Thursday, November 29, 2012

Challenging the kids at home

My 5-year-old is really enjoying kindergarten. He's a social little boy, and likes being around other kids who are not his younger siblings. Riding a school bus turns out to be tons of fun, as are certain life experiences like taking money to the school book fair and choosing a book that fits your budget. Since he came into kindergarten reading and doing two-digit addition and subtraction, however, there hasn't been a lot of opportunity to move beyond that in the roughly two hours of daily instructional time that half-day kindergarten provides.

So we're working on challenging him at home. The first thing I thought I'd try was DreamBox, the adaptive math program. I'd heard good things about the program, and my son was initially interested in it. But he doesn't really like playing on the computer that much. When he gets computer time, he'd prefer to look at Google Maps and find photos linked to different spots ("Mommy, there's the Sydney Harbor Bridge!" and "Mommy, look at this village in Kenya!") So I'm not sure I'll be buying the program after the initial trial period just expired.

He will do math problems straight up, however. He spends a few minutes in the morning working with our sitter on math worksheets. In his perusals of map books, he's come across charts on precipitation, temperature, etc., and so he's been making his own graphs for fun.

As for reading, this seems a bit more straightforward. He is checking out books from the library to read, and is writing and illustrating his own. At the moment, they seem to resemble the Magic Tree House books pretty closely, but hopefully Mary Pope Osbourne won't mind the copyright infringement... :) We've tried to encourage him to tackle more challenging books, for instance reading the text in an atlas under pictures he finds interesting, and puzzling through what the words must mean.

I welcome suggestions on any other ideas for keeping the brain stretched. What books or software programs have you found helpful for early elementary school aged children?


Calee said...

We started using the extra brain power to memorize poetry. My mom did a program with me that paired a famous painting with a poem. I'm not that organized so we just flip through a collection of poems before bed and she picks something out to learn. It's great for in the car too.
We had good success with the Jumpstart games at lower levels but she's on the 2nd grade one now and is bored with the repeating games. They're better for reinforcing than teaching new concepts too.
Spanish at school seems to be the big fun challenge. Maybe Rosetta Stone?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The Math Blaster games were pretty good in their day (don't know if they still exist).

Singapore Math workbooks are a good investment.

nicoleandmaggie said...

We have been loving Singapore Math. Because many gifted kids are good at pattern matching, it's a great match for them. It's got all sorts of subtle patterns in it that teach in the background. I'm constantly amazed at how beautiful it is. ("I see what they're doing there.") It's also a nice complement with the Saxon math (which is much more rote) that he's been getting at school. They dovetail but don't completely overlap.

DC1 has also liked the BrainQuest workbooks ever since the in-laws got him the Pre-K one. We just stared grade 3.

On the creative front, DH and DC1 play board games (new stuff like Eurogames) and they've been making a radio show podcast, mostly about zombies.

Gary Franczyk said...

The Math Blaster games are still available as an online game, but they are much more Blaster than they are Math.

I've worked my sons on worksheets quite a bit, but they eventually become tedious, especially as they advance through multiplication (since its more memorization than skill).

Since then, I've started them on Khan Academy for math. It has badges and awards that they can earn as they pass through different levels. The math starts with telling time and simple counting and goes all the way up into complex numbers, trig, and differential calculus. They haven't been on it that long, but I worry that the difficulty escalates too quickly to keep them interested. We will see.

A workbook that I really liked for my boys was "Primarily Logic". It is a workbook that walks the kids through reasoning, logic, and simple detective work. Sometimes I wish this kind of thing was mandatory for some people I work with! It is designed for grades 2-4, but it was just challenging enough for my kids when they were in the 1st grade, since they are gifted like yours.

Laura S. said...

We've been using for math practice at home. It's easy to move forward at the right pace for my daughter, and she likes earning the medals and challenge squares. I think it's more engaging for younger children than Khan Academy, which didn't hold my daughter's interest.
Another activity that has been stretching my daughter's brain is learning to play the piano. We started last year, when she was six. Since her school doesn't offer a foreign language, we thought that learning how to read music would be a good alternative that we could work on at home.

Anonymous said...

All good suggestions, but if your son is going to be attending the same school in coming years (that is, if this program is attached to his future elementary), I'd take this time to try out the willingness / ability of the school to differentiate and accommodate in class now. Riding the bus and making friends may not be enough for him next year and you want to make sure you lay the groundwork to get him what he needs. Plus stimulating his intellect at home is easy now, but once he's in full time school with six hours of class and homework it's much tougher.

This is from personal experience -- it's tough to get settled in a school only to discover they aren't able to give your child what he or she needs.

Laura Vanderkam said...

@Anonymous - that is a good point. Lots more to unpack on that, but not sure how much I should on a public blog :)

Nother Barb said...

A piano keyboard (with headphones--shh, the baby's sleeping) is less expensive than a spinet and can offer different sounds. My son liked playing video-game music on it then experimenting with different sounds. (He'd play by ear, then find the written music online. The problem with this is, you'll be waiting for the song to end, but it doesn't!) Love Calee's poetry memorizing; we have such a poetry-art book. I also found a song-book at a rummage sale illustrated with fine art. We had a relief map that really helped with geography, political and physical; kids are so tactile and just running a hand over the mountains and plains brings it to life. They are expensive, but worth it. Anything that makes connections.

Lgm said...

Helpful books:
Deconstructing penguins
Susan assouline'sdeveloping math talent
Child craft encyclopedia or the new book of knowledge
Anything he is interested in

Lego JUNKBOT is a fun online game.
Putt-putt, Freddy fish, and pajama Sam are good jr problem solving games that Atari rereleased on ipad recently.
Logical journey of the zoombinis is also fun, just don't expect to solve the higher levels at five

Anonymous said...

I congratulate you on wanting to offer intellectual stimulation to your child. I'd focus on the stimulation rather than the challenge. You KNOW he can achieve. No need to work on teaching higher math. Instead, do like he's doing by applying math to charts and graphs, and thinking about math that he encounters in his life which may be at various levels. Once math becomes a series of skills to master, it loses some of the discovery and wonder aspect, and he is too young to be so jaded.

BTW, at this age, I was busy trying to put the genie back in the bottle and did everything I could to keep school novel--no learning stuff you'd get in school later. I don't recommend this. It doesn't work

Nother Barb said...

Anon is right. And free play is great mind-stretching. Our school kids hang out on the playground for up to an hour after school. Among other draws, there's a swale and a drain, and they build dams and reconfigure the water course within the swale and winter is a whole new adventure in freeze/thaw/melt/freeze. They have more fun, and learn about cooperation and how others can thwart your objectives and working in multi-age groups, as kindergarten through big 4th-graders are out there getting wet and dirty. They leave only because the moms are itching to go--or it's time for basketball practice. Once they get to high school, they'll probably learn it all over again with the expensive sand tables they have there. Play is the best mind-stretcher!

Raising a Happy Child said...

The best possible brain stretcher is to pair him up with the kids like him. We were lucky to have one boy in the class very similar to our girl. We arranged for a weekly playdates, and these two have so much fun together talking and acting their favorite books or inventing their own board games. We also play a lot of board games at home - Apples to Apples are great as well as more logical games like Blokus or Quirkle.

Heather said...

I disagree with the "no learning what you will get in school later" theory. There was no way I could do that even if I tried. My kids just soaked things up like sponges without me even really teaching them. When they want to learn something there is no stopping them.

My advice at this age is to just follow what they are interested in. Sounds like your son is interested in maps, find ways to engage and challenge him with those.

giftedincanada said...

We've tried to find engaging, mind stretching activities for our 5 year old as well. She's begun violin lessons, which she loves, and she simply loves reading with me. I tend to follow her interests and help introduce her to deeper approaches to these interests. For example, when she asks about a topic, we make it a theme, and there are web sites and library books.

As for math, we've used some hard copy workbooks, but I've also heard good things about a program called MathUsee. Anyone heard about it or used it?