Thursday, April 11, 2013

Virtual School Drop-Outs

Sometimes I wonder how schizophrenic our family's educational choices must appear to others.

We really have tried it all, it seems--homeschool, public school, charter school, private school, virtual school, Christian college, state college, technical college, even college-for-high-school-credit.

True, for many years, it was only the first two--homeschool and public school. (That's not so insane, is it?) The rest were prompted by our move to Wisconsin, and our kids becoming high school and then college-age students. Because we lack a crystal ball, we've been gaining experience by the trial-and-error method. And...because God uses it all. And because one kid is not like another.


Because we are Wisconsin residents, we have this virtual school option. It has been nice to take advantage of. With all the other things going on in our lives when we first moved up here, it was great to have someone else making assignments and grading them, and holding us all accountable during a crazy time. It was a lifesaver that first year we tried it, for B14's 6th-grade and Chicklet's 2nd-grade year.

It was also the perfect thing for B17 to switch to after 8th and 9th grade at a private school. For many reasons, we wanted to bring him home and he wanted to come home, but he did not want to be homeschooled and I did not want to homeschool him! The virtual school was a great solution.

This year, however, the virtual school just hasn't worked out so well.

I already wrote about our decision to pull out Chicklet10, early in the school year, and I described some of our difficulties with B14 here.

After deciding that we would replace his social studies curriculum with our own approach, it was only a short leap to the conclusion that we could just do the same with his other classes...and it made such a difference when he no longer had a reason to be on a laptop! Suddenly he was reading again. He was getting his work done in a reasonable time, and he was playing piano for fun again. He started playing games with his younger brother and sister when they were all finished with academics. Overall he seemed to regain motivation and become his old self again.

And he admitted that he had been spending hours playing online video games before. As I suspected! He was just so quick at switching to a school screen when I would check on him or make him sit at the kitchen table, and I could rarely catch him. I couldn't sit with him for hours on end, making sure he was only doing schoolwork. We probably could have installed some kind of software that could have helped, but when I did searches, everything I found was designed to block certain sites; what we needed was a blocker for everything except sites we designated. (I'd still like to find one--please let me know if you know of one!)

So no wonder he was unmotivated by math problems and Latin exercises. How could they compare to the excitement of a life-or-death mission? I can't fault the virtual school for his poor choices, but it seemed clear to us that virtual curriculum was no longer a good option for B14.

Then all we had left in virtual school were B17--who was and still is doing his own thing, in 11th grade--and B8.

B8, in second grade, had really enjoyed it at the beginning, but he was getting bored.  Increasingly, he began copying his big brother's bad habits, and was sneaking onto when he was supposed to be watching the short instructional videos. The workbook pages were often too easy for him, or they were too time-consuming for what they were worth. Though this curriculum had challenged Chicklet when she was in second grade, it wasn't a great fit for her brother.

And I began to think how nice it was in the days when I didn't have to scan and send anything in, when I could let them read all day if they wanted, and not feel like we still had this other busywork that had to be completed before we could call it a day of school. I thought of all the field trips we took when my oldest three were in elementary school, without counting the cost of getting "behind." I thought of the things I would have B8 focus on if he didn't have to do seemingly arbitrary assignments every day. I thought of how, instead of spending time concentrated on one child, B8, I would rather spend that time with all three, reading aloud and doing unit studies.

So I pulled out B8 too. The school was sorry to see him go, because apparently we were exceptionally diligent about getting work turned in. (I just can't ignore a checklist, I guess, and other people's expectations!) But I was NOT sorry to see the laptop go back, because the kids all knew the password to it, which the school had set and we didn't have admin privileges to change. Every time I went to the grocery or took a shower, somebody would be tempted to sneak on it. Good riddance, I say.

And we are enjoying our new-found freedom immensely! Each one is doing short lessons targeted to his or her needs, for grammar, spelling, writing, handwriting, vocabulary and math. For science, they choose a book from my shelf of elementary science books, and all three have been reading Usborne's Starting Point Science (we have all four volumes and they rotate). They also watch Bill Nye, the Science Guy DVD's from the library. For social studies, they read. We are focusing on American history this year, so they've read biographies and other chapter books, and we watched the John Adams mini-series recently too.

For reading aloud, we're taking a break from the Little House series--just finished Farmer Boy--and have started The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We're also doing a poetry unit, with a book that came with Chicklet's curriculum, A Child's Introduction to Poetry, and I love it because it's more than just a poetry collection; it explains poetry categories, such as narrative poetry, lyrical poetry, nonsense verse, limericks, haikus, villanelles, etc. They are writing their own poems too! For Bible, we have been reading Journey to the Cross for the Easter season, which goes beyond telling the story, explaining Jewish and Roman customs of the time period. We're also memorizing Colossians 3:12-17.

We now have more regular trips to the library, and Chicklet and B8 always are engrossed in their finds for a few days after our visit.  Chicklet and B14 continue piano, B8 is starting spring soccer, and they all attend theater classes too. B14 was selected to be on the Improv Team from our area! His team will compete against 8-9 other teams in June, and he can't wait. He's also taking a voice class. B8 is in a voice class as well, and Chicklet is taking dance, covering two styles--Hip Hop and Modern.

We had a nice Spring Break, spreading it out by doing lessons on Tuesday/Thursday for two weeks, and we also went on a couple field trips with friends. (Maybe I'll do a short post about that separately.)

So we are not regretting our drop-out status. We are learning just as much...and enjoying it more!

Schizophrenic? I prefer to think of ourselves as "flexible" and "responsive to student needs."

So there.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a perfect fit!

Gena at said...

I enjoyed reading this. It's so hard to figure out what to do sometimes, but it sounds like peace and joy have returned!

Donna said...

I like to think of School Choice as exactly what you are doing. As a parent, you have choices for each child for the right decision at the right time. Each child is different, and each child might have different needs at different stages of maturity and intellectual development. Your family is the poster child for CHOICE!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Donna, Gena and MomCO3,

Thanks so much for your encouragement! Donna, I suppose you are right. Might as well embrace the role! ;)


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