Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lovin' Life in the Magic Tree House!

Katya has discovered the Magic Treehouse books and is as proud as a peacock. I had bought books 1-29 last summer while in the USA, hoping she would grow into them this year and eagerly devour the whole series. Since I have to purchase all the books they read (no library for young English readers here unless you're enrolled at the English-language schools--and we live too far from the schools to get guest library cards), I try to anticipate the girls' interests the two times a year we're in America. Our house feels like a bookstore or library; I'm glad that Natalia will get to use all these books, too! My private students all benefit from the books, as well. Someone is going to be sooooo darn lucky to inherit all these from us one day... A complete young girl's library, without having to lug it from the USA! (A note to other expat parents: Borders and Barnes & Noble will give you a 20% homeschooler discount when you buy books for your kids from them).

I've felt for a while that Katya was teetering on the edge of an ocean, dipping her toes in... but afraid to swim. Afraid to get all wet, and certainly not interested in riding the surf.

All that changed this week. Katya is now a bonafide reader.

I've heard from countless expat parents that this day would come... and that it would change everything. I've worried so much the past two years as the divide between Katya and her peers in America grew more and more pronounced; they were reading large chapter books and I could barely get her to memorize three-letter sight words. The more I tried to work with her, the more she dug in her heels in resistance. (This was particularly frustrating since I had taught a Russian friend of hers to read--and that girl was doing better than my own child!)

One mom that I particularly respect told me to just be patient, reminding me that those peers in America don't know how to read and write in RUSSIAN, and that Katya's brain has certainly been working hard all this time. She assured me that once Katya learned to read, really read, I wouldn't need to worry. I've done my best to create a home environment conducive to reading: lots of books available to take her down any path of interest; daily reading together; books on tape in the car; quality movies based on good books; fun board games that build English skills; and a bedroom with little nooks where she would want to curl up with a book.

That mom shared with me the experiences of their own older children, all who attended Russian schools through sixth grade. By reading voraciously, they learned spelling and grammar. Reading made the kids want to write, providing ample opportunity to hone their skills. Developing a broad vocabulary was also relatively effortless; their knowledge of Russian helped them to better analyze English and they remembered the words they read.

This all makes sense to me... I agreed, in principal... But until I saw Katya sprout wings this week and FLY, I was still uneasy.


While home sick for two weeks, Katya had been anticipating her class's big field trip that they went on this week. They were about to return to the Pioneer (Soviet Youth) camp they had visited for three days in the fall*; this time they would be studying medieval times, focusing on knights and castles. (The children built a castle in the snow, learned to play period music and do period dances, ate representative food, molded armor, studied tapestries and costumes, went through a series of "trials" to advance from page to knight. They all had a blast!).

Her excitement about the topic lead her to follow my lead when I suggested we read one of our books on knights: The Knight at Dawn. We started it at bedtime and read the first two chapters. Katya was so enthralled that she had to know more--and ended up finishing the whole book on her own that night! Sure, she stayed up (and has been staying up) much later than we'd like, but I DON'T CARE. I'm am THRILLED that she's so passionate about reading now! In the past week she has read four more of the books!

We're thankful that Chris has a quick business trip to New York City in a few weeks; he can bring back more books in the series for us!

*Last fall they immersed themselves in recreating the times of Prehistoric Man; the teachers helped them to explore the civilization in exciting hands-on ways. Katya's favorite activity was "hunting" in the forest. They learned to throw darts at balloons on trees. Inside the balloons were pictures of prehistoric animals and a number that indicated how many people in Katya's tribe that the animal could feed. She had to keep hunting until she met her tribe's needs. How cool is that???!!

Edited the next morning: Katya read another book last night! She loved Tonight on the Titanic, #17 in the series. She was so excited to tell us all about the sinking of ship afterwards. Oh--and I realized how many typos I'd missed! I wrote this entry sooo fast and didn't have time to check it. Just corrected it.


Katya said...

I know how you feel. Most of Ben's classmates are reading chapter books... and he can't read anything more complex than a Bob book by himself. It is very disheartening for him -- the kid loves books so much! Tell Chris to pick up Elmer and the Dragon and its sequels. I bet she can read them and they are fantastic!

Annie said...

I have the opposite problem with Sergei. He was a beautiful - fluent reader in Russian when I first met him - reading far beyond his ten-year-old age level... Then he comes to the US. Four years later he can no longer read fluently in Russian, and he can't read fluently in English. It is really upsetting. I wish I could have adopted him and stayed in Russia! Sometimes I wonder if he will ever catch up! And coming at a later age - I worry even more about Ilya.

Anonymous said...

Annie describes "substrative schooling" which MANY Mexican-Americans suffer from in the US school system. Dr. Angela Valenzuela coined this term. You erase literacy in one language and replace it with another resulting in low levels of literacy in both languages. That's why it's so important to support literacy in your primary language as you add on other languages. Read up on the pedagogy of emerging bilinguals: additive verse subtractive models. The research will explain everything you are all describing.

Muddy said...

We homeschool. I remember when my daughter first took off with reading. She devoured everything she could get her hands on. Her favorites were Pony Pals, The Littles, Animal Ark, Three Cousin Detectives(Detective Club), Cam Jensen, Santa Paws, Puppy Patrol, just to name a few. A little later she dove into the Little House books, pony tails, betsy tacy tib books and the Boxcar Children books. We ordered many books directly from as they are very friendly to homeschoolers. (but that might not be as practical option for you as it was for us.)Hope that she remains an avid reader and that you can keep her well supplied in good books. I know my daughter kept her eyes open here any time we went to a used book store for something to add to her list. :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It is so nice to hear of child diving into the reading.
I remember how I jumped between two languages with Leo - his first spoken language was English, so after wrestling with what to do, I stopped teaching him reading in English (Laby Bird books) and switched teaching him reading in Russian. I had no idea how to teach child to speak a language. After he learned to read Russian he started to speak it.

Anonymous said...

the magic tree house books are son and DH read them all when DS was 3 and 4 and now he is reading them again my himself and to his 3 year old is wonderful to see our children spread their wings and fly

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