Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's Working....It's Working

Homeschooling is as much about faith as it is about academics. Faith that the method we choose will eventually lead to learning. Faith that our children will accidentally learn something from us or his world. Faith that we are doing the right thing. Inherent in the faith concept is that we walk without sight most of the time. It's a good day when we see a glimmer of a result.

I love the scene in the movie, What About Bob?, where Bill Murray works at taking "baby steps." It's become almost a mantra in my life when I face hard things. My SJ gave me some hope this week that those "baby steps" might lead to a crawl.

I've taken the gamble to really back off from anything that looks like school and approach learning in an eclectic fashion, using what life presents. With only a month of school left, we've also taken this as an opportunity to try freebie programs and sites I've run across through other homeschoolers.

Yesterday, for instance, was consumer math day. We started by comparison shopping for a washer and dryer. SJ wasn't all that engaged but he did listen in as my friend and I grilled the salespeople as to features, benefits, and costs of the machines. Afterward, when I asked him what he learned, he made the observation that one salesperson seemed to know his product better and therefore gave him (SJ) greater confidence. A valuable insight? Absolutely.

Next was grocery store math. From the first aisle to the last, I saw a distinct click as SJ went from reluctant to engaged. It was the Pizza Rolls that did it. "Hey Mom, these would only cost $.07 each," he proved. "If I eat 20 of them, it would only cost $1.40 for lunch, compared to $2 for a public school lunch." He got the Pizza Rolls simply on the merit of doing the math. (As you might expect, our next lesson looked at the serving size vs. the calories.) It seems that personal interest is a great motivator.

We read our receipts to make sure we didn't get "ripped off" and wondered together why Heinz vinegar cost double the store brand. 

I know it doesn't seem like much, but for me, it's enough. It's a constant urge not to blaze ahead and succumb to the pressures of traditional "school." If I look at others in a full-on sprint, I still wonder if we will ever get there but I have to trust this process. One friend, whose kids share my son's learning challenge, peppers me with dubious questions. "If you aren't using textbooks, how are you teaching him?" Fair question. But how does one begin to explain? I hardly believed it myself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I'll Take That Glimmer of Hope

Two things happened this week. Well, three, if you count SJ's surgery.

Because of the surgery (a minor procedure), we had no choice but to lay low this past week. I purchased an online reading comprehension program, Learning Upgrade. It's what educators are calling "artificially intelligent," where it feeds the student concepts only to the level they can/have mastered. It won't let a student advance until he is at least proficient.  I handed over the laptop and took a shower. Usually, I would expect to find that he has moved on to something much more intellectually stimulating when my back turns, say the Legos site. Imagine my surprise to find him working through his second and third levels of the program. Ping.

Next, I scrapped the paperback reading book and offered him stacks of Popular Science, Breakaway, and various cycling magazines. I told him he needed to read for 1/2 hour, just like if he were reading a book. An hour and a half later, I had to pull him away from the magazines. Ping ping.

I found what I thought was a super cool visual dictionary site called Visuwords. If you have a visual learner (middle school or above), I would recommend checking it out. It uses colors and shapes to make connections to word parts, definitions, synonyms, and more. Thinking we were on a roll, I introduced the site and watched as SJ promptly switched off. Not successful. Move on.

He had fun with a site full of "brain games" also beneficial for we adults who fear losing our acuity. Many of the games are similar to exercises he did in vision therapy. Sometimes we have to redefine our ideas about "play." He may have accidentally sharpened his thought processes on Oh well.

But these weren't the two things I refer to in my title. I lead him to all of the above. He just took the bait. No, what I saw were glimmers of an independent thinker.

First, on Friday night, I caught him with the Direct TV manual in his lap, open to a page of directions. With remote in hand, he was reading and following directions to solve a problem he needed to fix. He didn't ask us to tell him how (ok, he did try his brother but when that didn't work...). I was tempted to jump in and give him the simple answer but, thankfully, recognized the opportunity for what it was. For most, a small thing. For me (and for him), it was a huge breakthrough. Other than Legos instructions, I doubt SJ has ever sought an instruction manual for anything in his life.

Second, and equally mundane for most, he responded to his dad's need desire for cookies and milk. He offered to make cookies knowing that we didn't have any more of the super fast and easy fundraiser cookie dough. Did he realize he had to follow a recipe? Apparently he did! I helped find the recipe and left him to do his work. We had a near miss as he forgot to add the dry ingredients but he got right back on track as soon as we called this to his attention. The cookies were both tasty and beautiful. And to this mom, they were so much more than a treat. Those cookies represented an early and encouraging step in the direction of confidence and independence. Ping. Ping. Ping! Sometimes we need to take what we can get.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Weekend Offers Perspective

After my little meltdown last week, I took a chill pill and had the opportunity for a physically strenuous (as opposed to mentally strenuous) weekend of cleaning out my house and having a giant yard sale with 50 (yes 50!) of my neighbors. So satisfying on so many levels. Exhausted, I fell into bed at 8:00 p.m. and awoke Sunday in time to attend our 9:00 a.m. service. I felt as if I hadn't been as awake and rested in a month.

The thing about our 9:00 a.m. service is that a group of exuberant Celebrate Recovery (former addicts) folks occupy the first two rows of seating, literally right in front of the stage. Always effusive, always smiling broadly, always swaying enthusiastically to our lively worship, always...exuberant. I am all for enthusiastic praise but I have to admit, I've looked at them with dose of accusation, that maybe they were just a little over-the-top.

Here is where I have to say that T.V. is not always a bad thing. I've been watching Addicted on TLC, not so much because I enjoy seeing people in their addictions but because I am fascinated by the intervention techniques. (I am studying for my Counseling degree.) It's a disturbing show, to say the least, but the progression from stupor to lucidity can't help but make a person stand up and cheer. I guess I have only imagined a life of addiction, never really seen it.

I wanted to hug those front row people yesterday. Throw up your hands, dear friends. These are people who know what they have been delivered from and are paying due respect and offering a sacrifice of joy to the One who gave them a new day.

Next, my attention turned toward our drummer, a motley kid I've watched grow from awkward teen to scruffy young man. I know he struggled with school and has spent a few wayward years finding his way to adulthood. But the kid can play. I don't know his school story and why he struggled, but it warmed my heart to see him there, offering the gift he does have.

What if my SJ takes a crooked path? I'm not setting him up for that but consider it for  a moment. Often our greatest suffering, our biggest challenge, our thorn, if you will, leads to the most acute joy and thankfulness. As a parent, I would protect him from ill. But my job above all is to be on my knees, praying for the will of the Father in his life.

On the curriculum front, I had a wonderful conversation with the Grand Pumba Handler who reminded me to relax and know that I cannot teach SJ anything at a level where he isn't. She encouraged me to concentrate on foundational skills and let the science and history and literature work it's way in. It was reassuring and we spent Friday doing "math" and industry as we marked and labeled our treasures for sale. We even threw in an impromptu investment lesson as he purchased a case of Skittles to sell at 100% markup. It was a much better weekend. Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. This week our hand is forced. He is having his adenoids removed on Tuesday so we will not have a choice but to relax. I am looking forward to the week.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Struggling Learner? How About Struggling Mom?

I'll have to admit, it has been a rough week. I had great plans to approach the week with less formal lessons and more "fun" type learning. Is it me or does less to do mean less is done? I mean, MUCH less. More blank stares. Less compliance. More resistance.

While I know intuitively that I need to find SJ's spark, his currency, if you will, I seem lost in finding it and even more lost in convincing myself that he will ever master anything that resembles a school standard if I follow this style. And doesn't he have to meet a few standards to eventually graduate?
In school, a teacher proffers a passing grade and promotes a child to the next grade level. When learning happens in such a different order and on a totally different timeline at home, how does a homeschooler measure progress?

Couple this with the learning disability and it's not hard to see why I am lost. As my friend (who is conveniently also a therapist) noted, SJ is "p-d off" at failing all the time and until he finds something in which he can succeed, he will use all his energy resisting me and my efforts. But what is that thing? 'And how will it be enough to urge him toward independence, adult literacy, and character, for isn't that the ultimate goal?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Ultimate Blog Party 2010

I'm going to take a moment from the usual to do a little blog-elbow rubbing. Akin to schmoozing e-style. Inspired by 5 Minutes for Mom, it's a way for those of us who blog to find each other and for new readers to hopefully find new and interesting blogs to read. So basically, this is an introduction and a few facts about me and my blog:
  • My name is Carrie.
  • I will have been married for 24 years this July to a wonderfully strong, creative, and loyal guy--Garth.
  • I have three children although I only homeschool my youngest. My daughter, 20, is an art major finishing her junior year of college. My middle child, a son, 16, prefers to race his mountain bike over getting a drivers license...which is fine with me (although I might argue it is more expensive). My youngest is a boy, 13, whom you may have read about in my blog. He plans to be a movie star.
  • My husband and I own (and he operates) a retail bike and kayak business.
  • I have only been homeschooling for a month and a half although I homeschooled my daughter when she was in 6th grade (a completely different experience).
  • I live my life with a great dose of faith in God and his son, Jesus Christ, without whom I would be completely and utterly lost and adrift, prone to prideful acts of selfishness and bitter musings. That is not to say I have mastered all of this but have the grace to continue when I fall short.
  • I love all things of the mind and how people think. I'm currently taking some prerequisite courses in order to get into a Masters in Counseling program.
  • I have the best group of live friends a girl could hope for. Some near and some far. All precious and vital to my mental health and being.
  • Oh, and I am a dog person. We have two lapdogs: a 90 pound Lab and a 50 pound mutt.
Things people might say about me:
  • I am honest.
  • I am direct.
  • I am witty (my favorite)
My goals for my blog are to:
  • Chronicle my homeschool journey. 
  • Decompress my thoughts through the written word.
  • Share what I learn, both the good and the not-so-good.
  • Shine a light and give hope.
So there you have it.  That's me in a nutshell. I wish we could hang out and have a cup of coffee. I'd much rather see your eyeballs and grill you with questions about how you do what you do. For now this will suffice but I do hope to connect.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Clean Mind Leads to Projectiles

Thank you Spring Break! Nothing like a week off to reflect and regroup...oh, and spring clean. My cupboards and shelves are nearly organized, door jams primed and ready to be repainted, and many treasures stacked and ready for next week's multi-family garage sale. There is something about purging the house that helps me purge and clear my mind.

As I mentioned in my last post, I felt we had gotten bogged down by our textbooks. I started hearing, "I hate science," which I know is a total lie because Mythbusters and How It's Made top the list of recorded programs on our DVR. What SJ was communicating, in his 13 year old manner, was that he hated what we were studying and how we were doing it.

It occurred to me that he likes anything that shoots, explodes, or destroys so, duh, brainchild, how about studying the weaponry and warfare of the Medieval times (which we are now entering in History)? With a little encouragement from my husband and his friend, I found a book, The Projectile-Throwing Engines of the Ancients, that offers sketches of many types of catapults and their histories. As we read this together, SJ will cover as many learning objectives, if not more, than if we were reading his history, science, and literature textbooks. I am hoping he can build scale models of a few of these catapults (or weapons) and we will (at least, my husband will) test and discuss the differences of trajectory, force, and all those scientific concepts of which I am glaringly lacking in understanding. In reading the history of the weapons, we will surely find terms to add to the vocab list and, in order to understand the concepts, he will be forced to take the time to comprehend his reading. He has already opened the book to peek.

I am also looking at curriculum for next year and, again, it occurred to me that I've been a little too intent on taking up where he left off in school and getting through the book. Well, it's clear he will be doing Pre-Algebra again next year. With every lesson, we tend to back up another chapter. So...why am I trying to move forward? STAR testing? For the rest of the year, I plan to start back at the front of the book and review until I find where he is stuck. I am also having him do some diagnostic tests on a few of the programs I am reviewing. If you have used these, please let me know: Aleks Pre-Algebra and Teaching Textbook.

Lastly, check out this post from another blogger mom where she outlines the lessons learned from, of all things, a Cheez-It box: Who Needs Textbooks?  Great minds think alike. Homeschool offers so many opportunities to learn about life from life itself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Break Offers Time to Reflect

Easter break came at just the right time. We've been at this for five weeks now and while we are falling into a routine, that's just it--we are falling into a routine.

When we started this venture, I had ideals of helping my son rediscover his interests and love of learning through less structured days and unhurried explorations. I reluctantly accepted textbooks knowing that they would fall short but figured I would use them as my springboard to subject immersion. How quickly one falls into rote academia. The thing is, textbooks (and teacher's manuals) make it easy to deliver a lesson and one can feel that, at the end of the day, each subject has at least been touched. But I'm not sure our homeschool is looking that much different than the middle school classroom, save for the couch and kitchen table.

A weekend of decompression has, for  me, allowed some time to return to blog boards and the infinite wisdom of ones who have gone before me. (Total side note: I've encountered some of the coolest "thinkers" and "writers" among homeschool moms. What an insightful group.) My head is aswim with thoughts of purpose, curriculum, learning styles, and teaching methods. It's enough to overwhelm but one message repeatedly makes its way to the top of the pile: Trust yourself. Know your child and do what you know. Life presents learning opportunities at every turn.

What I am struggling with right now is missing the two-way conversation with someone who can answer some of my questions. Another blogger mom recently expressed frustration at trying to explain the merits of homeschooling. I get what she is saying in that trying to discuss what I am learning with my "school" friends and discussing solutions is difficult because they aren't doing the research I am doing and are not facing the unique journey I am taking. While supportive, they cannot offer the insight I crave in this area. Here are some of my ponderings.

  • I've forgotten my commitment to "deschooling." At A to Z Home's Cool site, several articles reminded me that kids who exit the public school system need time to decompress, nearly a month per year in school. Do the math. For SJ, that would fully seven months! What does that look like? I fear days of endless (and non-educational) computer surfing and I, Carly on Nick if left unchecked. Would he really find his way to rich and educational topics? I'm not so sure, but then, he is still a traditionally trained student and learning still looks like school to him. I love the idea of this concept but struggle with the "how" and truth be told, the worry that nothing will be added to my son's brain (which is exactly what proponents say the deschooling will counter).
  • The Charlotte Mason Method. Again, love the idea of this method that, in a nutshell (and from my limited understanding), suggests using real books to study subjects. By doing so, students will connect with the depth and emotion of a topic instead of simply glossing over the main points. This appeals to me and I totally get how it could work, especially in history and literature, but I wonder how one does math once kids reach pre-algebra. I understand counting pennies by fives, but I don't see myself finding algebraic equations in everyday life.
Finally, I found this review while reviewing the book, Homeschooling: The Teen Years: Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the 13- to 18- Year-Old. I had to check the author to see if I had somehow written it. Nope. It turns out this was from a mom in 2000. It seems the issues we have faced are not new ones:
Two weeks ago I pulled my 12 year old, seventh grade student from public school on basically what was a spur of the moment, desperation move. Long story short, he has... never enjoyed even one day of school (including kindergarten), and [had] writing/processing problems. I was tired of trying to get the teachers to cooperate, my son to do his homework after school, tears, low self-esteem and failing grades. I just knew there had to be a better way to help my son receive the education he deserves.
Again, let me say how grateful I am to have accepted this journey and to have the opportunity to do it. I know I am headed in the right direction but as with anything new, there is a learning curve and if I have learned anything so far, it is that every homeschool journey is unique. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Keeping Our Eyes on the Task at Hand.

For the most part we are falling into a routine, plugging along at SJ pace and learning to cover lessons with more quality than quantity. Really, it's the only way we can cover lessons unless I'm just into text-mentioning for my own benefit. Still, it's disheartening to me when we run unbidden into concepts that my son has no clue how to decipher, concepts he has been meant to work with in traditional school.

For instance, yesterday he faced a question asking if a term was a simile, a metaphor, an analogy, or an idiom. Blank stare. "Mom, my teacher expected me to know what these were but I have no idea." Add it to my growing list. Sigh.

Again, it reinforces why I am homeschooling this guy but still, it makes me sad and a wee bit overwhelmed at the scope of material we need to cover (and master). It makes me wonder, though, how many other kids are sitting in classrooms making WAGS (wild-a**-guesses) to get their "C" and move on. My son has a known learning issue that requires a unique delivery system and has resulted in lagging school knowledge. But sometimes the lines are blurred and I wonder how far behind he is... or isn't?

Our focus as homeschoolers needs to be our children's progress, not comparison. Still, it takes time to take the school out of school. I've been a lifelong classroom learner (a good one) so it is a daily choice to move against the grain of tradition in learning. I am so thankful that, personally, I've always been interested in psychology and brain function and learning styles so I have some understanding of what I am working with but the reality of doing said work often feels askew.

So we move on to another day, our focus on the trail head, not the top of the mountain (was that an analogy?). This journey will be long and strenuous but I am convinced the view will be well worth it.