Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creative Contrariness

Roger will not cooperate with any schoolwork that I plan and initiate, but he's full of plenty of creative ideas for himself. This was how yesterday's school day went.

First, he fought with me over the copywork I'd printed off for him. This confused me, as last week he'd said that he loved copywork and wanted to do it every day. Then I had just written something on a paper, but this weekend I'd printed off a copywork booklet, and maybe that was overwhelming? With many threats and much cajoling I finally convinced him to do it. I wanted to take the time while Pauly was practicing his piano and then working on his typing to get Roger's math and reading done, but that didn't work out anything like I'd planned. For reading, I was going to do a spelling activity, but was first going to make letter tiles out of some of our many sheets of blank business cards. Roger asked to make the tiles himself, so I let him do so. Instead of just writing the lowercase letters, as I was planning, he insisted on writing the capital letters on one side, and the lowercase on the others. That's fine, extra practice, right? I was trying to tell him which letters we would need for the spelling words, but he ignored me entirely and wrote the letters he wanted, then started using the tiles to spell his own words. After he did that for a while, I suggested that he finish writing the letters we needed so I could read words for him to spell, but he declared that he was done and stacked the tiles up. So we didn't do what I'd planned, but he did reading.

We watched the next lesson on the Math-U-See DVD, which introduced subtraction, and then used the blocks to practice it a bit. He went along with this for a few minutes, then started using the blocks to build a restaurant, instead. My attempts to bring him back to math met with obstinate refusal, so I gave up. I had no energy for a fight. Instead, I used the math blocks to show Rosemarie subtraction, because she wanted to learn. Then Roger told me, "Guess what is on the dessert menu at my restaurant?" As he started listing things off, I figured we might as well roll with what he wanted to do, so I asked him if he wanted me to help him write the menus down. We ended up making two menus -- a regular menu and a dessert menu -- and he also named his restaurant. After I'd written everything down like he wanted, he illustrated the menus. So not math, but certainly educational.

This is just so very different from Pauly, who, until relatively recently, was happy to cooperate with what I wanted but who rarely initiates any kind of creative activity himself. The more I want Roger to do something, the less likely he is to do it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Forgot Myself

After I posted the link to my blog on Facebook, a friend commented on how much she enjoyed reading it and what interesting things I had to say about homeschooling and other subjects. I was a bit taken aback. I haven't blogged regularly in more than a year and a half, and lately I've felt that I don't know the first thing about homeschooling well. I went back to my blog and read the archives of older posts from 2007 and the first half of 2008, and was surprised to find that I had blogged pretty regularly for quite a while and I had some good ideas and interesting things to say. I particularly thought this post was interesting as it described how we were doing math at the time, and it addresses some of our current problems and frustrations. We were using the same math series that we are now, Math-U-See, but we weren't using it in the same way.
I do alter the lessons somewhat. After reading How Children Fail I have taken a lot of Holt's suggestions for the Cuisenaire rods and applied them to the Math-U-See blocks. This doesn't change the content of the lessons, just how I present them. I do a bit less instruction and a bit more guided exploration.
At the time we were exploring the blocks together and using the student book very little. In Math-U-See, the instruction is supposed to take place through watching the video then practicing with the blocks, and the student workbook is only supposed to be practice and reinforcement. That's not how we've been using it at all lately, and I think that's been a big part of the growing math resistence and frustration. My kids simply don't need that much repetition to understand the concepts, and if I'd been using the curriculum as it is intended to be used instead of feeling like we had to complete a certain percentage of the workbook to be doing it "right" then things would have been going better.

There were other posts covering my thoughts on homeschooling approach that reminded me of what I had thought and why I had thought it, and I'm glad I reread them. They've given me some inspiration for what I would like to do in the future.

On a more somber note, I realized as I reviewed the blog that the drop off in posting coincided with my descent into a bout of depression, anxiety and spiritual turmoil that I've only recently begun to emerge from. I hadn't really realized how long it had been since I had felt good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Structure, Freedom and Anxiety

Providing our children the freedom to learn and explore at their own pace instead of being bound by curriculum and conformity to a set of group standards is one of the primary reasons that we have chosen to educate the kids at home, yet when I look at how we have been homeschooling in practice, I realize how very far we are from our original intentions and even my current convictions. We've been using a math curriculum, for instance, that explains things in interesting and innovative ways, but at the same time doesn't involve much exploration and does require a great deal of drill and repetition. We have been skipping some of the workbook pages, but I'm now convinced that I've still been requiring far more than my kids need in order to retain the material. The kids have gone from loving math to resisting math, even though they are quite good at it. We are using a highly structured phonics program, which hasn't met the same resistance, yet I wonder about how much it is really required. Pauly made a jump in reading some months ago, and now the phonics material is far below his current reading level, yet we've kept slogging through it because I feel like we need to complete the program before moving on. Why I am doing this? Why aren't I taking advantage of our freedom to move at the kids' pace?

This year we are enrolled with St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, and when I called our advisor to discuss some of these frustrations, her advice could be reduced to "Lighten up, have fun, they're little yet." Even with this blessing, I've found myself unable to truly relax. It finally occurred to me this week that most of what we have been doing in practice has had little to do with my educational convictions or what my children need, but instead is about calming my own anxiety and meeting my own need to do things "right." The irony is that in seeking to do things "right" I'm actually acting against what I am intellectually convinced is right for home school education; my rigidity interferes with utilizing home schooling's freedom and flexibility and instilling a love for learning.

So what do I do now that I realize this?

I'm Going to Resume Blogging

Really, I will.