I'm always looking for the EASIEST way to teach my kids. I look at books all swimmy with text and gobs of black, with little white space and think "blech! That's too hard for us!" You'd think I was giving my children a lesser education by not challenging them with things written to be hard. However, I've learned time and time again that needlessly frustrating my children doesn't really teach them anything. Example -
When I taught my firstborn to read, I started phonics with her. She knew all the basics of phonics. It didn't catch. We learned about 50 sight words and continued the phonics. It still didn't catch. I read every article proving the merits of phonics based instruction and the evils of whole language. We read carefully constructed phonics books which practiced whatever phonics skill she'd learned. It didn't catch. Reading was PAINFUL. Ok, so we increased our daily practice. One hour of phonics. It didn't catch, but it did get even more painful! I gave my daughter a Reading Reflex test to see what on earth was wrong with her. I suspected dyslexia. She reversed 1/3rd of the alphabet. She reversed "saw" and "was". And yet, she passed the Reading Reflex tests. She knew her phonics, that wasn't the problem.
The problem was, I was making Reading WAY too HARD for her. When I read the book Teach A Child to Read With Children's Books, the philosophy went against every phonics based study I read. Let them guess a word? Not correct every mistake? Let them figure out a word based upon the picture or context? What??? And yet, this is how people in the real world read. We don't sound out things phonetically. Phonics isn't bad, per se - and I think that's where reading instruction should start. But if it doesn't catch, maybe we're making it too hard. We ditched phonics based readers and went to the easiest of easy picture books - REAL books. My daughter went from reading memorized books such as "I like pancakes. I like pizza," and "brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" to "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". I was amazed that in one year, she could read increasingly difficult picture books! Why? Because we made reading easy, and real. It wasn't always fun for her. She fought me in the beginning. But she was willing to do "a little bit" of something that was "really easy". It caught! With continued gradual, but easy practice, she's gone on to harder things. Eventually, she sprouted wings and took flight on her own. This year, at the age of 10, she read all of Harry Potter in just 3 months. I should add - I didn't exactly follow the With Children's Books approach. I simplified it quite a bit. I just took the booklists and the basic philosophy (don't correct everything, let them guess words, let them go for meaning of the text, choose 1 phonics skill to make an example, etc.) We didn't do the writing at all, and my daily lessons didn't really look like their daily lessons.
Ever since then, I've been looking for my Easy Way Out for Math and Writing:) If I could find something to tweak like the ...With Children's Books approach for Math and Writing, we'd be all set. I'm still looking. I hope I'm on the right path! Right now my kids hate math and think it is hard. I'm starting them really easy and challenging them to see how fast they can complete a sheet. My goal is to only replace the sheet when they can speed through it confidently. My goal is to always keep it easy, by not adding on too fast. Yesterday, we started at plus 1 and plus 2. We did them in order and then mixed them up. My goal is 3 seconds per problem before moving on. We'll see how it goes. If I ever figure it all out, maybe I'll write a book;)