Saturday, November 12, 2011

Flexible, Like Silly Putty!

As a homeschooling family of five children who have some pretty unique challenges in the mix, I have realized that one of the single greatest assets for a situation like ours with homeschooling is the ability to be flexible and turn on a dime.  Sitting in bed these past few days is allowing me time to once again re-create what school will look like as we enter our new year...whatever it is for us.  Since we don't really have a summer break I am seeing it sort of feels like a new school year in January more than in September.

Right now we are still trying to catch Matthew up in writing skills, which were pretty abysmal when he first started homeschooling 2 years ago.  We are making slow, steady progress and his state test results last year put him in normal range for the first time.  He is not where I know he can be, but we'll get there.  I discovered that the public school perspective of focusing on content came at the expense of pushing mechanics, consequently bad habits were formed and are hard to shake. 

You all know the challenges we have with Kenny, which are constantly morphing.  Throw in the girls and how quickly they are catching up, Olesya's serious deficits in math and inability to visualize the seeming abstractness of numbers, and we have an interesting school situation, to say the least. 

There are lots of positives going on as well!  Sometimes I fail to see that as I have this underlying sense of urgency about catching everyone up, emphasizing strengths so we keep good attitudes, trying to close huge gaps that exist not just academically, but experientially.  Reminders creep up all the time about things our older adopted kids have never seen or heard of.  It has been the most challenging job I have ever had, to take these older kids in particular and find ways for them to be successful and not feel "talked down to" as they work so hard to move closer to levels that fit their age.  Having 12 and 13 year olds who are still doing 3rd grade work could be demoralizing for them, but somehow we have hit just the right tone of congratulating success and not settling for less.

But we have gifts galore, lots and lots of things to celebrate, and as I am stuck in bed I am making a concerted attempt to remember that.  Matthew's reading level is way above grade level, and he is he is reading three Landmark history books (about 180-200 pages each) a week and informed me it was time to hit Ebay to see if we could find more as he is almost done with the 45 or so I have managed to purchase thus far.  He is enjoying a Sherlock Holmes collection, and has taken a liking to the Christian Science Monitor magazine that someone kindly has been sharing with us from church, even commenting astutely "Mom, these articles appear to be far more unbiased than a lot I read in other places.  I like it!  No one seems to be picking on someone else and is just sharing information instead of trying to convince me to believe something."

Angela's writing is really, really amazing for her being her only a year and a half.  Seriously, this child is gifted and I could totally see her being involved in a career that used writing. I can't imagine what she will produce in 3 or 4 years.  Joshie is such a funny bunny and loves his biographies and connecting the dots with dates/timelines.  He is always putting things together that use who was alive when someone else was alive, how their worked criss crossed each other, and how far apart countries are from one another.  That kid just eats numbers like they were Doritos and it is totally cool to see how he naturally steers himself in directions that interest him.  Olesya is exploring everything under the sun, creating little notebooks that are important to her about everything from detailed descriptions of story plots, to taping in food labels to compare daily allowances, to craft ideas.  There is yet to be a single strong thread for her, but it is like she is revisiting the exploration that should have happened when she was a toddler and preschooler, but it is fun to watch it happen as an older child.  Kenny continues to love faith dialogue, comparing and contrasting visions of God and other religions, and is steeping himself in the history games of Age of Empires that Matt first discovered and loved a few years back.

The hardest part for me, is keeping up and being willing to change things up when I begin to recognize our levels are changing.  And believe me, around here, with all the playing catch up we are doing, it happens waaaaay faster than it does in a normal situation.  Wanna have a little brain fry?  Here is what I deal with on a daily basis...We first started with all 4 kids but Matt grouped together in language arts and we began at the beginning a year and a half ago...yup...every single one of them started at Kindergarten level, even Josh who had just completed 1st grade.  This way I knew we were covering all the same ground, reinforcing things, and we would use one curriculum for all so I KNEW we had covered everything well.  Josh reviewed and flew through quickly, but is more solid I think because of it and Kenny needed to just start over as did the girls as it was all new to them, so I had 2 classes essentially, Matt, and everyone else.

Then Kenny actually learned to read...Hurray!..and pulled away in reading from 1st grade to 5th grade solid in 9 months time, but still needs tons of lower level spelling work.  that required me analyzing reading material every 4 weeks or so.  Surprise, Angela eventually caught him in reading but needs vocabulary development where Kenny is ahead of her there, but generally her spelling is much better.  Olesya and Josh then formed their own little class for reading at 3rd grade although she is in 4th grade, as they are now about the same level.  But grammar has Kenny and Josh together in 3rd grade grammar for logical reasons as the girls are together learning sentence structure for English and rules.  Spelling has everyone all over the place with most in 3rd grade spelling, but Kenny and Angela are actually 5th grade.  Writing has all 4 lower learners in 3rd grade writing gaining solid skills progressively, but Angela could jump ahead at this stage probably.  Matt is actually in 7th grade, but is working on 6th grade writing, 6th grade spelling, 6th grade math, and 8-10th grade reading. 

Whew! And that is just language arts!!

Could that EVER fit in a regular classroom setting?  Each child able to work at the grade level in each subject that is truly the right fit, so that skills are acquired and not glossed over?  Trust me, it wasn't the school's fault on most of it, it is that we have a very odd situation that needs tons of one on one attention, and the ability to be flexible and not boxed into "grade level".  I realized that flexibility has been invaluable in helping Kenny learn to read and the girls show such amazing progress in academics and language acquisition.  We can jump forward and skip what seems to be solid, and we can slow down when we need to.  If something isn't working, we can change it immediately, we can add in materials, we can flesh things out, we can present things visually far more than usually happens for older kids but is exactly the way language learners and kids like Kenny need, and really helps every kid even if they are moving along just fine. Josh can work at a higher grade level in math, and so can Kenny, and not be held back by grade level.  Matt can work a grade level lower on the areas he needs to strengthen, and yet still feel like a strong student as he works above in other areas.  No one will beat that kid at social studies, history, physics and reading!  The girls can quickly move, I can stop something if I see that suddenly we are further along, and we can re-adjust and keep them motoring ahead. 

And it is all because we are not trapped by grade levels or curriculum designed with the "average" learner in mind.  Nothing I have tried to use that is a "textbook" type item has worked.  Our Colorado State History book is used in classrooms all over the state, and all 3 kids doing it are stumped as to why they struggle to retain the material when they can remember so much more presented in different ways.  They would rather look things up themselves, make scrapbooks of material learned, read a "real" book about it, or see a movie about the Colorado river. 

Of course, this discovery makes my life that much harder, as I have to work really, really hard at finding materials to present things differently.  Oh, we use workbooks too, and a standard math text with good ol' Saxon, but it is easy to see that hands on, visual, or discussion works far, far better for us.  That means hours and hours of internet research for me as I look to our next history unit of Leaders Great and Terrible and see what I can find for web links, great movies, biographies, etc.  The single best thing we did before going to DC was to watch the Ken Burns series on Jefferson.  The best learning experience ever, and they have talked and talked about all they learned.  It seriously comes up in conversation more than once a week, this far out from the experience.  Yea, it took us 12 hours to start and stop the DVD, talk about it, explain it, ask them their opinions, but it was deep, deep learning.

And it was totally fun.

So, when we return from California, we will be starting a new semester.  Matt will be starting a strong literature and composition course, and a new separate science course in chemistry.  Kenny and Angela will be grouped together for word work in their advanced phonics book, but they are way ahead of Olesya and Josh so they need separate time with mom.  Science for the other 4 will need to be taught with Matt crossing over into it with us for some units to cover ground never touched before.  I will need to add in several components for Kenny to address the issues talked about in previous posts, and I am gradually formulating a plan for that.  I am seeing I will need to be split into a few too many parts, and will be reading all Matt's books too somehow, many of which I have yet to read myself in the past.  It will require some real juggling, even more than before.  It'll be fun though, it always is. 

As time goes on, I am beginning to see that this is the BEST job I will ever, ever have, the one I will look back on and have enjoyed the most.  Somehow, I will try to keep my brain from exploding and recognize that eventually, we will have children caught up, and all of this will become more settled.  That is until we begin studying for CLEP tests for college credit and our long hoped for regional trips around the US to discover what we can, if we can pull that one off in our beat up RV.  Oh yea, who am I fooling, the life of a LaJoy is never dull, always growing and stretching, forever interesting. 

I like it that way :-)  We are the Silly Putty Family, flexible and perfect for copying the comics! HAHAHA!


schnitzelbank said...

PBS has a lot of great video clips and teaching materials online. For example:
Click on the "Teacher Resources" in the red box on the far right.

Anonymous said...

You have spoken before about your lack of college education. I would say that you have completed your Masters Degree and are working your way through you PhD in Education and Psychology and Parenting. By next year I expect you to be doing your post-doc work.


Anonymous said...

And you have said you don't have enough intellect, Cindy, because of your lack of education! You could have fooled me! You continue to amaze me with all your creativity and ability, as you apply them to the needs of your family! You stand way at the top of the class!
God be with you in your work with your children and in your healing!
Love, peace, and blessings!

schnitzelbank said...

PS: More reading ideas--- I use "Of Beetles and Angels" and "Soul Surfer" with my ESL classes. There are materials online, too, with teaching tips and lesson plans. I would even be happy to share journal and project ideas for OBA. I think they would both be good choices for your weaker readers, but great discussion points for everyone, including culture, faith, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, etc. fraujoolie (at) gmail dot c o m