Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Word Board

At a young age (like 4 to 6 or 5 to 7), each of my kids made trips to the Word Board a few times a week to see if any of the words from Vocab Workshop or phonics were mastered.   Of course, if 'organize' appeared, I couldn't help but throw in 'organization', 'organic', 'origami' or anything else I could think of, so it was hard for them to keep up.  The best part of this exercise was that it made up for a lack of discussion in the house, because we were usually reading or doing math or cleaning or eating.   It turned me into a vocabulary parent.   Our nightly reading time became more question and vocabulary oriented.

The Word Board started simply to track which words from the Vocab Workshop book were mastered.  If I got a slow response and some thinking, the word stayed.  If it was a really important word, the bar was raised and I wanted synonyms as well.  There are two reasons for delay.  First, if you zoom through Vocab Workshop, you get to a level that's too hard, or you have to use Wordly Wise, Vocab Workshop's more boring cousin.   Oppositely, some words are really hard, and you can leave the word on the board and move to the next section.

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The Word Board saved us in phonics.  Phonics at a young age go really slow.   At one point, we had 100 words on the board, including 'CAT', the very first word, which was never read adequately.  I know from experience in any subject that a child may take 3 weeks on the first page and 2 weeks on the next, but if you stick with it and wait for their brain, suddenly they get it and zoom through everything.  You just have to be patient and keep reminding yourself that you are reading the blog of an insane person.  But once it happens in reading, math, COGAT test prep, you see the process and can relax.  Until that delay happens in science, writing, pre-algebra, and everything else advanced you do, then it's just annoying.

I think that the Word Board was mainly about me learning to be a parent in an educated household.  It raises the level of expectation and it raises the level of the discussion.  More importantly, it trains a parent to let the child do the work with no help.  It trains the parent to wait for a correct answer, even if it takes 4 weeks.  It trains the child that mommy won't help.  The child realizes that he actually has to do the work.  But there is no penalty, no time limit.

By no help, I mean this:
  1. "What's this word mean?"  (Let's say ambidextrous is the vocab word.)
  2. 10 minutes of silence later, Live on water and land?
  3. "No, that's amphibian.  Last time, I said an amphibian is an animal that lives on water and land.  'Ambi' means both.   Phibian probably means tell a small lie or something to do with habitat.   It's greek from about 2500 years ago.  Or latin.  Small break for daddy to wiki phibian.  Ambitdexterous means that you can write with both hands because you either have brain damage or you practice writing with both hands.  Let's take a break to write our names with both hands at the same time.
  4. I know what habitat and amphibian mean.
  5. "Those words aren't coming down until you get ambidextrous"
Then mommy will come by and ask why I'm subjecting our 5 year old to ambidextrous.  By 4th grade, he will have forgotten what this word means.

Once we both got past the training, I could raise the bar as high as 'Stand and Deliver' while I challenged them on word meanings.   Since I didn't care whether the word came down this week or next month, it was all them.  Nor do I give a fig about their self esteem.  They can earn it if they want it.  Which they did.  The hard way.  I've got 2 kids with enough self esteem to fill a class room.

We retired the Word Board after about 3 years.  The Word Board only came back sporadically.   Three years defending at the Word Board produces a child who will acquire and retain word definitions on sight, and this makes the Word Board less useful except for advanced math and science.

I speculate that bilingual children are going to get a permanent advantage for the same reason.  The first few years of their lives are a big Word Board to sort through.

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