Saturday, February 16, 2013

Precious Time

When I was visiting with my dear friend Jill last night, we were talking about the "Mommy Wars" which we absolutely refuse to participate in with each other.  Our lives look very different in many ways, and yet we work at our relationship and respect each other.  She'd never make the choice to homeschool her kids, yet she was the first one to come to our house with support and "How to Homeschool" books in her hands, ready to encourage and validate the choice we had to make for our kids.  I have always so appreciated that from her, and others who have also offered so much to help us succeed.  The wonderful extras that others have brought into the kids' lives have made homeschooling a much richer experience than I could ever provide alone.  For example, the younger four are reading Pearl S. Buck's "The Big Wave" (I love Pearl S. Buck!) with our retired teacher friend, Miss Mary.  She has traveled the world over and brought a Japanese tea ceremony right to our front door yesterday! She shared many Japanese items collected by her and her husband, and the kids drank "Creamsicle" tea and green tea as well!:

There are times lately when I am really feeling disconnected from "real life".  My working friends, many of whom have no children still living at home, are leading very different lives than I am.  I find myself struggling to find topics to talk about, and knowing that I must sound so boring.  The truth is, I have a vibrant internal conversation going on all the time about all sorts of things!  The problem is, they are of no interest at all to most people.  I am fascinated by education these days, and am reading all sorts of articles about where the 21st century student is headed.  Debates about "flipped" classrooms, technology and its adaptation, inequality in education and the disproportionate numbers of minority students who drop out, college costs and % of students who amass tens of thousands of dollars in debt for careers that pay $30,000 a year, CLEP and DANTES testing, distance learning...all of these are things I could go on and on about. Yea...not really the stuff of juicy Starbucks conversation.  Throw in with that my interest in all things faith and my heart's yearning for a clearer sign of God's call in my current life, and I make for a really dull companion for most.  That is, unless you are planning a Westward Expansion field trip, then I might come in really handy!!

Regardless of how "out of the loop" I often feel these days, it is all so worth it.  There is no way at all I would ever say that these years aren't probably the best of my life.  Sometimes, you have to give up something to get something.  What I have gained is truly irreplaceable.  Precious time with my children, more than I ever dreamed I could have, is worth far more than being a charming dinner companion.  The solidity of our relationships at home, the knowledge that even as they are growing into teens they enjoy being with us, and the hopeful long term growth academically of all of the kids tells me we made the right decision.  Yes, even if there are times when I know my friends have to work really hard at staying connected due to scheduling, my own inability to speak to things that the regular world is involved in, and my very unhip, uncool daily life, I still wouldn't trade it.

As I have spent the past couple of months planning out next years' curriculum, the brevity of this time in my life has become even more apparent.  No longer am I trying to force myself to be the Artsy Craftsy mom to engage elementary aged sons and daughters, now I am dealing with laying out four years of...I can't believe it...high school!!  Matthew starts high school next year, and I ask myself when did this happen and how did it happen so quickly?  Making it even a little odder is that he has changed so little over the years.  Unlike Joshie, my only other "baby" who has changed drastically over the past several years, Matthew looks like a large version of his two year old self, he carries himself exactly the same way, and he is just as calm and quiet as he was way back then. We had just one single tantrum out of him his entire toddler years.  No kidding.  One.

He is moving toward the high school years with the same sense of aplomb.  As I shared in conversation last night, I have asked him how he feels about homeschooling through high school, wanting to make sure he is not just going along for the ride or that his heart's desire hasn't changed.  We have offered to buy him a class ring, a letterman's jacket, etc. so that he, and eventually the others, will not feel as much like they are missing out.  He quickly declined, saying, "Why do I need that stuff?  That's a waste of money just to look cool."  Then he added, "Mom, you are forgetting something.  We can't really miss what we have never had.  I don't care about Proms and stuff, and probably wouldn't have gone even if I was in regular high school.  That's just not my style.  I don't want to go back to public school, it would be too boring and I wouldn't have time to learn the things I want to learn.  As long as you'll teach us, I want to stay home.  It's just better."

Here it is, 2/3rds of next year's curriculum, all ready to go!  
But where is that high school literature?  Ugh!!

So, I embarked the past several months on high school curriculum research.  It has been FUN!  I know, I am weird, remember?  Because we are teaching a couple of subjects together with the other kids, I have a bigger challenge than most.  Trying to find something for history and science that meets in the middle is tough.  The other 4 will have to stretch at times, and Matt will have to settle for a little lower level at moments.  However, I have a plan....muahaha!  Lower reading level English as a Second Language science and history textbooks combined with The Great Courses college video lectures which we will all view and discuss will make for a very interesting setup.  Over the next two years we will be doing 3 Great Courses that are 48 lectures each along with our textbook.  I am also going to throw in some reading from both conservative and liberal perspectives especially for Matthew about how each thinks the other side has gotten it all wrong :-)  We'll see what he thinks about it.

The one area that is stumping me is literature.  Matthew reads at a fairly high level, and his 8th grade text has proven to have wonderful stories but his vocabulary isn't being tested as much as I'd like with it.  As I look at many of the high school texts, other than the Shakespeare components, I have not been impressed.  For one thing, in the homeschooling arena, everyone seems to think good literature was only written 100+ years ago.  Sorry, I disagree and want him reading a wide variety of classics as well as more modern literature.  Personally, I loved a comment I read years ago where someone said, "I don't get it, just because a story is old, doesn't necessarily make it GOOD."  But homeschooling curriculum often focuses largely on the classics, and I don't want a standard high school textbook either, as that is just not much different than his high level 8th grade book, from what I have researched.  Someone suggested the Norton Anthologies, which are actually college texts, but I think I might have fallen in love with them.  We are going to look at a few other options at a homeschooling show in March, as Matthew is going with me, but I do NOT want busy work study guides, and I want him reading really well written literature.  I am seeing how, with all the kids, our literature selections being carefully chosen has made an enormous impact on their writing.

Recently, to our surprise, both Matthew and Joshie tested as gifted.  We all sat around the table and talked honestly and openly about the test scores...a conversation that could have been quite awkward in some situations.  All the kids were asked by the school to take the test, so we could have more data to work with in developing critical thinking skills which are sorely lacking in some areas with Angela, Olesya and Kenny.  We are seeing huge improvement, but it will take years to make up for what was not developed early on.  I decided that there was no more reason to hide the results from anyone than there was to hide Kenny's challenges.  So, we gathered around the table and laid out the results.

Actually, we were thrilled with ALL the results, and could honestly express that with the kids.  Angela and Olesya scored in the high average...and that was having been English language speakers for less than 3 years AND taking tests that were each a grade level  above what they are at home because of the state mandate of moving them up a grade due to age.  Our resource consultant said that everyone at the school was extremely surprised at their results, and that if tested a couple of years down the road (which they might elect to do) they might actually test in the gifted range!  The biggest success of all was Kenny, whose self-esteem has been battered time and time again over being called "low IQ" by school staff and who has had services denied because of low IQ.  HA HA HA...Boyfriend tested smack dab in the average range!!!  We all giggled with delight as I got up and did the happy dance, telling him over and over again, "I told you so, I told you that you were as smart as everyone else!!"

What I dearly loved about this moment though, was how Angela, Olesya and Kenny each reacted upon hearing Matt and Josh's scores.  Matt has taken a bit of a beating himself the past 3 or 4 years with his frustrations over his writing.  Tears have been shed multiple times as he just couldn't understand why he couldn't write what he wanted to say, and as I assumed he was being lazy or careless, something I am not proud of.  The school has called him "twice exceptional" because of being special needs with dysgraphia, as well as gifted.  Coming as no surprise at all for an intense Lego kid, one person who tested Matthew came out to talk to me at break time and said he had never seen any young person in his 27 years of doing this have as high a score in Spatial Reasoning as Matthew did, he told me he essentially topped out the test.  He actually used the word "brilliant", which was waaayyyy overstating it, for sure, but did make me smile for a moment.  Hey, I don't normally get moments like that with our kids!! Haha!  I'm used to hearing comments like, "Did Matthew really write that?  Ohhhhh..." with a nod of kindly sympathy.

The kids were all so happy for him, Angela saying, "See Matthew, we KNEW you were super smart!  You just need help in one area, that's all.  I am not surprised at all!" .  Other than helping Matthew feel a little more validated, any "gifted" label is pretty meaningless for us.  As I explained to all of them when we sat down to talk, I am teaching them all in exactly the same way, and have the same materials being used pretty much with all except for Kenny with reading, and they all know this to be true.  There are no gifted classes for them to go to, nor any need for them.  We might find we have access to a little more funding for Matt and Josh, I explained, but that will really be the only difference.  We were able to talk honestly about the advantages Matthew and Joshua have had simply by being in a family from very early on, and the sort of developmental delay that almost every single child adopted at even a slightly older age deals with.  It was actually a very deep conversation, as the kids didn't really know a lot about how institutionalization can affect brain development, so I shared about what lack of stimulation can do, or how having someone talk with you and not at you can make a huge difference.  A moment I will hold close is how Matthew looked at all three and said, "You all know I am not smarter than you.  Good grief, all of you write better than me even with only 3 years of English!"  to which there was a big laugh.  Joshie said, "So, we all are smart and mom will make everyone smarter.  The only thing I am really good in is math.  That's not a big deal."

When I said that I had been a little hesitant to talk about it with everyone, because I didn't want anyone thinking they were somehow less intelligent, Angela said, "Oh mom, don't ever keep secrets from us, especially not GOOD ones!  This is awesome!  And Olesya, Kenny and I have gotten a lot more of your attention and time because we needed so much help.  Matthew and Joshua have always helped us and never gotten mad because we took so much of your time.  They need attention, too, and shouldn't hide if they do well.  You celebrate when we do well, so we all need to celebrate when they do well, too!  Besides, it's just a test, and you told us tests are just for you to know how to teach us.  Now you know more what to teach us all.  That's all that's important." then she grinned and added, "You have already told all of us that we are very smart, and moms are ALWAYS right!!" which had everyone cracking up.

What really is important is the stuff not measured or scored.  In the long run, no one is going to care one whit what score any of our kids got on any test, or whether they are "gifted" or special needs.  What they are going to notice most is their character.  Are they deeply good?  Are they faithful?  Are they responsible, kind and warm hearted?  While, of course, I care about them getting a decent education, I will have failed if they get high SAT scores while reflecting little to no graciousness or morals. One far outweighs the other for us.  That is why we feel strongly that the non-academic activities are probably more important than doing more grammar or hammering out an essay.  This is what is important:

For Valentine's Day, we delivered little gift baskets to five of our older congregation members.  A group at church put them together and asked if we would play Cupid, which we loved doing.  We visited nursing homes and doled out hugs...a far more meaningful afternoon than sitting in front of a math book.  That evening, as we drove to a local homeless shelter, we talked in the car about it being the girls' anniversary home, and how lucky we all were to be together.  None of us could think of a better way to give thanks for the love we share as a family than to spend that evening sharing that love with others as we served many families a special dinner, letting them know that they, too, were precious.

High school, anniversaries, is all passing so quickly.  No, I may not be hip or cool, and I may not be someone you'd want to be stuck next to at a dinner out because I can't talk about office gossip or the latest fashion trends, but time is precious, and this is more important.  It always will be. I need to remind myself over and over of that, as I see Matt's baby pictures on the wall and his high school textbooks waiting for us to begin.  


Writer200 said...

The problem with a lot of the high school lit. today is that they've been dumbed down. As a 23 year old I find myself repeatedly going back to the kids section of the library because the books are intelligently written.

And even then I usually end up with older books. About the newest book on my shelf is around the 1950's -60's. There are a few exceptions - but I can't think of 'em.

Cindy LaJoy said...

Thanks for that comment. I was surprised at most of the textbooks I have looked at that are used in traditional public schools today. I have reviewed at least 4 from different publishers, and was completely underwhelmed. Would be totally bored reading any of them. We are going toward more of a real books approach, or at least excellent selections in more adult anthologies. And I agree 100% with the older books in the kids' section. We can not STAND the "young adult" junk out there being newly published today. Plus, the whole high school drama/campire/zombie themes are a bit riduculous and not at all anything Matthew or any of our kids are interested in. Funny, when I reviewed the Norton Anthology and said, "Hey, there is a biography of Ben Franklin in this." Matt's eyes lit up. If I had said, "Hey, there's a great story of a zombie in here!" he would have rolled his eyes at me, which he almost never does.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Job! Congrats to all of you!
See you in March :-)

Teresa F.

Kikilia said...

For Matt's HS Lit.. I would use trade books.. .there are some wonderful "juvenile fiction" books out there that can be used. Intelligently written and challenging.

As an educator myself, I still love reading 'kid fic' as well as 'adult' things. I agree that just because it's written 100 years ago doesn't make it good.

I have some ideas if you'd like any input. Just email me and I'd be happy to forward some of my favs that I think the both of you might enjoy using.

(kikilia 13@ aol. com)

Anonymous said...

I hope you are able to find a stimulating anthology as a base from which to soar. There is such a wealth of literature from other nations, other ethnic groups, women, poetry from other religions that are not necessarily religious but yet never reach us. Might be interesting to glean from friends a list of one or two of their favorites that they would use to beef up an ordinary curriculum. If you do, share the list. I could use a new stimulating list myself.

Congratulations, Teach, you are doing what every teacher aspires to do, give tools and encourage enthusiasm for further learning.

Mazel tof,

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
I used a whole book approach & it worked well. I also used the Bob Jones English texts as a grammar tool. I called it two classes. One was Lit and the other Grammar & Composition. For books, I tied them to what we were studying in History/Soc. Studies. There is a great little book called "Let the Authors Speak" which catalogs award winning literature by century/genre/reading level. That helps to find obscure texts about ancient history! Makes the social studies come alive. If you love anthologies for the structure, just pick about 10 books from one and have the kids read those instead of the partial view of a text. Of course, this is for a strong reader with good ability to cover ground. But I find readers don't develop a love of reading. The glimpse of a book doesn't inspire much. I also used articles from World Book Encyclopedias and for Am. Hist took books from the Am. Lit list in the Encyclopedia (edited out to get what we wanted), and for World Hist. year did the same with classic literature. For each book, have the child look at it at the beginning of the year before you buy it, explain why you think it would work & get their buy in. There are too many great books to fight, but I did insist that they read some old books with old grammar. You "get" a lot of inside jokes in movies, etc. by knowing that old speech, as well as the ability to really understand the Dec. of Independence, etc. Most history books go to the modern age so that's where the newer books came in. But, the boring grammar exercises were also invaluable for college admission tests and writing. We also did Writing Strands sometimes but they are not for strong writers. They do spell out the steps of writing pretty well, though, for a struggling writer. Also, we read Old Testament in 9th, using Henrietta Mears' book, What the Bible is All About as a guide. New Test w/same guide in 10th. You have to read it with them, though! Then, we did both Ray Stedman's Adventuring Through the Bible & Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible, reading Old Test in 11th & New Test in 12th. Those were pass/fail academically but invaluable personally.