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Bonding While Learning: Review by Deborah Burt

Activities to Grow Your Relationship While Preparing for Reading Success
By Gary Lee Kosman and Grace May Chiu
America Learns
15455 San Fernando Mission Blvd.
Suite 309
Mission Hills, CA 91345

Geared toward children ages 3 to 6 and their parents, Bonding While Learning: Activities to Grow Your Relationship While Preparing for Reading Success is an extensive compilation of engaging activities, teaching advice, helpful hints, and game ideas. The authors, Gary Lee Kosman and Grace May Chiu, hope to "help you spend meaningful, quality time with your child that not only builds your relationship but also supports your child's early literacy growth." The book is broken into 11 segments, each focused on different aspects of learning how to read. This is not a structured curriculum to achieve reading-readiness step-by-step. It is instead a potpourri of activities to interject into a child's life as a parent sees fit.

The first chapter, "Reading to Your Child," includes basic suggestions for reading with your child (preview the book's illustrations with the child, ask the child to make predictions, etc.) and keeping the child's attention as you read (keep outside distractions to a minimum, sit beside and close to the child instead of across from him, read with enthusiasm and expression, etc.).

The next few chapters will help parents demonstrate to their child how print works, how to take care of books, and how to recognize letters of the alphabet. One chapter gives parents ideas to develop their child's listening and speaking skills while doing tasks such as playing with puppets. The last several chapters provide activities to help a child with phonemic awareness, beginning to decode words, and beginning to write. Because the authors would like you to spend more time actually doing these activities with your child rather than preparing for them, the last section of the book includes several pages of pre-printed sheets that can be cut out or photocopied for use with the activities and games.

The book also includes ideas for "Special Out-and-About Extension Activities" or "Special At-Home Extension Activities." These ideas take the instructions one step further by helping parents think of more ways to use them. "Rhyme-Away Pictures" and "Draw Me a Rhyme" include the extended idea of playing these games while waiting for food at a restaurant. Each of these rhyming activities require only pencil and paper, providing parent and child with giggles, a healthy dose of hearing and identifying sounds, and a way to keep the wiggles at bay while being trained in "dining-out patience"!

This book has been a welcome addition to our household. I had been worried that my youngest of three sons (age 4) was not getting enough individual attention in our homeschooling. (Sure, he listens to Shakespeare and The Hobbit, but has he had enough Dr. Seuss?) Bonding While Learning provided the perfect opportunity to spend quality time cuddling with him on the couch while feeling confident that I was "officially" educating him. He enjoyed it when I picked up a book upside down to start reading it, then tried reading from bottom-to-top or right-to-left ("Zany Reading" from the "How Print Works" chapter). He giggled and showed me the correct way to read. (Whew! Maybe he has learned something listening to all the older-boy books!)

"Things I Like: Learning that Words are Symbols for Real Things" (also from the "How Print Works" chapter) was a quick refresher course in the fun and benefit of cutting objects from magazines and gluing them artistically to cardstock. My son loved seeing the word in print for each of his chosen objects, and he proudly "read" the paper to everyone else in our family.

One of the suggestions the authors make for keeping a child's attention is to have the child himself select the books to be read. I have to disagree with the authors on this. My kids are often drawn to glitzy, colorful, cartoonish books based on popular children's films. Often poorly-written, these books bore ME to death and do not inspire my children to read more. I wish the authors had made the observation that children are captivated by engaging, quality literature. Perhaps they could have recommended Honey for a Child's Heart or another booklist to help parents become aware of delightful picture books that can stir within children a love for literature.

It is exciting to see an educational resource that values the time parents spend with children, promoting "bonding" as an important component in academic progress. I also appreciate the fact that Bonding While Learning is not stuck on an age-appropriate timeline. Realizing that children do not learn in a cookie-cutter style, the authors encourage parents to use the activities in any order that works for them and their unique child.

Much of Bonding While Learning is made up of common-sense recommendations. Although I don't feel I learned many "new" things from this book, I very much enjoyed flipping it open and letting it nudge me toward bonding with my child while preparing him for reading success.

Bonding While Learning could be utilized by families from almost every homeschooling bent, though it may be enjoyed more by those who favor textbooks. Textbook educators will find this book accurate and organized and will appreciate the focus on growing their relationships with their children without letting go of the academic orderliness. If you are familiar with the Five in a Row curriculum, you may think of Bonding While Learning as being halfway between school-at-home style and Five-in-a-Row style.

I would recommend this resource to someone who is beginning to homeschool a young child but has fears about "doing it right." The book is "schoolish" enough for parents to trust they are really teaching their child, yet homey enough to build warm memories between parent and child. Bonding While Learning could also be useful for parents who have a younger child that needs more one-on-one time, or even for a seasoned homeschool mom who needs to shake a few cobwebs from her mind and begin with fresh ideas.

Product review by Deborah Burt, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007