Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Now Where Was I?

Oh yes--I was sending all of my school-age children to school. And then I didn't. Actually: and then I couldn't. Although I could have--just not in good conscience. Not in the way you may believe, or hope to believe, or for any other reason you may think except this one: I was a bad homeschooler. Homeschool FAIL! would have the proper connotation.

What happened? The school evaluation found Flurpee had strong reading mechanics and weak reading comprehension, analysis, and/or communication skills and, if they had gotten that far, bad or non-existent writing ability.

How did this happen? I can trace it back to a number of combined factors. I will document them here in case anyone else is blind to some of the pitfalls I embraced. Some of it was laziness, some was a lack of age-appropriate expectations.
  • I did not consider my daughter ready for extensive handwriting at 8 years old. It turns out that the public school expects a lot of writing (including writing with real exposition--not just creative writing) at this age.
  • I was being laid back about homeschooling. Part of this was due to wanting to avoid confrontations with Flurpee about getting her work done. Another part was because I was being pulled from our work by Omega (the newly 2 year-old). Another part was my anxiousness to be done with the homeschool journey and looking forward to getting my life back--new career, more baby time, more house time, more me time. Not to mention the distractions of real-life like car repairs, home repairs, Christmas shopping, etc. And not to mention the distraction of non-academic homeschooling pursuits that were fun but that took a lot of time away from the schooling. And not to mention the draw of a little more of an unschooling approach--kids will get things in their own time, no need to pressure them, no need to add stress to the parent-child relationship.
  • I was not paying enough attention to Flurpee without Hanover. Whenever I did a literature lesson (the time when we would be learning the meaning of our stories), Hanover was so excited to answer the questions, I realize now that Flurpee didn't get a chance to show what she wasn't getting.
  • I changed curriculum and chose a lower level to avoid missing out on essentials. You only need to do that once to fall behind a whole year.
  • I was picking and choosing curricula to fill in all of the subjects myself instead of going with a full curriculum package. Some things fell through the cracks and this also helped mask my poor age-appropriate expectations.
  • I was playing to my strengths and was putting off dealing with the subject I felt weakest teaching. For me, the subject I was procrastinating with was writing. For others it might be math or science. The fact is that it is a lot harder to play catch up (especially for average learners--bright kids, by definition, catch on quicker and need less time to get up to speed) than to work on the concepts early and often.
  • I would mistake Flurpee for her sister sometimes. Flurpee just doesn't have the same kind of strengths or weaknesses as her sister and because something went a particular way with Hanover, I would sometimes assume Flurpee with deal with it or get it the same way. This kind of thing didn't happen a lot, but it did happen.
  • Just because I already did something didn't mean I was done doing it. One of the things you realize with kids is just how often something may need to be repeated (occasionally with different levels of development and sometimes just with the same level) for them to really get it. When I had done something with Hanover I would check mark the little space inside my brain that said 'done' and sometimes I thought I really was 'all done', not just 'done for Hanover'.
  • I wanted to put her into public school only two months before the state tests. I know the evaluator was right about all of Flurpee's skills and do not feel that she misstated them in any way because of the tests. Though I do believe the tests and Flurpee's very late birthday had a lot to do with being offered to go into a lower grade rather than staying in the upper grade with additional help.
There are probably more reasons and I can go into each reason even more in-depth but I don't think that would be nearly as interesting as this first perusal. I mean this as a cautionary tale of low-expectations and the contradiction of homeschooling for academics (my original and still main purpose) and yet not focusing on the academic. Some may not care. After all there is no reason to care if your child is behind school kids if you never plan on sending them to school. Some will feel that being behind at 8 years old is not such a big deal because there is plenty of time to emphasize more stringent academics at older ages (this is where I was). Others do not homeschool for academic reasons at all and could not care less where their kids are academically as long as they are good stewards of the environment or God-fearing Christians or what-have-you. Others have been challenging their kids academically always remembering that ultimate goal and are now sitting back with a nice smug grin (and I don't blame you one bit!).

So I could have put Flurpee in school in a lower grade with additional help. It's public school, it's not like they could turn her away. The lower grade had always been a possibility and wouldn't be out of the running since her birthday is so late in the year. So why not do it? Because Flurpee had always considered herself to be in the older grade and I couldn't bring myself to put her in at the younger grade and have her always think "well, I would be in this grade except for my mother homeschooled me for two years so I'm a year behind."

Which leaves her still home with me. I've retooled my mentality, retooled our schedule, and retooled our rules. I have dusted off the workbooks I bought many years ago. Now I'm playing catch up. We will see where Flurpee is at the end of the summer and if she's not ready for the higher grade then she and I will decide whether we want to go to the lower grade in public school or continue with homeschooling for one last hurrah to catch up for the following year.

The good news out of all of this--yes, there is good news!--is knowing more of what is expected for Flurpee's age. I was also pleasantly surprised at the higher expectations from public school. Flurpee is quite a bit more motivated to do school work. Any time she starts to give me a hard time or says she does not want to listen, I only need to remind her that she needs to work hard to be able to go to school and that will usually lead to more cooperation.


Deb said...

Kim, this is a great post and you have given us all a lot to think about. I have to give you credit for your realistic attitude, and your commitment to getting done what needs to get done. Bravo to you.

Dana said...

There was a time, though it only lasted a week, when I was ready to send my daughter to school. And part of me didn't want to just because I didn't want to be the miserable homeschool failure that comes in behind everyone else.

Bad reasoning all the way around, but it was a bad week.

Hope you both remain diligent for the catch up. A little maturity helps with that. My daughter zoomed ahead with age. I don't think it had anything at all to do with my breaking down in the restroom. :)

Eryn at said...

This post is very beautifully written. You're honest about where you made some mistakes (that is SO HARD for me to do, especially in writing!), hopeful, helpful, and encouraging to others and still funny about it!

You didn't mention your daughter's math skills, which leads me to believe that she did just fine on those placement tests? You should be proud, and keep telling yourself that we each have our weaknesses and strengths and develop skills at our own pace.

If you want a writing/penmanship/spelling thing that's kind of fun for her, try the "Draw Write Now" books. I have fallen in love with them, because my son can do some good ol' fashion dictation, with the carrot of getting to draw at the end. They have examples on their website about how to use the books for writing prompts.

It IS hard to know where your child is falling developmentally for their age. How would you know without someone telling you? The learning schedule of schools today is not what it was when we were children.

Here's to a GREAT remainder of the year for you guys. I know you guys can do it. And don't let them fool you for a minute, the high requirements for writing right now are due to the state tests grading very heavily on this atm. I'm pretty sure the teachers would rather be spending time on building reading vocabularies, etc. ;)

~Leighbra on twitter

christinemm said...

Wow Kim what a great post, your honesty is refreshing.

Honestly I don't know any homeschoolers who are academically focused that would smugly sit back and smird. Even the serious people who live around us, even the ones with ideal high standards---because every single family knows their strengths and weaknesses. Even those who hide the weaknesses, do see some cracks or flaws in their family, it is just that some try hard to hide it.

You said you have curriculums to use. I found Reading Detective by Critical Thinking Press helpful to teach reading comprehension the school-y way. It is flawed but every workbook system is IMO.

My older did on grade level and one grade under grade level for the reading compr. test he took in fall of grade 5. This is despite great narration (oral) the Charlotte Mason and TWTM way. I found this surprising bc by one HS method I thought he was doing great but by a public school testing way he didn't do well. Testing has flaws also though. But really some things like inferencing, he wasn't 'getting'. So we worked on it.

Hang in there.

christinemm said...

Wow typos. Sorry I meant 'smirk'.

And I guess the point I was trying to make but didn't quite is that even when following a certain HS method it can be considered a FAIL by an outside judge who is judging with criteria of the other method.

Plus I bet your DD would have fared better if you'd done some test prep skills practice. Maybe. If she is to go to school in the fall I recommend you teach her that, there are workbooks in the big chain bookstores but you prob already know that.

Kim said...

Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful comments.

Dana, I've seen a lot of homeschoolers, especially the Charlotte Mason variety, that are fairly laid back in the early years and whose kids seem to be doing an exponentially greater amount of work later. I'm always so impressed with that! The kids and the parents!

Eryn, thanks for the title. I'll check it out because Flurpee's handwriting needs some work. Her math is a little behind. She's the kid that could probably do better with Saxon and all of the daily practice but, alas, I dropped that program in favor of Singapore. Not that Singapore isn't good, I love it. But I wish I had the scripting from Saxon combined with the approach of Singapore. I have the homeschool manual so I'll be checking that out.

Christine, the Thinking Company books seem to be recommended a lot! I have a couple of books that I actually got from a teacher and they are even for the right grade. I shouldn't say a couple--I have about 8!! 4 of which are reading comprehension, reading for concepts, skills-based reading, and story elements. The Skills-Based reading one is pretty good so far. Thanks!

With this kind of feed-back I feel motivated to write regularly again.

Amy said...

Thank you for this.

christinemm said...

Hi Kim,
Glad you are feeling encouraged.

After reading the comments, I want to share one more thing from my experience.

At the times that 'catching up' work and 'extra practice on X' with certain goals was my priority---I made it a PRIORITY for our family. This for me included stepping back from so many fun enriching outside classes in order to make time at home to do the work at home.

Second I had to really psych myself up mentally to do that stuff. This means staying on task, doing the work nearly daily (3,4 or 5 days a week). When it got to feel like doldrums doing the reading compreh. workbook every time I kept at it, plugging away, cracking the whip. I don't mean hour long lessons a day but doing work every day over time. This gets to be not-fun. But it is sometimes necessary. So we plugged away. And the work got done, the books finished, workbook pages filled, concepts mastered, new things became easy habits.

This is about discipline.

Some people you and I both know have criticized me for being diligent about doing things *I SET OUR MINDS TO ACCOMPLISH* saying I was 'strict' and "there is plenty of time to do X in the future years". I brush this off.

Make priorities for your family and then stick to them, even when it gets boring. Just as learning sometimes takes work for the student sometimes it is boring for homeschool parents. IMO this is not about us feeling entertained.

(I'm not saying you feel this way but it is how I felt and still feel.)

If a parent tells me they find it fun and exciting to help a struggling learner I would question their mindset, actually. It is hard to watch a kid struggle.

Homeschooling isn't always fun and games. Lucky for me so far the good parts outweigh the negative.