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.

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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.

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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.

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Raising Self-Reliant Children In A Self-Indulgent World by H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen

Read: 26 June, 2012

The title is rather self-explanatory. Raising is about how to empower children to exercise their own judgement and to accurately predict the consequences of their choices. The book focuses on the comparison between the old social model (multi-generational families, kids are predominantly interacting with people of diverse age/maturity, children – and their ability to work – are an integral part of the family’s survival) and the new social model (kids are primarily interacting with their peer group, parents provide for kids, kids have few responsibilities). The idea being that the new model provides for children, rather than integrating children into the provider network of the family. This leaves children feeling helpless, lacking in self-confidence, and feeling unnecessary or burdensome.

I have an acquaintance with Huntington’s Disease who will often say that our primary need as social animals is to feel needed. He believes that when people with Huntington’s lose enough of their faculties that they are made into recipients of care rather than providers of it, their condition starts to degenerate much faster. Rather, the best way to prolong the life and wellbeing of someone with Huntington’s is to keep giving them ways to feel useful. For example, whenever he goes to see his specialist, he will make a point of asking a question of one of the sick people in the waiting room (such as “what time is it?”). In his experience, when people who have been made vulnerable are given the opportunity to help someone else for a change, even if only in such a small way, it dramatically raises their spirits.

And that’s the message that I got from Raising. Like Huntington’s patients, children are often seen as weak, vulnerable, and in need of care rather than capable of providing it. Glenn and Nelsen’s solution is to seek out opportunities to allow children to step up and provide for the family (in whatever way they can – whether it’s doing chores around the house, mowing lawns to raise money for small trips, or caring for a garden to provide food for the family).

I enjoyed the message, and it’s something that my friend has greatly impressed on me over the years. The problem with Raising is that the authors spend a great deal of time describing the perceived problem, and very little discussing possible solutions. There are occasional anecdotes (“true stories” given in horribly insincere dialogue), but that’s about the extent of it. Perhaps I am already sold on the concept of being needed as humans’ greatest need so I wasn’t the intended audience, but I would have appreciated much more of a focus on brainstorming age-appropriate responsibilities for children.

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The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

Someone on a mommy board I like to troll recently asked if it was worthwhile getting a doula for her upcoming labour. This reminded me of the The Birth Partner, and how useful my family found it when my son was born.

My gentleman friend and I are fairly private, and it can take us a long time (far longer than the tight time-frame of a pregnancy affords) to learn to trust new people. We resigned ourselves to the idea that some kind of medical professional should attend us, but we didn’t want to add more people on top of that. When we discussed this with our midwife, she recommended that D read The Birth Partner.

We looked at a few other labour resources during our pregnancy, but we found that most were either way to clinical or way to kooky (orgasmic births, anyone?). But we found that The Birth Partner actually covered the full spectrum – from “natural” pain management to medical intervention. It also discusses the stages of labour and ways to cope with each, and provided helpful lists of things to prepare ahead of time.

I read through it once, but D studied it quite closely. This was invaluable when the time came because he was prepared to handle me in all my states and was able to guide me through. He found it so useful in helping him prepare for his role as my “partner” that he has been recommending to all dads-to-be that they pick up a copy.

It’s a great book for giving dads-to-be a way to prepare and feel like they have something to contribute during what is generally a very stressful and overwhelming time.

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How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Read: 23 April, 2012

I seem to have found my niche as far as parenting books go. Like Raising a Secure Child, How To Talk approached parenting from a much more gentle angle than the mainstream generally allows for.

I’m really enjoying this style of parenting. For one thing, it’s so great not to have to keep saying “no” and to be able to focus one having fun and cuddling with the little time my family gets to spend together now that I’m back at work. I also find that my son really responds to gentle reminders and redirection in a way that he doesn’t to yelling.

I do feel like I have this whole “gentle parenting” thing down pretty well, but I still felt that How To Talk gave me plenty of food for thought and added to my repertoire of ways to deal with situations. In fact, I feel like it went beyond parenting and has given me tools to use in my every day conversations with co-workers, friends, and even my gentleman friend.

I’ve complained before about parenting books offering awfully stilted example scenarios. How To Talk not only had more natural-seeming scenarios, it also had many more than I’ve seen in other books. Every point received multiple examples and covered the lesson from many diverse angles, so I felt like I understood the underlying principles in a deeper way.

I also liked that the focus of the book wasn’t just on the kids and how to wheedle kids into doing our bidding, but rather it asked parents to look at themselves, to acknowledge and deal with their own emotions and thereby set an example. That’s what attracts me the most to the whole “gentle parenting” movement – that it holds parents accountable as role models.

Beyond the philosophy, I liked how interactive the book is. The premise is about parents reflecting on their motives and emotions and understanding the motives and emotions of their children. True to this lesson, the book has several sections that present situations and ask the reader to write in their thoughts and feelings. Even though I rebelled and didn’t actually write anything in (it was a library book, after all), this forced me to personalize the lessons in a way that simply reading text doesn’t do. Plus, it was refreshing to see so much consistency between subject and form (oops, is my English degree showing?).

The last thing I want to mention is that many of the example situations are presented in comic form, rather than as scripts. My gentleman friend isn’t a very strong reader and sometimes struggles to absorb written information, so this visual format was a huge help in making the material accessible for him.

I’d say that How To Talk is by far the best parenting book I’ve read so far, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I recommend it for non-parents as well; the material is completely applicable to any relationship.

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Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. MacKenzie

Read: 21 February, 2012

Since my son was born, I’ve occasionally indulged in “mommy boards” – online forii where mothers argue, call each other names, and generally try to maximize the amount of parental guilt each feels. In other words, oodles of fun.

In these groups, The Great Spanking Debate often rears its ugly head. At one end of the spectrum are those who decry spanking as a failure in parenting, while at the other are those who say that spanking is God’s Gift to Parents. But the more interesting responses are from the vast majority who say that spanking isn’t ideal, but that many kids simply don’t response to other methods of discipline and make the occasional spank a necessity.

Setting Limits is about those kids.

The premise of the book is that while some kids are naturally very compliant and eager to please, some kids are strong-willed and will always seek to test limits. Setting Limits doesn’t talk about spanking, but the position of the author is clear that the problem lies with the parent. Compliant kids are very forgiving and will respond well even to inconsistent or inefficient disciplinary methods, but strong-willed kids need a much more strategic parenting style.

The focus of the book is on setting clear expectations, making consequences proportional to transgressions and logically related to transgressions, and following through on stated punishments. I still found it a bit heavy handed for my bleeding heart, but I generally found the advice sound. The real strength of Setting Limits is in the numerous examples of possible situations. Too often, parenting books cover the theory, give a few highly scripted examples, and leave me feeling no wiser as to how I should actually be applying any of it. But in Setting Limits, much of the book is devoted to running through a wide variety of situations, making the practical application far easier.

But, like many books in the genre, Setting Limits was far too wordy and repetitive, repeating every idea about as many times as the English lexicon could allow. The book could easily have been a quarter of its present length and still be a little on the wordy side.

My son is still pre-verbal, so I’m a little early to actually put any of the theory to the test, but I do feel that Setting Limits has helped me prepare a bit. I would recommend it but, as with all parenting books, with the caveat that it should be read as a possible source of ideas only, not as an instruction manual.

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The Duggars: 20 and Counting! by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Read: 16 January, 2012

My great challenge in writing this review is to critique the book itself, not the faith that motivates it. The two are so intertwined that sometimes it’s impossible to speak of one without speaking of the other. This book is, after all, part of the Duggar ministry.

This is never more clear than the structure of the book. Superficially, it chronicles the history of the Duggar family, from Michelle and Jim Bob’s childhoods until just before the birth of their 18th child. But the stories are told in such a way as to reinforce the thesis of their ministry: In each case, there is a problem or a crisis, the Duggars react by either “listening to God” or listening to their fears, or greed, or ambition, and then things suddenly and serendipitously resolve.

The lesson, of course, is that God can be counted upon to provide. This has the potential to be very dangerous theology, as we see in Prosperity theology, but at least the Duggars impose limitations, such as refusing to borrow money. Even so, this “leave it to God” attitude has a lot of potential for harm when they follow it to the point of making themselves responsible for 18 children. The Duggars have done well for themselves, but many Quiverfull families haven’t, living well below the poverty line and denying their children basic necessities such as health and dental care. To make matters worse, the repetition that God will provide if the family puts sufficient trust in him implicitly sends the message that those families that are not surviving are failing because they are not putting sufficient trust in God, which would mean that they should give up more control and have more children…

I also noticed that the Duggars have tried to fit parts of their story into a Biblical narrative, such as Jim Bob’s references to the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham as analogous to his political campaign. It isn’t bludgeoning, as I’ve seen elsewhere, but they certainly are speaking to their audience.

Further on that point, I noticed a lot of formulaic phrasing. These are phrases included in the narrative, ostensibly in the voice of Jim Bob or Michelle, but that are repeated frequently (either in the book itself or in the wider evangelical community, or both). For example, the words “Children are a blessing from the Lord” is repeated, without variation, multiple times and integrated into multiple different sentences. I’ve noticed the family use these little phrases in the TV show as well, and it’s always felt scripted and rehearsed, making the family seem insincere.

Speaking of the TV show, I feel that I can’t talk about the book without comparing it to the show (of which I’ve only watched the 18 and Counting season, which overlapped nicely with much of the topics discussed in the book). To its credit, this book never felt like just another TV show tie in. Rather, it had real content and was entirely readable even for families that do not have a television and have never seen the show – which I imagine was intentional given the Duggars’ TV viewing philosophy.

I found the differences between the TV show and the book interesting, and it speaks to just how media savvy the Duggars are. The TV show, clearly intended for a broader audience, focuses on the fuzzy family happiness. God is ever present, but more as an underlying principle. The goal, clearly, is to make the show interesting for “lukewarm Christians,” drawing them into the lifestyle with promises of the happy, close-knit family, without scaring them off with too much God-talk. The book, on the other hand, is clearly marketed at the converted, perhaps young couples who already hold Quiverfull values but who are afraid of taking that next big step. I imagine that this book is intended to be passed around in churches, recommended to new couples or given to new parents. As a result, the God-talk is front and centre, with every story coming back to God and to the Biblical underpinnings of Duggar theology. If the TV show is the infomercial, the book is the hard sell.

But given this, I found it interesting that any Biblical passages references were hidden away in the end notes, not displayed in the actual pages either as footnotes or embedded in the text. Given the audience and the fact that the Duggars are clearly not holding back on the God-talk in other ways, I found this detail very interesting.

In closing, I would like to share a recent post written by Libby Anne that was running through my mind as I read: From cog to individual.

The Duggars: 2o and Counting! was a better read than I expected, and it was interesting for me because of my interest in the Quiverfull movement. But the advice is all tied to the ministry, so don’t bother if you are looking for real tips for managing your household! The recipes provided, while interesting and great for bulk cooking, look awful and have very low nutritional value. Much of their advice for making money or being frugal relied on tales of their good luck (err… good “faith,” as Jim Bob prefers to call it), and many of their organizational tips are good but require substantial remodling of the average home to accommodate. In other words, I’d recommend this book for people with an interest in the movement, whether they are thinking of joining it or merely studying it. For anyone else, meh.

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Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn

Read: 22 November, 2011

Much of what is terrible about the “terrible twos” come down to baby brains developing faster than their speech is able to communicate. The frustration of having ideas, needs, observations to communicate but no ability to do so leads to conflict.

Baby Signs proposes a solution. While speech may be difficult for very young children, a modified sign language may help smooth the transition into verbal fluency.

The book is fairly well written and it’s a very quick read. It introduces the information at an appropriate pace and in a good order. The illustrations showing the signs themselves are clear and easy to understand. I especially liked that the dictionary at the back noted which signs were official ASL and which are designed specifically for this theory.

I don’t know how to evaluate the theory itself, although I did notice a few small pink flags. For example, at one point, the authors recommend purchasing their video tapes, that should be watched by babies to help teach them. To reinforce the legitimacy of this, they mention the Baby Einstein videos, which have been fully debunked. In fact, all research that I’ve read says that videos are no good for teaching babies.

The theory seems worth trying to avoid frustration for simple and common issues, such as asking for more food, asking for a drink, or complaining about discomfort.

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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.

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