Little Passports subscription – no thumbs up from me

I have been subscribing a year almost and now want to cancel this. If you’re contemplating getting this for your child, I hope this blog post helps inform your decision.

Pros :

– Something new in the post every month

– Fun introduction to a different country every month

Cons:

– Subscription fee is way overpriced for what you receive. I’ll tell you what you receive and you can also Google it online. Some have also uploaded photos of the stuff in every package online. One website like this I think is a Montessori-type website featuring Little Passports. The first month, you get the cardboard suitcase, which makes the mail package fairly large. You think wow, a large parcel box like that is going to arrive every month from then on. No in actual fact, all you will get after that first mailing is a thin padded envelope that will slip through your mailbox easily without needing for you to sign for it. Yes and that’s because the contents in each month’s package are really little.

1) You get a printed piece of A4 paper with activities like word searches and things on both sides of the paper.

2) You get a printed piece of C5 paper which is supposed to be a pretend letter written to you by your Little Passports pretend “penpals”, Sam and Sofia.

3) You get like 4 small stickers to stick on your Little Passports cardboard suitcase and pretend passport.

4) And lastly you get a very small and poor quality toy that is supposed to be from the country of the month – usually the toy would be some piece of tat that breaks easily or is worth no more than £2 in the shops – effectively “party bag fillers”.

Altogether these 4 items cost £13.95 per month. If you have the inclination to do so, just make up your own pretend letter from pretend pen pals (or find real ones from these countries online if possible), make up your own or download and print some worksheets or wordsearches from online sources, research online for toys that traditionally hail in that country and source it on the net or in real shops. Bet you can find ones of better quality. Lastly, make your own stickers with country flags on them or just ditch the stickers if they’re no big loss to your kids. £13.95 a month a package,  with 36 packages in total to collect. That’s £500+ you’ll pay in total over 3 years if you keep the subscription until you’ve received all 36 monthly packages. Is that really the kind of money you think worth spending on a very basic standard of Geography and cultural awareness exposure from purchasing this subscription? I bet if you saved your money, you could buy a tonne of resources to expose your child to more of this subject, and still have money left in the kitty after!

Alright, I am not asking for quantity over quality, I am just asking for quality and substance. Right now, the product lacks quality and quantity, lacks substance. Might be fine for an 8 or 9 year old but way too easy and basic for my 10 year old even, who by the way isn’t even a very academic child.

– What a bummer too that so far, despite attempts by home educators both in UK and the US to secure good educational discount deals with Little Passports for groups of us, Little Passports has been very unwilling to budge from their meagre 15% discount code which they already offer to all potential customers. That’s a pretty poor saving. Their classroom subscriptions for US schools works out at USD$16.50 per month for 30 packages. Now that’s the price home educators want, as we can group together and make group purchases of that number or more. Why aren’t Little Passports willing to do us a deal like they already do with schools? Do they not consider what we’re doing a form of teaching and schooling? Or do they suppose all/most home educators are rich and therefore will spend silly money on this? And if they wanted to play the numbers game, well there are a far lot more of us out there than you think, and we do tend to club together for deals and groupbuys for educational materials. They can easily get 100s of home educators subscribing to them, if they are willing to lower prices for us. Home educators already get a lot of discounts and deals together this way, and word travels fast in our community. We could potentially get you lots of subscribers in a small amount of time. Do you want to do business or what?

– Customer service is generally poor and slow to respond – quick to take your money though! And this is especially risky for non-US subscribers because there is no way to contact them other than by email or social media. They take a day or more to respond to every email. Sometimes quite erratically, they respond on the same day. And the fact it is all email-based makes it quite easy for them to ditch responsibility really. They could just ignore you. And well, what is their contact address should you wish to write a letter of complaint? And how would that work sending a recorded letter all the way to America from the UK? Expenses paid by yourself or them? (The answer is you)

And who can you report them to for questionable business practices if you live in the UK and perhaps have little knowledge of American consumer laws or perhaps because of the fact you aren’t a US resident, you might not get the help you need by law enforcement or the ombudsman? And when the customer service reps do respond, they are good with general politeness and that certain American “peppiness” but at the end of the day, issues remain unsatisfactorily resolved and they don’t budge no matter your objection.

For instance, my child’s package did not arrive on the expected date one month. I was worried it might have gotten lost in the mail and contacted them but all the said back to me was a) wait for it to arrive b) items aren’t tracked (well with the pricing and the cheap quality of materials, it should, really.) so they can’t tell me where the item is other than it has been sent. Eventually the package arrived late by a week or so c) just a sorry from them. Nothing else. If the package had arrived later or never arrived, I have no idea if they will even resend the package. Annoying thing is that they will continue taking the monthly payment from your card on time though.

– Speaking of monthly card payments, that takes us to the next important major cons about Little Passports – their requirement of every subscriber to pass them their credit or debit card details so they can take payment continuously during the entire subscription period. Now did you know that when you give an online retailer your card details to take payment as and when they wish, you have basically lost a huge amount of control on your end as to stopping any future payments, if you should ever feel disgruntled about the product. Basically there is no way you can stop these future payments Little Passports will take from you if they choose to keep taking them, if your bank is unwilling to do anything about it for you. Some banks will insist that such continuous payments can never be cancelled as long as the company keeps taking them, because some banks will tell you once you have given your card details away to a company, you have basically given up control over the matter and there will be nothing the bank can do about stopping future payments. Hopefully your bank won’t be like that. In the worst case scenario, the only thing you can do to stop further payments to be taken is to close down your bank account and reopen another one. Because even if you applied for a change of card number and kept your old account, some banks will just transfer Little Passports’ authority to take payments, to the new card associated with your bank account, so they can continue taking payments from your new card number!

So when you entrust your card payment details to a company like Little Passports, which to all intents and appearances seem to be a fully online company with no physical address nor call centre, you are basically trusting that nothing will ever go wrong as far as dealings with them are concerned, and that nothing will ever happen that could be the reason why you might wish to stop them taking another monthly payment off your payment card. Big, big risk. Especially with the poor level of customer care I have received. My advice to you after my own experiences is never hand over your card details for recurring payments for any subscription. If possible, use Direct Debit or Standing Orders.

– In addition, they have a very odd billing system I find, in which they take your money in advance, usually around 25th of the month, for the next month’s shipment which is expected to arrive around mid-month. Once they have taken your money, if you ask for a cancellation and refund, they will refuse to refund anything to you, saying that the packages are already in the process of being prepared and shipped and they cannot take the package back. What kind of preparation and airmail shipment method from the US takes just over 2 weeks to complete? They are basically saying that from round about the 25th of the month till round about the middle (15th) of the following month, the packages are in the process of being prepared and airmailed to you. Packages that typically contain one tiny toy, 2 sheets of printed paper, and a sheet of about 4 small stickers that isn’t bigger than your palm. I can’t imagine how that could take a lot of time and effort to pack and send. And the US is a first world country and not so far from the UK, so airmail packages from the US typically arrive in UK within a week of postage. In general, it’s all a bit BS really.

– If you’re thinking of purchasing more than 1 subscription for 1 household, perhaps so that each child in the household can have their own package, well I would caution against that. I purchased 2 subscriptions from the start so 2 of my children can have their own sets. Unfortunately the past 2 or 3 of my son’s packages didn’t arrive at the same time as my daughter’s, which affected his enjoyment of the packages – basically the surprise element was gone once he’d seen what his sister had received first. The surprise element of these packages was the main reason why I subscribed to Little Passports. As a home educator, I am used to planning and arranging curricula resources for my children. I could easily have gotten books, worksheets and workbooks or online resources to help my kids learn Geography and cultural awareness. However I notice my kids were more interested in a subject if there is a sensory aspect or a surprise element to it. I tried Little Passports out as it seemed to fit those expectations. Unfortunately it started out fine and then became less satisfactory as time went on due to the above-mentioned issues. When I contacted Little Passports about the lack of synchronicity with the mailing of both packages, I just got an answer that basically meant the company can’t do anything about it. Not only that, the company couldn’t track the packages so if one came late (and once my son’s package did come as late as nearly 2 weeks longer than his sister’s), all the company rep could tell me was they’re sorry and that I must just wait for the packages to arrive.

I felt the company could at least try to ensure that 2 orders from 2 children with the same surname and therefore from the same family at the same address (i.e. siblings) could be sent at the same time so they arrive together. It just makes sense to do so, right? But apparently this is not possible, according to their rep 😕

– And lastly, they have a very poor online  account management system. Below are a few incidents that have happened :

– I forgot my password (or I assumed I did since I tried what I thought was the password I’d set initially and it didn’t work) when I needed to log in one day to halt my shipments for a month. The customer rep I emailed just didn’t address the issue of my password, but she halted the shipments for me.

– When I emailed them to unsubscribe, and according to their online website FAQs, if you want to cancel subscription, all you have to do is email their customer support and give 30 days notice. Well when I emailed customer support to cancel subscription, she said I had to log into my account to do so myself! Well since my online login and password issue still remains unresolved for months, how can I? Why can’t she cancel the subscription herself? Even their FAQs say you just email customer support and give 30 days notice. So why now is she saying I have to log into my online account and unsubscribe from there myself? Conflicting information much? 😕 Below is a screenshot of their company policy from their website on cancelling subscriptions :

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– Once my son tried going onto their online portal to do the “additional online fun activities”, but we couldn’t log in. Emailed their customer reps only to be given login details but the fields for them were blank in the email. Duh… so this didn’t resolve anything. Luckily for us, after examining his Little Passports suitcase “boarding passes” I realised the problem may be the fact I hadn’t keyed in the correct boarding pass code for him. So problem resolved by myself, no thanks to the customer reps who seemed to not even know much about how the company system operates – ditto for my previous point about conflicting advice on subscription cancellation policies.

And just for interest, I went on Little Passport’s Facebook page to look at their Visitor Posts to see if others were having similar issues to mine. Well I found quite a few. To take a look yourself, go to https://www.facebook.com/littlepassports/

Click on the small arrow next to the word “Visitor Posts”  to view the full list of posts made by various visitors.  I’ve indicated it with a red arrow in the screenshot below.

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And below this paragraph are screenshots of the complaints, for the month of January 2017 alone, posted by Little Passport customers on the Little Passports Facebook page. I’m sure there are more if you want to look into their page. Hmm clearly a recurring pattern there amongst the complaints mainly relating to delivery issues, customer service issues, and charging and unsubscription issues.

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I hope this information is useful to anyone considering subscribing to Little Passports from the UK especially. Also, Little Passports, if you’re reading this, you might think this all sounds harsh, but I promise you if you actually manage to get my issues resolved satisfactorily, I will comment here as truthfully as I can about it. All of your usual pleasantries in your emails will sound nothing but insincere if you fail to be able to resolve your customer issues. I await any further emails from you in good faith and I hope you can understand how frustrated I have been at dealing with your company, which is why I want to cancel now.

You could be doing so much better. You have a great concept in your hands. It is on the strength of the concept that customers flock to you. If you really try and work on the issues surrounding your customer service, the quality of your materials, and your online account portal for customers, you could gain a lot more customers and not lose customers like me who have had frustrating experiences with you.

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UPDATE:  I received a final reply from the rep today which sounded as if she didn’t understand the issues I’ve had with the company in the past 10 months. She said she wasn’t able to respond timely because of timezone issues, but she was apologetic and said she has made sure my account has been cancelled straight away. I can’t fault the customer reps when they do respond. Rude is not a word that describes them. However the problems still remain, so it could be a company policy issue. Something the directors should decide. Also I suggest timezone issues affecting customer service rep response should not be present if this company wants to be established in the UK market as well. They used to restrict their business to US-only customers, and only last year they started shipping to UK customers too. But it would improve their UK customer service if they had UK-based reps or at least US ones who can man the customer service systems during daytime hours in the UK. And for goodness sakes, they really need to fix their online portal, delivery methods, and charging issues.

I also called my bank today to explain my situation. Having looked at UK-based online forums where people described their difficulties in getting their banks to stop recurring subscription card payments such as this, I was expecting there could be a chance my request could be refused. However I got transferred by the phone banking customer rep to the right person in the company handling this sort of thing, and this lady was very helpful and understanding. She asked me to describe the details of what happened and why I was wanting the payments to be stopped. I explained and didn’t even need to go into excruciating detail, but she basically replied and said it sounds like this company isn’t interested in stopping the payments, and then told me she will ensure all attempts by Little Passports to claim future payments will be refused as of immediate effect. She also said I should receive a letter in the post soon confirming this. How’s that for efficient and responsive customer service? 🙂

Board games for speech therapy | Obfuscated Objective

https://obfuscatedobjective.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/board-games-and-speech-therapy/

I found this amazing resource online where a speech therapist has chosen and reviewed extensively some board games on the market that can be used as aids for helping a child develop different speech skills. The reviews are thorough and contain lots of details to help you decide if a particular game is right for your child.

As a mother of children with speech and communication difficulties, I think this is a godsend… Granted I am not a speech therapist myself and may not be able to use the games in the way a speech therapist might for therapy purposes, but they would still be of benefit to us if we played these games.

I’m a board game fan and our home has lots of board games already, but I am always looking for more to add to the collection, so this is just right up my street!

I hope this information helps someone 🙂

皇 Japanese Kanji Map

http://www.rikai.com/perl/KanjiMap.pl?

This is a really fun website I found. It can translate Chinese characters into their Japanese hiragana and katakana equivalents. Fun for anyone with an interest in Chinese and Japanese character equivalents.

I have quite an unusual Chinese name (thanks Dad) with characters which even my Chinese teachers in school could not recognise.

Someone online mentioned that he thinks all Chinese characters can be read in Japanese. I said I was doubtful of it, as I had such obscure characters for my Chinese name that even my Chinese school teachers did not know at first.

After some searching and trawling online though, I found this site which actually does just that – provide the Japanese equivalents of Chinese characters. If it could do that for my name, I’m pretty sure it’d work for most Chinese characters people encounter!

If you use this site, you would need to be able to input in Chinese characters, and be able to pronounce Japanese hiragana and katakana characters.

An excellent essay-writing curriculum

I went on the Teacherspayteachers website and found an excellent essay-writing curriculum there for my daughter. It is targeted for American high schoolers, and some of the words used in the worksheets do reflect a higher level maturity is needed to understand those things. It teaches essay-writing in a very logical, systematic, incremental way, so it’s all laid out very clearly. No mystery surrounding this. Could be a little restrictive I guess, if someone follows it to the core. I was never taught essay-writing properly in school and was left to just get on with it somehow by intuition and feel. I got through it somehow, but even though I’ve written hundreds of essays in my academic life, I still learnt something from doing this curriculum with my daughter. That’s why I think it’s great. Only problem is it could be a bit restrictive, IF someone just follows this rigidly. I personally will never restrict my writing to the same format as taught in the material, although it’s good to know the basic skeleton of a good essay. I think my daughter is creative enough, and her writing free-flowing enough, to not get trapped into writing her essays in a rigid structure such as the one taught, so it should be fine. Anyway if I catch her being too rigid with her writing in future, I will let her know.

The material is fine but because some of it requires a certain maturity which at her 12 years of age, she does not yet possess, I had to help her out a bit with understanding the terminology. Not a problem. I think all this exposure to more complex language and concepts can be a good thing – me being a big fan of the Charlotte Mason method of home education. Also leads into some research on her part. I don’t believe in making things easy and/or spoonfeeding a child when it comes to learning. My own experience (and psychological studies into effective learning have borne this out too) is that learning happens best when one had to work for the information – say, research, or quizzing oneself. Information will never be digested well if one just reads the material once over, many times. Nor will it work if one has been told the answer to a question without being given the time to ponder and think and try and find out what the answer is first.

So, we are doing the essay writing course concurrently with our notebooking/history/social studies learning. I tend to split our time between these each week so we end up doing a bit of each every week. And we try not to rush this, but not to delay it too much either (so she doesn’t forget stuff she has picked up last week, etc.) The course is really flexible. One can dip into bits of it or do everything consecutively as they appear. For the money, it is cheap. I did think about enrolling her on the Catherine Mooney essay writing correspondence course before, but this one is cheaper and does the same thing – albeit with no English tutor feedback. Might still use Cat Mooney courses for IGCSE English and/or English Literature in future though. We’ll see.

How Self-Expression Damaged My Students – Robert Pondiscio – The Atlantic

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/09/how-self-expression-damaged-my-students/262656/#disqus_thread

I found this a very interesting read. Certainly echoed some of my own discoveries about English learning, which has come about from my years of home educating. If a child is a compulsive reader and reads all kinds of books – a lot of them – then maybe the child will pick up English skills intuitively that way. I was one such child. But it always bugged me that I couldn’t explain to someone why a sentence, when written a certain way, sounds better than if it was written another way. And when I began home educating my children, I realised I needed to get learning the technicalities of the language, so I could explain to them the whys and hows – the rules of English, so to speak.

I was so glad to be picking up a copy of Rex Barks by Phyllis Davenport. I actually found it a very enjoyable read. Realise that this is not the sort of book that would ever make the top ten books of the year or even come close. After all, it’s all about parts of speech and sentence diagramming. But I was so glad to be reading it. I learnt so much, and it really helped me make sense of the language.

My kids are not like me. They don’t really like reading so much. I have found that knowledge of sentence rules and grammar just doesn’t come naturally to them. And my attempts to correct their writing and explain to them why they cannot put it this way, or that, seemed to be of little help to them. I was doing Charlotte Mason style too at one point, trying to see if it would help. Well in terms of writing skills, not really. So I started teaching grammar explicitly. I had to try different resources to see which fitted best, and although I haven’t found any firm favourites as of yet, but I’ve learnt that they write better if I make sure they know their grammar. Any child can write about stuff. Any one can. But without explicit grammar instruction, some kids just never manage to write well even after years of writing exercises.

I’m now looking at Abeka, Rod & Staff, Peacehill Press, ACE and CLP for grammar teaching material. Who knows, I might find the right fit after all. But one good thing I did take from following a Charlotte Mason style curriculum, is that living books are a great way to introduce quality reading to children, to engage their imaginations and help them develop depth of thought and awareness of ethical issues. It is really food for the soul. If the book engages the child of course. I cannot follow the suggested book lists to the letter because some of the books are really dry and the language too complex for my kids.

I am looking at Sonlight with a lot of interest now, because their book lists seem much more manageable than the Ambleside ones, which contain quite a few books with really complex old language which doesn’t always appeal to my kids unless their plots are really good. Mind you, there are some. Like Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which turned out to be a surprise hit. The only thing stopping me from buying Sonlight is the price tag. I am not sure if it is worth £300 per child. Still thinking about it, I guess.

 

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About learning to read, and write.

Having children of my own has taught me a few new lessons about language acquisition, reading and writing. It has taught me that my way of language acquisition as a child was very instinctual. I pretty much went about it on my own for the most of it – as a child, nobody read to me nor asked me about the books I read. None of my parents encouraged me to read. In short, nobody had shown any interest at all in the fact that I loved reading. I was simply a very driven reader. I just started picking up books and reading nonstop from about age 6 and the rest was history. I’ve always taught people in some way or other. I worked as a private tutor for a few years when I was in Singapore, tutoring Maths and English mainly.  And now I am a homeschooler. One of my lifelong pet subjects is figuring out how to teach effectively.

My eldest, who is now 11, seemed at first to be a complete opposite of me. She always said she “hated” reading, although she would have no problem picking up a book or a leaflet or some other text to read if she felt it was of interest to her.  In hindsight, I realise I might have put her off reading when I used the Siegfried Engelmann book on her when she was 5, though I never pushed it. In fact it was apparent pretty early on that it wasn’t going to work with her. I gave up after 4 lessons. She hated it. Later on, she would acquire the ability to read in school when she was about 6 years old. It was a happy event for me. I looked forward to sharing my love of books with her, only to find out that actually she wasn’t that keen on reading at all. In fact, she hated it. She hated English lessons in school with a passion. She’d come home every day telling me how boring school was.  In a way I felt relieved I wasn’t the one responsible for teaching her English at the time, but I felt there must be some way in which I could help her in this. Reading extensively and widely is a prerequisite to acquiring a good standard of English, and English forms the basis of everything else we study in school. But it was just a worry at the back of my head. At the forefront, I was more concerned with other matters that come with attending school, like whether she was enjoying it, whether she was getting along with friends, etc.

Despite all that, she writes really well. We’ve been unschooling for a year or so, and reading wasn’t something she’d choose to do during say, 80% of her free time.  When I started the Ambleside curriculum with my kids recently, I noticed her range of English vocabulary and her reading comprehension ability was well below the standard required to understand the texts recommended for her year group. But I don’t blame her. At 11, she’s supposed to be doing Grade 5 I believe, but I had a look at some of the reading material for the curriculum and realised there was no way my 11 year old can handle that. In fact I doubt many 11 year olds out there can. I believe right now, she is probably at the Grade 2 level in terms of the standard of literature recommended by the curriculum. Some of the Grade 1 literature in fact, wouldn’t be too easy for her either, and a lot of the reading material in Ambleside is very advanced. For example, they recommend reading the original Shakespeare plays (and acting them out) at Grade 5. In state schools, Shakespeare originals would be used only in high school. Ambleside recommends Plutarch for Grade 5. Now I challenge anyone to read Plutarch (a sample of which can be found here) and say that an average Grade 5 public school kid can handle that. In fact an average high schooler probably wouldn’t find it an easy read either.

I love the richness of the text in the Ambleside material, so I don’t want to give up on it. Getting used to the complexity of language can only be good in the long run, because you would develop powers of comprehension and analysis that you wouldn’t usually acquire easily if you only just stuck to contemporary reading material from the bookshops. This is what I’ve found out for myself after I did Philosophy in Uni. Going through the course really helped sharpen my reading comprehension skills and decoding ability when encountering rich texts.

Since the texts for Grade 5 (and even some of the Grade 3 and 4) are quite tricky for her, I’ve decided to use Ambleside’s Grade 1 to 3 material instead, to practice narration. I find narration to be a pretty good method of enhancing a child’s reading comprehension. When a child narrates a story back, they have to be able to comprehend the gist of the story and relate it in their own words. The act of narration involves summarising and composition as well. It’s surprisingly effective for improving a child’s language skills, especially in terms of comprehension.

Apart from that, I also use Galore Park’s “So You Really Want To Learn English Book 1” for her. I was pretty impressed with the standard of their “Latin Prep” books, which she already uses for Latin. The English book didn’t disappoint either. Galore Park is a brand of British textbooks geared toward the private school market in UK. It produces material that aims to prepare students for the 11 year old and 13 year old entrance exams into some of the country’s most academically-selective schools. It also produces material that prepares students for the GCSE exams to be taken around 16 years of age. But the material is pretty effective, and of a higher calibre than say, the usual brands of revision books found in British bookstores. I had my reservations at first about whether the material in the Galore Park books would be too dry or too difficult for my daughter, who had been out of the school system for a few years (and had never even attended private or prep schools) , but the books have proven to be well-liked. She actually looks forward to doing them and I find the material engaging, informative and well-structured. They are also sufficiently challenging so it really does stimulate her mind.

My 7 year old daughter started reading at 4.5 years old because she asked me to teach her. I used the Siegfried Engelmann book to teach reading. It is indeed, one of the most effective teaching tools when it comes to reading instruction, but it is dry as bones. I did that book with her until about halfway through, and stopped. Partly because she was groaning and complaining every time I took the book out for a lesson, and partly because by then, she was able to read even stuff they haven’t yet covered in the book. I was fine with stopping the book midway. It had already done what it was supposed to do, which was to teach my daughter to read!

Ever since we started Ambleside about a month ago, she has shown a great interest in the reading material. I use Grade 1 for her, and she has been managing alright, although it is clear there are so many new words to her in the reading material. When I read to her, she can always narrate back pretty competently, showing me she did get the gist of the story, although she does not fully understand a lot of the new words she encounters in these rich old texts. Charlotte Mason’s idea was to expose kids to rich vocabulary through these texts, not to make each reading session into an extensive vocab lesson. I get that. That was how I acquired my knowledge of English. Through reading lots and lots of books since I was in Kindy, but I would never check the dictionaries for the meanings of unknown words. I just notice the words, and kind of guessed their meanings from context, and if I couldn’t guess the meaning, I would only ask an adult IF comprehension of the unknown word was absolutely crucial in aiding my continued enjoyment of the story. And this is exactly what my 7 year old does. I see her doing this too, so I think she’s fine. I might want to teach her how to use the dictionary one of these days though. But for now, narration and copywork are sufficient for her in terms of English “lessons”.

And lastly, we’ve come to my 5 year old son. He is a bit of a challenge, which is good and keeps me on my toes. It also forces me to re-examine different approaches to learning and to be more creative with how I teach. He is a ball of energy at home, and not really into sitting still. The ability to read (or not) just did not bother him. I tried the Siegfried Engelmann book on him at 4.5 years old. He was not interested. I put the book away and decided he just needs to have fun with words, so I bought a Reading Eggs subscription that he could play on whenever he liked, and I downloaded the Eggy Words and Eggy Alphabet apps onto my tablet for him to play with. I did try teaching him some sight words, but he was not getting it. I realised that in order for someone to even start trying to learn to read, they need to be able to recognise the letters of the alphabet first. At that point, he was not recognising any of the alphabets, even though he was being told that this is an “R”, this is an “A”, quite regularly, because he’d ask. It  seemed that to him, a written alphabet was just a squiggle that could stand for any alphabet you say it is. What he needed to do was to understand that these different little squiggles – these alphabets – each squiggle is special and means a specific thing.

I wasn’t going to start off making him learn all the letters of the alphabet, knowing he wouldn’t have the patience nor perseverance to learn them. Anything he learns has to be relevant to him, to whet his interest. So first thing I did was start him on learning to recognise the written form of his name. And eventually, when he mastered that, I started him on learning to write his name. And then after he became competent in that, I started getting him to play Eggy Alphabet daily, to sort of get a fun intro about all the letters of the alphabet (with some in-app on-screen finger-writing practice thrown in the mix). And after a couple of weeks, he was recognising at least half of all the alphabets. He’s a really inquisitive boy. Sometimes he’d point to a written word or sign and ask us to read it to him. We sounded it out to him. I made it a point in fact, to let him know that the first alphabet of the word was such-and-such sound, and then sounded out the whole word for him. Then the penny started to drop. He was saying things to me out of the blue like “Mummy, I know C is for cat, ‘cos C sounds like this : ‘CUUHH!’ And ‘Cat’ starts with a ‘CUUHH’ sound!'”

Last week, I tried out the Siegfried Engelmann book on him again. This was the second time I tried it on him, the first time being about a year ago where I gave up because I realised it wasn’t going to work at the time. But this time, he took to it. He could do the lessons, and he was enjoying it. I bought a mini whiteboard, eraser and dry-wipe markers, and got him to practise his writing on the whiteboard, because at the end of each lesson in the book was a writing practice. He used to be pretty weak in pen control, but his standard of writing has improved using the whiteboard and the daily practice. I haven’t even gotten him to the stage of writing on lined paper, as I think at this stage, he’s probably not very ready for that. I print out pre-handwriting practice worksheets for him to do, which he enjoys, to strengthen his ability to write with a pencil.  I get him to do colouring worksheets, as well as cutting skills worksheets (all free to download online) to practice his fine motor skills. I supplement his learning to read with the Letterland book and the Letterland flashcards (which really are handy at helping him remember how to sound out an alphabet). They have all been very useful and very entertaining for my son.

I use Ambleside’s Kindergarten reading material for him. Well, we already have Winnie The Pooh stories at home. Given to us by a friend a long time ago but we never got round to reading it. Ever since I started reading it regularly to my son (because it’s an Ambleside recommended book), it’s been a hit around here. Even my 7 year old daughter often listens in, or asks to join in when I read it to my son.

I realise that I’ve been using primarily phonics-based methods to teach my kids to read so far. It works for us. I tried sight-words and it wasn’t that successful for reading instruction here, although I find that sight words are great once a child has learnt how to sound out words using phonics methods. The phonics method does not work on it’s own that well. For us, it has been a combination of phonics and sight words, that has taught them to read. I believe when I was young, I wasn’t taught to read using the phonics method. It was probably by sight words, because I know that when I came across these phonics reading materials that I’d bought for my kids, it was all pretty new stuff to me. I had to actually learn the pronunciations of the sounds of the alphabets so that when it came to teaching my kids, I would be teaching correctly. So no, I really don’t think I was ever taught to read the phonics way. The process of learning to read is truly mysterious. I have no idea how I figured out how to read without phonics instruction, but I managed to do so, as did countless other people. Yet if you asked me whether I prefer phonics or sightwords reading instruction, I will always tell you it’s phonics, as I’ve had the most success with that method on my children.

I am seeing an improvement every week, and I’m really proud of my kids. I’m so glad they are homeschooled, especially my boy, because if he attended school, the pressure on him to learn to read and write would be HUGE, and I don’t want my little boy to be put off studying at such a young age.

Suffice to say, I’ve learnt a lot over the years about teaching children to learn to read and write. Each child is different – different aptitudes, interests, abilities – and it is important to take all those into consideration. Also,  I used to be pretty anti-structure when it comes to education, but due to my recent foray into Ambleside and the significant improvements I’ve seen in my children, I see now that structure is actually also beneficial for my kids.

 

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This website and its content is copyright of Ticklyfeet.net – © Ticklyfeet.net 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited except with the Author’s express written permission. The Author may be initially contacted by email via the webform on the “About” page here : /about/

Dialogues…

Some of the songs that kids listen to these days contain words that are way too adult for them.

I mean for example, just now the LMFAO song “I am not a whore” came on Spotify (my kids like listening to Spotify and they love LMFAO) and my 4 year old son said in his cute little toddler voice… “Mummy, what’s a whore?”

My reply, (carefully thought out btw) : “A whore is someone who lets other people do rude things to him (or her) for money.” :-/

 

Copyright Notice
This website and its content is copyright of Ticklyfeet.net – © Ticklyfeet.net 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited except with the Author’s express written permission. The Author may be initially contacted by email via the webform on the “About” page here : /about/