Teach Your Child To Read In Just Ten Minutes A Day by Sidney Ledson

Read: 25 March, 2014

There are two separate aspects of this book to review: The first is the writing, and the second is the method.

The writing is terrible. It reads like the fevered rant of some self-publishing conspiracy theorist. The book – particularly the argument-setting Part I – is riddled with phonetic spelling errors, like the word “Instutute” on page 15. These don’t exactly inspire confidence in the method.

There was no real acknowledgement of childhood development, no mention of the physical developments of the brain that might be necessary to process the relationship between symbol and symbolised, and no mention of the research that suggests that pushing skills (like reading) before a child is developmentally ready can backfire. There’s also no mention of the difference between ability to read and comprehension, so that Ledson gives no evidence that he’s teaching anything other than a parlour trick. Even if the author disagrees with these points, since such research have direct implications for his thesis, they should have been acknowledged.

Further, Ledson clearly has an axe to grind against the public school system. Throughout the book, his method is compared to the failings of public schools, including the rather incredible assertion that dyslexia is a made-up disease. None of this was necessary to his thesis, nor to the discussion of his method. I found it distracting and, frankly, rather aggravating.

Whenever research is used to support a point, it goes uncited. References are far too vague for me to be able to figure out what studies he’s talking about. For example, he says: “According to a highly-respected researcher in early-childhood studies…” (p.24). When that is the only identifying information given, how can I possibly take his point seriously?

Finally, I want to whine about the incredible promises. Throughout the book, Ledson promises that every single child can read with his method (often using the word “guarantee”). He even, at several points, strongly suggests that children taught with his method will develop a genius-level IQ as a result. Over and over again, the idea that precocious readers might have started with certain physiological advantages is dismissed out of hand.

For all these reasons, I was pre-disposed not to take the method very seriously. Yet for all its claims, the method really isn’t so different from what I already do with my preschooler – except perhaps being a little more methodical (not relying on incidental word sightings, and focusing on one letter at a time).

So the method seems to at least have some surface validity, and I’m willing to give it a try. I’ll update with our progress, if any.

Buy Teach Your Child to Read in Just Ten Minutes a Day from Amazon and support this blog!

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Read: 3 November, 2013

I was recommended this book and started reading it without any idea of its contents. It made the rather surreal descriptions at the beginning, taking place at the Novanglian College of Lucidity, all the more intriguing.

The story follows Octavian, slave son of an African princess, as he is raised by rationalist philosophers. He is the subject of an experiment investigating whether other races have as much intellectual potential as whites. The potential for social commentary should be obvious.

Anderson uses a number of different narrative styles, depending mostly on the “memoirs” of Octavian, but also collecting some aspects of the story from letters and other media. It added to the aura of “authenticity” of the narrative and, handled well, was quite neat. Though I did much prefer Octavian’s memoirs to the rather lengthy section made up of Goring’s letters.

I really enjoyed Octavian Nothing. It was intriguing, and the commentary was great. Anderson also managed a really good job of replicating the style of writing of the period (barring a few very reasonable deviations for the sake of clarity).

I found it funny, sad, horrifying, edifying, and thoroughly enjoyable. I placed my order for the second volume at the library as soon as I’d finished and am eagerly waiting for it to come in!

Buy The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party from Amazon and support this blog!

The Absolute Best Play Days by Pamela Waterman

Absolute Best suggests a number of different “themes” (such as Pirates, Boats, Farmlife, Geology, etc), with several different activity ideas for each. The activities are organized by those that involve arts and crafts, those that can safely be done indoors, those that really should be taken outdoors, and those that involve music – with special notes added for activities to do with older children. The idea being to organize children’s play into theme days, where they can explore a topic from a number of different angles and with different media.

It’s an interesting idea, and some of the suggested activities looked intriguing, but overall I found both the themes and the suggested activities rather obvious. A lot of it has to do with the age range, I’m sure, but I still found myself a little disappointed.

I think that this is a good book to grab from the library rather than buy, and flip through for activity ideas. The theme days concept is fine, but the activities would work just as well as stand-alones.

Buy The Absolute Best Play Days: From Airplanes to Zoos (and Everything in Between!) from Amazon and support this blog!

Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp

Read: 20 May, 2013

This book is exactly what the title indicates – instructions for building a homeschool curriculum divided by year. There’s really no surprises. For each subject, there are lists of learning goals for the year that largely match up with what I’ve found on school websites and the like, so it’s all pretty uncontroversial.

Unfortunately, many of the resources listed in the book are out of date. A lot of the websites are simply non-existent, and many of the books are out of print. I also noticed that a few of the resources listed have a distinct religious flavour to them, but this was not indicated in the description provided in Rupp’s book.

Since most of what I would have found useful in Rupp’s book I’d already gotten from other sources, it really didn’t hold a lot of interest to me. But if you are just starting to think about homeschooling (or supplementing education at home), it would be a good place to start just to get an idea of what material needs to be covered.

Buy Home Learning Year by Year from Amazon and support this blog!

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles van Doren

Read: 28 March, 2013

This book was recommended to me by a homeschooling mother, and I can certainly see why. It’s a wonderful little primer on how to read books in such a way that the reader is able to get as much from the experience as possible. It covers how to make notations in a book, how to write an outline, how to use external materials effectively, and how to engage in a conversation between reader and writer. It even has a section where it goes into the specifics of how to read different kinds of texts.

I think that it would be a fantastic foundational text for a high school level English class – whether in a classroom or a homeschool (or, even, to be read by an industrious individual looking for a little self-improvement). It’s not a book best read at once, but rather digested chapter by chapter over the span of, say, a school year. It’s a little dry, so if you’re planning to use it with students, be prepared to liven it up with fun exercises, conversations, and sample readings. But taken in smaller chunks, it shouldn’t be too painful, and I think it would be well worthwhile.

Buy How to Read a Book from Amazon and support this blog!

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise

Read: 19 August, 2012

I’ve found this to be a fantastic resource, whether you’re homeschooling or not. The book is divided by age, and offers a sample schedule and resources for each of the core subjects for that grade level (math, science, history, etc.). Even Preschool and Kindergarten are covered, so I’m already making use of it.

The philosophy of the approach is that education should take place in three parts: Grammar (focus on memorization and absorbing as much information about the world as possible), Logic (learning how to reason, building on the accumulated facts of the first stage), and Rhetoric (learning how to express the ideas developed in the second stage).

It’s an interesting idea that focuses on many elements of classical education that have been (or are being) dumped from public school curricula, such as the study of Latin, the emphasis on proper handwriting, etc.

One aspect that I really like about the approach is that while each subject is taught separately, they are also integrated so that each subject tackles the same general topic from its own unique vantage.

For the homeschooling family, the book provides sample schedules and inspiration for developing curricula. For the family sending children to be educated in a classroom setting, the resource lists can still provide a lot of ideas for additional learning in the evenings or on weekends.

There were some iffy moments, such as the discussion about teaching religion in the Grammar section that started getting dangerously close to proselytizing (“Do fathers love their babies because of the urge to see their own genetic material preserved or because fathers reflect the character of the father God?”). It was completely gratuitous. But at least the authors do seem to acknowledge that some of their readers may be secular/atheists/other-theist and they do give warnings when a resource they are listing is God-heavy.

My last complaint is with the lists of famous people through history to learn about. These lists are titled as “Great men and women to cover,” but many of them have very few – if any – women. And it’s not like no women were doing important things during those time periods, so examples could have been found if the authors had bothered to look.

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed the book and, as I said, I’ve already started to make use of it. It’s written very much as a list of prompts and resources, so there’s plenty of wiggle room to substitute your own materials as you please and to design your own curricula. I definitely recommend that all parents at least pick it up from the library and read through the section for your children’s grade levels.

Buy The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition) from Amazon to support this blog!

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster by Bobby Henderson

Read: 23 July, 2012

With the debate raging over whether Creationism (or “Intelligent Design”/ID, as it’s often called) should be taught alongside evolution in science classrooms, Bobby Henderson proposes a third alternative – FSM did it.

Gospel pokes fun at the debate from every angle – from a mock Templeton Foundation, promoting science papers proving the existence of the FSM, to ways for the reader to test the claims for themselves. And he does it all with pirates.

Lots and lots of pirates.

I enjoyed reading Gospel. It’s a hilarious book – especially since I’ve been following some of the debate, so I “got” the references. Of course, sometimes Henderson’s sense of humour gets a bit cruel and over the top (sorry midgets, fat chicks, et al).

Buy The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster from Amazon to support this blog!

NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Read: 17 November, 2011

Common sense and instinct can tell us a lot of things. For example, it’s good to praise our kids, it’s good to leave the radio on because babies will learn language better the more words they hear,  and racial desegregation of schools will lead to less racism as kids grow up interacting with peers of different races.

Unfortunately, all of these are wrong.

“NurtureShock” is the feeling a new parent experiences when they discover that the Parental Instincts Fairy has missed their home. It turns out that while the instinct to protect our children is very real, the how of it is up to us to figure out.

NurtureShock is different from the other parenting books I’ve reviewed in that it isn’t an instruction manual. Instead, it simply summarizes some of the recent science in child development. Although the science itself is very interesting and I positively devoured the book, the lack of practical application was frustrating. As a parent, I don’t just want to know the science, I want to know how I can use it.

I think that NurtureShock would have done better if each chapter were divided in half. The first part would remain exactly as is, but the second part would provide examples to show how parents might apply the theory to their own parenting.

But that doesn’t mean that NurtureShock isn’t worth reading. Far from it, I think it should be required reading for every new parent because it fundamentally challenges so many of the assumptions we make about our kids and how they develop.

Buy NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children from Amazon to support this blog!

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated? by Alfie Kohn

Read: 22 September, 2011

I don’t think that anyone questions the idea that our public schools are, by and large, failing kids. It’s also no secret that programs like No Child Left Behind that require mass standardized testing promote “teaching the test,” often at the expense of real learning. But in this collection of essays, Alfie Kohn goes a step further and argues that even grades should be dumped as an assessment tool.

Kohn ranks the evilness of the various assessment methods, with standardized tests at the top, followed by ranking methods (such as class ranks and grading on a curve), and ending with the assignment of grades. But each, he says, causes kids to view learning as a chore to get through rather than something they might choose to do.

The book is a collection of essays, so each chapter is a discrete unit. That being said, they’ve clearly been edited so that they make sense together, with references to other chapters for more information. The whole is brought together with a well-written introduction that serves to unify the individual essays in support of a common thesis.

I found Kohn’s book to be very interesting and well-written. It challenged a lot of my assumptions (such as the bunk-ness of grade inflation), and has left me thinking a great deal about education. Only the chapter discussing Maslow was on the weak side, and I’m not sure what it was supposed to contribute to the thesis of the book.

If I had to find a flaw, it would be that while the current system is heavily criticised, Kohn is very light on the alternatives. I think this is a fairly important failing because he’s challenging so many concepts that we take for granted that he absolutely must provide us with alternatives.

I don’t know how much I agree with Kohn yet. I think that his arguments were very compelling on first reading, but I need to mull them over a bit longer before I come to a conclusion. He’s definitely given me food for thought, though, and done so in a vehicle that was a pleasure to read. On that basis alone, I highly recommend What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated for parents of school-aged kids and anyone involved in education, at any level, formal or otherwise.

Buy What Does it Mean to Be Well Educated? And Other Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies from Amazon to support this blog!