Monday, November 12, 2007

To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool

I have had this ongoing internal conflict since Matthew started school...should we be homeschooling? We happen to have a wonderful school environment where our kids go to school, it is warm, inviting, has a caring and involved staff, very welcoming to parental involvement, etc. Thus far Matthew has had excellent teachers who do a great job...with the curriculum they are forced to teach. Therein lies part of the problem, the curriculum is far too heavy on reading and language arts and other subjects lag behind due to this emphasis on "No Child Left Behind" . Additionally, the wide range of skill levels in the classroom leaves many kids bored because the work is too easy or moving along too slowly, and other kids bored because it is way over their head. There is almost no time at all for teachers to involve more creative learning, more hands on experiences, no exploration of subjects that interest particular kids. It is a standard public school, better than some, but still it is a public school with all the limitations inherent to this kind of education.

Matthew is not a genius, but he is an above average student who is gifted in a couple of areas (as I think every child is). He has an ability to think logically that most kids his age do not, his curiousity is piqued by history and science (both virtually ignored in many respects in public school..or glossed over quickly), and he is a good reader...not the best in the class but near the top. He does well in math and can think outside the box when it comes to building and putting things together. And he is often bored in class. It is not that the work is too easy, but that it is presented too slowly and there is not enough variety. He also is a very self-motivated person who can stay on task for hours when involved in something, so luckily his boredom at times is not causing behavioral problems in school...but when he comes home with pages and pages of various aircraft he has drawn during class because he has finished his work so early you begin to get a little frustrated at the pre-packaged way in which our kids are taught.

Then there is Kenny. He is in ESL (English as a Secong Language) for about an hour and a half each day and then with the rest of the class the remainder of the day. His ESL teacher is great but is often stifled herself by the curriculum requirements placed on her. Also, he was placed, rightfully so considering all factors, in second grade. But what about all the material he missed that was covered in Kindergarten and 1st Grade? Let alone all the material that he is missing due to langauge issues that is presented in 2nd Grade? Although ESL is doing a good job with the time they have, they simply don't have him immersed in it all day long. I know he is learning some things when back in his regular classroom too, but without any doubt we are looking at some huge gaps in his education that we need to be proactive about catching him up on, and my fear is that we won't know what he doesn't know...if you can understand that circular sentance :-).

At various times I have spent hundreds of hours over the past several years looking at online homeschooling web sites, curriculum, etc. I know I could teach my kids at this level, that is not the problem. I know I could do it better than the public school in some regards, that also is not the problem. The way I see it, there IS no perfect solution...the kids will miss out on the socialization aspects that I think are important, the other activities such as PE and music and art that I am NOT inclined to teach or feel competent to do so. There is the day to day learning of how to get along well with other kids, teachers, etc. who view the world differently and have different personalities. Our home would be a wonderful place to learn, and we still may do it in the future when those outside influences become more challenging but for now, it feels more "right" for us to supplement our public schooling with other educational opportunities...and something beyond the standard old workbooks which mimics too closely how they are spending their time all day. We don't need to add to the boredem factor, my goal has always been to make learning a natural part of our daily living, because frankly learning IS fun! We're the kind of family that when questions come up we tell the kids to go grab the globe, or we look it upon online or reach for the dictionary.

Well, as Dominick and I have again revisited this discussion this past week, we purchased a software program at Target for Elementary School, which was a bomb. Miserable interface, didn't hold any interest and was in my own words "lame". I feel like I wasted the money on it. We do have a commonly used homeschool book called The Story of the World Volume 1, which has activities to go along with stories about the segment of history being studied and I think we might start attacking that a project at a time. But I was really looking for some way to work with the kids that would be fun, sequential in order so we don't miss anything for Kenny particularly, and that would allow us to step back to Kindergarten for him if we could...which then might be able to be used for Joshie too.

I stumbled on a possible solution when I found the Time 4 Learning web site It is an online curriculum for Pre-K through 8th grade which includes math, language arts, science, social studies and other activities. It is not just a copied work book presented onscreen, it is interactive cartoon movies, games, activities and even worksheets with more activity suggestions to supplement the online learning experience. It can be totally customized by subject for each child, for example Kenny is working at 2nd grade math level but I already know a couple of key concepts that he doesn't quite "get". So even though he is in 2nd grade we can set the program to present 1st grade math concepts and Kindergarten langauge activities and he can progress through them at his own pace, eventually catching up we hope. Matthew can work ahead on the areas he enjoys and we can then supplement the subjects with outside books from the library, etc. And we can do all of this on our "free" time outside of school hours. We may have just hit the jackpot!

Today we got it set up and tried it with Joshie this morning. Josh is my more reluctant learner. I am not at all certain we may not have some learning issues there as well but, time will tell us that. This morning he spent over an hour actively engaged with the preschool and kindergarten activities. He was eager to do it! I was surprised as even the other prepackaged software programs we have used like Reader Rabbit and others just don't seem to hold any appeal for him. And even at this level, it was fun but the real deal. He learned about books, what a title page is, what an author and illustrator are, where to find their names, what a table of contents is, and started working on familiarity with the alphabet through various other activities. Now, we have worked on the alphabet for 2 years with him and he just hasn't cared at all about making it stick in his brain. After a few activities, as he ended each one the characters popped up that worked with the stories and he waved and said "Good Bye Friends!".

From the sample programs for other levels it is obvious this is not just "fluff" but real subjects are being taught in a step by step fashion, in logical order, and reinforced continually. After only one day and one child I am very impressed, and can't wait to see how Matthew and Kenny take to it this afternoon. Matthew was looking over our shoulder yesterday begging to use the sample programs, and in the middle looked up and said "Mommy, this is really good...I hope you get it!". They offer a two week trial period, so there is nothing really to lose if we find it doesn't work in the long run, but I have a feeling that with this program we may have come up with a solution for our immediate concerns.

I want you all to know that as I write this, I am hopefully going to receive one month free from them. I also hope that all of you know me well enough by now to know that if it stinks, I will be honest about it. I am NOT posting about Time 4 Learning for the free month (but since they are offering it, why not??), I am posting because I know there are other adoptive families out there who have brought home or are bringing home kiddos like Kenny who really need access to all the help they can get. I know that personally I have been a little overwhelmed when I let my mind wander to try and wrap around all that Kenny has missed and will continue to push further past if we don't find a way to catch him up in those areas. I feel time slipping away and it would be easy to just let the school do it all, as best they can, and assume all the bases are covered. It is obvious that those bases simply can't be covered with the constraints they have. I am praying we have found something that might allow him to go back and get those basics without the inappropriate social placement of stepping back to kindergarten where he really needs to be educationally.

I will keep you all posted about how this is working for our family, and if I see that it is a temporary interest rather than a long term tool I'll let you know that as well. If I see that activites are too easy, simplified or too difficult I'll also share that. But from the research I did before we signed up for it, and from what I have seen so far, this is the single best thing I have found short of fully homeschooling our kids. If you have a young English Language Learner at home, this goes letter by letter working on sounds, etc. if you step back to the Kindergarten level, which is really what Kenny needs.

And if any of you are using something that works well, kick in on the comments section and share it with me!


Tapsalteerie said...

We've used some of the Time4Learning things (the freebies) and Sophie (bio dd) loves it. We homeschool Sophie using Enki curriculum (heavily modified as I'm just not out there enough to do it as written). She does well with it as it allows us to follow her interest-level. Somedays we do lots of "school" somedays we do none, somedays it's just an hour or two. Sophie loves books... but she's a book snob (like her mommy!) and if it's not well written she won't listen to it! So that part of the curriculum we've had to totally change (I re-wrote some of the stories in a more Sophie-esque style and found some that were better written at the library). We do a lot of "sneaky" learning... like having Sophie do fractions and math abd science while we're baking/cooking... We do lots of "adventures" and that's great fun for everybody. I do most of her schooling, but Jim does things that he's super interested in and my mother does things with her that she's interested in so she gets an understanding of other people's passions.

Sophie is atypical so our experience with her isn't necessarily how things will go with Xander when we get to that point. Currently he follows along with the Enki stuff, but is totally lost when Sophie does the computer programs. Sophie devours technology and both our KG boys seem to shun it! So that should be could make life interesting!

Standard curriculum just flat out didn't work with Sophie. She could not get the concept of doing worksheets at all... she's more hands on and now that we've gone to a more "organic" curriculum she's starting to read and even her handwriting is getting better.

You don't have to publish this novella... just thought I'd let you know we used the T4L programs some too :)

Michelle said...

Cindy - how funny you are posting about this. I am right now researching adopting from Ghana and I swear every blog is a family homeschooling. I obviously can not homeschool - but I have been reading about it a lot and have been looking for homeschool ideas and products to use with the kids on my days off. My daughter loves to play school and learn and I literally decided 2 days ago to approach our mommy days like homeschool days. Isn't it funny how things in life are so connected!

Nate and Amanda said...

I hate that I am going to do this but I am.... Have you ever heard of "The Well Trained Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer? It is homeschooling through a classical approach. I have several friends that say it is great. I haven't begun to familiarize myself with homeschooling or curriculum but I probably need to get started. I will definitely check out time4learning and am interested to know how it works for you guys. I might have missed it in the blog but are you withdrawing them or just supplementing?

akindofmagick said...

Cindy: so, how's time4learning working? Enquiring minds want to know!!