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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

If you were reading this blog about four years ago, you would have seen a lot of posts about homeschooling.  It was my first year teaching Lorelei at home, and I was full of plans and eager to share them.

Lorelei spent her first four years of schooling at a parochial school.  It’s an excellent school, and her former classmates seem to have been very happy there.  But Lorelei was showing signs of stress and anxiety from the ever-increasing amount of homework, even in the summer time.  And I wanted to spend more time with my last baby.

Lorelei First Grade

Lorelei’s first day of first grade

Sending her back to “real” school eventually was always my plan:  when we would do it and where she would go were left TBD by needs and circumstances.  All I was sure of was that the transition would occur before high school.

I’ve homeschooled four of my five children for varying amounts of time, and it’s been a different experience with each of them.  I’ve come to realize that homeschooling does not provide the best learning environment for every child.

I am not sorry that I removed Lorelei from an environment that was stressful for her.  At home, we were able to recognize that she suffers from anxiety and take steps to combat that.  I was able to get to know her very well, and to spend time with her, and we are very close.  And she was able to devote extended time to non-academic pursuits.  Lorelei has always loved art, and I’ve been amazed to watch the changes in her pictures over the years.  She also became involved in an online group devoted to making music videos, and I was beyond impressed to see how she navigated the online community and taught herself skills both online and off.  I learned (and I think she did too) how very capable she is.

She also played outside a lot, as children should.  And remained a little girl longer than it seems most girls are allowed to these days.

Lorelei on the rock

Lorelei playing outside

Lorelei 13

Lorelei on her 13th birthday

But the academic side of homeschool was a real struggle.  Part of that was my change in circumstance from the last time I did this. I’m at home, but I’m working several hours each day, and I have to get things done.  But part of it was Lorelei herself.  When I taught Teddy at home, for example, I could read off a list of assignments and he would do them on his own.  Lorelei would complain and resist and insist that she couldn’t understand; she would freak out about possibly putting down the wrong answer even though her mother was the teacher and there were no grades; or she would go off to work and never return for her next assignment, and I wouldn’t even notice because I was so busy.  Every day, every subject, every assignment was fraught.  There were many days when we didn’t even attempt school, and we both felt guilty about it.

I’ve always known Lorelei was smart, of course.  She made high grades when she was enrolled in school.  But I had about decided that although she was a very capable person, she just wasn’t academic.  We all worried about what would happen when she returned to school.

Lorelei started eighth grade at the local public middle school in early August.  And she is thriving.  The transformation has been remarkable.  First progress reports are in and she has straight A’s.  Her Language Arts teacher has commented more than once that Lorelei should be teaching the class.  Her Social Studies teacher asked her if she would like to be in the Honors class.  Her art teacher invited her to apply for Art Club membership.  She joined the Book Club.  She comes home chattering animatedly about her classmates.  She stays on top of her homework without prompting.  And she joined the Youth Group at church to continue her religious education without complaint, and is enjoying that too.

So what happened?  Where did this motivated, happy, energetic, self-directed, intellectually curious student come from?

summer 80

Right after her getting-ready-for-school haircut

The answer, I believe, is that Lorelei is an extrovert.  She is drawing energy from the school environment and applying it to her studies.  It never would have occurred to me that this could be a factor–she wasn’t pining for school by any means; she was happy to have been removed and enjoyed being with me.  But the evidence is clear:  Homeschooling was not an academically good fit for Lorelei; traditional schooling is.

Again, I have no regrets about removing Lorelei from school.  The homeschooling experience may not have been an academic success, but it was valuable in other ways.  And she is quickly making up any ground she may have lost.  But I also have no regrets about putting her back in!

Some people–I was one of them once–are very tied to a certain way of educating their children.  “This is how our family does things,” they think.  For me, it was the ideal of having all my kids graduate from the parochial school attended by my sisters and me, and then going on the be members of the third generation of our family to attended Knoxville Catholic High School.  Family circumstances and the individual needs of my children forced me to rethink and relinquish plans I thought were set in stone, and my kids are the better for it.

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I have a large intimidating binder and a husband who is a lawyer to bring with me to IEP meetings.  I send emails to teachers, I have conferences with the principal, I advocate relentlessly even when it makes me uncomfortable.  I have become THAT MOM, and I don’t care if people at school don’t like me as long as they accommodate the needs of my brilliant and quirky son.

He was out of the ordinary from the moment of his birth.  He didn’t walk until 17 months, and didn’t get into trouble the way his big brothers did.  He had a vivid imagination, spending months at a time insisting that he was a pirate named Captain Cutler (one of many identities he assumed), and once scandalized a patron at the local Shoney’s who asked about the stuffed ostrich he was carrying by announcing: “It is the Ostrich from Hell.  Its name is Blood.”

Read the rest at Not So Formulaic.

 

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The Presidential Debates- An Educational

In this house, we LOVE election season (except sometimes on Facebook!).  We had a great time watching the first GOP debate last month (definitely the most entertaining debate I’ve ever seen) and then talking about it afterwards.

If you had asked me earlier this year, though, I would not have expected William (a 14-year-old 8th grader) to be glued to the screen along with John, Emily, and me.  It’s true that our big kids were interested in watching debates at his age, but I wouldn’t have thought William would sacrifice two or three hours of precious time that could have been spent researching one of his many obsessions about which he wishes to acquire ALL THE KNOWLEDGE to watch a debate.

As it turns out, though, he did watch the entire first debate, and had plenty of intelligent insights and opinions about the participants.  We all enjoyed talking it over and mostly agreed on who we thought did well.  Agreement on matters political is not taken for granted in this house, where the parents have opposing views on some issues and the kids have been raised to think critically and to form their own opinions, so it was interesting that we reached such similar conclusions.

So William was bitten by the bug, and he has added Donald Trump and his antics to his list of topics he researches.  For the past month he has watched videos about the Donald and has kept all of us updated on what he has learned (most recently being my source of intel about Mr. Trump’s Twitter exchanges with the Mexican drug lord who is on the lam).  William was so excited about watching last night’s debate that he did his homework WHILE IT WAS STILL DAYLIGHT, without complaining, so that he would not miss any of it.

That debate was really, really long, y’all.  Too long.  But we stuck it out, although we were too tired to hash it all over for too long afterwards.  Once again, William had opinions.  But there were a lot of people up there, and he wasn’t clear on all their names.  When he started reeling off his thoughts accompanied by his own unique descriptors, I knew I had to run for my notebook so I could record them for you all to hear.

2016 GOP Candidates, as named by William

1. Trump

2.  Jeb

3.  Young guy

4.  Jersey man

5.  Little curly ugly-haired man

6.  Sad man

7.  Woman

8.  Brain surgeon

9.  Random person

10. Old man that was not afraid to say things (clue: based on observations from the first debate)

11. He couldn’t even remember this one by the end–I wonder what that says about his chances?

Leave me a comment if you think you can guess who is who. 😉 And tell me, do your kids watch the debates? Do you talk to them about politics? Do you get upset if they don’t agree with your political views?

[2017 Update:  William was definitely bitten by the political bug thanks to the 2016 elections.  He now follows politics regularly and wants to hear the latest news when I pick him up from school each day.]

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I can’t remember, way back when I decided to homeschool Jake for 4th grade, how I came up with my social studies curriculum.  But it’s a simple one, and we don’t use a textbook.

The theme of the year is States and Presidents.  Lorelei will learn all 50 states and their capitals.  She’ll also learn their postal abbreviations and will be able to fill them in on a map of the United States.  Copying the list of states will provide handwriting practice while also aiding learning.  Of course it won’t be all rote memorization–we will discuss facts about each state as we go.  And then she’ll get to pick one and do a report on it.

We will also memorize all the Presidents, in order.  Again, as we do that, we’ll be learning a few important things about each one.  And we will discuss the events in American History that were happening during each administration.  We won’t be using a textbook because we have numerous books about the states and the presidents that Lorelei can read selections from.  And again, she will pick her favorite President and write a report about him.

Every time I studied American History in school–which I think happened in 4th, 7th, and 11th grades (at least), we’d start off strong, with the discovery of America, maybe, or perhaps the 13 colonies.  But we always ran out of time before we reached the present day.  I think we might have made it to World War II one time!  I used to page ahead in the book to pictures of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter and the Vietnam War and the moon landing and wonder if we’d ever read those parts, but alas.

So our method probably lacks a little depth but at least we will cover it all!

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That would be penmanship, but it’s going to be a daily subject in our homeschool this year. [Update: This dream died halfway through the first year, I am ashamed to say.]

In my eight years of Catholic grade school, we had handwriting practice EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yes, every single day for eight years.  At first, this was a sorry trial for me.  I struggled to print neatly in first grade.  My teacher had a set of rubber stamps she used to mark our papers.  The Excellent stamp was unattainable.  There were only two people in the class who EVER earned an Excellent.  I only hoped for a Very Good stamp.  But day after day my papers came back marked Try Harder, when I promise you I was already trying as hard as I could!

We moved on to cursive in the middle of second grade, and from third grade on, all work had to be completed in cursive.  Because my mind moved faster than my hand, my writing was messy and full of scribbled out words.  My handwriting can still be very messy today, if I’m in a hurry.  But when I try, I can write legible and attractive cursive.  I worked hard to achieve this result.  And I use it every day, because in this law office, all envelopes are addressed, by hand, in cursive, by me.

Even so, my writing is far from the elegant script we find in old letters.  That kind of cursive is already a lost art.  But in just a couple of generations, no one may be able to write in cursive at all!  My three big kids, a product of 13 years of Catholic education, did learn cursive.  But after a couple of years, they never had to use it again.  They were allowed to keep right on printing and then eventually started using computers for everything.  They never write in cursive and sometimes I think they might have forgotten how.  The only time I see any cursive coming from their pens is when they have to sign their names to something.

William was still being homeschooled at the time he would have started learning cursive, and I was more concerned about making sure he could print legibly at that point.  While they do at the moment still teach cursive in our public schools, he basically missed it, and since he’s getting to the age where it’s all typing all the time, he may never learn more than how to sign his name, unless he wants to.  And he probably won’t, because most kids seem to think cursive is an old-fashioned waste of time.

When I was little, cursive was a Big Deal.  It was like a code.  All the grownups wrote in it, and none of the kids could read it.  The Lunch Ladies at St. Joseph School used to write out the menu for the week in cursive and tape in on the wall in the hallway.  I remember my delight when at some point during first grade I taught myself to decipher it.  I also remember how eager I was to learn how to write, so eager that I got my grandmother to show me how so I had a head start before second grade.  I was already writing my name in cursive on everything,

Lorelei learned to write her name in cursive early too, and I don’t expect any resistance from her when it comes to this subject.  [HOW WRONG I WAS] And I’m glad, because I think it’s a shame that most kids never learn to write cursive well, and that many school districts are doing away with it all together.  I’m sad not only because good handwriting is beautiful to see, but also because learning to write in cursive stimulates different parts of the brain.  It helps kids learn.  And some kids who have great difficulty with printing don’t have that same difficulty with cursive.

So handwriting practice is going to be a daily part of our homeschooling curriculum.  We are going to do a page from our book every day.  I chose a book that combines religious instruction with handwriting instruction, but we won’t rely on this alone.  For example, when Lorelei is learning the Beatitudes this year, her handwriting work for the day will be to write them in her best handwriting.  The same will go for the Ten Commandments, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, the Stations of the Cross, and other religious concepts.  But we won’t only be linking handwriting to religion.  In Social Studies, it will be state capitals, or the names of the Presidents.  And writing neatly will be important in every subject. [This did work for Jake and Teddy, at least.]

What do you think?  Is it too late to save cursive?  Does it matter?  How often do you use cursive?

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to y’all that I plan to homeschool Lorelei next year.  She’s going to be in fourth grade, and I’ve done that before, so I already have a lot of resources, and I’ve slowly been gathering others over the last several months.

There was one place I was stuck, though, and it’s kind of an important place!  I couldn’t find a religion book that I liked.

The religion book I used for Jake and Teddy was actually my own religion book from way back in 1976-1977. (Yes, I saved those kinds of things and I’m glad!) While it’s true that catechesis in the 1970s was a mess, this book was pretty good.  St. Joseph’s School switched to a new program the following year–I still have that book–and it was dreadful, practically content-free.  But this one covered all the basic fourth grade stuff–Commandments, Beatitudes, Works of Mercy, and more–that is still being taught in fourth grade today.

And because I was using it for William in 2011, and it was in his backpack in the living room of what we now call “the burned down house,” it’s gone forever.

So you can find anything on the internet, right?  But I couldn’t remember the name of this book.  I knew what it looked like, and roughly when it was published, and what grade it was for, that’s all.  And no book that looked like that EVER appeared, not once, in many, many months of off-and-on searching.  I even asked the school if they had a record of what book we used back then–no dice.  I conducted research on Catholic publishing companies and looked up every book that was published around that time. My head swam with publishing companies (Sadlier, Benziger, Loyola) and their various programs.  Nope.  I spent hours on this, y’all.  I really had my heart set on that book.

Surely, you ask, there are plenty of other fourth grade Catholic religion textbooks out there?  Why, yes, yes, there are.  But I didn’t want to risk an old one that I hadn’t seen before because, as I mention above, many of the ones that were around back then were just bad.  And I don’t like the modern ones I’ve seen which are too jam-packed with information and fill-in-the-blank pages.  (Honestly, I just don’t like modern textbooks.)  What I liked about this one is that it was very simple with short chapters that I could use as a starting point for further discussion.

I finally found one that seemed similar in content (by looking at a screenshot of the Table of Contents) to the one I remembered.  I thought I could maybe try to make do.  But when I went to order it on Amazon it was about $25–kind of a lot to spend for an unknown.  I searched for it again and found some really cheap copies put up by someone who did not even bother to include a picture of the cover.  So that’s what I ordered.

Have you figured out the punchline yet?  We came home from a short vacation yesterday and my package was waiting for me.  As I tore open the bag I saw not the book I was expecting but the ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR.  Apparently, it was just a different edition of the one I thought I was ordering.  Some of the material has been rearranged, and of course it has a different cover.  And to sweeten the pot, it’s not written in (which of course mine was) AND it’s a teacher edition with all kinds of other good stuff at the end.

religion book

So that’s a propitious omen for my return to homeschooling.  I look forward to sharing my other adventures with you this year!

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Y’all, I really need a little help here.  I participated in an education focus group earlier this week, and I’ve been asked to get some input from YOU on the follow-up questions I’m going to post below.  I know I have a lot of silent readers here (HELLO!), but this time I really need you to speak up and answer these two questions in the comments.  Okay?

Here goes:

What does it take (or what WOULD it take) to motivate you to take action on an educational issue?  This can be on a local, state, or national level.

Have you ever worked together with the larger school community, including educators and other parents, to creat change in your school and/or school district?  If so, would you share a bit about the effort and impact?

Y’all, please don’t make me look bad. 🙂  They are actually PAYING me for this and I don’t want to come up empty.  Thanks!

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