Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The world of Letterland

I have been asked very frequently about the Phonics Program Dumpling and I use and why so I decided to post to share more here.

I am a pretty big fan of Letterland and this was shared in 2 of my previous posts here. When Dumpling was younger, we did try out some of the other phonics systems but we ended up with Letterland. Letterland is a synthetic phonics program which teaches letter sounds (rather than the names of the letters) and slowly building up to blending and spelling. We really love the program and here are some of the reasons why:

1) Stories based approach
Young children do have amazing absorbent minds but for a child to be able to remember well, it helps that it is interesting and fun. This phonics program, in my opinion, does just that. All the letters in it are assigned characters in a fictional land called “Letterland”. Each character then makes a sound which is also the starting sound of their names. For e.g. Golden Girl goes “guh guh guh” (the children are taught the hard sound first). While a lot of other phonics programs teach this, Letterland follows this through to digraphs. For e.g. “Sh” makes the sound “Shhhhh” because Sammy Snake’s (letter S) hissing sounds gave Harry Hat man a headache. So Harry Hat man turned around and puts a finger to his lips and says “shhhh”. Likewise, “Ch” has its own story too – Clever Cat’s nose was tickled by Harry Hat Man’s hat and so she makes the “Ch ch ch” sound instead of its "c c c" sound.

I personally thought that these stories are not only smart but also very engaging for young children.
2) Home support materials
Letterland has tons of home support materials. There are activity books for starting sounds, rhyming words, pre-writing exercises, spelling, etc. So for anyone who wants to do home learning, it is easy to follow through. Here is a quick look at the activity books but the program also offers cards, magnets. etc.

What worked very well for Dumpling was the song based approach: each letter has two songs (one on handwriting and one on letter sounds). The songs are short and catchy and in no time, Dumpling is singing to it.

Importantly, for the homelearning parent, the program also offers guidebooks for the teacher. This is great for new homeschooling parent who is clueless as to how to explain, what to do, etc. Here is a sample lesson on clever cat. So as a homeschooling parent, all we need to do is read it prior, prepare the additional materials needed (listed for each letter too) and make copies of the big picture cards.


3) Handwriting & letters recognition
Related to (2), the program not only teaches sounds but also handwriting and letter recognition. Even Upper and Lower case has its own story so the child is able to recognize that “d” and “D” are the same! This is taught very effectively through its CD Rom, Living ABC. I have previously blogged a bit about it here too to share how I used the program.

Some parents have also provided feedback on the child only recognizing the characters and not the letter shapes. I have also shared what I did to prevent that in the same link above.

4) The Queen’s English
Of course, there are many other programs out there which are good too but I wanted to have an UK phonics based system simply because that is what is being used here in Singapore. Some of the other US based programs or even DVD shows use American pronunciation and these could sound quite different from what we use locally.

5) Creative fun
Lastly, this program has a lot of fun craft ideas so it is almost like a total approach. For a young child, such craft and physical activities enable them to remember even better as it is simply so much fun! This is one of the activities from its craft book on Uppy Umbrella for a quick look. Here is another cooking activity for Munching Mike.

For homeschooling and home learning parents, this allows you to have the resources to almost teach letter systematically as each letter can be introduced on a daily basis with such creative and fun approach.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quiet time

Quiet moments are such bliss though hard to come by as my little busy Dumpling zooms from one thing to another. But once in a while, I do get my 10-30mins "me" time when Dumpling is busy with these...

Pretend Play - from Mother Garden's Doctor kit 

We made this cupboard" on our own using an old cardbox. Here she is playing "shopkeeper"

I readily have A3 pieces of paper on standby as it is very useful when Dumpling wants to doodle or right since she is still developing her motor skills and her letters / pictures are usually quite large in size

This is what she did with broken crayons

One of her favourite quiet time activities - reading

I leave ready art supplies on her table - popsicle sticks, tape, playdoh, marker, etc. where she has easy access to them. Here she created a Pterosaur when I was surfing on my iPhone

Whiteboard and non toxic markers are also in close proximity. Am quite blessed that she has not drawn anything on the wall except twice when she was much younger

During snack time, I'd provide her with some odd and end food items and she gets to create creatures / monsters, etc., out of them. Makes snack time all the more interesting. :)

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Air Transportation Week

I am not very good and have never been good with the "techie" stuff. While I do like cars, I am better with arts and other "stuff" such as nature. With the hardcore physics and "techie" topics, I struggle. It is also precisely when I first heard of the Airshow, I wanted to do an Air transport homeschool week just so that I can learn along with Dumpling too.

I want to take this opportunity to also add that if I were to get $5 for every time I hear someone say "you mean C can understand such a topic? I think it is much too hard for them!" , I think it would have made quite a substantial contribution to Dumpling's Uni fund by now. LOL. So to make it official, I will be collecting $5 for Dumpling's Uni fund from this moment henceforth from all of you kind souls out there. :D

This blog is meant to share ideas and to encourage parents like you to homelearn with your kids. Anything is possible for a homelearning unit, you just need to dissect it down to a suitable level and to research a bit on the web. Do not over analyse especially if you have a preschooler like I do, just read and learn along. If your child is not engaged or struggles with it, trust me, you will know. :) Then skip over that section and work on other stuff.

Frankly, I searched high and low for a printable homeschooling unit on Airplanes and it did not yield me many suitable options. I saw a lot of "Transportation" printables but nothing just on planes until I saw this by Hands of a Child. So, I decided to read a lot with Dumpling, work on selected "Transportation Pack" printables and then do a lapbook with the unit from Hands of  a Child.

Half of the books we used (I accidentally returned some to the library and hence this is only half of what we read)

We got these printables as part of the Transportation pack from Homeschool Creations. This is part of a 2-part download so please ensure you have downloaded both

I really like this exercise. It reinforces "left" and "right" and uses a bit of critical thinking as the child needs to look at the direction the vehicle is facing. I always thought that Dumpling is quite sure of her left and right until I did this exercise. So, this was a great reinforcement for her.

Number sequencing using puzzle with a "bi-plane" (see! I learnt something too!)

The below is from Hands of a Child. The lapbook elements download came with 10 activities and frankly, it is a bit technical in terms of details. While I did not mind that as it is a good way to build up Dumpling's general knowledge (different parts of an airplane and its functions, differences between a helicopter and an airplane, etc.), I wished that it had more creative stuff in it - craft or even extending to Math.

How the lapbook looks after piecing the elements together

A few nights before the Airshow in the official Airshow Tee :)

One of the first few static displays we saw

That Sunday morning was really breezy and cool so it was a perfect for such an outing!

Dumpling busy taking photos of her own

We were queuing to sit in the cockpit of...

An Apache! (Dumpling chose it)

I thought she would fuss about with so many new faces as she often takes a while to warm up to strangers

But she was absolutely thrilled about sitting in the cockpit!


In fact, she did more than ok...

She was ecstatic with all the buttons and I secretly think she really likes pilots! (Ha ha ha ha)

See what I mean? Check out her smile!

OK, the pilots there were really great with young kids so kudos to them. They were patient and ever so obliging. This particular pilot had to listen to Dumpling's sharing of the difference between a helicopter and an airplane. lol

And with a click, she launched a missile?!?

She was having such a ball of a time that she refused to get off

Thumbs up to a well organised event, a team of really great "gor gors" (as Dumpling calls them) and of couse the amazing air show!

:) This was an air show by the Australian Roulettes. They were really good!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aha moments 1

I have been asked by many parents why I do it, why not let someone do it.

"Why make it so hard for yourself, just outsource lah" is one of the most common comments that I get.

This is why. The "Aha" moments: moments where I am privileged to be part of Dumpling's learning and observation process, to be able to witness that sparkle in her eye and that proud smile when she makes a new discovery and that joyous laughter when she is at her imaginative play.

I LOVE IT. I love being part of it. Sure, it is hard but even on days when it gets labouriously trying and "masochistically" punishing as I try to dissect a topic down to her level of understanding and thinking of new creative ways to engage her, we still enjoy it. I do regularly ask her if she wants to be enrolled in a bilingual school and stop homeschooling but her preference is still for us to do the things we do.

Yep, we would not have it any other way :)

Self discovery  the "melting" process: ice and heat

Ahoy Matey! Her effort at being a nasty pirate. LOL

On senses and taste: SOUR!

 Working out weight distribution on her own when building her dino robot

LOL, seriously, can one not laugh at this? :p

 Lastly, my all time favourite. This is one when we started homelearning and we were painting with yoghurt. The toothless smile. That pure unadulterated joy on her face.

Still warms my heart and brings a smile to my face, after 2 years. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Calvert Home Curriculum - Ready lesson plans

Being the homeschool junkie that I am, I am always on the lookout for homeschool curriculum to try out and I have also previously put up a post on Adventures in Learning where it is a ready-packed curriculum with daily lesson plans as well as lesson and basic art materials.

Calvert is the first homeschool curriculum I tried out last year when I stumble upon it reading up on the web. What attracted me was that it was organized (clear progression path for the child) and it is an established organization. Additionally, for a first time homeschool mum, I like that the website seems useful (can track your child’s progress, etc.) and it is accredited in the US.

When it ran a promotion then, without any hesitation, I shipped the set in. Here’s a quick look:

What the whole kit consists of

There are manuals for lesson plans, read aloud along with art supplies like modeling clay, safety scissors and even construction paper.

The lesson manual comes with clearly daily plans but the teacher definitely needs to read prior and prep the materials. 

The materials are quite comprehensive as it includes Stories and Poems book, the lesson manual and even activity books as below

The inside page of Road to Reading Activity Book

The inside page of Math Readiness

The lesson plans are very thorough as it includes various areas from Discussion to Number Readiness to Stories and Poems to Games, etc. These correspond with the books that they have provided as part of the kit

However, I struggle with this curriculum a bit. The compilation of Stories and Nursery Rhymes, etc., seem to be designed for older kids or for read aloud because they are very wordy and the font size is small with hardly any pictures. So while the parent can point and read along, for younger children, this will definitely not be ideal since a young child would likely look or walk away. So, I did not feel that this would aid in early literacy. 

Additionally, one of my other gripes is though the lesson plans are thorough, but they seem very "dry". There are no crafts lessons mentioned (at least in the front part of the manual) and the activities are not as creative as Adventures in Learning. Rather, the art part is very "free form".

So I have to improvise and extend a lot on my own. With the help of another friend who also ordered the same curriculum, we searched for craft ideas and writing exercises online and shared the files.

Below are our extended sessions:

One good thing about this curriculum is that Music is included and it comes with a CD and music scores too so it is great for homeschoolers who are able to play instruments.

Below is a sample from "Poems"

Here, the free form art part from then lesson plan suggested for the child to paint based on her / his understanding of it.

I then extended to ask Dumpling how would she depict "fresh air" sandwiched in between and she chose a "happy colour" - yellow.

For me, I do not think that this is enough as a core and comprehensive curriculum. In fact, I stopped barely 1/3 through the curriculum and am struggling to start on it again. But for parents who want to supplement what the school is already doing and do casual home activities without having to research much, this may be enough especially if you are not really into craft sessions.

Here's Calvert's website: And for a limited period, they are offering 30% off their curriculum. :)  

I took a break from this curriculum for more than half a year because Dumpling was just not engaged when I read the stories from the book as the format is basically 1 page / story with only one picture and it is in black and white.

However, when I continued with the program earlier, she was more ready. She sat through the story and read out some parts too. We finished the session in 30 mins. The Math bit at the earlier part of the book is quite gentle, more to build readiness through sort, games, introduction of concepts. So for this area, I feel that it is a tad too slow for Dumpling. For parents looking for a supplementary program for like a 30-40mins session, I think this would be enough as it is quite direct and fast.

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