Jan 26, 2013

Review: Teach Kids Chess

A couple of years ago (most of my Jan 2011 posts were really from my old website when I switched to blogger) I started teaching my son how to play chess.  I managed to teach how each of the pieces move and how to set up the board.  However, it's been 2 years and we still haven't played a full game.  However, we have managed to start playing candyland, so it's time to dig a little deeper and begin playing the game of champions, as well as teaching my 3-year-old from scratch.  The only problem is, I realized that somewhere along the way I missed something.  I was so excited when I found Sherie's chess program at Learn Lots.  It is filling the gaps for me.

Included is a 48-page instruction manual with full-color printouts of each piece (bit cards), and printouts to make hats so the children can pretend they are the pieces.  It's a well-organized book- easy on the eyes and perfect for small children.  Then there is a 24-page student booklet and a video.  My children have been captivated by them.  We love listening to her British accent too.  :)  So here's the lowdown on each of these components.

The Teacher's Manual:

The manual is written with the perspective that you are introducing chess to your child for the first time, and more importantly, that your child is very young.  I would not recommend this book for someone wanting to learn chess as a young adult or even a 7 or 8 year old because I think there are other chess programs better suited for older kids, although they could still certainly benefit. (I like www.chesskid.com)  But my kids aren't older, and it's perfect for us.  Why is is good for younger kids?  Because she recommends fun activities to bring them in.  Singing games before setting the board up.  Play hats so children can pretend they are the pieces.  Advice for how to coach children through their moves.  Motivation for why it is important to teach your kids chess, and how, yes indeed, it is possible!  This e-book is unique on the market because there are so few programs out there that assume that you can and should teach a 3-year-old chess, but Sherie has done it twice and I'm optimistic that in a few weeks my children will be playing chess too.  She is a fellow Early Learning mother, and her writing style was refreshing and enjoyable to me.

The Workbook

Hooray for colouring pages!  (hey, it's a British e-book after all.  Wink).  But seriously, my children have loved having pictures to color and it has helped them recognize the standard pictographs.  The pages get progressively harder, ending with "Is the light king in check or checkmate?"  The worksheets are to be completed after the child has had a lesson at the board, either immediately after or later that day.  What I love about the worksheets is that they are little puzzles that can be completed within a tiny child's initial attention span, helping to build their endurance for "the big game".

The video:

The videos are designed for the parent and consist of Sherie teaching her 3-year-old how to play chess from start to finish.  They are high quality.  My kids have enjoyed watching the videos with me.  Watching the videos really helped everything "click" for me.  Her daughter was enjoying the game.  She didn't make some of the mistakes I made, like over-analyzing game play.  In her manual she reminds us that a 3-year-old that can play chess on any level is already an "advanced" player for their age, and I have learned that I need to let a lot of things go in the initial stages.

I'm going to go on a tangent now about the thought process this has given me.  Children learn as much if not more from their successes as they do from their failures, and indeed, so do adults.  Success gives us the motivation to try again and keep at it.  For example, we lost a lot of money on our first home because of a mold problem, and even though we know there is a lot of money to be made in real estate, we are leery of investing in a house again.  (at least the wife is).  Whereas someone who made a lot of money on one deal, even if they loose on the second, will know they did it right once and can do it again.  We only have a track record for failure.  Learning how to loose is a skill.  A child who learns to play chess at 8 has had the opportunity to learn this skill with candyland, crazy eights, chutes and ladders, and a myriad of other games, but a 3-year-old has not learned that it's okay to loose yet.  Naturally I'm not suggesting that we never let our child loose, in chess or anything else for that matter, and neither does this program, but she does suggest that you let the child win their first game.  What I am suggesting is that children need to learn and taught how to loose when they play a board game, and we should evaluate what our goals are and WHY we are teaching our children chess.

I am teaching my children chess because, aside from the fact that I love chess and it's just super awesome that way, I want my children to learn how to solve puzzles.  I want them to learn to analyze, how to look ahead and make decisions based on what may happen in the future.  Chess is a big deal for my brothers and I see a lot of benefit in chess because after you know the basics there is so much depth to the game.  But I need my kids to play a whole game first!  Looking at the full board with all of the pieces for the first time can be quite intimidating so I think letting them win a few times will make it less scary.  Advocates of never letting a child win weren't suggesting that you teach a 3 year old chess.  I suggest a new strategy, R2:  let the Wookie win.

This product is part I in her series, and ends with a child's first game of chess.  In her final notes she says that part II will delve more into strategy and how to become and advanced player.  Castling will be taught in part II.  Full disclosure, I actually traded my music e-books and a blog review for this product, so I didn't actually buy it.  But I would have, and I will purchase part II when it comes out!  I give it two thumbs up, 5 stars, what have you.  This product is perfect for where we are and fills in the holes I had in my own approach.  It's a 12 week program, and I plan on giving an update when we finish so I'll give another update then.  It may be awhile before my children are playing each other but that will be my next goal when I finish this program.  Thank you for reading!

Jan 18, 2013

Are there really long term benefits to Early Learning?

This is a question I have been asked quite a few times, and one of the only questions my husband has been asked about early learning, so I will do my best to answer that question in this post.

In a word:  Yes.  Taken at face value the question almost makes me laugh, for what if we were to take the "early" out of the question, which we really could.  Are there benefits for learning to read, for example?  Of course there are.  What about for an adult who never learned?  Would there be any benefits for learning that skill later in life?  Naturally there would.  Learning to read is beneficial at any age, and I include babies in that equation.  There are so many children who struggle with reading in school.  If not for anything else, I would argue that a child who learns to read before heading off to public school will never struggle with learning to read while they are in school and avoiding that pitfall is indeed a long-term benefit.  I recently read and enjoyed "Children who Start Ahead, Stay Ahead" (available at the Logan library, local readers.  ;).  He does a follow-up on families who attended Glenn Doman's classes to see what the long term effects of their early education were.  Only 13% decided to homeschool, most went to public school, and all of the children surveyed had excelled.  Note also the studies shown on YourBabyCanRead's facebook page on November 5th.

But this isn't a question that is asked at face value, I think.  The deeper question being asked is what happens when the child goes to school?  They will be in a class with their peers learning the same things as their peers, and after 12 years of that, will they really be that much ahead?  This question deserves some great pondering, especially if you are planning on sending your children to public school.

Whether or not the teacher looks favorably on the early education of your child can be the key or demise of your child's success.  Some teachers love having a bright child in their classroom to lift the other children up.  When other children see a peer reading and enjoying a book, it can be a great motivator for them to learn to read as well.  The can see that the end result is desirable.  The understand the "Why" behind the reading drills.  The bright child can raise the class average scores, which will reflect well on the teacher.  She can give the reading child a book to read while she has more time to devote to other children who may be struggling.  This has, and is happening in many schools.

But there are also many teachers who don't like having an early learner in their class.  They don't like having to adapt the curriculum for that child, and they don't appreciate the needs of a particularly bright child.  They don't want to admit that the child has reason to be bored in their class.  They don't like having a bored, rambunctious kid!  If nothing else, they don't appreciate the child's need to continue to progress.  Public schools were designed to give the masses basic literacy skills and they do that job well.  Even a teacher who wants to help advanced students continue their education are spread too thin.  It is the children who are struggling to catch up that get the teacher's attention.  Even so, teachers can and should recognize the needs of their advanced students and reach out to the parents for help.  This happened to one of my piano students.  Her teacher recognized that her class wasn't challenging for this girl and she knew that she wouldn't be able to cater to her needs, but during a parent teacher conference this wise teacher told the parents that she needed something to challenge her academically and recommended piano lessons.  Little things like that go a long way in helping these children.

The biggest problem with the sentiment of "No Child Left Behind" is that no child gets ahead.  Society needs bright people to be innovators, inventors, and leaders.  I may have not invented the light bulb, the electric motor, or the car, but I do benefit from their use.  When bright children are allowed and encouraged to accelerate through school, everyone benefits.  We even save tax dollars because they finish sooner.  On the flip side, when bright children are forced to get back in line and endure pictograph phonics lessons when they would rather be reading a chapter book, we can extinguish the child's desire to learn altogether.  This is indeed a negative situation that does arise for parents who have taught their children early, and it is the only negative outcome I can think of for early learning.  Consider this story:  http://chancetoshine.webs.com/ourstory.htm, as well as the responses I received on the BrillKids forum:  http://forum.brillkids.com/general-discussion-b5/has-el-ever-had-negative-effects-on-a-child/.

Ultimately I think that most parents who decide to give their children an early education know and accept the responsibility and stewardship they have over their child's education as a whole and are willing to sidestep the challenges that may come.  They know going in that it doesn't matter whether the child goes to public, private, or homeschool, that their child's education is their responsibility.  It is not any one public school teacher's responsibility to see that any child in their class receives a complete education.  There are many teachers who do a superb job teaching the course material, and certainly children learn a lot in school.  Nevertheless, they are not responsible for the end result for that child, the parents are.

So let's be frank about what happens when a child goes to kindergarten academically prepared for 2nd grade or beyond.  Best case scenario, the child enjoys going to school for the social aspects of it.  It is unlikely that the child will skip a grade, at least in the United States.  I have a friend whose child is gifted and we were discussing how gifted programs don't start until 2nd or 3rd grade age.  She told me that that they do that so they will know if the child is really gifted or not.  The first couple of years of school are usually enough time for the kid's academic skills to average out.  I nodded and said that that makes sense, but then I asked her if she wanted her child to be "averaged out".  As a society, is that what we want for these students?  Are we no better than lobsters in a shallow dish?

All too often these children really are "averaged out".  To avoid this, a common solution is doing what many parents call "after-schooling".  If a child already knows everything that is being taught at the school and public school is the only option, they will not be going to school to get an academic education.  After-schooling means that the child continues their academic schooling after public school.  They go to public school like other children go to a club.  There are many different levels of after-schooling being done, and indeed, any parent that is involved in their children's lives (like, almost everyone) does after-schooling to one degree or another.  On the BrillKids forum I have observed that for early learners, a rule of thumb for after-schooling is to strive to keep your child 2 years ahead.  That way public school acts as a good review, but if some subject is taught poorly or incompletely, their child will still be able to excel when they move on to college.

Another solution is to homeschool.  Just saying.  :)

Before I wrap this post up, I want to share a few examples of what can happen when early learners are fostered in their continuing education.  I share these examples because I don't think these children were simply "gifted", but rather they benefited from an early education and continued that education when they were older.  This is not a complete list of course, just a few that come to mind.

Adora Svitak Published author at 7, TED speaker, online and classroom guest teacher and activist.  Her mother taught her and hired baby sitters to teach her from infancy.  I may not support all of the same causes, but I highly admire this young woman and the voice she is giving to youth and to early learning.

Dr. Sho Yano  Especially where my young son says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, this handsome young man is an inspiration to me on how early learning can give a head start on the years and years of schooling it takes to be able to compete in some fields.  His younger sister is very bright as well.

Lori Ann Madison The 6-year-old who qualified for the national spelling B learned to read when she was 2.  I don't know her background story but include her because she was an early reader.

Alia Sabur  Child prodigy.  World's youngest professor.  Still going strong as an adult.

David Levy  Math Whiz.  I have enjoyed reading his father's reviews of Saxon Math on Amazon. His father also shared insight into his early education on this thread:  We can do by Moshe Kai with guest Robert Levy discussing Saxon Math

Moshe Kai Cavalin  This boy is not only very bright, but he is also incredibly well-rounded.

Wajih and Zohaib Ahmed  I love this interview with the parents.

Finally, I defer you to Larry Sanger's book, "How and Why I Taught my Toddler To Read." See chapter 12 for further reading on this post's topic if you want further reading- he is far more eloquent than me.  :)  Why would we assume that a child who can read at 3 would loose their ability to learn and progress when they are 6?  Are children who have had no early training at all at a disadvantage to their peers?  If so, we need to do better.  And when we have done that, why not raise the bar and give our children even more?

Jan 7, 2013

2013 Education Goals

It's time to publicly make my biggest education goal for the year:  to read 2,013 books to my children.  Repeats count, so if I read a favorite many times I'm good.  Still, I am going for variety- I would love to have a nice list of 1,000 or more when the year is over.  This is a personal goal for me, so I'm not taking attendance for my children to make sure I read that many books to each of my children.  My older son needs longer books.  I need to read about 5.52 books a day to reach my goal.

I mentioned this goal on BrillKids and a lot of variations for this goal were suggested.  You could read 2,013 minutes.  Some read 1,500 last year, but they all had to be different books.  You could read 20 minutes every day.  You could make a goal to max out your library card once a week or once a month.  My challenge is to find a goal that will stretch you and go for it.

That's my reading challenge.  So far we are on target.  I look forward to posting our progress at the end of every month.

Overall, I have found that I am very hesitant to make concrete goals this year.  I want to do so many things and I know I won't be able to do all of them, and I'm struggling to decide what would be my best priority.  If I fail to plan, I plan to fail, that sort of thing.  I need to prioritize.  A couple of years ago I realized that I was spreading myself too thin trying to do everything and nothing was getting done, so I dropped everything and focused on teaching my oldest to read.  It was wonderful to drop everything else and focus on one vital skill- one that would open doors to others.  Now that I've figured out how to teach reading, I've decided to focus on music and math.  We got Soft Mozart for Christmas and I want to make sure that I make it work, that we continue to use Little Musician, and that I be consistent with my own products.  After the Moshe Kai thread I realized how important math is, so I'm hoping to get my foot in that door too.  Specifically I want to help my 5-year-old memorize his basic math facts so we can move on to Saxon 5/4 next year.  (Robert Levy said that what a child needs for a prerequisite for that book is to memorize their multiplication, and feel comfortable with two-digit addition and subtraction.  Division is covered in the Saxon book.)

But writing is important too, right? (Naturally it is).  And it's a perfect time for a second language (Spanish), and there's chess (I found a great program I'll be reviewing soon).  I want to teach speed reading.  We just bought an awesome geography book we need to dig into.  There are scriptures to memorize.  Oh, and computer skills like learning to type.  Oh, and I want to continue to do all of the other things that have worked for us.  My 7-month-old would really benefit from Baby Signing Time.  That sort of thing.

My husband pointed out that our kids just scribble when they go to our church's nursery when other kids are actually coloring in the lines.  He said with all of my grand goals, I need to not neglect the basics.  They need to be able to color.  I want to do more activities like the stuff on http://playathomemom3.blogspot.com/.  We also haven't done most of the experiments in "The Big Bag of Science" we bought more than a year ago.

So my only measurable goal is to read 2013 books.  I probably should set more concrete goals for my kids but I'm not ready to commit yet as I haven't figured out what my priorities are.  Mostly I just want to continue to make progress.

Frankly my new years resolutions are more of the "go to bed earlier, wake up earlier", "Keep on top of the dishes" type.  That and spending less time on my computer!  I'm just a little addicted to facebook, my e-mail inbox, online forums, and that sort of thing.  If I spent half as much time teaching my kids as I do reading about how to do it, I would accomplish a lot more in our homeschooling.

Sigh.  And it would be nice to have an empty sink now and again.

Happy New Year!  Good luck with all of your goals!
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