Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 26, 2014

The verdict is in: 1 week was how long it took for us all to decide we like homeschooling better.  Tomorrow we start home schooling again:).  All of us have learned a lot from this experience.  I will try to explain a few of the lessons we learned.  Get your cup of coffee and get comfortable because this will likely be long.

One of the things that we disliked the most was (what seemed to us) the small amount of time we had to spend with the boys every day.  AND there were so many things to be squeezed into that small amount of time.

The bus picked the boys up at 8:25-8:30.  We had a very cold week last week so they were waiting outside in 12 to 16 degree weather, and that is not counting the wind chill factor.  The boys were dropped off just after 4:00 most days (except Monday, when it was later).  So they were gone for 7.5 hours.  When they came home, they wanted to play for a while because they actually got to do very little of that at school, much to their surprise and disappointment.

They had one short recess after lunch but Nick's teacher kept the boys in for 2 days in a row because some of the boys were not behaving (he was pretty upset about this, especially after the second day).  They could not go outside because it was too cold.  I'm not sure why (too many kids maybe?) but they did not let them go to the gym to play either.  They played in the 2nd grade classrooms and their 'pod'.  This school has what they call pods which are groups of classrooms surrounding a large middle room. It really is a very well designed school and the architect won awards for the design.  Anyway, there are four second grade classrooms surrounding a large middle room so they played in that area.  They only have P.E. every third day so if it is too cold to go outside and it is not a P.E. day, they end up with no physical exercise, other than walking from the class to lunch and stuff like that.

So they were wanting to play for a while when they got home from school, although I did try to talk with them a bit first and see how their day went, normally while they had a quick snack.  Then they went to play, sometimes with a neighbor, if they were home.  While they were playing, I went through their backpacks and tried to make sense of the papers that were sent home.  I found it pretty confusing at times as to which papers were to be completed and sent back and which were not, but that's another story.

Each evening Nick had to do at least 30 minutes of homework and sometimes more. Ben could normally get his done a bit faster so probably 20 to 30 for him.  We tried doing homework before dinner, after 30 minutes of play, and we tried it after dinner.  We did not feel that either approach was ideal.  Actually, it didn't seem like any homework was ideal since they had been gone for so many hours of the day, although I do understand why the schools need to assign homework.

I must admit that I personally hated, HATED, the homework.  They both needed adult help with some of it.  When they did it before dinner, then I had to work it around trying to make dinner.  When they did it after, we were cleaning up from dinner and we were all tired, since it was the end of the day.

Basically our evenings seemed very cut short and hectic for all of us and mornings seemed more hectic also.  Neither Paul nor I cared for this and we did not like how it affected our family life overall, especially considering we had much less time with the boys also.  We had less time and it was of lower quality.

The other big issue was that they were not going to be learning much of anything for the rest of this year.  Neither Paul nor I realized how much this would bother us, although this was one of the things that the boys said was good about going to school, that it was easy.

When the boys were tested by the school counselor for placement, they scored in the middle of 7th grade for reading fluency, the middle of 5th grade for word recognition and beginning to end of 3rd grade for every else except spelling, where they scored right on target (mid-2nd grade).  The counselor debated putting them into 3rd grade and we discussed it and both agreed it could possibly be too stressful, as they so some important testing in 3rd and they would have missed half of a year in 3rd grade.  Even though they scored high, we had been using all 2nd grade materials at home, except for math where we are still finishing up 1st grade.  I thought it would be pretty risky to dump them into a class half way through 3rd grade at this point, especially knowing that a lot more writing would be expected from them in 3rd and I felt Nick would already have a challenge with that in 2nd.  Also, the boys had never been to school and had to learn the ins and outs of school life. So, considering all of that, we decided it would be best to keep them in 2nd grade and the counselor predicted they would be bored but I thought that was better than having them feeling like failures.

But then we saw them bringing home Level 2 readers and Nick had to spend one evening doing tons of writing that was basically busy work but he had not finished it during class so it was sent home and added to the rest of his homework.  He had a good attitude about it and was trying hard to get it done but it was way too much writing for him and it was busy work, in my humble opinion.  He cried, not angry tears but sad tears, because he was trying so hard to get it done but it was taking so long.  He woke up the next morning and started on it again without me saying anything to him about it.  He was not able to finish it before he had to leave for school.

I talked to the school about testing Nick for his fine motor skill issues and told them about the occupational therapy he has been receiving for the past 6 months or so (that he could not continue while in school because they don't have appointments late enough).  The lady was going to talk to his teacher on Friday to discuss it with her and see what accommodations they could make for him but they would not test him until they saw whether these accommodations they put in place would help him enough or not.  The accommodations were things like using a special grip on this pencil (which he has always used at home), possibly cutting the amount of writing required by him and a few other things that we have been doing at home for a while now.  I don't think this would be enough and I think he would continue to struggle with writing unless his grades got so low they finally decided they had to test him.  I strongly felt this would be an issue and he would end up feeling less confident about his abilities and his intelligence.  He also has 'tracking' issues, which I have a hard time explaining, but it makes it very hard for him to do copy work and he was really having a hard time reading music notes and seeing when they went up a step or two steps.  He would work on a favorite piece all week and it sounded great to us and then at his lesson his teacher would show him where he had been playing the wrong note in several places all week.  That didn't make him feel very good.  At one point last week he asked his teacher what time it was because the clock didn't have numbers on it and he was having a hard time reading it (he can tell time in math problems just fine). His teacher said, "Don't you know how to tell time yet?", which made him feel bad.  I told the special services lady that she need to let the teacher know he had fine motor skill issues and, if he asks for help tying his shoe, she is not to ask him, "Don't you know how to tie your shoes yet?!"

Ben's teacher was clearly very organized.  I was very impressed with the structure she had around her classroom and Ben really liked her.  Nick's teacher was clearly not very organized and I got the feeling her classroom was a bit chaotic at times.  The night he brought home so much homework he had been distracted during school that day and not gotten much done.  She was also a yeller.  Nick talked about this a couple of times and Ben commented on it also because apparently he heard her several times too and he could not believe how much she yelled because his teacher didn't yell at all.  This was definitely not the right kind of environment for Nick, as he has trouble focusing when there is too much going on around him.

So, we have less quality and quantity family time + homework every evening + work is too easy (which is ironic considering the homework issue) + fine motor skill issues for Nick + I don't know when we would ever fit in anything else in the evenings, such as swimming lessons, piano lessons, AWANA, read alouds, baths.  (How do families do this?)

I also had a lot of time to contemplate our homeschooling experience and reflect on it in light of the new information of the testing scores (we had never had the boys tested before).  In retrospect, I think I was probably pushing them a little too hard in some areas.  I had also made some changes to our curriculum line up and, in retrospect, I think these were bad changes, especially for Nick.

We had been using interactive spelling and English curriculum and I switch them to a more workbook formatted curriculum that they could do mostly without my help.  I was adding a new writing program and also Latin and I knew these would require more one on one time with me so I switched to a workbook style with spelling and English so it would free me up to work with one of them on writing or Latin while the other worked alone.  I think they both enjoyed the curriculum we had been using for spelling and English so we are going to go back to using those, I am going to hold off on Latin until at least half way through 3rd grade and possible the beginning of 4th.  I am getting rid of this reading program I had added (and was having trouble fitting in) because they don't need it and the other methods we are using are clearly working already.  They were enjoying their computer class at school so I loaded a typing program that I happened to get for free and it looks fun for kids.  I let them try it out today and they were enjoying it so it might be a fun addition to our school day.

I need to quit stressing if we don't get everything done every single day and just enjoy the journey with them.  They are doing great, our methods are working and I need to quit worrying about if I am doing enough and just keep doing what we were doing, instead of thinking that they need to do a lot more for 3rd grade.

Their favorite parts of the day were riding the bus, eating lunch and recess.  I asked them if they were getting to play with others a lot more now that they were in school and they both said no.  When I asked them who they play with at recess they said they play with each other.  They knew plenty of kids, since there are kids in their class from our neighborhood, our church and also from when they were in cub scouts last year.  They were excited to see kids that they knew but they still played with each other at recess.

They really had mixed feelings about school all week.  They talked about things they liked and things they didn't like.  I think they really liked that they got to experience it, although Nick was showing definite signs of stress.  When we told them we had decided to go back to homeschooling, they both reacted about the same, which was kind of a really? OK and why? but not much more than that.  Surprisingly Ben was the one who expressed some mixed feelings about what he would miss, after telling us every single day that he did not want to go to public school and wanted to go back to homeschooling.  Nick never really said anything about what he would miss and I think he was secretly relieved, and in the end both of them ended up saying they were really glad we had decided to go back to homeschooling.

I know that we will still have our challenges but the next time I see that both boys are pushing back and having a bad attitude, I am going to take some time to review what we are doing and try to figure out what it is that is not working for them.  I will make an effort to find a co-op that works for us also because I think they really enjoyed the one we were in last year and they miss it.  They had P.E., art, Spanish and a drama class there and we all ate lunch together also, so they really felt like part of the group.  When I told Nick we were going to go back to homeschooling, he asked if we could join a co-op again. So I definitely have to look into this.

All this said, I would still tell anyone around here that our local elementary down the street is an excellent school (depending on which teacher you get, of course, but that is true of any school).  I was very impressed with much of what I read that Ben's teacher sent home.  It is one of the best schools in the area and I could definitely see why.

And that is where I need to end this book because I am getting very sleepy and we have school tomorrow!
  Please excuse any typos.  I am so sleepy tonight.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22, 2014

The day got off to a cold start.  The boys waited outside in 16 degree windy weather for the bus to come for about 15 or 20 minutes and it never showed up.  Nick went from being upset with me that I would not let him go outside earlier to coming in-out, in-out, trying to keep warm.  We finally gave up and the dad took the boys to the school, which is about a 5 minute drive from our house.  They were disappointed because they were really excited about riding the big yellow school bus.

I had a short list of things I wanted to get done while they were at school.  I started off by doing some cleaning and then took a shower.  By the time I had finished getting ready for the day, my cold was hitting me hard and all I wanted to do was rest, which I did for the rest of the day:).

The boys came home on the bus.  School lets out at 3:30 and they were suppose to arrive home around 3:40.  It was well after 4:00 when they showed up but I was not surprised because I had called after they left for school with the dad and I found out there was a substitute bus driver so I suppose he didn't know the routine or something.  Anyway, I had just-out-of-the-oven cookies waiting for them when they arrived.  We sat at the kitchen island eating hot cookies and they told me about their day. 

They both had a good day.  Nick got to have P.E. and I think Ben had music but he didn't mention that so not entirely sure.  They enjoyed their lunch and they get to go to lunch together, even though they are in separate classes.  I heard snippets and bits about different parts of their day but did not really get a full picture (what did you do first, and then what?)  They would have been too impatient to do the question and answer thing so I just listened as they spilled out what they remembered.

Nick was not happy about his teacher keeping all of the boys in for recess because one boy kept talking and interrupting her during class.  I agree that I don't think that is fair and I'm not sure what she hopes to accomplish by punishing all boys for one boy's wrong doings.  When I was young, if they did this, they might have hoped the other children would say something the one who was not behaving and kind of get him in line.  Today, that would be considered bullying so I am not sure what she was hoping to accomplish with that one.

Ben was not happy that, while he was eating his afternoon snack (they are allowed to bring something for afternoon snack in their classroom) other kids kept asking him to give it to them.  He did not like that at all.

Nick also said he asked his teacher what time it was at one point during the day and he did not like that she asked him, somewhat increduously, if he did not know how to tell time.  He does know to tell time but I guess the clock did not have numbers on it or something....something was different about the clock that threw him off.

Other than those small negative points, they both seemed to have had a good day.  They played for a while and then we ate dinner and then it was time to do some homework.  They were NOT at all happy about having to do the homework, even though we had talked about this being a requirement many many times.  They both were whining and throwing quite the fit (Nick's is always worse and longer though).  Ben got with it and got his done quickly.  Nick took longer and had to wad up his paper and complain and complain instead of writing his spelling words.  He finally got with it and then it didn't take very long.  Just like with home school, it takes him longer to finish fit-throwing and start working.

After home work, all was right with the world again and they played happily until bedtime.

I am wondering how long it will take for the honeymoon to wear off.  Anyone want to guess?  I was thinking 2 to 3 weeks but it may take longer.  I suspect it will take longer for Nick than it will for Ben.  Ben still has very mixed feelings about going to school.

We shall see but I will definitely document this journey, for them and for me.  I am going to start a Bible study for myself and I have started working through The Well Educated Mind.  As soon as I can get to the used bookstore, I am going to purchase Don Quixote and start reading.  I missed out on pretty much all of the classics when I was in school so I am going to do some self-educating during this time I have to myself.  I am also going to try to plant a garden this spring and I might do some painting in our house but I'm not sure about that one...we'll see if I have the energy for that after I get over this cold.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 16, 2014

The boys and I ran errands this morning to prepare for them to start public school tomorrow.  They were both due for eye examines so we did that and Nick had to have an updated script (as expected) and Ben's eyes are 20/15.  We picked out new glasses for Nick.  He can't wait to wear contacts but I think he was pretty happy with the ones he got.  This was the first time he really picked them out by himself.  I think they look really sharp.

After ordering Nick's glasses, we went to the bank to retrieve the boys' OK birth certificates from our safety deposit box.  Then we headed to the school administration building to register.  It didn't take long at all because we had all of the paperwork we needed.  She gave us a contact number to call at the local elementary so I called and set up a tour for this afternoon.

The boys will officially start tomorrow.  Since they have been homeschooled up to now, they will have to take some tests to determine their grade level.  I hope they do OK, as they have never taken any formal tests before.  The only testing they have done were small math or spelling tests with me.  Just before our Christmas break, they had finished our 2nd grade curriculum in everything except math, but they were almost finished with it also.  So hopefully they will have no problem testing into the second grade.  (yes, I'm a little nervous, since it reflects on me....prayers people, I need prayers!:).

Nick is very excited and can't wait.  Ben, not so much.  I think there is a part of Ben that is excited but the other part of him really does not want to go to public school and that part tends to be more vocal.  I know he will do very well though and I suspect that he will end up really liking it.  I think Nick will love the social aspect of it and may thrive on the academic competition in that environment (as opposed to competing with his brother) but I think he will have a hard time with the required writing.

They are both most likely behind in writing, from the school's perspective, because we had a different philosophy on how to approach writing than the school uses.  Even then, N has always had issues with writing and fine motor skills and that is why he has been in occupational therapy for the past 6 months or so.  We are hoping that maybe they will take that over within the school but we shall see.  Our insurance doesn't cover it and it is very expensive so it would be nice if they did, plus it would save me a weekly trip into to the city and they would make allowances for Nick's writing difficulties.  They will test him and I will hope and pray they agree he has fine motor issues and will take it on.

Some are probably wondering how it has come to this point, that we are putting them in public school.  Basically I believe that Nick had made up his mind that this is what he wanted and he has been refusing to work for me and, really, both boys have had a bad attitude about school for a while now but one's is incredibly bad.  I have tried everything I know to try and I fear it is impacting our relationships, which I do not want.  So the husband and I discussed it (he has seen the problem behavior in action) and we both agreed that it was time they spent a semester at public school to see what it is like and see if they like it better.  I figure they will either like/love it, want to continue and will be more willing to work hard with a good attitude for their teachers, or they will dislike/hate it and want to come back home, hopefully with a new appreciation of what they have here.  Either way, I think it will likely be a win for us, compared to what we have been having.  The difficult thing is that I do not want to do both.  I don't want to homeschool one while the other is at public school because it just adds a lot more work and responsibility to my plate in various ways.  So it will be difficult if one wants to stay in public school and one wants to come home.  I suppose we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Some may also be wondering how I feel about this.  In a word, heartbroken.  But I am trying very hard not to show it and to keep a very positive attitude about public school, while also setting expectations by comparing pros and cons between homeschool and public school.  I also feel a bit of a failure.  I tend to be a type A personality, a get-it-done kind of person and I don't naturally joke around a lot or tease.  Maybe if I had tried a little harder to make it more fun they would have enjoyed it more. 

I have always felt that teaching them was a privilege and I really enjoyed it a lot.  I enjoyed seeing their faces light up when something they had been working on finally clicked or they learned something interesting (I loved teaching them to read), I enjoyed reading lots of interesting library books to them and also all of the classics we have read together and loved and still make reference to at times.  I enjoyed the research, trying to determine which curriculum might work best for us.  I really loved it all, even though it was a lot of work.  But most of all, I loved spending lots of time with them and I will miss them during the 6 or 7 hours they are gone each day (school is from 9:00-3:30 plus 30 minutes before and after, taking the bus).

It is also very hard to give up the control of directing their education.  I felt we were on a path to a better education than the school could provide so I am kind of mourning that also.  It will be a huge adjustment for me to let someone else take over this responsibility, a responsibility that I always took very seriously and made an effort to provide the best I could.

Fortunately we have a very good school in our neighborhood, close to our house.  It is newly built and is really a very lovely building and many of the neighborhood kids that the boys play with go there.  I am sure we will all adjust and I will eventually find lots of things to fill up the empty hours of my day (I have already thought of several possibilities).

So, big changes in the Pisarik household. The husband is also making career choices/changes so please keep us all in your prayers.  This is a tumultuous time for us.

p.s.  We took the school tour and met lots of very nice, friendly staff.  The boys also saw several boys they knew, which was encouraging to them.  They were more excited after the tour.  We also saw the lunch menu and we are all pretty impressed with it.  Nick was complaining that he wouldn't like anything they serve and wanted to take his lunch but now he wants to eat there.

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 we start testing.  One will test from 9-10 and the other from 10-11 (please be praying for us during this time if you can).  Then they will be able to assign them to a class and the boys will eat lunch there, have recess and spend the rest of the day with their class.  They are out on Monday for MLK day but will hopefully be able to hit the ground running on Tuesday morning, knowing where to go and already having a desk, etc.

I am doing great in front of people I don't know, but every time I run into a fellow homeschooler and it comes up, I can not hardly keep it together.  I know it is going to turn out fine and it takes a while to adjust.  In the meantime I feel as if I am mourning a loss and it is hard at times.

Your prayers are greatly appreciated during this time.