WARNING: This post is largely homeschooling related. Close window if uninterested!
I have had many private emails asking me about our homeschooling plans, mostly from families adopting or who have adopted older children. This post is about where we sit thus far in our planning and I hope someone can take something away from it that is useful. Internet searches lead to very little info about homeschooling older adopted children, and yet I know many families are doing it to help their kids catch up before placing them in public school or they decide to continue homeschooling them.
Have I told you I am totally terrified of this? How much stress this is causing me that is gently and gradually coming under control? How can I possibly do this and succeed? I am not sure but I am going to give it the old college try, to keep with our educational theme today :-)
My thoughts all along have been to keep it experiential in nature, and to gradually build to the more academic. The girls are going through so much change right now, assimilating is a tough enough job, but we don't want to exclude academics entirely. However, the reality is that institutionalized kids have many gaps in their knowledge base so we are going to use this time to fill them. They have never been to a real library other than the few shelves on one wall in their orphanage. That is a learning experience. Riding a bike is a new experience, petting animals is new, cooking in the kitchen is new, having free time is new, going to church is new, shopping is new, working with money is new, learning English is new, playing new sports is new, going camping is new, going to McDonald's is new, using a knife is new, going to the park is new...are you getting my drift here? There is a ton of learning going on even if it doesn't quite look like school. In two weeks home I doubt I could even count all the new things learned!!
But we also need to add in structure and keep moving forward with academics in the ways we can and start building a vocabulary and phonics base. So here is what our current game plan is, subject to change without notice...hahahaha!:
1) Work on teaching life skills that were not learned. How to use a knife, trying new foods and talking about them, going on little field trips as often as we can to see new things similar to preschool or kindergarten...animal shelter, hospital, public pool and parks, hiking, mountains, etc.
2) Build on phonics knowledge which exists in some systematic way. I am working with several experienced folks who have offered their time and knowledge to help me figure out what this looks like in older language learners. They are almost too young for some things and not old enough for adult materials. Approaching this without insulting their intelligence and maturity as 10 and 11 year olds is a little harder than one might imagine.
3) Vocabulary building constantly. This is not limited to just using flash cards during 30 minutes of our day, in fact it looks little like that at all. It is a natural process where I have to tuck in the back of my mind words we are building on, look for ways to repeat them and use them in different contexts throughout the next several days, quiz them in a fun way at unexpected times (they love this!), and reinforce new words by adding words that make sense to go with them.
4) Math facts drilling - they can do math reasonably well and at grade level, but are not quick enough to do simple calculations so we need to create some automaticity with that by drilling in fun ways with card games, etc.
5) Non-Language oriented activities - It is exhausting to be surrounded by and learn a new language, your brain just shuts off after awhile. We are going to create opportunities for learning that are outside the language box.
What we are using:
1) Time4Learning.com - I've blogged about this in the past, great educational online program for pre-k through 8th which allows for grade level adjustment on each of the core subjects. Reinforces phonics or other subjects in a fun way, and is highly academic in spite of the fun, game like approach.
2) Creating a vocabulary book of their own of words we have learned. We say the new words, talk about them, sound them out, write them on a lap sized white board first and correct them, we talk about the sounds a the beginning, we name the letter, we talk about the sound, we draw a picture if we want to. We are building a way for them to look back and see just how many new English words they have learned in a short period of time by simply looking back at the book.
3) We are creating fun, cool worksheets from EnchantedLearning.com and EdHelper.com including matching, word searches, etc.
4) I am going to attempt to come up with an activity each day that relates to and reinforces each letter we are focusing on while creating an opportunity to experience something new...of which there are obviously many things.
5) Reading books...which at first is not reading really but talking about the pictures, naming things, etc.
6) We might begin a true math curriculum in two or three months, stepping back one grade lower than they tested at to make sure we don't miss any gaps (there are some we know of already..decimals are sketchy for Angela and fractions totally unknown despite testing at 5th grade level), and to allow for language learning. We will skip over stuff that is too easy, focus on things that are more challenging or totally new.
7) Teach money and measurements as they are only familiar with Tenge for currency and metric for measuring. Nothing fancy here other than coins from the coin jar and a measuring tape.
8) Sports - All the kids are signed up for soccer which starts in a couple of weeks, and Angela is signed up for softball after that while Olesya and the boys want to learn tennis. We will be going swimming once a week and playing racket ball at our local Recreation Center with another homeschooling buddy.
9) We have tutors working with the girls on phonics twice a week.
10) They will be taking an art class, Angela is really gifted in art and loves it. This gives them something to do that they see as academic and can succeed at with all their same age peers while not really involving too much language.
11) Horses!! We found an amazing homeschooling educator/family who are creating a class once a week for our 3 children to learn about horses. Again, language light, great learning experience, and taps into something they seem to be interested in.
12) This same educator is going to teach them a short 30 minute science class which will mainly be an experiment for them to participate in or watch...explosions guaranteed :-)
This looks like a lot, and maybe it is in some ways but a lot of it doesn't "look like" learning in the traditional sense. There will be very little workbook pages, just enough to introduce a letter and see it repeated a few times. Most of it is purposely experiential with sneaking in learning through the back door of fun.
My bigger concern is having enough focused time for Matthew to work on his more academically rigorous studies, but thankfully he is flexible enough to take things in the car and work on them anywhere. He will be taking the science, horse and art classes with the girls too, so will be exposed to some new and cool opportunities in addition to workbooks for grammar and Saxon math, which by the way we are THRILLED with in terms of results and presentation. We hope to finish his building and materials physics study in the next week or two so he can focus solely on the science class the teacher will teach.
So now I have to firm up our game plan on paper...or at least on virtual paper through Google Documents which is what the school uses to track our hours and weekly progress. I need to figure out what order to teach language, phonics, reading in, and I need to stay focused on it all for 3 kids working at 3 different levels. Somehow it will work, I know that. We are so lucky to have friends stepping in to help, both with Matthew and the girls. It relieves a little of the pressure, it offers them a diversity of wonderful people to interact with whose skill level is far superior to mine, and it helps them develop new relationships with other supportive adults in their lives which is SO important, particularly at this age.
Now if I could only manage to get my ministry homework done, I'd be in great shape! I also am getting a bit desperate to figure out a solution to where to put all the homeschooling stuff and yet keep my home feeling like a home and not a classroom. I know, probably impossible. But there has to be a creative solution. We are talking about lots of options...some more expensive than others but would be more solid and permanent. It will not be a formal classroom though, we like the informality of learning all over the house!!
So there you have it, our current game plan. The girls seem much happier with the structure and were at loose ends horribly the first week we got home, so we felt it was important to hit the ground running as quickly as possible and create a routine they could count on. Coming from the over-scheduled, tightly structured environment of the orphanage, this gives them a sense of security so despite how hard it has been on me to jump in so soon after returning, in many ways it is the best for them.
I want to thank all of you for helping with your great suggestions and support. I culled a lot from your comments as I was doing the big picture thinking! We may find ourselves totally shifting gears after awhile, but at least we now have a starting point and I feel a little less like I am flailing around in the dark. Still need a well laid out plan for a systematic approach to building language/reading/writing skills but I am getting help in that area and I might feel much more confident soon.
Slowly but surely, we are getting there. It might look very different than what some would see as the ideal for the girls, but for us it looks like a pretty workable plan to start with, and modifications can be made along the way as needed.