Sunday, October 25, 2009

Homeschoolers R Us

Ok, so I'm taking a little turn with this blog. I want to document our lives, but I also want to focus on homeschooling as well. I wrote the following recently to share with my family and friends. I'll include it here for preservation. This is our journey.

Our Plans For The Future:

I know there has been a lot of speculation and thought about what my family has been up to these days. I can't say that it has been all fun and games. There has been a lot of struggle, heartache and misery. But, things are finally looking up.

Let me begin by taking you back a few years. Punky is and was energetic and outgoing with those he knew and felt comfortable with. He was also very emotional, downright stubborn and a sensitivechild. Daycare was not pleasant. He suffered from severe seperation anxiety. Everyone said, "Don't worry, he'll be fine one day, not long from now. He'll be begging to stay at daycare with his friends." Nope, not even close. For 2 years, we enduredthe heartache of a child who truly could not handle the separation. There were some reasons for this, one being a verytraumatic incident at daycare. I won't go into it here, but let's just say it was a horrible moment for my little guy.

So, let's flash forward to Kindergarten. Punky was enrolled at **school unnamed for blog*** in Florida. Not a terrible school, but a new principal was brought in to raise its "score". You see, in Florida, children take tests every few yearscalled the FCAT's. It's what the schools are graded on (I believe there are other factors as well). I was satisfied with theschool itself and was happy Punky was accepted (it's a school of choice, so you enroll and hope not to be placed on a waiting list). Anyway, by the end of his school year, the school would be ranked as an A school. And that hasn't changed since.Sadly, Kindergarten did not go well for Punky.

Let me be clear in stating that I support public (and charter) schools. I think most good teachers are underpaid and not appreciated. I believe a child can have a wonderful experience in schools and can acquire a fantastic education. However, my child was suffering.

Punk's Kindergarten teacher was not one I would consider to be enthusiastic, pleasant or kind. She was nearing retirement, andI believe, no longer putting her best foot forward. I'm sure she was tired, overextended and jaded. She was never cruel (in my observation) but she did have some issues. This combined with a very emotional, sensitive child..well, they didn't mixwell. Punky cried every single day for 3 months when he arrived at school. Contrary to popular belief, my child did notjust "get over it" like many parents and teachers said would happen. His teacher said he would cry most of the morning and had trouble focusing. He wouldn't participate and sat quietly. He did do his work and scored well in tests. I was in the classroom often for meetings and conferences. After a huge struggle, we decided Punk would be best repeating kindergarten. He wasnot behind academically, but definitely in maturity.

So, the second year of Kindergarten was completely different than the first. He had a warm, happy, enthusiastic teacher whocared about her students as much as she cared for her own children. He did fabulously, and he enjoyed going to school. He still suffered some separation anxiety, but there was no crying. On to first grade we go!

First grade was pretty much a repeat of the second year of kindergarten. He enjoyed learning and did very well in his "studies".His teacher said Punky was reading at a much higher grade level and his math skills with above par. Things started to change, though,after little Monkey (our second child) arrived. The separation anxiety was once again rearing it's ugly head. There was crying,begging and whining. His teacher said Punk was starting to become unfocused. He couldn't pay attention for more than a few minutes and needed constant prodding. He was worrying about the smallest things, often asking outlandish questions with utmost sincerity. What seemed small and unimportant to us, became huge worries for my little man. Thankfully, first grade came toan end.

This year started off ok. He was all smiles and genuinely happy about going back to school. However, in just a few days, this changed dramatically. He was once again crying, worrying and was scared. I was called into a conference by his teacher, who said Punky was by far the smartest in the class. I am not exaggerating in the least. These were her words exactly. He could answer test questionsand participate in discussions without doing any practice work or even paying attention. However, she said mornings were tough on him. He had friends, but was having difficulty participating with the group in the morning. He was visibly scared of something and she tried coaxing it out of him on a number of occasions to no avail. He would only state that he was scared and wanted to go home. She said he was missinghis parents terribly. She also said he was having difficulty focusing and paying attention. When I told her my ideas for homeschooling, she was both supportive and willing to help. After doing a lot of research, my husband and I decided it wasbest to pull Punk out of school and begin homeschooling. His teacher offered to give us all of his materials, including workbooksand journals. I visited the library, did a lot of internet researching, talked to other homeschooling parents and so muchthinking that it hurt. :) But in the end, we knew we were making the best decision for our son.

Do I think homeschooling is the best decision for everyone? Absolutely not. Do I know there will be challenges and that it willbe hard at times? Of course. Have I thought of ways to make sure Punky is around both children his own age and people younger/olderthan he is? Yes, without a doubt. We are also going to seek medical advice for the separation anxiety and fears. Will we behomeschooling through high school? We're not sure. We can only say that for this year, we are homeschooling. One day he maygo back to public (charter) school or he may end up doing a virtual public education. He may continue homeschooling. All I can say is that we will keep Punk as our number one priority and do what's best for him. Over 2 million children are homeschooled inthis country. We are not alone.

Our homeschooling approach will be an eclectic one. We are going to combine a number of different methods, including the Charlotte Mason Method, unit study and whole heart approach. What this means is we will be focusing on reading, writing and mathas our core basics but will incorporate unit studies of interest to my son. We will also focus on narration, reading livingbooks and hands-on activities. Alex has a great interest right now in the solar system. I have created a unit based on this..whichincorporates reading, writing, math, science projects, field trips, etc. We also do some worksheets throughout the day, as well as use computer software and educational DVD's to enhance the ideas we are learning about. Our telescope and microscope will come in handy as well. Journaling and nature walks/sketching are also of importance. Remember, this is all subject to change, at any given time.

Our first week of homeschool has gone really well. It definitely helps that my husband is home during the day, so there are twoparents at home who can help with the schooling. Plus, it's much easier when both parents are home to help with the littlestone. We can focus our complete attention on homeschooling while the other has complete attention for the the baby. The biggest challenge is getting Punky to understand that he needs to let go of some schooling he's already received. For instance, I asked him to write something about the spaceship book we just read. Sort of a narration/essay type of thing. I didn't give him any restrictions, just that he had to write something..anything. I want to foster his own creative mind, instead of me telling him what to write, how to write it, etc. So, he said, "How many sentences do I have to write?" I said, "A few. Whatever you want. Whatever amount says exactly what you wantto write." He said, "Ok, how many words?" I said, "Whatever amount you want. Just remember to write down everything youwant to say about what you learned today." He said, "But Mom, the teacher tells us what to write. And then we write it."ugh. I said, "Remember how you just write something for fun? It's about anything you want and is what YOU wanted to write?Well, I'm asking you to just write anything you want about spaceships. It can be about what's inside, what it looks like,what it does..or you can write a story and pretend you're an astronaut on the spaceship. It doesn't matter. Just write."And he got a huge grin on his face. He wrote half a page about the spaceship and then drew a cool picture (and fairly accurate)depiction of a spaceship in outer space. Normally, part of his homework at school consisted of writing at least 3 sentences a night, plus all his spelling words. I can't even begin to tell you what a struggle this was for me. Math and reading he was fine with..but writing..good god that was rough. He HATED writing. I want him to enjoy writing..even if that means just letting himwrite anything at all...anything that comes to mind...until he is strong enough to get the basics of composition/essay writing. The day he wrote about the spaceship, he wrote more on that one page than he did the entire week for homework. With no struggle, mind you. And I'm pretty sure he used words, on is own, that you won't find on a second graders spelling sheet: atmosphere, satellite, meteoroid......

Other than that "unschooling" issue, everything is great. He already reads at a much higher level so we've just kept readingaloud and reading on our own. He's also started a Reader Rabbit Grammar CDRom for 3rd graders (2nd grade was too easy for him and bored him. But he loves the new one). As far as math goes, we've done a few worksheets, played math games and used math manipulators to practice math skills. Since we are doing unit studies (space and the solar system currently), I have chosen to not incorporate history/geographyuntil next month. During my research, I learned that mixing the two (science and history) can sometimes be confusing and a stretch. So, next month, we'll be concentrating on history/geography when we study the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Art and music are being taught as well. We are keeping it simple at this early of an age. Art is used during activities basedon the unit of study. For example, he drew a mural of the solar system the other day. Music is fairly easy at this ageas well. I've chosen to play as many different kinds of music I can get my hands on. We will study different forms, techniques, etc throughout the year. Also, Punky and I plan on writing a song about the solar system to help him memorize the planets and their order. Our projects have already included building and painting a model solar system and creating a space mural. We also have planned making a space diorama, building a paper space station, using the telescope to learn about the constellations and visiting the Kennedy Space Center and Astronaut Museum.

We're only a week in, but we've found some homeschooling support groups and co-ops to join. I'm sure as time goes on, we'll increase our time outside the home. For now, we are focusing on getting the academic part going first..and we'll move onfrom there. The library has some excellent resources and activities that Punk is excited to participate in as well. And, oddly enough, the family will be going to church on Sunday. If you know us, you know that this is an odd choice. I've alwaysbeen a spiritual person, but I struggled with the idea and purpose of a church. Plus, they often promote some things I do not believe in. I'm a very liberal democrat if that tells you anything. ;)

However, Punky has been asking a lot of questions lately about God and I did a little researchabout some churches and found one, that I believe, fits us pretty well. We'll be attending our first serviceon Sunday morning. Hopefully, this will help answer some of Punky's questions. Also, it will get him involved with otherchildren (many of whom are homeschooled). I've always been a huge advocate of letting your child choose his own religion.I never wanted to push anything on him or make him feel like he had to be like his parents, religiously speaking. But since he is asking so many questions and expressing an interest in Christianity, we will try to accommodate his needs. If he asks about Judaism or any other religion, I will do my best to foster those interests as well. Again, if this church or church in general turns out to be not what we had hoped, we will figure something else out and move on. Again, everything is subject to change.

There you have it. Our reasons behind homeschooling and what it means for MY family. You may not agree with everything I have said here, but you must understand, my husband and I are doing what's best for OUR family..not yours. Our children will always be our number one priority. We'll do whatever it takes to raise happy, healthy, independent and intelligent children. If that means not conforming to the norm. So be it. If it means doing things that not everyone agrees with, so be it. Don't worry, we've got it under control. ;)

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