Sunday, January 26, 2014

Well, that didn't last long.

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.  I honestly don't know how families deal with this.

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. 

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 N had to do at least 30 minutes of homework and sometimes more. B 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 N 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 N 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 N 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 accomodations they could make for him but they would not test him until they saw whether these accomodations they put in place would help him enough or not.  The accomodations were things like using a special grip on this pencil (which he has always used at home), possible 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?!"

B's teacher was clearly very organized.  I was very impressed with the structure she had around her classroom and B really liked her.  N'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.  N talked about this a couple of times and B 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 N, 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 N + 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 N. 

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 N ended up wetting his bed one night and wetting his pants one day (at home after school) so I have a feeling he was a bit stressed about it.  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 B 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.  N 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 N 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 B'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.

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