Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Summer Shopping List

I'm getting inundated with emails from people who are just finding out where the bar is and beginning for advice.   It's all in here somewhere starting about 5 years ago, but it's going to take about a year to catch up.  So I'll just tell you.  It's easier than how I found out, which is to drop my little marine off on a beach full of cannons.   I'll also answer related questions I got this week at the bottom.  If I missed any questions, please comment.  I'm being nagged right now (aka revenge) so I may have to finish tonight.

Thanks to the reader who asked about a 2 1/2 year old little brother.  I think this is my area of expertise and the reason I started this blog in the first place.

Almost everyone outside of Chicago and New York have to sit for both the ITBS or something similar and the COGAT.  In Chicago and NY, it's just the COGAT, because the majority of kids are way behind academically so we need to find out who has potential to succeed, not who is succeeding.

I think Building Thinking Skills is generally regarded as the starting point for the COGAT and other cognitive tests like NNAT, Raven, etc, because it's thick, and half of it has little to do with school.  I like Can You Find Me, sometimes Mind Benders.  I bought everything else, and it's mostly a waste of money.

Since you have standardized tests in the mix, I also recommend going up a year in math, on your own, in the summer.  You can go ahead 2 years if you want.  It just goes slower.  I like Every Day Math grade 2 (but not 1), Spectrum or Sylvan for 1st, Sylvan definitely for K, and then for 3 and 4
Go Math, and then CMP Math after that.

That leaves reading comprehension, which was the last article, and test prep, which can wait for later.  So, in short:
1.  Critical Thinking books, which personally I would concentrate on
2.  A math and a reading comp book and Vocabulary Workshop (grade level)
3.  A poster to keep track of progress (for the parent)
4.  Sticky notes for all of the vocab words

We spent way too much time on math, but caught up on reading later.  I'm not sure anyone has this luxury any more.

More Q & A
1.  What about English Language skills?
I've met lots of 1st graders who have parents who can barely speak English and have thick accents. Their children are in the 2,304 percentile of English on all tests and might as well run for President at age 6.  I always ask the parent "what the heck"?  The parent simply tells me that the child taught themselves to read (liars) and that they read all the time (totally true).  Only English is spoken at home, and the child has to go to school on the weekend to learn their parents' language.

2.  What about things on the verbal portion of the ITBS besides Reading Comprehension?
There are 2 things we forbid in this house: Memorizing math facts and studying grammar, spelling, sentence structure, or anything else like that outside of school.  Since writing is not going to work until grade 5 or so, we just ignore these things.  But we're also 2 years ahead.  I don't think you'll have enough room in the schedule, and these things tend to follow reading.  I'm going to say read an hour a day (30 minutes read to alternating each page and 30 minutes kid on their own reading any garbage they want).

3.  My child requires me to sit down with him the whole time he does anything.
Actually both of them do.  At one point, the younger one developed the habit of doing Building Thinking skills on his own, and the older one will do math on his own, but not properly unless we do it together.  Plus, the older one wouldn't do any studying on his own until 5th grade.  I recommend you get a book or something and "do it together" meaning "I'll sit here with you but I'm really ignoring you" if you can get away with it.  I've never met any kid who didn't need about 12 weeks of constant attention, and some kids are really social and won't do anything on their own.  My wife came up with "do the homework in the kitchen while I look like I'm paying attention but I'm really cooking".  You'll never get away with looking at a screen while your child slaves away at a workbook.

4.  Can I use websites for math?
No.  My kids loved the online version of Vocab Workbook that supplements the material, but we rarely did online math.  For a reason.  Math is about problem solving and thinking, and not about practice.  End of story.  Of course, with a really good problem, like those awesome books by you-know-who, you get lots of practice anyway.

5.  Can I reuse books?
With the thinking books, I forbid writing because they are so expensive.  Sometimes, with a practice test, I let my child fill in the bubble, but then I filled in all the bubbles and asked the next one to erase the correct answer, or filled in all the bubbles and erased all of them to make it impossible to cheat, or I just sat there asking for pointing.  All of my books ended up in the hands of various neighbors at one point or another.

6.  Piano Adventures?
Start with primary before the 1st grade.

7. Any tips on encouraging children to want to do their best rather than pressing them to learn etc?
Yes, this is the key to the whole endeavor.  Your child's success in life depends on you not blowing this.  Please see lots of my articles on this topic.  In short, spend a lot of time on the question, and don't worry about the answer.  Grade it secretly.

8.  Do I have a reading list?
I am not happy with any reading list ever, nor do I like any book ever recommend or lent to us by a friend.  It never works.  It's like breathing someone else's air.  On the other hand, I go down to the library, pick up a random stack of books, and every one is great.


  1. In the county we're in, we can choose to be in a multiage classroom (Grade 1 and Grade 2 combined) for two years before the full time AAP program begins. Do you have any insights? I see if you have an advanced Grade 1, you will have great benefits but I don't see how it's beneficial to Grade 2 especially if you are advanced being in the class with the half of the kids in Grade 1.

    1. There have been really great studies that prove mixed classrooms are very effective for the advanced students, but only if the teachers are trained properly, which I can't guarantee. At this age, my kids never got anything out of any classroom before they got into a GAT program, so if you are doing some work at home, like advanced reading and advanced math (like we did), then it doesn't matter. I'm going to assume that the teacher of the mixed classroom is better than the other (you can check), and I would probably pick the mixed classroom if this were the case.

  2. THANK YOU!!! I was also wondering if mixed classrooms exist for school administrative convenience or budget issue not for any educational reasons. Also not sure how I can find out if the teacher of the mixed classroom is good, better than the other. We just started at a new school so I guess we can talk to other parents?

  3. Hi Norwood,

    First, thank you for your time reading this. And secondly, for making time for your blog and sharing your experiences and methods!

    I am clueless at parenting and teaching my child. He just turned 8 and is finishing up 2nd grade. He is above average in his grades (mix of A and B). He is a perfectionist and tries to avoid doing anything that he think is not good at.

    He took few tests to get his skills evaluated in Huntington, C2 (both academic), and LearningRX (cognitive) recently. His reading comprehension is very low about 50% for 2nd grade. LearningRx said his processing speed and hence executing function speed is very low compared to his peers. We cannot afford the fees all these centres are requiring to get him up to speed to head into 3rd grade next fall. We are considering LearningRX for the processing speed improvement. That still leaves us to get up to speed on the academic part. I also see that the kids in the neighbourhood that are in gifted programs last year have blossomed in all skills. My aim is to get my child into a comfortable grade level, and push him beyond that going forward.

    I stumbled into your blog luckily and the past two articles have given us a path to start. I still have a lot to catchup. Would you please let me know where I can get your Math books? Would you please add any other information for the extreme beginners?

    Thank you a ton in advance!

    1. My first step as a parent was to realize I was clueless. Fortunately, there were two really gifted parents sitting on either side of me at work.

      I'm not a big fan of spending money on centers, assuming you have 30 to 60 minutes each day. Not everyone does. I think it's the parent that needs to get up to speed more than anything.

      Your first priority is reading. This was my biggest challenge for my oldest. Don't be afraid to get easy books. You need to establish the reading routine. Picture books, award winners, are really good too at this age, and you doing at least 50% of the reading actually helps, not hurts (that would be you two reading out loud and taking turns). From what you told me, without knowing anything else, I would guess that you need to ban all screens from the house. If this is not the case, then email me.

      The "perfectionist" aspect is almost an archtype and I know exactly where that comes from. You might not get through more than 30 problems in the 2nd grade book, because it's for second graders, and the first few questions are going to take a long time, like a few days, but this book will crush any of his bad habits, provided that you go into it totally OK that he will get each problem wrong 5 times, which is by design. None of the content is technical nor is the math advanced, and the words aren't that difficult, but it's the hardest thing on the market through 4th grade for most people until they adopt the right academic habits (parent and child). If you go to and search for "Test Prep Math Level 2", it's the book that shows an army ranger climbing a net at an obstacle course to avoid having to do my math book. Feel free to keep me updated by email and you might want to read all of my articles (time permitting) going back about 2 years. I think you've got your work cut out for you for the next 9 months.