Doing More With Less Since 1972

Category: Articles

Starting a Co-op – Finding Others

Thinking of starting your own homeschool co-op? Not sure how to find other people to participate? Not sure how to outline expectations? Here’s where we started…

We were really excited about the idea of homeschool co-ops long before Ana ever started one. But there were a couple of things we weren’t really sure about, like when we should do it and how to find other people who were interested. It had always been in the back of our minds, but was always one of those things we thought we’d get to sooner or later. We really started talking seriously about it when other moms in Pea’s loose-knit play group started asking about where/when she’d be attending pre-school. Our answer was always, “we’re homeschooling”, and since we sort of believe that education starts at birth, she was already “in” school as far as we were concerned.

We were discussing it one night, and Ana mentioned jumping right in and starting up a co-op for preschoolers. Why not? The beauty of a preschool co-op would be that even parents who planned on sending their kids to a traditional school later on but were currently staying home with them may want to participate. We also thought it would be a good time for us personally to shift Pea’s educational experience a little by exposing her to different teachers and other students. Playing the part of mommy and teacher at the same time didn’t always work out as planned for Ana.

Ana jumped online and went to our local MomsLikeMe site and wrote up a quick post, just to gauge interest, and the response was great. Actually, the response was a little overwhelming. There were a lot more people interested than we’d anticipated. We figured the ideal class size would be 6 or 7 kids, but there were way more initial responses.

A meet and greet was set up so that the moms and kids could get to know each other a little. This was one of the most important steps of organizing the co-op. Of course, not every family who responded showed up for the meeting. Not a problem–if you aren’t interested enough to come to the first meeting, you probably aren’t that interested long-term. The meetup also provided a chance to lay out all the things that would be involved in a co-op. Supplies and curricula cost money, so there would obviously be a financial commitment. More importantly, there needed to be a commitment to being heavily involved with teaching classes and providing care for younger siblings while their moms were instructing.

Most of all, there needed to be a real commitment to participate every day to help the kids establish a steady group dynamic in their school. Sure, kids get sick and scheduling conflicts come up, that’s understandable. But the kids needed the stable group and each mom’s unique creativity and perspective.

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I wouldn’t go so far as to say anyone was scared off, but if anyone expected this to be just another playgroup or a chance for moms to get together and gossip while the kids played with letter blocks, their eyes were opened to a very different idea. The group of moms that decided to continue on with the project was fully committed, and the results have been great. The kids are now getting a variety of classes taught by different moms, and they are having a blast with it.

I’d say the commitment of the families involved, and that especially means the MOMS, is the single most important factor in the co-op’s success so far. If you are thinking of starting a co-op, don’t feel bad about being selective and laying out firm expectations from the very beginning.

Celebrate The Freedom To Read What We Want

It’s that time of year again…the time to celebrate Banned Book Week. Held every year on the last week of September, BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or to create books that may sometimes be viewed unorthodox or controversial by some. Their goal is to promote intellectual freedom.

I remember one year in Florida there was a lot of buzz about a certain book that was being banned in all schools county by county. Guess what happened? EVERYONE wanted to read it…and just about everyone did. It’s still one of my favorites! It’s funny how banning books has that effect, no?

So go check out what it’s all about and also to see what titles are creating buzz this year. Enjoy your freedom!

Literacy On the Web

One of the issues we’re already concerned about is setting a good reading example for our kids. We feel like it’s important to not only read to them, but for them to see us reading on our own as well. Ana is much more apt to read books than I am. I’ve always been a pretty voracious reader. I’m constantly reading, but 90% of my reading now occurs online. I feel like I need to make a conscious effort to read books when little ones are around because I’m afraid they’ll associate a computer as some type of toy and won’t understand that what I do with the computer is actually reading. But even if they realize that I’m reading, is that the kind of reading kids need?

Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article discussing the changing face of reading and how it affects literacy. Reading online is increasingly popular with young people, and the experience of reading online resembles more of a zig-zag-bob-and-weave than the linear beginning, middle, end type reading most of us grew up doing in books, magazines, and newspapers. When I was a kid, I was big fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books because they offered a little bit of control over the story, and the story could change. One of the reasons I love reading online is because the experience is similar, and it offers many more tangents. The difference is that those books I loved so much still had a beginning, middle, and end to their stories.

From my own experience, I think the big issue with reading online is that I don’t tend to get as much granularity as I would from a book. I use my online reading as more of a macro view of a subject. Although I can get many more vantage points on a subject, I tend to miss out on the details. I tend to use what I read online as a guide to what I want to read more about in a book; the overview that I get online helps me decide what I’d like to learn about in detail. But, just as the article suggests, I think the way my brain works has definitely been changed by the availability of information we now enjoy.

I think it’s interesting that for kids born in the last ten years or so, this way of getting information is perfectly normal, and for the generation before mine (at least a large number of them), they haven’t really transitioned to life online the way many in my generation have. It’s definitely a strange spot to be in, having experience “extreme reading” both before and after the presence of the web.

Still, I tend to agree with this statement from the article:

Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”

What do you guys think? Does reading online really count as reading?

Family Friendly Online Bookstore

The other day I happened to run into Gavin Baker of at an informal entrepreneur’s meetup. Abunga is a family friendly online media store that actually uses the input of its community to decide what they should sell. Abunga isn’t Amazon, and they aren’t trying to be either. They are built around the idea of not only providing family friendly products at great prices, but they also have a program that donates money back to worthy causes.

Gavin and I had a really good conversation about the directions they’d like to go with Abunga and new services they have in the works to enhance the experience of their user community. We talked part technology, part marketing, and part “you know what would be cool”. I don’t want to give away any of their plans for the future, but those guys are working feverishly to add more and more to Abunga.

Check them out if you have a chance. We’re constantly looking for cool things like this in the community (especially our local community) that are good resources for parents and kids!

Previously On…

I admit it. I’m a TV junkie. I like to think I watch in moderation, but I probably watch too much. I know that fact may seem to contradict what we’re advocating here, but I can’t help it. And I actually noticed something helpful about television a few weeks ago when Ana was explaining a reading strategy to me. The strategy we were discussing is summarizing. I’m not the reading expert, so I’ll let her take you through the specifics of summarizing, why it’s important, and how to employ it, but I quickly realized that it is a strategy used in television all the time.

Most of my favorite shows are running series like Lost that develop characters and stories over weeks and years. One thing every episode of these shows has in common is that they all begin with a “Previously on…” segment that summarizes what has happened so far. As Ana points out in her article on summarizing, there’s a very good reason for this–it gives us a chance to get caught up very quickly so we can pay attention and absorb the new material.

Again, I’ll leave the coaching of this strategy to Ana, but I thought I’d point out a way that this strategy is commonly used in another medium. I’ve always appreciated the “Previously on…” segments of television shows. Besides reminding me of what has happened in previous episodes, they’re also effective in setting the mood for what I’m about to watch. Whenever I pick up a book I’m working on, especially if it’s fiction, I almost always skim a few paragraphs I covered in my last reading session just to give myself a quick reminder of where I was and to get my mind back into story.

Reading’s Fab Five

Better known as The Five Components of Reading, the Fab Five are the crucial instruments that research has shown kids need in order to become successful readers. Research is great . . . but are these really so important and are they necessary? My answer to both questions is a big resounding YES! Each one is important and they are absolutely necessary to teach so that your kids not only build a strong foundation of skills, but also continue to develop them in order to become accomplished readers that go on to do well in other subject areas.

Before I break down each of the Fab Five, it’s important to note that these components are not “steps to reading”. They are not meant to be introduced one at a time and mastered before moving on to the other. While it’s true that children will have to learn parts of some components before they can work on others, they are meant to work together throughout the process of learning to read. This means that you will be working on different aspects of the five components as your child’s skills grow. For example: Your child may need to work on some phonemic awareness skills before he/she can work on phonics. Yet another child can be working on vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension all at once in the same story. It may sound confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it once you see examples in the teaching methods and lesson ideas!
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Fluency … the great bridge. Fluency acts as the bridge between decoding words and comprehending what they mean. But what does fluency mean? Here’s the National Reading Panel’s official definition:

Fluency: The ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression.

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Karla — Reading Doesn’t Come Naturally For Everyone

I have read several accounts of parents whose kids have learned how to read on their own. Some of these children began reading slowly while others took off quickly. As impressive as it may seem, I don’t believe that reading truly came as a natural ability for them. I absolutely believe that these parents feel that their kids learned how to read naturally, however, I don’t think they realize how much of a role they played in their children’s learning. While they may not have explicitly taught their kids to read, they certainly taught them implicitly. What I mean is that everything these parents did for their kids (some from the time they were born) helped to build a foundation that would later translate into them becoming literate. Many of these parents share how they would read books to their kids daily, track words while reading, discuss books, provide books and experiences with literature at home, model reading, take them to the library, and many other wonderful activities that expose children to the world of reading. Just because these parents didn’t sit down and provide their kids with formal lessons on reading doesn’t mean that they didn’t teach them how to read. These parents did amazing things for their children even if they don’t realize it! It is this type of parent that is often found behind a child that has learned how to read “naturally”. These kids are one extreme.

Let me give you an example of the other extreme, because some kids aren’t as lucky. I had the opportunity to work with a little girl that convinced me that reading does not occur naturally for everyone. She was an eleven year old girl that was raised by her illiterate grandmother in a small Central American country. Having never attended school, she came to me knowing nothing academically, and had absolutely no knowledge of the alphabet or numbers. Other than that, she was of average intelligence – she just lacked education. She never had anyone that read to her and had never even seen a book until moving to the US. She didn’t even grasp the concept that writing was a representation of the words we speak – she had no idea what those “black and white scribbles” were. Needless to say, she was a very challenging case.

Now most kids fall somewhere in between these two extremes. They probably have parents who read to them occasionally, are exposed to literature, and are aware of why the ability to read is important. Yet their daily modeling of reading may only include functional reading – such as reading menus, tv guides, signs, or other things that simply get people through the day. They may not have someone who emphasizes the importance of learning new things or who encourages them to read nonfiction just to learn about things that interest them. In my opinion, these kids would probably not be able to learn to read if left to their own devices.

I’ll assume that if you’ve made it this far in this article then you’re someone who enjoys reading for the sake of learning. If your kids are in the room while you read this, you are modeling for them right now. Congratulations! You are already taking steps to ensure that your children learn to read and will later read to learn!


Comprehension is THE ultimate goal of reading! Everything we teach our kids in reading is so that they will end up having comprehension, or an understanding of what they read. We spend so much time learning how to read just to get to the point where we can read to learn. Comprehension = knowledge. But just because comprehension is our ultimate goal doesn’t mean that you need to wait till your kids are older or have “mastered” everything else in reading before you teach it.
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How Big Bird Creates Critical Thinkers

Earlier today I was reading a book to my friend’s little boy. In the book, Big Bird was asking the kids to pick objects that fell into certain categories. For instance, he would ask the child to pick out something that we eat from a page full of blue objects, and the child would pick the bowl of blueberries. A page of green objects may contain a coat, and Big Bird would ask the kids to choose the thing that we wear. We expanded this game a little by talking about the other objects on the page as well, not just doing what was in the book, but going further than Big Bird asked us to.

We both had a blast reading the book, and I was telling Ana all about it on our way home. She told me that what we were doing was called “categorizing and classifying”. I had no idea while we were reading we were actually working on developing this little boy’s critical thinking skills. I was giving him categories and he was classifying the objects into those categories. We were building up his classify and categorize foundation that will allow him as an adult to read op-eds in the newspaper (if those still exist by then) and determine the author’s political leanings and motivations as he is considering the points the author is making. Pretty cool, huh?

Now I’m thinking of other activities we could do with the same book. One of the ideas I had was to close the book and ask him to find an orange animal. This would exercise his mind by asking him to classify an object into two categories instead of just one. As a computer nerd, I’d be interested to see how he’d approach that problem. Would he take the most efficient search approach and flip through the book to find the orange page, then look for an animal? Or would he look at each page identifying all the animals and then classifying them by colors? My guess is that kids of different ages may take different approaches.

Digital ABCs — Lesson Idea #1

Over the weekend we were visiting some friends who have a three year old, and we were talking about activities parents can do with kids his age to prepare them to be successful readers. One of the ideas we came up with was to go on a walk or hike with a digital camera. The mission/game in this activity is to get the child to take as many photos as they can of things that begin with a certain sound (phoneme). The game can be played a different way for more advanced kids, who you can ask to take photos of things that begin with a certain letter.

In the first game we’re working on phonemic awareness, so if we’re trying to find things that start with the /f/ sound, a phone booth is a great photo. In the second game we’re working on phonics (connecting sounds with letters), so the phone booth becomes tricky. It would be a great photo if we’re looking for things that begin with the letter “p”, but not if we’re looking for things that begin with the letter “f”.

You can even make this a math activity by having the kids count the photos, add the correct and incorrect answers together, subtract incorrect from correct, etc.

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