Why We Homeschool

Here's Lucas reading

Here’s Lucas reading

I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts that we are homeschooling this year, but I never explained why. And I know a few of you are wondering. So here it is, my “why we homeschool” post.

As you might imagine, I’ve never been one to take my kids’ school decisions very lightly. Every January or February, when schools have their enrollment periods, I fret over this decision. It started back in William’s preschool years. Before pre-K, I never stuck with a preschool for longer than a year. None of them ever seemed perfect enough. When he turned 4, though, he started at a local private school. I enrolled him in their half-day pre-K program, and he did okay, but the emails and conferences with the teacher clued me into the fact that something wasn’t quite right. This was when I began all of my research into his food intolerances and blood sugar instability. Then it became clear that even after these diet changes, William was still a little young for the class. His birthday is just two weeks before the cutoff, so he was the very youngest in the class. Couple that with all of the diet changes and sensory issues (we we discovered that summer), I knew that being the youngest wasn’t going to be the best for him. So we repeated pre-K. He did amazingly well that year.

His Kindergarten year went really well also. He had an amazing teacher who challenged him but who was still super patient with all of his idiosyncrasies. That year, when January rolled around, I hadn’t yet decided where to put him for first grade. I had never thought that we would send him to private school the whole way, so we considered public (for a short time). By the time I got around to enrolling him, there were no spots left in the class! They had way too many Kindergartners going into first grade. It wasn’t managed very well, and I’m still upset by the whole situation.

Our Shakespeare unit

Our Shakespeare unit

Nonetheless, we found another private school for William to attend for first grade. It was a Montessori school and it enabled William’s creativity to flourish. But it was way too lax, wasn’t very structured, and didn’t challenge him enough. All of the intensity and drive that William learned in Kindergarten was gone. Lucas went to this same school for preschool. By the end of the year, I had had enough. And I wasn’t willing to pay thousands of dollars (times two kids) for a school that was just mediocre, to put it kindly.

But after volunteering at this school, I realized that I could do exactly what they were doing, and I could probably do a better job at it. Public school was pretty much off the table at this point. I had no faith that the public school would be able to accommodate William’s needs. Not only did he have dietary and sensory issues (which don’t qualify for any special treatment), but William was proving to be pretty advanced academically. I knew that even if William had an amazing teacher, it wouldn’t be a good fit academically, and he would likely become a behavior problem because of it. In any situation, even now, William refuses to be bored.

If I had to narrow down our reasons for homeschooling, I would say that giving my kids a good education is at the top of my list. Of course, it allows me to accommodate all of William’s other issues, but academics are my primary concern. Among the other homeschoolers I’ve met, I’ve found that we are a little different in this way. It’s a little frustrating, honestly.

William's dictation (spelling)

William’s dictation (spelling)

Among the many reasons that people homeschool, I’ve found that there are two that are most common: 1) escaping public school and 2) sheltering a child from the rest of the world. Many homeschooling parents have had their kids in public school, and for one reason or another, realized that it wasn’t a good fit. Since my boys have never been to public school, this wasn’t ever a concern for us, so I have a hard time relating to these parents. I’ve also found that many of these parents don’t challenge their kids enough. They seem to think that if their child has a hard time with handwriting, they aren’t going to require it of the child. I don’t know about you, but I have the opposite viewpoint. If my child has a hard time in a certain subject, I’m going to require more work in that subject, not less.

I can relate a little better with the parents who homeschool to shelter their kids. And I’m not sure that shelter is the right word. Many of these parents want themselves, not the child’s peers, to be the primary influence in the child’s life. I get it. There’s a bit of a “Lord of the Flies” thing that goes on in public school. Kids are sort of left to their own devices on the playground, and they are much more influenced by their peers than any adult that may be nearby. This brings me to my other concern with our local public school: there are over 500 kids! That makes about 4 classes per grade. And ours is even one of the smallest schools in the district. When I think about the sheer number of kids and the peer influence, I think of the two neighborhood kids who’ve lived here since they were babies. I have to say that I’ve seen a change in them since they started school. Neither one seems completely comfortable in their own skin.

So here we are homeschooling. Both boys are doing amazingly well. William is now in second grade and reading at a seventh-grade level. He’s working a year or two ahead in math, doing double-digit multiplication and division. And I’m able to challenge that little photographic memory of his with spelling words like “calculating,” “powerful,” and “ridiculous.” (All three of these words were in his dictation lesson last week.)

William's daily journal

William’s daily journal

Lucas is also doing far better than I expected. I had considered sending Lucas to preschool (the same pre-K William attended) even after I decided to homeschool William, but I’m so glad I didn’t. William had started to read in pre-K, but Lucas is well beyond where William was at this age. We’re using “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” and apparently by the end of the 100th lesson, Lucas will be reading at a second-grade level. We’re on lesson 87 right now. :)

Lucas is also doing well in math. We’re just playing math games with cards and Cuisenaire Rods, but it’s coming very naturally to him. Just today, on our way home from flag football, Lucas was doing math problems. He started it, asking me what 5 + 5 was. I had him tell me. Then we did all of the doubles (2+2, 3+3, 4+4) and he felt like such a big kid because he knew all the answers.

Lucas is finding handwriting to be a challenge, and we work on it every day, but I’m also being patient. He’s only 5. We’ll keep working on it over the summer. My goal is to have him writing most letters and numbers before the beginning of next school year.

I’m finding that my kids are getting a much more enriching curriculum than they had even while in private school. William is turning into a bit of a history buff, and both boys loved our Shakespeare unit. I build all of their Language Arts curriculum around our literature, so it makes it interesting. William is also learning Spanish.

Playtime!

Playtime!

And simply because it’s so often an objection, being social with other kids is also part of our curriculum. (Really, this socialization thing is a huge myth.) We go to our local homeschool co-op once a week and another homeschool social group once a week. Personally debunking the homeschool socialization myth, the kids made 200 Valentine cards this year! My kids have no problem socializing with other people, kids or adults. I also love that my kids have time to play and just be kids. We get our school work done before 1:00 on most days, which leaves time for music, sports, and just play. Oh, and Lucas can still nap!

Raise a voracious reader

Source: sheknows.com

Are you a reader? Do you understand the importance of reading for children? Do you read to your child?

Reading to our children is Parenting 101, but sadly, many parents don’t do it, particularly after the child has learned to read himself. Reading to our children and encouraging them to read has so many benefits. They include:

• Developing the imagination. (Reading requires kids to imagine the stories in their mind’s eye. TV creates the images for them.)

• Setting a foundation for phonics and pre-reading.

• Learning life-long spelling and grammar skills. (The non-readers I know couldn’t spell if their lives depended on it!)

• Broadening the vocabulary, exposing the reader to words he might not otherwise encounter.

• Encouraging grammatically correct speech. (Read quality literature and you’ll never read sentences like “Him and I are going to the store.” or “Where are you at?”)

• Developing a life-long love for reading.

These benefits just scratch the surface. But based on these alone, we should be encouraged to raise voracious readers. So how do you raise a voracious reader? Here are some tips:

• Start reading from day one. I started reading to my kids when they were 4 months old. It’s never too early to start.

• Schedule reading times. At a minimum, read before bed. Also read during lunch and before nap. For older children who may be reluctant readers, make daily reading a requirement.

• Have a “sustained silent reading” time every day. This is time where you all just sit around reading books on your own. You read your book and your children read theirs.

• Allow even the littlest ones to hold books. But teach children to respect books by carefully turning pages (not tearing them) and putting them away carefully (not throwing them!).

• Go to the library, often. Go to story times, join the library’s summer reading program, and let your child choose as many books as he wants.

• Surround yourselves in books. Keep reading spots in several areas of the home (bathroom, by the child’s bed, in the play room, etc.).

• Encourage friends and family to gift books for birthdays and Christmas. Teach children that books are a treasured gift.

• Be a reading role model. Let your children see you reading books. This is something I need to work on because I do most of my reading when they are asleep. This is where sustained silent reading helps.

• Put the electronics away. Limit your and your child’s screen time.

• Don’t rely on schools to create a voracious reader. Reading happens first and foremost in the home.

• Get squirrelly boys to sit and read. Allow them to read graphic novels, comic books, joke books, and general information non-fiction books. Do you see your boy picking up rocks outside to find bugs?Get an “All About Bugs” book from the library.

• Use programs like BookAdventure.com and the library’s summer reading program to give children incentives to read.

• Use sites like GoodReads.com and ReadKiddoRead.com to find good books. GoodReads.com is my favorite new site. You can rate books you’ve read, and it will give you suggestions for books just like it. There are also lists created by others. I searched for children’s books that are in a series. There are several Indian in the Cupboard books. You can also search for Newbery and Caldecott award winners. (Look at all of these lists!) GoodReads.com is also social, so you can see what your friends are reading and what they recommend.

• Read to your child long after he has learned to read on his own. Reading aloud enables you to read books that are beyond the child’s reading level. The vocabulary, plot lines, and character development are much richer. Also reading aloud enables you to vary your tone for punctuation (quotes, exclamation marks, etc.) which makes for a more interesting story.

• Allow your child to read over your shoulder. William follows along as I read to him and will sometimes correct me if I read a word too fast! The other day, he commented on the word “ajar” wondering why it was squished together like that (assuming it should have been “a jar”). This only happened because he saw the word, and it gave me a great opportunity to introduce a new vocabulary word! With pre-readers and emerging readers, you might point to words (particularly sight words) as you read them.

• Encourage quality, not quantity. Rich books like the Indian in the Cupboard and The Cricket in Times Square (William’s favorites!) are better than “twaddle” like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Don’t get me started on Captain Underpants. It has intentionally misspelled words! Luckily, William was smart enough to notice.)

• Savor books. Don’t zip through them, thinking more is more. Savor them and immerse yourselves in the characters’ lives. Even if your child wants to read more and more, just stop. Leave him hungry for more, and he’ll think and talk about the book and will ask for more reading times.

• Allow a child to read from a black-and-white e-reader like the Kindle if the device will create reading excitement. While iPads, the Kindle Fire, and other tablets can be good for reading, I suggest you avoid them. The temptation to play games can be too great, and would require quite a bit of oversight.

• Supplement reading with books on CD. These are perfect for room time. But be sure to use these as a supplement, not a replacement for reading.

If you like these tips and want to know more about the importance of reading, pick up a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Not only does it offer statistics about reading, but also it offers great suggestions for books. Nearly half the book is devoted to book suggestions.

Happy reading!

What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” The American Question

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman is a fascinating book. I offered a summary here, but after starting the book, I couldn’t put it down! It’s a great read.

Today, I’ll discuss the author’s take on American parents’ tendency to push their children through milestones. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the 1960s, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget came to America to share his theories on the stages of children’s development. After each talk, someone in the audience typically asked him what he began calling The American Question. It was: How can we speed these stages up?

Piaget’s answer was: Why would you want to do that? He didn’t think that pushing kids to acquire skills ahead of schedule was either possible or desirable. He believed that children reach these milestones at their own speeds, driven by their own motors.

The American Question sums up an essential difference between French and American parents. We Americans assign ourselves the job of pushing, stimulating, and carrying our kids from one developmental stage to the next. The better we are at parenting, we think, the faster our kids will develop….

French parents just don’t seem so anxious for their kids to get head starts. They don’t push them to read, swim, or do math ahead of schedule. They aren’t trying to prod them into becoming prodigies,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 80).

I wholeheartedly agree with Piaget and French parents here. Kids need to take their own time to reach developmental milestones. And things can get tricky when a parent interferes with that natural progression.

The first year, babies are learning how to eat, sleep, move and babble. At age two, toddlers are beginning to understand their place in the world and assert some independence. At age three, most children still do parallel play, and much of their play is imaginative. At age four, the imaginative play still guides them, and it does so as they become more social. At age five, kids start school and begin the job of learning.

Parental interference can take many forms. Some parents encourage their babies to walk early by holding them up or allowing baby to hold the parents’ fingers while “walking.” This could potentially rob the child of the bi-lateral integration that happens with the crisscross movement involved in crawling.

Some parents attempt to speed up the learning process by teaching abstract academics (math or reading) to a three-year-old. When a child is taught that the world has abstract rights and wrongs, imaginative play takes a back seat. This could rob the child of creativity or even the ability to think critically.

Some parents sign their children up for activity after activity. When a four-year-old child spends more time in the car than on the playground, he doesn’t learn crucial social skills that happen at this age.

When it comes to my own kids, I think that I have allowed this natural progression. I have talked about William’s academic abilities, but he sets that pace, not me. At age two, he started taking an interest in learning his letters, but as soon as he hit age three and started playing imaginatively, that interest in letters came to a screeching halt. At age 7, school is his job, and our only extracurricular activities are piano and occupational therapy. Otherwise, he plays.

For Lucas, I follow his lead. It is only recently (almost 4.5 years old) that he’s shown interest in academics. The Leapfrog Letter Factory video is his favorite. At the same time, he plays very imaginatively with his brother and with friends at school. Learning social skills is definitely his focus, and the job of learning is starting to emerge. He has one extracurricular activity, a “sports sampler” class. We don’t do it because I expect him to become some sports prodigy. We do it because he loves it.

How naturally do your kids hit their milestones? Do you let your child set the pace or do you try to speed things up a bit?

What I’m Reading, “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Asynchronous Development

One concept that isn’t commonly understood among parents is that most gifted children excel in one or two areas, not all. A child may excel in reading, but do poorly in math. Or they may be a whiz with puzzles but show average ability in verbal development. In fact, because asynchronous development is so prominent among gifted children, many professionals believe it (rather than potential or ability) to be the defining characteristic of giftedness.

This certainly applies to William, which is why I didn’t think he was gifted before I understood the concept. I thought gifted children excelled in every subject. William is a master speller, but would be happy never to do math again (though he’s still working above grade level). He reads three or four grade levels ahead, but his comprehension or spoken verbal skills wouldn’t be considered advanced. Even on a physical level, he is amazing on his bike, but has difficulty catching a ball.

It’s important to understand asynchronous development when considering our children’s education:

“The more highly gifted the child, the more out of sync she is likely to be within herself, with wide differences between areas of strength and areas of relative weakness…. The wide span of abilities and skills has major implications for this child’s curriculum and grade placement. This type of asynchronous child, even though gifted, often needs an individualized educational plan,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 7).

So if your child struggles with a particular subject, don’t assume that he’s not gifted. Look to the subjects he does excel in and see if he performs above average compared to his peers.

What I’m Reading: “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children,” Preface

I love to read. I read mostly fiction, but I also have a particular affinity for parenting books. I thought I would start a new blog post category to share with you my thoughts about whichever parenting book I’m reading at the moment, chapter by chapter.

Right now, I’m reading A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. A friend, whose daughter is extremely bright, has inspired me to learn more about gifted children, and she and I are taking a class based on this book. (I’m seeing some gifted traits in William, my eldest.)

Giftedness is not solely genetic

Before you decide that this book isn’t for you, let me assure you that while there is certainly a genetic component of giftedness, it’s not wholly inborn.

“Environment plays an important role as well. Gifted children, like any other children, thrive in supportive environments and fail to thrive in non-supportive environments. Young children can even show an increase in measured intelligence if they are given strong emotional and educational enrichment. Up to seven or eight years of age, IQ scores may increase with enrichment of the child’s environment by 10 to 20 points or more,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. 3).

Toddlers learn best by experiencing their worlds

Now, before you run off to buy flashcards for your two-year-old, let me explain my theories about educating toddlers. I wholeheartedly believe that toddlers learn best by experiencing their environment. They learn best by tackling challenging puzzles, going on nature walks, playing with peers, having tea parties with imaginary friends, listening to you read to them and seeing you read to yourself.

Academic learning of letters and numbers, no matter how much the child may request it, should take a back seat to experiential learning at this age. When a child reaches school age, and school becomes his “job,” then it will be time to dive into abstract academic learning. When you focus too much on abstract letters and numbers too early, the child will miss out on important social and imaginative learning. As you’ll soon read, gifted children often struggle with social skills. Don’t rush your child through important developmental milestones.

Raising gifted children is complex

This brings me to the crux of this book: parenting gifted children isn’t easy.

“One mother said, tongue-in-cheek, ‘My son is afflicted with giftedness.’ Suppose you do have a gifted child living in your house. This means she will grow up to be a contented, responsible, contributing, and valued member of society, right? … Well, not necessarily. Some gifted children with high potential never live up to it. Other factors can get in the way, and often, these are social and emotional factors,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xiii).

Parents must help their children, gifted or otherwise, find a balance between fitting in and following their own path.

“To help and support gifted children, we must first recognize that they are thoroughly different. Next, we must understand how they are different, because not all gifted children are the same. And finally, as the important and influential adults in their life, we must guide them—not only in academic endeavors, but also in social, interpersonal, and self-development skills,” (A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, p. xiv).

So while all parents may hope to have children who excel academically, we must understand that parenting them is a complex endeavor. Success in life is measured on many levels, and we must address them all if we are to help our children live up to their fullest potential.