids will also warn you about the upcoming black hole--middle school.

If you're stuck with a school with no gifted program, or if your kid is left out, yet he's bored by the pace of his class, hunt down those regular teachers who love working with gifted kids and who understand their particular issues. They are a godsend.

Watch out for gatekeeping. It's often not done maliciously, but teachers tend to think of particular kids for specific competitions or even for advancement.

for instance, my son is thought of as a "math" kid. That's his thing. So, when the time came for him to be sent over to the high school for math, I asked about science. I knew he had been bored in class.

It was obvious they never thought about him in that way in spite of him being in Science Olympiad. He was the math kid. They had sent other kids over for honors bio, but they had been the "science" kids.

Since I had him take the ACT in the 7th grade, the high school just wanted to know his score, mostly the reading score. They said he'd be fine in honors bio, so he went for that and math. He was challenged appropriately and loved it.

But, no one would have thought of him if I hadn't pushed.


lgm said...

Take the state testing seriously. Make sure your child is prepared to excel, regardless of what the district chooses to teach. Those test scores will get him noticed and tracked into honors.

Find someone a few years ahead of you and get the inside scoop on class placement.

Visit the library frequently. Make sure he reads nonfiction as well as fiction.

MichelleM said...

Thank you all for the comments!

The school is a charter and it was really the only option because of his age right now but for 1st grade we can broaden our school choices if need be. I've been following this school, the nearby schools and high schools for the past few years and will continue. If he is in fact gifted there is a gifted school nearby starting at 1st grade.

Also, we went to the library and worked on Singapore math (kindergarten A) at home tonight. I plan on keeping it up!

Thanks again!

SteveH said...

"...a gifted school nearby ..."

You still have to be wary of gifted schools or programs. You have to look at the curriculum and see if they provide acceleration or just enrichment. If it's a separate school, then they might allow acceleration, but for many gifted programs, it's all about enrichment.

I don't have any direct experience because our state spends $0 on gifted programs! Everything must be done with differentiated instruction; enrichment, not acceleration.

The private school my son went to for a few years didn't do it because all of their students are gifted; except for the ones who aren't. They still use Everyday Math.

Actually, when we brought our son back to our public school in 6th grade, the principal allowed him to skip a grade in math. She would have allowed him to skip directly into 7th grade, but we said no. The private school he went to specifically did not allow any sort of acceleration or moving ahead. Actually, I think the headmaster did not want to set any precedent.

I think things change in 7th grade for many schools. Tracking happens. In our case, this has been driven specifically by the need to prepare kids for the AP calculus track (you need algebra in 8th grade) and the desire to qualify for a second year language course as a freshman. These are hard, specific targets that (unfortunately) don't exist in other subjects.

Once tracking happens, I think it's easier for (some) principals to offer real opportunities for the better students. It's also an easier time for parents to start asking for more differentiation (acceleration) at the top end. I just wish there were some more specific high school targets for subjects other than math and languages.

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I like your decision to start your son in kindergarten, even though he is young, since he sounds more than ready. You will undoubtedly be told that being young is terrible, especially for boys. My experience is otherwise. All 4 of my kids (both sexes) were 12-24 months younger than their classmates and all did fine, both academically and socially. It did help, however, that they were all full-time elite athletes and recognized as such.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's also a terrific idea to establish, from the get-go, the idea that your child will be doing 'extra' work or 'afterschooling' work at home.

Afterschooling is easy in the K-5 years, but when children become pre-teens and enter middle school, they often **loathe** being taught at home by their moms or dads.

If I had it to do over again, I would absolutely establish, as a Core Rule in the house, that there is school teaching & there is home teaching: both will be occurring.

btw, this stems from (or is related to) a basic principle my mom taught me. She said that time and again she saw parents indulge their little ones & then try to crack down when the kids became teenagers. That never works, she said. You have to be firm and structured when children are tiny, and then slowly but surely loosen up as the child is able to take on more responsibility for himself.

With afterschooling, if your child has always been able to come home and have fun - and then suddenly, in middle school, BOOM - you're having to do a lot of reteaching (or you want him/her to read some classics, etc.) --- you're increasing structure at the point where your child wants you to decrease structure.

That's not to say you should be doing hours of afterschooling from Day One (unless you need to or want to) -- just that your kids should learn from you that EXTRA LEARNING OUTSIDE SCHOOL IS WHAT OUR FAMILY DOES.

Catherine Johnson said...

I also found it important to be the 'final authority' over academics. That wouldn't be true with every school, but it was with ours.

What I mean is that we had to make clear that our standards for math achievement were different from the school's (sometimes higher AND often 'lower' because the middle school course was over-accelerated).

You'll need to see whether the school - all of your schools, from elementary school through high school - are going to work with you. Our experience was that elementary school teachers work with parents, root for the kids, etc.

That changed in middle school.

Basically, your child needs to be raised to understand that if there is conflict between school and home, 'home' is going to have the final say.

Catherine Johnson said...

AND one last thing: I have seen more than one high school triangulate kids against parents.

I think the phenomenon may be pretty common.

Jo Anne C said...

I would also strongly recommend you make use of vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing work books.

The CA public school we were to attend for 1st grade had only one work book in each child's desk and that was the Everyday Math journal. The private school we moved to after 3 weeks of 1st grade, chose to drop the grammar workbook for 4th grade. The writing instruction from 1st-4th was very limited throughout public and private schools.

We home schooled for 5th grade using the K-12 online curriculum (through a public charter school) which thoroughly covers all of the Language Arts items mentioned above. The K-12 curriculum is available for purchase online. I should point out that the K-12 writing program for 5th was very grueling, it needs to be broken into smaller chunks.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi Michelle,

Be sure to check out the Afterschooling board at the Well Trained Mind...

My children attend an excellent charter school that uses Singapore Math, Core Knowledge, and a strong phonics program, but we continue afterschooling our children to fill in the gaps and to keep them learning in the summer.

Good luck!

MichelleM said...

Thank you all. I am reading all the comments and taking in all the information. :-) I really appreciate it. I am also checking out the Afterschooling forum on Well Trained Mind.