Friday, October 26, 2012

Our Journey to and Through Homeschooling: Our Year With the Drill Sergeant

Back to school my boy went and his little five year old brother went with him.  The five year old got a phenomenal teacher.  He had a great kindergarten year with an ideal kindergarten teacher.  She was firm, but she was young and new to teaching and  made learning fun.  He was off to a great start!

But in the second grade hallway, problems were brewing.  My sensitive child had been put in the classroom of a drill sergeant.  Seriously, she was former military, totally type A personality.  She should have been teaching in a boot camp-type juvenile facility.  That would have been a perfect fit for her.   She was all sweetness when everything and everyone was flowing smoothly.  But really, in a classroom of twenty plus children seven and eight years old, how often does smoothly actually happen?   

So my remedy was to be there- a lot!  I became a volunteer extraordinaire. One morning per week, I helped another mom and the PE teacher unload children from their parents' vehicles as they rolled through the car line.   I was in the classroom one day a week for 50-75% of the day.  I graded papers, I listened to students read, I cut out bulletin board components. I had lunch with that class on that day each week.   I did whatever I was asked to do.  And I sat in HER office area and listened to those precious children get yelled at and harped on daily.  

Very soon, I realized that I was in a precarious situation.  The other parents began to get complaints of how Ms. Teacher was behaving from their beloved children.  Then they began to approach me and ask questions.  Awkward!  I had to be truthful and yet, I had to be there for my sake as well as my child's sake.  I couldn't risk making Ms. Teacher so angry that she asked me not to come back.   As it turned out, it didn't matter.  

As the year progressed, it became obvious that Ms. Teacher thought she was accountable to no one.  I  knew of several parents who had gone to the principal, some repeatedly, with their concerns.  It seemed as though nothing could be done.  Nothing changed.   Rumor was that her students had a history of such great test scores that she was "above the law" when it came to her classroom conduct. And oh, did she teach to the test.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard her say, "Boys and girls, listen carefully, this will be on the test you take in the spring,"  I'm not sure what I could buy because I didn't count.  But I did hear that phrase repeatedly.  

I mentioned to my minister several times that I felt like possibly God was trying to get MY attention through that woman.  As usual, I went on with my feeble plan.  I kept that boy in that class in that school.  WHY DO I NEVER LISTEN TO HIM???      

I also had began to take that boy to a psychologist due to anxiety.  And he vomited almost every day before school, during school.  He couldn't eat breakfast most mornings because of his nervousness at going to school.  And yet, I still didn't believe that I could do a better job than the school!   Yes, I'm very ashamed of myself as I type this.  It's now eight years later and I'm amazed that I was so naive and frankly, STUPID!

But we survived that year!!  And so did all those other precious children!  Ms. Teacher?  She survived that year also.  But after the next year, she was politely told to transfer to another  school.  And I was told that during that school year, a traffic stop by a deputy somehow led to her missing school without notice for several days and she was subsequently fired.  Ahhhhh, one bad teacher removed from the system!   Thank You God!

Thankfully, the next three years, both boys were blessed with wonderful teachers who seemed to have the gifts that my boys needed at that time in their lives. The youngest son also had a second grade teacher that brought us some challenges.  But with her, it was more of a cultural-type challenge.  She was from an area with a much different southern dialect.  The greatest challenge was in understanding everything she said.  But she was very kind!  And we had learned that we could stand about anything as long as the teacher was kind!   And so our venture back to public school continued.   

Friday, October 5, 2012

Winter, Another Decision Looms

I tried to embrace the winter months.  But as I age, I have come to realize that the lack of sunshine gets to me.  It's hard to inspire excitement when one is barely able to face the day oneself.   By spring, I was feeling like a failure.  My seven year old was whiny and not wanting to complete his studies.  We were stuck in a rut.

Now I know that standardized testing is a hot debate topic among non-traditional schooling families.  I had chosen a local Christian school as our umbrella school  rather than registering with the local school system.  As a result of that decision, my first grader was subjected to his first round of standardized testing.  Parents were allowed to sit in the classroom the day of the test.  There was a very small group of  moms hovering, ready to help our young.  But it turned out that the testing was right on their level and they didn't need any of us to help them over a rough spot.   Whew!  Got that over with!  Oh, but now it's time to wait on the results!  Oh dear, what if I fail?  I mean, what if my child fails?  Who am I kidding?!  This is really testing what sort of teacher I am!   And so the waiting began.

During all these months of schooling (7 to be exact), I hadn't just idly let my boy's love of learning completely wane.  I had  begun the process of educating myself.  A friend loaned me a wonderful book by Clay and  Sally Clarkson Educating the Whole-Hearted Child .   That book inspired me to make changes which had the effect of a breath of fresh air!  I began looking around for books that would appeal to my children.  I discovered another popular curriculum which sold packages that also included school in a box and included many wonderful books.  It was very EXPENSIVE for our one income family.  I just simply could not afford that huge an investment.  So I began to borrow the "read-aloud" book choices from my local public library system.  I also discovered the writings of an English school teacher who had lived in the 1800's into the early 1900's, Charlotte Mason.  Little did I realize how this woman's teachings would begin to change me and the lives of my little boys.

But believe it or not, in spite of the "fresh air" and my fresher view, I let the stress get to me.  I let the doubts of the naysayers in my life get to me.  I took my young sons to visit the beloved speech teacher at the now "new and improved" elementary school down the road.  (During my first grader's kindergarten year, he and his classmates had the privilege of watching their new, larger school building being built right behind the old building.    The year I taught him at home was the first year students met in the new school building.)   As we walked through those hallways and smelled the new, and saw the bright, sparkling classrooms, I was impressed with what I saw.  Where the older building had seemed dark and crumbly, everything here was fresh and shiny.  We walked by the music room and saw a class of young students singing on the risers.  "I can't give him that opportunity at home with just his brother and me," I thought to myself.  We were warmly welcomed by the speech teacher, the school secretaries, and principal.  It already felt a bit like we belonged here.  Hmm.  

And then the test results came in the mail.  They were good, mostly.  But I fixated on the little box that told me my precious boy was reading on the level of a first grader in the fourth month of school.  Wait!  When he tested, he was in his seventh month of first grade!   Oh no!  I'm messing up!  I can't ruin my child!  The panic had set in and a new decision was made.  He must have a better chance than what I can do for him!  He's going back to public school.  And his little brother is going to go also! 

The Next Step on Our Journey to Homeschooling

I received my boxed curriculum in very short order.  I was excited.  I decorated a school area in our  basement family room.  Each boy had a desk to use and we would read together on our comfy sectional sofa every day.  This was going to be great!

Honestly, I don't remember the details.  We began working on our phonics lessons. We also had a science lesson, social studies, reading, and we read the Bible together each day.  I think we did some sort of math.  The days were busy.  With a four year old and a six year old at home full time, I had my hands full.  Plus, I had a small business to help manage, two teens, my husband, and a home to manage.

Now I must say, I feel like I was born with a book in my hand.  I have loved to read, or be read to, for as long as I can remember.  My favorite part of our days was reading to my young sons.  As my six year old began to learn more sight words, my excitement increased.  It wouldn't be long until he was reading to me!!

I was thrilled when the day finally came when He was reading to me!  I had basically started this adventure with one main goal.  I wanted to succeed at teaching this child to read.  If he can read, he can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone he wants to be in this life.  Mission Accomplished!   Or was it?

As that year went by, he was obviously learning.  He was fine.  He just wasn't excited about it!  He dreaded the school day.  He asked me if we could skip.  This child had loved kindergarten.  So obviously,  this mama was doing something wrong, right? 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Journey to Homeschooling--The Decision

In the fall of 2000, my husband and I made a heartbreaking decision.  We decided that spiritually and emotionally speaking, we needed a change of scenery.  We decided to leave our little church in our part of town and find a new church home.  There were so many reasons for this decision.  But you know, what we see in hindsight is that God had a plan and He knew where we needed to be in order for the next chapter of our life together to take the direction He had for us.  And so we left (home) the church where we had met.  It was where he had proposed to me.  It was where we were married on an August Sunday immediately following the morning service.    

We joined the fellowship at a large congregation in the west part of town.   There were so many aspects that made it feel like the right fit from the beginning.  I saw familiar faces which included one very special elderly lady whom I had known all my life.  She had served as my spiritual mentor during a disastrous first marriage and single mom days.  The irony of this is that we were in a larger city 100 miles from the hometown where I had grown up and known her.  I could go on and on but that's for another post.

A couple of years after we had gone to our new church home, as I continued getting to know more and more people, I became aware of a few families who were homeschooling.  Instead of being "backward" or weird, they were bright and intriguing.  I wanted to get to know them better.  Slowly, I began to think about considering this way of life for my two youngest children.  My two oldest were nearly grown and had been in the public school system their entire lives.  As a single mom, I never even considered homeschooling.  I was too busy working and trying to support us.  My oldest child, my only girl graduated from our local high school in 2003.  She enrolled in a local community/tech school to become a nursing assistant.  She had her eye on becoming a registered nurse--she had decided to be a nurse at around age seven.  

In late summer of  2003, my next child was beginning his senior year of high school.   Our seven year old had finished his first year of school, kindergarten, in a wonderful elementary school just down the road about two miles from our house.  He had been blessed with two wonderful kindergarten teachers due to the maternity leave of his primary teacher.   Our four year old was scheduled to begin preschool at our local high school.  The high school had a superb training class for high school students interested in early childhood development/education. Those students got hands-on experience by inviting families of the community to enroll their preschoolers in a three day per week class.  

But my mind had been more and more drawn to this concept of homeschooling.   So literally, in the week before school started, I chucked all other plans and sought counsel from my friend Gina.  She became and still is my number one homeschool mentor.  She had graduated all four of her children and they were all successful college students and young professionals.  Given her success, I wanted to pattern my homeschool after hers.  So, I immediately went and purchased a very popular boxed curriculum, first grade in its entirety.  After all, this was the curriculum that Gina used schooling her kids.   I also made the decision to do homeschool preschool with my four year old.  For that, I just bought a very large preschool workbook from our local warehouse store. 


Monday, June 25, 2012

The Best Decision I Ever Made for My Child's Education (It's Not What You Think!)

For those of you who know we homeschool our two youngest children, you are probably thinking that homeschooling was the single best decision we ever made for our child's educational well-being.  But in spite of the passion I feel for our homeschooling and the quality program that we follow, WRONG!!  The single best, and most important, educational decision we ever made for our child was to NOT put him in kindergarten at age 5. 

My third child was born May 3, 1996.  His older brother would  be 10 years old in  just 22 days.   His sister was nearly 11 1/2 years older than him.  He came to us after two traumatic miscarriages.  By age two, a friend who was also a speech pathologist was expressing some concerns about my sweet baby boy's lack of words.  When he was 2 1/2, we added another bouncing boy to our family.  To say I  was overwhelmed with a toddler, a newborn, and two teens was an understatement.  But by this time, there was no denying this toddler had some serious speech delays.  We started him in speech at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  He got speech therapy and speech and hearing students got hands-on experience in working with children needing help.  He enjoyed "going to college" before his older siblings.  Having two teenage siblings and parents who worked with the church youth group regularly, he assumed he was also a teenager.  He, however, was becoming belligerent and withdrawn because he was so misunderstood.  He was saying a lot to everyone, but unfortunately, he only had about 10 words which were recognized by those listening to him.  The boy had repeated ear infections from about 9 months of age.  He had surgery receiving PE tubes at the age of 16 months.   Nonetheless, his speech and fine-motor skills had been severely affected.   While he enjoyed the university program, he just didn't seem to be making progress.  At age three, we had him evaluated by our local school system's early intervention specialist.  It was determined he had "severe" speech problems.  As a result, he was sent "out of zone" to an elementary speech teacher about 15 miles from our home for speech therapy.  Mrs. K. was a gift from God for all of us.  She assured me that my boy was going to be fine and in short order, he was progressing beautifully.  He began to be happy again and was less frustrated.  He had just needed to be heard and understood.  By age 4 1/2, Mrs. K. said he had progressed to the point of being able to attend preschool speech at our local elementary school.  We then began a relationship with a wonderful speech teacher who would work with him through his kindergarten year.   The local school system had blessed us greatly by teaching me how to work with him at home and in teaching him to speak properly.  

In August after he had turned four, we enrolled him in a three day per week preschool  program at the high school which his older siblings attended.  Classes were for 3-4 hours per day.  He loved school and was proud to be "in high school" like his big brother and sister.   He did his work along with all the other children.  But as the year went by, we were seeing some other problems with this child's development.  

The following spring, I took his ABC book he had made to church with me one day.  He had done worksheet after worksheet, first tracing his letters and then copying them on tablet lines repeatedly.  I showed his work to our church kindergarten teacher.  Our church had a wonderful preschool program with a certified kindergarten class.  This program was well-known in Knoxville and so I totally trusted "Mrs. Peggy's" opinion of my boy's work.  I assured her that I wanted her honest opinion about his kindergarten readiness.  She just shook her head from side to side and recommended that we not put him in kindergarten the next fall.  She recommended a five day per week preschool program.  We took her advice and enrolled him in the church preschool class.  He spent five days per week with another great teacher while continuing with his speech program at our local elementary school three days per week.

That decision was the single best decision we ever made for this particular child.  It gave him another year to work on his fine motor skills through more practice with paper and pencil and crayons and picking up small beads and other exercises recommended which to him were just games that we played.  He continued improving in his speech also.   He also became better able to  sit and learn for longer periods of time.

We were assured that instead of trying to catch up and stay caught up with his peers all through school, he would be performing at grade level without struggling.  When he began kindergarten, we were so pleased to find that not only did he not have to catch up, he excelled in school.  He consistently had excellent test scores and even "off the chart"  scores in some subjects.  By giving him one more year for his skills to catch up with his age and size, we gave him a gift which potentially has changed his life.  He hasn't had the frustration of giving school his all only to fail.  He has the capability and skills to go far in his education during his high school years as well as in college.  

Even though he will turn 19 the month he graduates from high school (slightly older than the norm), we still feel we did him a great favor by that decision early in his life.  He has been a top-notch student throughout his school career to date.  He also has a little more maturity than most kids at his grade level.  With dual credit education in his future, I feel secure that he will be ready to handle the extra responsibility as well as the exposure to the young adult world of education found on college campuses.    I feel strongly that had we enrolled him in kindergarten at age five, we would still be dealing with the problems he would have had to overcome.  Instead of struggle and frustration for all of us, we have experienced great joy in his schooling success!  My advice to other parents is to never think that because your child is a certain age, that he or she has to start school.  Base the beginning point of your child's formal education years on their development and readiness, not on a number.  You will never regret it!