We have been undertaking my plan of action to make sure the kids are on a level with their peers for a month and there has been noticeable progress in both Fifi and the boy. Yes, there is a degree of hothousing here but I now realise that I need to do that for the next few months at least in order to provide the boy with the confidence to achieve in the classroom and not struggle with the things which his peers find easy. Fifi wants to do better than her big brother at everything, that's her incentive, I have not actively encouraged her to do anything, at the same time I haven't discouraged her either. I want her to do well and to be at the top of her class, like I was.
This might be teaching you to suck eggs but the main things that I have learnt from reading lots and doing tons of research is that as a parent you need to be armed with a load of resources which appeal to both yourself and the kids and it's absolutely essential to understand what they are supposed to be learning at school and when they are learning it. If needs be go into the school and corner the teacher. I've got The National Curriculum printed out and use it as a source of reference. I also look at the websites of other schools and see what their curriculum is for the term. You can pick up some great ideas and many have good book lists. I've also spent quite a lot of time doing various Amazon searches for books for the right ages/ keystages.
We have had a great deal of success in our house using IT based learning. I realised this was the way to go for us after I bought some Kumon workbooks and found it very difficult to get the children to do them in the way that Kumon is intended to work. We had a trail session at Explore learning and although it seemed great I thought that they wouldn't benefit from anything more than what I could provide at home. In effect, I decided that rather than sign up for costly monthly fees I'd use the money to buy subscriptions to a couple of websites which purport to teach the kids in the same way as they do at Explore. This strategy worked. Every night the kids come home and do as much or as little as they like on these sites. Because the websites are quite good fun and there are clear built in incentives for them they tend to do a reasonable amount. We get reports each week, its usually about 35 minutes of maths and considerably more reading.
Fifi has made brilliant progress and she can read very simple words. I started off buying The Jolly Phonic Handbook and taught her phonics using this because she was so keen to learn and start reading her brothers books. This is an invaluable resource and is worth far more than the £15 it costs, not least because it explains the methodology for teaching and provides all the resources to properly support your childs learning.
To go back to the website based learning I chose Reading Eggs because its a proven system and the kids had an iPad app which they quite liked. Its bright, colourful with lots of incentives built in. Fifi is making really good progress with the site and Boy enjoys the fact that its on the computer (I figure this also teaches him bits of the IT curriculum etc as I encourage him to login etc himself). He has made a great deal of progress using it in just two weeks and has actually gone up a few reading levels over Christmas.
For maths we opted for IXL maths, partly because we tried out the free lessons and enjoyed them. It is a lot cheaper than the Carol Vodermans The Maths Factor which also looked appealing. IXL maths produces a report each week and you can clearly see the areas which your child struggles with and give them some targetted help. The boy enjoys doing these challenges and so at the moment we are quite happy to see what happens.
I also made the decision to sign up to The School Run, I have to admit so far I find the website quite clunky and its a pain to print out the resources which are hard to read on the PC. However, this promises to be a never ending source of worksheets and advice. I'm quite impressed by their Learning Journey which provides tailored worksheets straight to your email inbox and its a great alternative to doing everything on the PC.
A friend of mine has also pointed me in the direction of Hamilton Trust who basically provide lesson plans for teachers. It looks an interesting resources, particularly if you are keen on Home Educating but want a bit of support. I haven't signed up yet, although its very reasonable priced but its worth considering.
We do a lot of activities around topics of interest all the time, if you read this blog in the summer you'd have seen some of them such as a day themed to 'exploring' a country once a week. However, I think I had neglected the basics of reading and maths in favour of teaching them anatomy and science based topics. I read loads to the kids, we talk about letters and we do a lot of craft but somehow particularly for the boy this didn't support his learning at school and in this exam driven day and age I really want to make sure that they are at least on a level with their peers. Many of whom admittedly have private tutors. I enjoy teaching my kids and I have really enjoyed seeing them develop. It will be interesting to see what their teachers feedback to us at parents evening this term.
So, I think in summary if you are concerned about your kids progress but you don't have the money or want to commit to a costly monthly fee have a look at these resources. If you have a new baby don't panic, but start thinking hard about teaching them as much as you can about Maths and English as soon as you can. I personally think that if you can give them a head start when they begin school they will have the confidence to enjoy learning. I wish I had known this before the boy began on his educational path.
If like me you are asked what to get your child for birthdays and Christmas make sure that you specifically ask for educational based toys as gifts; shape sorters, abacus, wooden learning clocks, wooden letters, plastic gears that sort of thing rather than plastic figures of people and the like. I can thoroughly recommend this book, we had it on e-reader but I realise that having an actual book is actually more dramatic somehow when reading to kids so I've just bought a hard copy, it's a great gift for someone. Have a look at The Book People and the Red House for brilliant bargains on all sorts of books, we have had loads of Julia Donaldson and classic books from here.
I'd be interested to hear what resources you use with your kids.