Thursday, September 17, 2009

Helping educate your kids for a few coins and a couple minutes a day.

My first attempts to help our older son "succeed at school" were disastrous. When he was about three, I got some Your Baby Can Read videos for a quarter at a garage sale and a few days later a Leap Frog alphabet toy for a buck at a thrift store.

This sparked a whole new hobby idea - turn my toddler into a genius! How fun!

Maybe a week or two into this, he shoved away a counting game I was setting up and hollered, "NO LEARNIN' STUFF!!!"

So much for mom instilling a life-long love of the educational process.;-)

I had enough sense to back off for a bit until I was talking to my friend in CA and she mentioned a friend of hers whose son, same age as mine, was indeed in what his mom referred to as a sort of "genius school". And this kid, at four, could play chess, read, do math equations, and was learning two languages.

My son was looking decidedly disadvantaged in comparison and I restarted with vigor. Rhyming word flashcards and 24 math problems a night - and if you've raised a typical four year old and are shaking your head at my naivete, you won't be surprised to learn I didn't make a week on that attempt.

I was stumped but not defeated. What did Edison supposed say in a Times interview, "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have
succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have
eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will

So my next stop was a teacher supply store. I went a little mad buying colorful posters, almost 30 in all, covering everything from sea creatures to planets to amphibians to rhyming words and letter posters. I put some on his bedroom wall, some along the hallway, and some on the back of the bathroom doors. I even thumb tacked a huge world map over his bed.

Though oh so tempted to go into my college professor role, spring for a new metal pointer and begin lectures each night, promptly at 7 p.m., I restrained myself.;-) He was naturally interested and I just followed his lead.

We've been reading the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne (an aside: may I just say she must be an educational genius!). We've traveled with her characters Jack and Annie through time and across the world, everywhere from Egypt to dinosaur days and often, lo and behold, our posters are right there reinforcing what we're reading.

Then there's the books- I'd say we easily have 1000, all picked up in the quarter range at garage sales and I do believe this is the best $250 we've spent. We keep baskets of books in every room and in the car (and store bins of them in the basement).

They cover every topic imaginable and I'm often amazed myself how often the kids wander over and randomly pick out a book, study it a bit, then toss it aside to continue playing dinosaurs or blocks.

In the car there are game boards of animals, a tiny math pinball machine, and a planet earth voice game. Sometimes these are ignored for weeks on end, then used non-stop for a few days.

Dinner place mats, picked up for a dime each, have dinosaurs, letters, and the one my older, currently money obsessed to buy my own toys son loves, Learning About Money. One hope, they are so enthralled in learning they don't notice mom truly is a lousy cook.

I could go on, there are also "active" learning things we do, but that will have to wait for another post as I'm guessing any reader who got this far may be getting a bit glazed eyed.

My point, of course, is that all these things were really cheap and take absolutely no time other than thumb tacking posters to the wall or occasionally rotating some books and games in and out of the car.

And while it would be fun to report my now five year old started kindergarten this fall reading Latin, doing Calculus, and speaking five languages, such is not the case. But he can read basic words, do elementary math, and could tell you more about the French Revolution than you would likely care to hear (who knew gore and beheadings would peak his interest in history?).

What I would LOVE to hear are additional cheap, quick, easy ideas, especially in languages, music, science and art, not my strong suits.

Thanks! Eileen

P.S. For the record, there are some plain white walls in the house, lest you see photos of the kids' rooms and start thinking of the rather morbid Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story of the woman who lay in bed staring at that busy yellow flowered wallpaper slowly going mad....;-)

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