Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More homeschool thoughts-in-progress

I got the form today for reserving Basbusa's place at preschool next year, and much as we both like the school, I think I'll be returning them a "no, thank you"... Insha'Allah we're going to give 'homeschooling' a try next year, and see how it goes. She will only be four, so it's hardly accurate even to call it homeschooling! But I want to try a little tiny bit of formal learning and some semblance of a routine, just to reassure myself that we'll really be able to implement a homeschool lifestyle once Basbusa is old enough for 'real' school. And I also want to reassure other family members that she will, indeed, be learning and not falling behind!

So, my plan for next year is just this, insha'Allah: Five days a week, in the morning, we'll do a little bit of Quran memorization (just one line a day would be great, not even one full aya), and work a little bit on Right Start math. That's it. The rest of our 'homeschooling' will just be what we do already: lots of reading and stories, lots of drawing and pretend-writing, lots of time outdoors, trips to fun places, and playdates with other kids.

I think this plan sounds ok, in theory... But I still have a bunch of worries, both about the plan itself and about how I'll put it into practice. Here they are, just for the record:

First, regarding the plan itself: is it 'enough'? I think it is, but I keep coming across all these amazing, elaborate pre-K curricula online, and suddenly doubting that I'll be doing enough for Basbusa. I've read blogs of people who follow FIAR and BFIAR, for example, and their kids seem to be enjoying it so much. Whenever I sit down and think hard about whether that would work well for us, I end up deciding that what we're already doing would be better... but what do I know?!?

Second, regarding putting the plan into action, I have two more concerns. I'm not sure how to go about setting up the "playdates" part, and that's really the part I care most about. I know there are a billion ways to set up opportunities for Basbusa to interact with other kids, but what I'm really aiming for is opportunities for extended free play with the same group of children on a very regular basis. If I could manage to arrange that two days a week, I'd be totally comfortable with our plan, but I haven't found a way to set it up yet. Almost all of Basbusa's current friends, unfortunately, are leaving the country in a few weeks, and her new friends from preschool will be, unsurprisingly, in preschool. I guess what I'm looking for is a preschool-age homeschool coop, not to far away from here, that involves only a little (or no) structured activities. Hmmm. So I have to work on that, between now and September, insha'Allah.

My other worry about implementing this plan is that I'm not sure what I should do if Basbusa isn't thrilled about studying Quran and/or Math. Maybe she won't be interested in the whole idea; maybe she won't like one half of it; maybe she'll be willing to do it one or two days a week but not five. Then what? On the one hand, she'll only be four, so there's no 'need' to do anything formal yet, and I believe very strongly that children's learning should be led by their interests as much as possible. But on the other hand, she is old enough to be doing some Quran, and doing a tiny bit of Quran once or twice a week isn't really enough for anything to "stick." And also, if we don't follow through on this plan, family opposition to homeschooling for Kindergarten will increase dramatically.

Hopefully she'll love it, and I know that I won't force the issue if she clearly hates it. But I haven't yet worked out what I think I should do if she falls somewhere in the middle.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's Basbusa reading?

I'd like to start this post with a request: can anyone recommend a favorite anthology of children's poetry?  I'd really appreciate it! I'm looking for poems aimed at the younger end of the spectrum, but not the typical "Mother Goose" collections. (We have those already, and besides, I always feel that many of the traditional nursery rhymes are more than a bit odd when you actually focus on the words...) To give an example of the kind of poem that would be ideal, "There Once Was A Puffin" is Basbusa's current favorite. 

I've been looking for just the right anthology of children's poetry for quite a while, and the Random House Book of Poetry (edited by Jack Prelutsky) is the best I've found so far. It has a "a collection of 572 poems for today's child," including old classics as well as very modern poems, very long ones and very short ones. We really liked how the poems are grouped by topic, so all the seasons-related ones are together, and all the monster-related ones are together, and so forth. We found some poems that we really loved (Prelutsky's own "The Troll" was one of our favorites), but about half of them were completely over Basbusa's head, and more than another quarter were only vaguely within her grasp. That's not surprising, I suppose, since Basbusa is only three, and this is a collection that would last us throughout childhood for all kinds of children, so I might buy us a copy anyway. My only slight criticism is that the illustrations aren't fantastic, but I suppose you couldn't really include fancy illustrations for so many poems. And besides, as Basbusa gets older, she won't need the pictures anyway.

The next book in this week's list is one which we've loved for a long time from the library, but which I was lucky enough to win a copy of from CityKidsHomeschooling! (Thanks, Kerry!) The Seven Silly Eaters has a silly, funny plot - each of the children in this family has his or her own finicky taste regarding food, and as her family grows to seven children, the poor mother grows ever more frazzled trying to cater to them all - but that's only the beginning of why we liked it. The story is in rhyme, which is always a hit with Basbusa, and the illustrations are wonderful. Basbusa likes watching as the children get older from page to page, and identifying which is which. Plus, their house gradually fills up with all the kind of kid-stuff you would expect with so many children, so there are always interesting conversations to have about which of them probably plays with which toy, and how what the kittens are doing under the table, and so forth. The children eventually stumble over a solution which means their mother no longer has to spend her days cooking seven different kinds of food, so there's a happy ending for all concerned. A truly charming book.

Perfect Soup was an accidental find as we were browsing in a train-station bookstore one day, but it's been a favorite on our shelves for almost a year now. Murray the Mouse discovers, mid-recipe, that he has no carrot to put in his Perfect Soup. On one level, the rest of the book tells the story of how Murray gets a carrot (by doing an increasingly complex set of trades with a farmer, a horse, a shopkeeper, a boy, and an old lady who likes to knit). This plot-line caught Basbusa's attention from the start, and would have made the book an enjoyable read even without anything else. But on another level, a second story is taking place; about how Murray, in his quest for perfection, was at first too busy to make time for friendship, and how, in the end, he realizes that friendship, not a carrot, is the ingredient that truly makes his soup perfect. Add all this to beautiful illustrations showing idyllic winter scenes, and you can see why this is one of our favorites.

I found Dahlia at Hope Is The Word's list of best picture books. We had to check it out, since we happen to know a very dear little girl with the same name, and I'm so glad we did. Charlotte, the heroine, is a very un-frilly little girl who strongly favors mud-pies over tea-parties. Initially, she reacts to Dahlia, a very frilly new doll, with much ambivalence. But Charlotte eventually comes to love her, and Dahlia comes to love tree-climbing. I thought Charlotte was a wonderful heroine, and I also liked how the lesson of the book went both ways: it is perfectly valid for a little girl to like outdoor exploration more than tea-parties, but it is also perfectly valid to enjoy all those outdoor activities without abandoning frills and ruffles. Plus, Charlotte's day depicted what I would think of as an ideal childhood summer, and the illustrations are lovely.

What Happens on Wednesdays is one of Basbusa's own picks from the library, and she loved it. It's just the story of one preschooler's Wednesday, from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed, but I think that's why Basbusa liked it so much. The narration clearly shows a preschooler's love of familiar routines of enjoyable activities, and since Basbusa is right at that stage herself, she loved following along. Plus, this little girl's day is not too different from our own, with trips to the library, the pool, the park, and to preschool, so Basbusa could easily identify with her.

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's Basbusa reading?

Still working through my giant backlog of books that we loved but I never blogged about. Six of them today. We seem to add new ones faster than I can cross the old ones off! And we have ten more arriving at the library for us today... al7amdulillah for good books :)

First up, two alphabet books. The first one, Animalia, is actually one that Basbusa wasn't all that crazy about. But it's definitely unusual in the alphabet-book category, so I'm blogging it in case someone else has kids who are more interested in seek-and-find books than Basbusa is. The idea is that there's a one- or two-page spread for each letter, each featuring an animal starting with that letter as the main subject of the illustration. There's one sentence about the animal, in which every word also starts with the letter being featured (for example, "An Armored Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator"). I found the sentences themselves a bit obscure, and they quite often used vocabulary that was so far over Basbusa's head that I couldn't easily explain it. But the most interesting part of the book, I thought, was that the illustrations have a huge amount of detail, and the more you look, the more things you find that all start with the letter-of-the-page. In the background of the "P" page about Peacocks, for example, we also found poppies, a parcel, a penguin beside a pond, a parade, the leaning tower of Pisa, just to name a few (there were many more, but they're too small to make out now in the picture I took with my mobile phone!). I thought this was a pretty interesting way of doing things, and the illustrations themselves are attractive enough to spark plenty of interesting discussions... but Basbusa has never been very excited about seek-and-find books, and tended to move on pretty quickly from this one. Oh well.

Next up, An Annoying ABC, which is the story of chaos erupting in a preschool classroom. You see, Adelaide annoyed Bailey. Then Bailey blamed Clyde, and Clyde cried... and so on, until Zelda zaps the whole class with the hose she was using to water the flowers. Everyone apologizes, dries off, and then has a quiet afternoon. Basbusa was fascinated by this book because of the social aspects of the plot - I don't think she ever figured out the link to the ABC part of things (oh well, again, but she already knows her letters anyway :). Basbusa recently started preschool herself, and I think the exploration of preschool social dynamics intrigues her. How badly wrong can things really go? And how do people react? And how does it get resolved in the end? The illustrations show very typical preschoolers doing very typical things, and there's a background plot to follow (of Adelaide trying to recapture the classroom's pet mouse) that also appealed to Basbusa's imagination.

And now for two books which Basbusa loved, but which I wasn't so wild about. The Duck in the Hole probably isn't a book that I'd ever have picked out for her, but she got a lot out of it. A little girl finds a duck stuck in a hole in her yard, and tries to figure out how to rescue it. A neighborhood dog and cat also begin showing unwelcome interest in the duck, but Keisha eventually figures out a solution that solves the problem. In my opinion - not Basbusa's - the story wasn't very interesting or very believable, and the illustrations were nothing special, but I did like how the girl spontaneously thought through a whole bunch of potential solutions in her imagination, weighing the pros and cons of each one, before deciding what to do. I saw Basbusa mimicking the process a few times, which is a good thing to have picked up! This book also marked a new mini-milestone for us. Each of Keisha's possible choices (and their consequences) were illustrated clearly, and until quite recently, Basbusa wouldn't have been able to grasp that those things didn't actually happen in the plot - they were just showing Keisha's thought-process. I had tried to explain similar issues many times with other books, and Basbusa only half understood me, but this time, she got it all by herself.

A Cake All for Me... oh my goodness, A Cake All for Me. One of those books that I was wishing had never been written by the time we could eventually give it back to the library, and which I keep trying to hide behind other books on the shelf when we pass by it in the library again! It's basically a counting book about a pig making a cake. ("One, two, Get out the moo. Three, four, open and pour. Five, six, sift and mix..." etc. We gave this back to the library maybe three months ago now, and I still have it memorized!) The only other plot is overtly preachy, in my opinion: the pig starts out by wanting to hog the whole cake, even when his hungry friends ask to share it, but then he relents and they all eat it together. Plus I think the animals all have scary-looking teeth. But Basbusa loved this book: we read it approximately forty-two million times, and we still never get the milk out of the fridge without her reciting, "one, two, get out the moo," so here's the recommendation, for what it's worth!

Ok, and now for two books that both of us liked. Interrupting Chicken is one of our all-time favorites, so much so that we bought our own copy and still read it regularly. There's so much to like about this one! The basic story itself is both cute and unusual: the daddy chicken is reading bedtime stories to the little chicken, who keeps interrupting him to change the endings (advising Little Red Riding Hood not to talk to the wolf, and telling Chicken Little not to panic because the sky isn't really falling, and so on). In the end, they run out of stories, so Papa suggests that his daughter tell him a story for a change. He falls asleep half way through, and she snuggles up beside him. Awww. I love the loving relationship between the daddy and his daughter (not a theme that often tends to crop up as the central relationship in children's books). I love the little chicken's enthusiasm and involvement in the stories, which is so like Basbusa. I love the little chicken's willingness to take the story-telling into her own hands, something that Basbusa also loves to do, and I love the illustrations. Basbusa thinks it's very funny how the little chicken keeps interrupting, and likes the stories-within-the story along the way. I think she feels it's four bedtime stories for the price of one :)

The Squeaky Door is about a boy sleeping over at his grandma's house. She puts him to bed, tucks him in, gives him a good-night kiss, and tiptoes out... but the squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak of the bedroom door scares the boy awake. So, she tucks the cat in beside him.... then the dog... then the pig... Eventually, when the horse is all tucked up beside them for the night, there is not only a "squeeeeak" but a "BOOM!", because the bed has broken into smithereens. The boy sleeps with grandma and grandpa that night, and the next day, Grandma gets out her trusty oil-can and takes care of the squeaky hinge. It's a cute story, silly and funny, and for us it was the first book where Basbusa started sounding out words by herself (those lovely "squeak"s and "boom" :)

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Basbusa reading?

There's no real theme to this week's selections - just a bunch of picture books Basbusa has enjoyed recently.

Pouch! is the story of a baby kangaroo's first few trips outside his mother's pouch. The plot is short and simple, but funny: on his first few tries, the joey is astonished and highly alarmed by his first encounters with ordinary things like a bee or a rabbit, and with a yelp of "Pouch!!" he flees back to safety. But on his fifth trip out, he meets another baby kangaroo. They both yell "Pouch!!" and start to run away, but then realize how similar they are and start giggling. When their mothers come up and ask, "Pouch?", they happily reply, "No, thanks!" The illustrations are charming, and Basbusa can identify with the joey's hesitant reaction to new experiences! But she likes to point out to him that bees and rabbits aren't scary really, and I think she is interested by his new self-confidence by the end of the book.

There are several books in this series by Yoriko Tsutsui, all of them translated from the Japanese. Basbusa's favorite was Anna's Secret Friend, but I couldn't find a picture of it anywhere online, and we also really liked Anna in Charge, pictured here. In Anna's Secret Friend, Anna has just moved to a new town and is a bit lonely, since she doesn't know any other children and her parents are busy unpacking. But then a shy little girl from across the street starts leaving her little gifts in the mailbox - a little bunch of flowers, a folded paper doll - and a note saying she hoped they'd be friends. When they finally meet each other and find the courage to say hello, they really do make friends, and the last scene is of the two of them riding off together on their bikes to flower-filled fields. It's a sweet story, and the mystery of who was leaving the gifts caught Basbusa's interest right from the start. Also, since Basbusa herself tends to need a few moments to gather her courage before joining in a game with new kids, I think she enjoyed seeing other children who felt the same way. And I was glad that she would see an example showing that her approach works out just fine too, in the end!

The Bog Baby is the story of how two little girls find a magical creature - a Bog Baby - in a pond in the woods. They take it home and keep it in a bucket in the garage, but despite all their love and attention, it pines away for home. In the end they ask their mother for advice, and she explains that if they truly love their soft blue pet, they have to let him go. Basbusa likes stories involving adventures in the woods, and stories about little baby animals, and anything with a hint of magic about it, so this book was a big hit (and the cover art doesn't do it justice; the illustrations inside are much prettier). It's aimed at a slightly older audience, so there were one or two details she didn't quite get, but we still renewed this one from the library for about two months straight.

Next up, two Berenstain Bears books. The Spooky Old Tree and Bears in the Night are quite similar in plot,  and Basbusa loved them both. In The Spooky Old Tree, the bears are off on a night-time expedition to explore the scary world inside the gnarled old tree on the cover of the book. First one, then another, and then all three lose their nerve, and end up running home to their mother as fast as they can. Bears in the Night is even simpler in terms of plot: the bears hear an owl-hoot and sneak out of bed to find what's making the noise. When they find the owl and it hoots again, it gives them such a fright that they run straight back home to bed. This book is really an exercise in prepositions: the text simply reads, "In bed... Out of bed... to the window.../ To the window... at the window... out the window...," and so forth, around the lake, under the bridge, and up Spook Hill. But the repetition actually worked quite well to increase the suspense, and this is just the right level of scary for Basbusa. We spent weeks re-enacting the adventure, and one particular bed in our house is now permanently known as Spook Hill :)

A Splendid Friend Indeed is a book which, in my opinion, needs very active story-telling to bring it to life. The basic story is that the bear, who is quite happily reading his book or writing in his diary, keeps being interrupted by his over-enthusiastic friend, the duck, whose incessant chatter drives the bear batty. He puts up with it with great patience, however - the duck is oblivious to the increasingly grumpy look on the bear's face - and in the end is rewarded when the duck's final interruption is to read him a letter he has written, telling him what a wonderful friend he is. Awwww. The story ends with hugs and a picnic. I found that I had to make a big deal of acting this one out, though, before Basbusa started to enjoy it. The text is very limited: it only includes the duck's chatter, and the rest of the story is told by the illustrations. But the illustrations are relatively subtle (if you're a three-year-old), and Basbusa didn't pick up on the bear's grumpiness until I started mimicking his posture and body-language. Then she got the point and thought it was funny. She has also started using the words "splendid" and "indeed" in her everyday conversation :)

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.