Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Family Education Update

Yesterday was Bantam8's first day in public school, third grade. (Our reasons for making this move are here, if you missed them.) And it was a good day! His first concern, of course, was making friends, and lo and behold, half his old soccer team must be in his class, and they all remembered him. The boy he was seated next to was very friendly and helpful, and reported to him at the end of the day that all the girls were in love with him. Ah, the joys of public school!

I was very happy with his teacher, who was young and wholesomely cute (she just got engaged over Christmas, she told the class) and did not have the superior teacher air that I've encountered before on my kids' first day, an attitude that says, "Oh, what a good thing that you're putting them in school where we can properly educate them." (Even the office staff exude this "welcoming" attitude, which amuses me more than it annoys.) And she called me last night to tell me about his day and ask how he felt about it. She said there were a lot of new routines for him to acclimate to, that the other kids already know, and she thought he might be feeling overwhelmed. I told her he'd enjoyed it, and I was sure he'd catch on very quickly.

He did better on his spelling pretest than most of the class, which pleased him, and in computer, he started learning to type, which fills him with pride and puts the pressure on Bantam12, who can't seem to find the time to practice keyboarding. His favorite parts of the day? Lunch, gym and recess. Spelling, he said, when pushed to choose an academic subject. He'll be tested by the reading specialist today, and I am eager to hear the results. He's a very good reader.

As for the rest of us...

All last fall, I meant to do a post on how our homeschooling year was going, but then it kept changing! We started out with a bang, though.

One thing that worked well initially was starting our day—after breakfast and chores—with Bible and prayer, poetry, mental math and yoga (a simple stretching routine). All four of the school kids participated in this morning lineup, with the littler ones drifting in and out.This time together was a good way to “reassimilate” Bantam16, who had been in school for the past five years, and they all thought doing yoga was very cool. (It didn't hurt that in one scene in High School Musical 2, one of the main characters does yoga with his mom. I felt so hip.)

Then Bantam16 would leave to go read his American history and literature, first putting on a video for the two youngest, so that I could get through the History and Read-Aloud chapters to the other three without interruption. (In the event of a move, Blondechick15 would take over the reading aloud, I planned.)

(For those who like the details: I have my 6th grader and 9th grader using Sonlight’s Core 6 Alternate One-Year World History, with the advanced 3rd grader listening in on the History and Read-Alouds and reading some of the easier Readers. My 9th grader did Core 100 American History last year as an 8th grader (which my 10th grader is using this year), so it seemed like a good year to do the 6th and 9th grader together on world history, especially as there are so many good books on the reading list that the 9th grader never read. To make sure she’s getting a high school level experience, I require her and the 10th grader to write papers using Sonlight suggestions and make outlines of their history texts; I’m also giving them the Sonlight summaries of those texts to use as study guides for “finals”—tests I’ll make up.)

After that, we sometimes worked on a writing assignment, or else we’d go straight to math, which they usually finished before lunch. That left only their language arts workbooks and reading for the afternoon, subjects which require minimal attention from me. It was a perfect schedule.

But then entropy set in and it all began to fall apart--I know some of y'all can relate. We started having trouble getting up on time, getting our chores done quickly, and getting started at a reasonable time. We started cutting things (like mental math or writing or even yoga), “because we’re getting such a late start today.” Math started dragging into the afternoon, and then reading carried into the evening or on to the next day--and soon we felt constantly behind.

And I was getting frustrated with the morning read-aloud time, because when I stopped and asked for a summary, usually only one out of three knew what was going on. None of them are auditory learners, and the older two insisted that they preferred reading to themselves, so I began to question whether this was the best way to handle these subjects--though I enjoyed teaching "on the fly," drawing out the most important points and checking comprehension as we went.

But since I was spending my mornings reading aloud (and my afternoons/evenings on everything else), I never seemed to have time to plan writing assignments, or go over them with the kids, or write tests for my highschoolers, or assign mapwork (which is all right there in the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide), or correct their workbooks, or do kindergarten with Chicklet5. In the past I have just slowed down the pace of the Sonlight reading and spread it out into the next year, but having highschoolers has put the pressure on to complete a history course in one year—and the possibility of a move sometime during this school year has made me feel like we have to push today, for tomorrow we may have to drop everything and pack like crazy for six weeks!

So all these anxieties contributed to the darkness I alluded to during Advent. I was having a crisis of confusion and doubt, when it seemed God burst in with his light, giving insight and ideas.

One was to put Bantam8 in school. One less student will undoubtedly make a big difference, and another plus (besides all those listed here) is that it will help us commit to a definite time for Bible and morning prayer before he is picked up in the mornings.

Another change we're implementing for the new year is having Blondechick15 and Bantam 12 read the History and the Read-Aloud to themselves. Though I'll miss the on-the-spot teaching and assessment, it will free me up to plan the writing assignments, write the tests, and do the grading (other needed forms of assessment).

Additionally, since reading to themselves is faster than being read to, the two high schoolers have agreed to double up on the Sonlight reading schedule, most days. That way, if I want to interrupt the schedule for a day, to have them focus on mapwork or write a paper or study for a test, they won’t be getting “behind” to do it. And the real motivator is: If they do finish early, they’ll only have a few subjects to do this spring when, Lord willing, we’ll be busy packing and moving. Since they don't want to be stuck doing school next summer, in the event of a spring move, they're willing and eager to read more now.

Bantam12 will continue with the Sonlight Alt 6 reading schedule as is, except if he gets behind or I want to interrupt it for mapwork or a paper, that’s fine--now I'm planning on stretching the schedule out into next year for him.

So that's the new plan for the new year. Already we've noticed a big change without Bantam8 here all day--it's quieter and there are more quiet rooms in the house to read or study in! The little kids tend to hang out on the main level with me, and Bantam8 always bounced like a pinball between me, or them, or Bantam12, creating distractions wherever he went.

Don't get me wrong--we miss him. But for now, it's nice to think of the pinball neatly contained in a classroom.

When he came home yesterday, we all gathered 'round to hear about his day. When he couldn't think of anything else to tell, he leaned over and somersaulted off the couch. "Is that your first somersault of the day?" I asked. "Why--yes," he said with evident surprise. "Were you able to sit still in your desk all day, or did you keep falling out?" I asked. "I sat still all day, Mom," he said earnestly. "I was very good."


Kerry said...

"I sat still all day, Mom...I was very good." How precious! Oh, my - aren't they just so funny?

We had our first day today - it started out a little rough (burned butter in our brand new super-nice pan while having a discussion about what constitutes and insult). But we managed to get through a good chuck of school fairly unscathed.

Kerry said...

Oh, geez. I've got to read before I hit 'enter'.
"an" insult...not "and"
and a good "chunk" not "chuck"

Sorry - I usually try to ignore those typos, but I just couldn't stand it this time.

Anonymous said...

Good for you for finding your way through all this and sharing the discernment of it all with us. Best, -e.