We Like Dictation!

I nearly enrolled Michael in public kindergarten. During the screening process, Michael was finished before they were; he had simply had enough. It was suggested to me that I may want to have him tested by a doctor as he might need medication for school. I was very upset by this. Homeschooling had been on my heart for several years, yet I didn't know anyone who homeschooled, and I had no idea what to do. But Rich and I finally decided it would be best for Michael, and we plunged forward. I didn't have a clue about curriculum, books, or anything! I saw an ad in a magazine for a satellite school, and I enrolled Michael utilizing their pre-packaged kindergarten curriculum. It was an unhappy year for us. :-( We had always had so much fun reading, playing, and learning. Suddenly my little boy had workbook after workbook, and book after book ... and it was all so traumatic for him. He was certainly not ready for so much writing, nor was he ready for this depth of reading. The very sad part about all this was that I thought we HAD to do everything they sent to us. Suddenly, I was fighting with this wonderful child, trying to force him to read and write. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it again. When I compared his materials to my nephew's first-grade materials, Michael's were more advanced. My frustration level increased. I called the school twice expressing my concern that I felt this program was too hard for my son. I was given the same answer both times, "He must master all the concepts in the books." That poor boy cried so much that year, and so did I. <sigh>

I nearly gave up. I didn't want to school him the next year. It was really breaking apart our relationship. I was no longer loving mommy; I had become MEAN TEACHER!

Rich and I talked it over, and we decided to try one more year. After all, I truly believed that God placed it on my heart to homeschool this boy. Needless to say, I switched to a different satellite school. This time the counselors were supportive, understanding and helpful. I was provided with some nice ways to give them information so they could help me choose the best curriculum for Michael. This was good. I was very surprised to find that I had an auditory learner on my hands. I had always assumed Michael was a hands-on kind of kid. And he is! But he is much stronger with auditory learning than the other styles.

Ok, now I was ready for first grade. I was almost physically ill just thinking about another tough year with this boy. Then the most wonderful thing happened. More answers to prayer! :-) A friend at church gave me a free complimentary copy of Homeschooling Today's first issue. Wow! I had no idea there were magazines which dealt with homeschooling! And I saw the ad for KONOS! I read it over and over and over again. I kept reading that God put the wiggle in children, why were we trying to take it out? That was my Michael! This child, so full of inquisitiveness and energy, and I had been forcing him to sit and try to do things he was not mature enough for, nor did he have the motor skills for. I had to know more about this.

The biggest problem was that we had already purchased most of our first grade curriculum. I knew I couldn't afford another expensive program. But I couldn't leave that ad alone! I finally called the number, and they gave me the name of a representative here in Ohio. I called the rep and asked for a few names of people I could call who used the program; I was wanting to get some feedback. They gave me three names and telephone numbers of people who lived in my area. I couldn't reach the first two, but the third woman not only gave the program a positive review ... she sold me hers at a big discount! She liked the program, but didn't want to prepare the lessons, and simply felt it didn't fit her teaching style and that she wouldn't use it! I cannot tell you the excitement I felt when that book was put into my hands. I knew in my heart that God pointed me in that direction, and He opened the doors for me to get the book!

Oh joy!! We had the most wonderful year in first grade! We crawled around in the yard a lot, we crawled around in boxes a lot, we made loads of things, we painted a lot, we jumped on beds and danced to classical music, we roamed the forest .... it was absolutely wonderful!

I didn't really know any better at the time, so we did do the units in Volume I in order, following their lessons plans fairly closely. This was my first experience with unit studies, and I wanted to do it right. :-) But we certainly didn't do everything in the book! I did pick and choose which activities I felt were appropriate for us.

Then my next great discovery came along.

I ordered Valerie Bendt's books and cassette tape on unit studies. Valerie Bendt, I love you! This tape of hers has done more to keep me on track these past several years than anything I have ever read or heard. She gives such wonderfully solid advice about unit studies, her schedule, and how she accomplishes so much with her children. Whenever I start to get frustrated and feel as though our homeschooling just isn't going right, I listen to this tape again. I generally realize that I have strayed from what works so well for us. I am always motivated after I listen to her tape.

That brings me to the subject for this page - dictation. If I wouldn't have heard how Valerie has her children dictate stories to her - even making books - I don't think I would have ever done this with Michael. But I did hear it! And I am ever so grateful!

This is how we started ~

I really didn't think Michael was capable of telling me a story. Well, he could ... but I was sure it would be a bunch of nonsensical babble! But Valerie had her kids doing it, so ....

Michael was sitting at the schoolroom table playing with Legos. I went in (with paper and pencil in hand) and sat down at the table with him. I told him he could continue to play, but while he played I wanted him to tell me a story. I told him I would write it down and then we could read it again later. I told him he could tell me a story, or tell me about someone, or tell me about just anything. He thought for a minute, and then he said, "Ok, I'll tell you about Beethoven." We had been reading about classical composers and listening to classical music; I honestly didn't think he would remember very much, or that he would get his composers mixed up. You can read what he dictated to me here. (His very first dictation! Better than first steps, first tooth, first anything!)

Oh, I know this is just me gushing over my kid, but I was astonished at what came out of his mouth on this day. I could barely talk; I had a lump in my throat. I took the paper over to Rich, and I told him to read it. On this day I realized that Michael truly was absorbing what I was teaching him, and that there were things in this child's head which I wanted to know!

By the end of first grade, we had amassed a stack of dictation that just tickled me beyond belief! I couldn't wait to show the teacher who does our assessment at the end of each year! He dictated reports about people, book reports, tall tales, poems, stories, and even a chapter book (Jack and Peter and the Mystery of the Stolen Stuff) complete with cliff hangers!

We did some very simple work with grammar this first grade year (no more workbooks for us!). Most of what I taught Michael was through his dictation. I did not correct his language as he was dictating; I did not show him his errors in grammar. At first, I simply let him dictate. My only requirement was that he had to always talk in complete sentences. As time went by, I could see where he was consistently making errors, and I would simply tell him something like, "Honey, today I want you to remember not to start your sentences with the word *and*." If he did, I would stop him and say, "Give me that without the *and*." When he had a larger work, such as his chapter book, we utilized some verbal editing. I would read each paragraph or two to Michael and then he would tell me if there were changes which should be made. I know there are many theories on this, but I did not correct his mistakes; I wanted the work to be his, not mine. What I did do was to note the error(s) for me, and use the information as a separate teaching tool later.

As time has gone by, his verbal skills and his understanding of correct word usage has greatly increased.

I input all of Michael's dictation into my Family Album Creator (formerly Echo Lake), and Michael and I illustrate his stories with clip art. At the end of the school year, I print out all of Michael's dictation, make a cover for it out of tagboard (heavier than construction paper), and take it to our local copy house for them to "punch and bind" into a book. Here's is a picture of one of his dictation yearbooks:

On the left, Michael's third grade book of dictation.
The picture on the right is the first page of a book report of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The clip art is of a crashed airplane.

Michael's individual chapter books are printed separately, and we generally make the covers and simply staple them together. Like these:

On the left is the original series of chapter books Michael dictated and verbally edited- Peter and Jack: The Mystery of the Stolen Material, Peter and Jack: The Mystery of Coney Island, and Peter and Jack: The Volcano Mystery.
On the right is Sam's Club and the sequel, Back on the Road with Hamm.

Michael hasn't enjoyed drawing very much in the past. That is why we chose to use clip art in his books. This year may be different as we are specifically utilizing drawing lessons in art, and he has expressed a desire to learn to draw. We shall see!

There is a lot more to dictation than I have described here. This school year, I am having Michael copy passages from literature into his copybook. In this manner, he will see good writing as well as the accompanying punctuation. I will be dictating simple sentences for him to write during his spelling lesson. In another year, I will probably start verbally dictating passages from literature for him to write (as Valerie Bendt does), and also start to teach writing as a specific subject.

But for now, I am very happy with the results from all the dictation he has done over the past several years. It is a joy to find out what he has in that brain of his! I'm looking forward to the coming years, and all that dictate will provide. I truly believe that this approach is such a wonderful way to learn!

If you have an opportunity to listen to Valerie Bendt's tape, please do so! She is highly motivating!

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