Education. What a wonderful journey! And not just for the student, but for the educator as well. Our home school today looks much different than it did when we first started two and a half years ago (mid-2001). Let me take you back to that wonderful, blissfully ignorant time…
Our son has always been precocious (yes, that rhymes with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious). By the time he was 2 ˝ he knew his shapes, colors, and could count to 20. Rather than try to think up ways to keep our son occupied, I found a pre-school curriculum on CD. All I had to do was print out the worksheets for the week and make up a few posters for visual aids. Well, that's what I thought anyway. I was so excited! I bought several sheets of poster board and put my artistic talents to work. I set up an area in our son's bedroom that would serve as our classroom. When our first day of school rolled around I thought I was set - until we went through the week's worksheets in about half an hour. It didn't take me long to realized I was in trouble.
About two months later I started scouring eBay for kindergarten curriculum. Again, I thought I hit the jackpot. I found a complete kindergarten curriculum for $10. It was a workbook with tear-out sheets. I was concerned that some of it might be a little advanced for our son, but we didn't have any deadlines so we could take as long as we needed. Well, once again our son had other ideas.
My husband works second shift, so we had our schooling during the afternoon. Once we entered kindergarten, there were many afternoons spent at the kitchen table working on page after page of school work. Now, I had read that a child of almost 3 should have an attention span of about 10 to 15 minutes and that a parent shouldn't push them beyond that because they would get frustrated. Here I found myself being pushed by my almost 3 year old to do more and more work. At times, after 3 or 4 hours of school, I often had to tell him that mommy needed a break. After rolling his eyes at me as if to say, “You're such a wimp,” he'd go off to his room to find something to play with while mommy nursed her aching head.
Looking back, I felt like I was riding on a runaway train. If I took time to do some lesson planning, our son breezed through the lessons so quickly that I was actually taking more time to do the planning that he was taking to do the lesson. So I switched to fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode. I just kept throwing worksheet pages at the black hole that was our son, and he kept devouring them. In about six weeks we were done with kindergarten and I was at the end of my rope.
I started looking at first grade curriculum, but when I saw the price tags that went along with them, I just wanted to quit. I didn't feel like throwing our money away on a curriculum if our son was just going to breeze through it. I really started getting quite discouraged. I looked on eBay again, for used schooling materials, and I found a few things that I thought could keep us going for a while.
This time I bought some used first grade books - science and American Heritage. I also bought How To Tutor, which covers math and phonics. Once the books arrived I barricaded myself in the bedroom and worked out a schedule for the following school year, which happened to be starting in a few weeks. But as is often the case, the best laid plans sometimes go up in smoke. That was the case with my detailed schedule. What happened? Baby Einstein.
As soon as he saw his new science book he sat down with it and wouldn't put it down until we looked at every single page. We still did some of the experiments and discussed the concepts later in school, but he really did “get it” from that first viewing. At this point I was very happy that I had bought used books for an extremely reasonable price. We continued to use the American Heritage book for a while, but it was designed for classroom use and I found myself using it more for reference than anything else. The phonics and math were going well. He was eating up simple addition, even surprising mommy one day by adding the Thomas the Tankengine trains by name (each train has a name and number - he would tell me the names of the trains that added up to the thrid train's name, and he was always right). And the phonics was going extremely well. I didn't realize until later that our son had already taught himself to read - I was simply supplying him with words for him to try out his new skills.
By this time we had bought our son a Leap Pad learning system for his birthday - one of the best purchases we've made to date. The sample book that came with the system included a map of the United States and had games for finding not only the states, but their capitals. Within two weeks he knew every one of them. It was then that I realized that we had a very asynchronous child on our hands. He was learning to write on a kindergarten level, yet doing geography on a fifth grade level. All of his other skills seemed to fall between these two extremes. How on earth was I going to be able to afford to keep this kid in curriculum without draining our bank account and losing my mind?
Back to the internet for me! This time I started looking into unschooling and came across the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. The more I read about it, the more it sounded like a good fit for our situation. In a nutshell, Charlotte Mason is credited as being the founder of the homeschooling movement. In following her method, rather than using standard curriculum, you can depend on books from the library for educating your children. You also have the flexibility to teach at whatever level the student is on in each subject. So we jumped into the Charlotte Mason method with both feet. I already had some English, Phonics and Math workbooks, so I was following Charlotte's method for things like Science, History, Geography and Literature. But I soon realized that all that glitters is not gold.
Our son is a high-energy kind of kid. A major part of the Charlotte Mason method is reading to your child, then having the child narrate, or re-tell, what he has heard. Getting our son to sit for a short period of time is near miraculous, but getting him to sit for two hours or more while I read to him was not something that would happen in this or any other millennia. His frustration, coupled with my frustration, brought our schooling to a screeching halt. At this point I felt like a failure and completely frustrated. I felt that I had two options - either we could spend an enormous amount of money on a full curriculum for multiple grade levels, or we could muddle through with unschooling.
While I do tend to like the flexibility that homeschooling offers, because of my cognitive problems (see Healing Update), I need some sort of guidance and structure rather than just flying by the seat of my pants. So a few weeks ago I started doing even more research. There was one company's curriculum that I kept looking at although for the life of me I didn't know how we'd ever be able to afford it. It was an excellent, Christian curriculum, but I still felt uneasy about having to try and figure out what grade level to get for each subject. Then I turned to the back of their catalog and a lightbulb went off above my head. I was staring at a curriculum that was designed for families with more than one child. It is a unit study curriculum and each of the five volumes in the complete set contains grade levels kindergarten through sixth. We only had one child, but he was definitely on multiple grade levels. In doing a little more research and having lots of discussion with my husband, we finally decided to give this a try.
We haven't started using it as it hasn't arrived yet, but I sure am looking forward to getting my hands on it! I hate to feel like I'm floundering and that's exactly how I've been feeling with our homeschooling. This curriculum, Weaver, offers not only the volumes containing the unit studies, but they also have a separate book to help guide the teacher every step of the way. We're all very hopeful - including our son! The other day he even asked me if the new books were here yet. Ah, that's what I like - an eager learner!
Homeschooling really is a learning process, not only for the student, but for the teacher as well. I find it amusing that God is taking this opportunity to show me just how much I don't know and just how much I need to depend on Him in every single area of my life, which is very exciting and leaves me very curious to see what lies ahead!
February 2006 Update
Since writing the above article we have been through Weaver, moved on from there to Life Pacs and are currently using Switched On Schoolhouse. Weaver worked very well for us for almost two years. It gave me the flexibility that I needed to have with our son so that he wasn't bored. Bored for him is never a good thing. Unfortunately, he was going through the curriculum at about twice the speed as one usually would, so we were hitting the same subjects more often than normal. I still twitch every time I hear the words "water cycle" - four times in one year is more than enough for anybody. What amazed me when I realized that Weaver was no longer a good fit for us was the fact that something that seemed to be working so well suddenly didn't. So once again I began researching curriculum, trying to find a new good fit. What we decided on was Life Pacs from Alpha Omega. (This was the curriculum I was looking at when I first saw the Weaver curriculum.)
Initially I bought 3 of the Math units as the math program we had been using before that was driving my son crazy, and therefore was driving me crazy. I won't mention the program because it is a fine program, it just was at the opposite spectrum of our son's learning preferences. Anyway, our son seemed to really enjoy the Life Pacs, so I started buying units from the other subjects and before I knew it, we were a Life Pac family! But it didn't take long before I found myself facing a new problem. Our six year old was zipping through the third grade. Each Life Pac subject has ten units. Theoretically those ten units should take a child one school year to complete. Our son was moving through some of them as quickly as one unit a week. I was at my wit's end - too mentally exhausted to try to dream up extra work for him to slow him down. And I really didn't want to slow him down. If that was the pace at which he was learning that was fine. I just had to find something new - and quick! That's when I sent away for a demo disk of Switched On Schoolhouse (SOS), also by Alpha Omega.
When the disk arrived I was very pleasantly surprised. No, not by the curriculum, although I found it very impressive. I was surprised at the interest our son showed. I had him sit down with me at the computer so I could see if he might like to use SOS. I couldn't get him back off! He "played" with the demo all evening and begged me to let him play with it the next day as well. I knew we had a hit! The SOS curriculum is all on the computer, which is a perfect match for our son. About a month later we were making the switch to SOS and moved up to the fourth grade. One of the many things that I appreciate about SOS is that rather than guessing if we are doing too much or too little in a day, I can set the length of the term and the program schedules the daily lessons for me. Hallelujah!! There are also projects, activities and experiments built into the curriculum that I can keep or remove from the schedule. I can also add custom lessons if necessary. There are also video clips and games in the lessons, many of which are quite humorous and engaging. The best part is that our son loves it!
He's about half way through the fourth grade now. I have his summer/fall 2006 term mapped out - 5th grade with some fun extras thrown in. I often wonder what the future has in store, what with a seven year old going into the fifth grade. One thing's for sure - it won't be boring!
March 28, 2006
We've made one more switch, this time in math. We're now using Horizons, which is also from Alpha Omega. It uses the sprial approach to teaching math and so far seems to be a much better fit for our son.
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