Child-led Remedial Reading


When my third son finally stated at age twelve that he DID want to learn to read, and then still couldn’t seem to get the hang of it after four or five months of trying, I applied some brain power to the problem, (Parenting 4 children has sometimes meant that  certain issues can just slip to the back burner while other issues just naturally scream for my attention) Son 1 and son 2 had both quickly mastered reading once they were about 11, so I just had not been too worried about son number 3. Once I consulted with the other parenting experts like my friend Sophie, mother of 6 some of whom have dyslexia and other issues, I began wondering about my son’s vision. I remembered my own childhood experience with vision correction which included a “brock string” and so on. I sat down with my son and  held a pencil close to his face pointed at him. I asked him what he saw. He saw two pencils. I made an appointment with the vision specialist that the mother of six had highly recommended. We took our son there where he was diagnosed with 20/20 vision but also double vision. Who would guess?

We spent the next year driving to the weekly appointments in a city over an hour away. If we had had medical insurance, it would not have covered these visits. Our son was pretty good about doing the assigned exercises each week which of course included a “brock” string, and he really liked the therapist who was assigned to him. She was zany and appreciative of my son’s generally positive attitude and snappy sense of style. Together they worked methodically on closing the gap between what most of us see and what my son saw. Later sessions involved slow reading of easy-to-read children’s books. My son put up with this pretty patiently, but it was difficult to find any books with which  to practice reading at home once he had read every Dr. Seuss book in our home and local library. He loved those as the illustrations are excellent and the text is unarguably brilliant. The rest of the genre of children’s easy-to-read literature left him pretty unexcited. One more story about a toad and he would have given up.

After I had ransacked our extensive collection of children’s literature for the hundredth time and come up with nothing acceptable to him, it was desperation that inspired me to invite him to go look for a book he wanted to read in Barnes and Noble when we there one day to pick up an SAT prep book for son number 2. Son number 3 disappeared into the children’s section and came back about 5 minutes later with Horten’s Mechanical Mechanisms by Lissa Evans. It was a chapter book about a 10 year old boy and it looked dense and challenging for my poor remedial reader, but it had beautiful elegant pen and ink illustrations at every chapter beginning. I thumbed through it and asked my son if he was sure he wanted to try to read it, was there not something with more pictures maybe about natural science as he is very interested in that also. He was adamant that this looked like a good book.

At home, we began reading, only a page a day at first, as it took about 10 torturous minutes to get through a page.  The story was compelling. It was about a boy who has just moved to a town that his family originated from and where a mysterious magician Uncle once lived. The boy finds one of his uncle’s mysterious “mechanical mechanism” and follows a message that he gleans from it into a whole scenario with a bizarre cast of interesting characters who revere the lost Uncle.

The book is incredibly perfect for my son’s first essay into chapter book reading. Not only does it have the beautiful illustrations at chapter headings, but it has many typographical illustrations of the cryptic messages that the child must decode, and various illustrations of signage that are part of the story. It is funny. The boy’s father is an intellectual who uses the longest and most complicated language to say anything. He calls a short walk, a “brief perambulation” for example.  It could not be a better book for a 14 year old boy struggling to read his first novel on his own. I suggested that he read a page and then I read a page. I explained that this is the way it would have been happening in school, with students taking turns to read through a text out loud. He refused, stating that he wanted to read the whole thing. On the one hand this is great, but on the other, when the story is so good, it is excrutiating. We are up to two pages in a sitting. He is reading a little faster and I was thrilled yesterday when he sounded out several long words like “confidently” and “cylindrical”. He can still get stumped by something like “bower” or even “wishes”.

I post this mainly by way of encouraging other parents to trust their children’s judgement as much as possible, as I really and truly could not have wandered through the Barnes and Noble myself and found a better book for him.


The Emperor Has No Clothes….

Leo Transcript

Approaching the “home stretch” of my second child’s homeschool education…I have brought the design and construction of the “homeschool transcript” to new heights. With help from the reference materials made available by an online “homeschoolers to college” yahoo group, I feel confident that I have included every scrap of pertinent information in the style and language of a “real” high school.

I realize that this is actually one of the things I like best about homeschooling: making it look “real”. Taking our real life, which was full of less than perfect hours and days, too much driving, lots of wondering and figuring out how to go about letting our son grow up, insecurity about not being able to provide a milieu of interesting inspiring friends for him to pick from (as we live in a rural county), and essentially trusting that he knew what he was doing. It is time to test the pudding now. It is exciting and scary, wondering if what we managed to do for him, or really what we taught him to do for himself, is enough to get him to where he wants to go next; taking all of this and summing it up on official-looking documents that I create on our home computer.

There is so much hype about getting into the sorts of colleges that he is interested in. Will the bevy of  ‘A-” that he is amassing in advanced college courses at a relatively well respected college nearby, equal the 4 years of AP courses that he couldn’t take? Will his real life experience with starting his own on-line business that is currently yielding him a small weekly income count for much? Will his high but not the very highest SAT score be evaluated in light of his complete disassociation from test-taking until he was 16?  Should I or will I be bold enough to detail my disdain for test-taking in the “School Profile” that I create to send to the colleges he applies to? Can my “Homeschool Profile” be a sort of treatise on education that explains “playing all the time” as learning? or had I better steer towards as terse a wording as possible of my rebellious educational leanings? Carefully word the document to simply say that we aimed for excellence in every way we could? Which is of course essentially what we did. It just looks dramatically different than how they do it at Exeter, though I bet Exeter uses words like: “Personalized” and “experiential”. Funny how flexible language is, how it can fit Exeter and me at the same time.

Recovering from Christianity

The parking lot for the the Truthville Baptist Church

The parking lot for the the Truthville Baptist Church

A heavy gray sky threatened rain and a damp chill filled the air as I joined the families along the edge of the bumpy and sloping soccer field adjacent to the Truthville Baptist Church. The cloying Christian atmosphere enveloped me in it’s similarly clammy embrace. My sons play for a Christian homeschool soccer team because the coach is a dedicated and gifted coach, and there is not another choice for homeschooled athletes in the Fall who are banned from school sports in spite of the school taxes that their parents pay.

My identity as an impostor here on the edge of the field felt sadly familiar. I went back mentally to the years of being polite during family visits to my “born again” aunt and uncle. I would spend a large portion of the time playing with my cousins anxious about inadvertently exclaiming “God!” in dismay over suddenly getting tagged during a game on the slope behind their house. I also agonized about being careful not to bring up an unacceptable subject like “Halloween” , a creative holiday that I always loved.

My irreverent soccer-oriented boys joke around about how to behave during prayers. They discussed in the car today the nature of the before-game-prayer. One of the boys asked somewhat seriously, “If both teams pray for God to assist them, which side is he supposed to choose?” This is, after all the question.

Quick Note of Skepticism


Randomly selected illustrative curiosity from current Artforum on-line…akin to the 19th century freak show?

I have  been reading a current copy of Artforum which I had the audacity to buy on one of my summer forays into the city (With my brother I think). I feel two-fold about  such art magazines…on the one hand, how full of sensationalist images and ridiculous attention-getting devices all the art ads for shows and Biennial pavilions look….Things like dogs dressed in red feathers or naked people hanging from mesh netting…Just kind of over the top…as in, my twelve year old daughter  looked over my shoulder at what I was reading and asked, “Is that a style magazine?” to which I answered, “Yes.” 


Retaining Enthusiasm for String Beans



A few weeks now into string bean season, it is important to retain enthusiasm for the vegetable. It occurred to me yesterday when I realized that I did not have any sweet potatoes on hand with which to make pakoras, that my copious quantities of string beans might suddenly come in very handy. The fried string bean pakoras were truly delicious….they melt in your mouth encased in the gently spicy chickpea batter of the pakora….I pretty much use Madhur Jaffrey for all my Indian cooking recipes….so here is the recipe. It is shockingly easy; the only real challenge would be to initially obtain the chickpea flour and cumin seeds if you are not accustomed to having that on hand. You can buy it in health food sections of better grocery stores, or better yet, at your local Indian grocers….

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp whole ajwain seeds or whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. Add all the other spices for the batter. Very slowly and gradually, pour in 1 1/4 cups water, beating with a fork as you do so. You should have a smooth batter.

All you need now is vegetable oil for deep frying and the assortment of vegetables prepared for frying…green beans with ends removed, potatoes peeled and cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds, cauliflower florets, hot Italian peppers…etc.

Heat the oil till a drop of water sizzles in it, or temp of oil is 350-375F. Fry coated items slowly about 7 minutes on each side….When the outside is golden brown and crisp, remove fritters with slotted spoon and leave to drain on mesh rack or paper towels.

Serve with tamarind chutney, mint chutney, etc.

If this culinary idea doesn’t float your boat, try:

Greene beans with garlic and Ginger
1 lb green beans (or however many you have to use!)
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp veg oil
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsps tamari
1/4 cup of water
minced hot red pepper (I use dried whole cayenne peppers…)
Steam the beans for 5 minutes and then plunge into cold water. Mix the last 6 ingredients in a small cup.
heat the veg oil in a cast iron pan or other frying pan. When hot, put in garlic and ginger, stir for 30 seconds. Add beans, Stir for a minute or so. Now add the cup of liquid and mix to incorporate all ingredients with the beans. Cook for about 5-8 minutes…covering if mixture starts to dry out at all. You should have a bit of thickened brown sauce clinging to the beans in the end. This is also super delicious, but less of a fussy child pleaser.

Red Stuff


We got home from a week away to a harvesting emergency out in the yard…apples hitting the ground as we picked, raspberries already so ripe as to be only food for the chickens (but lots more ripe enough for human consumption), and enough tomatoes to make a first batch of salsa. So after picking steadily for about 3 hours yesterday, I faced a laundry bin, and several bags and a basket of apples, along with 2 bins of tomatoes this morning. Began peeling, slicing and putting on trays in freezer. Made 3 pie crusts for pie fabrication tomorrow. Processed the tomatoes with lots of super hot peppers to make 7 jars of salsa. Froze the raspberries, but there are lots more that need picking tomorrow. No time for painting or filing homeschool syllabii for kids.

As my camera broke the other day,  I had to create a picture in Photoshop  that describes the situation…