Friday, February 26, 2010

First Week "Detox" Goals

As I look ahead to Week #1, I can see right away where the two of us might conflict. I'm amped. He's not.

Since embarking on this journey, I have immersed myself in a crash course of homeschooling, joining Yahoo Groups, reading books, scouring websites. All of this serves to excite the possibilities. I practically drooled as I perused our curriculum choices, so satisfied was I with the plethora of learning stimuli. Couple that with the uber cool interactive websites I keep finding and the thousand unbidden thoughts per second I have on ways we can study [whatever I happen to be reading/seeing]. It's like the sleeping giant awakened. I am ready to go after this thing, to instill in my son a new love of learning, to share with him the wonders of life.

One problem. Him.

Lest I forget, he is my student. And for the all the reasons listed in my first post I need to give him time to detox (or decompress) from his traditional school environment.

Challenge #1:
  • Do school. But do it laid back-like. His pace, not mine.
  • Set foundations. Subtly discover what he knows and what he is missing. Watch for hot points and be sensitive to what shuts him down.
  • Slow down and go at his rhythm.
Here are some ways I think I can do this:
  • Back away from the textbooks. I have them but I'm guessing the quickest way to produce eye glaze in my student will be to open the same textbook he currently "hates" and resume the same old lessons he thought he was leaving behind. I realize he needs to learn much of what is in the text, but throwing the book at him is precisely what has not worked. 
  • Computer groundwork. I can see that the computer will be a fabulous tool. It can also be dangerous and overwhelming. Right now, he has a sum total of two sites he visits: Lego and Freeride (a game). I would like to be able to leave him with safe site choices when I have Mom errands and appointments. 
    • Does he know how to make Folders and Bookmarks in the browser? We'll make Folders such as "Anytime" and "Funtime" and maybe a few more serious sounding ones like "Research" or "Text support." Then, we will load the "Anytime" folder with approved sites that offer educational videos and interactive games. It will give him the freedom to choose his activities and free me from having to set boundaries each time we hit the computer.
    • Create a Facebook account. I know there are lots of opinions on this. My son is 13 and making the choice to leave his current social network. Getting a Facebook account was a dealmaker for him when deciding to homeschool. Of course, we (the parents) will stipulate the security settings, keep the password, and monitor his usage, but really, it's the way of his future (and ours) and gives him the illusion he has not left his social life behind.
    • Set some ground rules.  Erasing History record will be grounds for computer banishment. Facebook is for fun, as in after goals have been completed. We will set time limits and parameters for surfing.
  • Evaluate the flow of our days. Both of us will be making adjustments to school outside the confines of school hours. I tend to charge forth in the a.m. but need to sit back and feel his vibe without giving him all power in scheduling. Does it matter if he doesn't do math first? For me, yes. For him, who knows? Perhaps he will be best served by playing an interactive game or doing an art project first. I know this will be a challenge for me--being open to free flow yet not letting the day be a complete wash. 
  • Rearrange furniture. This might seem odd, but I can already see that we need to think through our work spaces and storage issues. If he spends any amount of time on the computer, I would like to be able to sit near him and either assist him or work on my laptop. Right now, there is no comfortable place in the office for a second person. Also, I hate clutter. How will we tame the books, papers, projects, supplies, and whatnot? We will think this through together and make adjustments.
  • Remember that we have lots of time. We are committed to homeschool through his eighth grade year. That is almost a year and a half. Breathe. Take it slow.
While none of the above feels like school, I need to remember that it is. He will be using critical thinking to solve problems, visualizing spaces, learning to categorize, and using technology--all worthwhile skills.  I will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chronicle of a Struggling Learner

On Monday I begin my new life as a homeschooling mom. It's a midstream change, kind of sudden but really not.

Our journey with my third child began years ago, probably around his second grade year (now seventh) when I noted that he tended to skip small words while reading aloud. Eventually this translated to poor performance on tests although I didn't make the connection until much later. Teachers warned me not to compare his performance with my first two, both top of class students.

I guess I kept hoping that he would catch up but each year was the same drill. He started strong then crashed by about week seven or eight, usually around the time of the first comprehensive test. On a hunch, in fifth grade, I read aloud some questions from his "F" test. To my surprise, he answered me with 100% accuracy. The kid was not dumb.

Fortunately for us, we have an optometrist in our town who tests for a peculiar learning issue. As my son subjected himself to a battery of "games," I was shocked to discover how much he missed as I followed along. In a nutshell, he has a visual processing deficit, not correctable by lenses. It goes much deeper in the heart of his brain.

I discovered that my son had adapted to this, unconsciously, by suppressing the receiving center for one of his eyes. Think about reading a book with the type on the two facing pages overlapping, even slightly. This is how text looked to him. The brain is a marvelous organ and it does what it needs to do when taxed. Unfortunately, in this case, it staunched the dimension needed for information to make sense. Without a 3D understanding of text, my son struggled to get visual pictures, to organize information, to memorize--in short, to learn.

Schools have tests for struggling learners but they do not test for this particular issue and, I found, do not really consider this a "valid" problem. It doesn't fit their box and they do not have specialists or programs ready to address this deficit. Coupled with the fact that my son could, with my help, make passing grades, he never failed enough to get the magical IEP (nor did we particularly want him attached to the little pink folder).

I kept hoping that he would manage his learning using the sills he learned in an intensive vision therapy program (our dime) while I alerted teachers to particular hot spots. It hasn't worked despite my hopes and intentions. Denial is bliss, but truth is probably better though inconvenient.

How can I expect a teacher to buffet my son amidst a class of 35 students, some with severe learning disabilities and specifically outlined objectives, as well as top learners who regularly linger on the edge of boredom in the classroom? I couldn't do it. Teachers must teach to the masses and pray that their teaching method reaches the majority of students.

What tipped the scale for me was the dull undercurrent of concern about my son's social life. He has never been in "trouble" but he continues to disturb me with his friend choices and I see behaviors that, while small and maybe even age-appropriate (by the world standards), will grow in the wrong direction. For a kid who suffers in the classroom, there is a great desire to succeed at something. That something isn't always positive. Kids like this are grouped with underachievers, not the best friend pool. They lag schoolmates in understanding so they embellish, pose as characters to garner approval, or simply lie. It creates a disturbing social cycle.

I finally had to ask. Why am I sending my son to school for seven hours each day? He isn't gaining more than a fraction of an academic year each year and he isn't thriving socially. Why is he there? It's sobering to admit, but the honest truth is that he was there for me, to give me a break. I have subjected him to a daylong babysitter--and not really a good one.

So here we are. Starting homeschool. After the initial resistance to the idea, my son is excited and relieved that he is about to be released from the grind of school. We anticipate spending the first several weeks in a detox process, if you will, learning what learning can be outside the confines of a traditional environment.

My challenge will be to teach a right brain child from my own left and linear brain.

This will be a journey, thus the name of my blog. Regel, in Hebrew, means journey. Also tied to the word is enduring. I know I can do this but I also know my own limitations and tendencies. I figure that if I am going to suffer, I should share my suffering with others. After all, what is suffering for but that others can learn?

I hope my friends will follow my journey, but more than that, I pray that other parents with struggling learners will find their way here and that I can encourage them through our experiences, successes, failures, blunders, and joys. Our kids our worth it. My son is worth it. This could possibly be the greatest investment I have ever made as a parent.

As I read just this morning, "Rest assured that God never leaves a willing servant with nothing to do. The alternate opportunity He has in mind will yield bigger fruit, more satisfaction, and greater glory for Him." Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

Blessings. CS