Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts on Homeschooling My Younger Son

I am shifting around our homeschooling activities for my younger son. To be completely honest I have always focused more on my older son because he's the oldest and it's the first time I'm home educating a kid in that grade.

My sons coming inside after the first water gun fight of the year, 4/14/11.

However the older son has given me various challenges health-wise (multiple Lyme Disease occurrences and mono in 2009) and he's had some learning disabilities diagnosed. All those things have negatively impacted that son's education, making it harder to administer and shifting the priorities. When a kid is really sick with high fever no schooling is getting done. When the kid has brain fog from mono no matter what is done that day, little will be learned. At times, the highest priority was on therapies for the LDs and also doing accommodations with a goal to have a traditional education without any accommodations. The energy I have put to that son is more than I ever knew a parent could dedicate to raising a child. It's exhausting.

For years it was easy to homeschool my younger son to just do the same lesson as I didn’t with my older, and I had the younger son listen in. I could read aloud from higher level material and whatever good thing he learned was better than what I've had taught a child at that younger age if he was my only pupil.

A few years ago I noticed a radical difference in my kid's learning styles despite a test I gave them showing the same result. To make a long story short my younger son (grade 5 now) is very left brained and my older is very right brained. Thus if I present my younger with right brained methods that his brother favors my younger will learn it too but he doesn't 'need it' presented that way. If I present material in the traditional left brained way it instantly is learned and absorbed.

For a long time I didn't have many expectations of my younger son and he just learned in a more natural way which amazed me. He learned more than I'd have expected so I never had to work to have a high bar achieved nor did I ever set the bar that unnaturally high. It wasn't until more recently when I have put harder material in front of him and taught him, that I saw that he easily learned it that I was amazed at what he could produce when I intentionally wanted him to learn it (some of you would call that coerced learning). The question then became how much to 'force' him to learn at a young age, what is appropriate and how to do it in a good way versus burning him out by forcing too much on him?

My younger finds learning easy and my older struggles more. With my younger I can correct him once on something in math and it's cemented in his memory forever. My younger is a natural speller and the rare times he makes an error I tell him once what it is and it's instantly memorized.

My older son 'taps out' of energy at a certain point in the day, something typical with kids with an LD and with processing issues. I didn't know what was normal. Before I knew my son had an LD I thought the way he was normal and fine. Now that I'm "demanding" more of my younger son I am amazed at his endurance and capacity for handling learning. My younger son does not 'tap out' of energy by three in the afternoon. He is more like an Energizer Bunny. He can keep on going and going and going. He also does his work quickly and well with little effort.

Last week my kids were doing some writing composition. This is my current "hot topic" to push for learning. I noticed a few things.

First, the two kids are doing Institute for Excellence in Writing using the student DVDs together and my younger son gets the work done and then it takes my older son 2/3 more time to do it. They sit side by side so this difference is obvious.

Second, my younger son did a rough draft of a three paragraph telling of an emergency that happened to him. It was nearly perfect which amazed me (he hadn't started IEW yet so this was just 'off the top of his head' writing). I pointed out a few changes to make and he made them quickly and without complaint. On the next assignment everything I'd taught him was internalized and was used automatically so that rough draft needed just a few grammar corrections. The formatting with the introduction and all that stuff was being used without any reminder.

My younger son thrives when he knows what work is expected of him. He likes to be told what to do as he likes to know what I want from him. He gets a thrill from checking stuff off the list and doing the work. He loves the feeling of having finished. He has been begging for grades on papers and when I don't do it, he does it himself. (He learned of grading from reading Calvin and Hobbes when he was six years old and saw the teacher's papers with the grades. He also begs for the minus or plus on the letter grade, a numerical grade with a percent 24/25 is not acceptable he wants it also written as 96% with the letter grade. I roll my eyes at this but give him what he asks for.

At first I was annoyed that my son wanted lists as I felt life should flow more organically and I wanted them to think that learning is never 'finished' since they are homeschooling. However I then remembered that many adults, me included, feel better about themselves when they know what's expected and they like to feel a sense of completion and that they are "done for the day" and can relax. So why would I not like that my child feels that way? Remember kids are just younger people; they often have the same core feelings and drives as adults. You may say "he's homeschooled so he shouldn't crave grades as that's a school thing" but says who? Wanting to feel "finished" so he can allow himself to relax and have fun is something that has nothing to do with school or homeschooling; it's something that some adults not in school at present feel every day.

With my younger son I am having trouble finding a good balance. I want to give him challenging work but not so much that he burns out. I want him to enjoy being a kid. Then again I don't want to give him little mental stimulation so that he is unchallenged and bored intellectually. Some days he says he wants to be a doctor to find a cure for Cancer and other days he says he wants to be a dentist like his grandfather was. If these are going to be options he really prepares for he is going to have to do hard work in grades 8-12. That's just two years away, not so far away, so I could start filling gaps now rather than waiting until the last minute.

Then again, the thing that has most interested him since he was really young is the military. He knows little about the military but says he wants to be an Air Force pilot, he thinks. When I'd asked about being a commercial airlines pilot instead, he showed little interest. He seems drawn to the military. My greatest fear is of course, that he'd enroll and lose his life while serving our country. Therefore I have asked my husband to stop encouraging him about that path. My husband suggested attending a military academy. If that is the path then a rigorous college prep program is still called for.

In seeking balance in my son's life, I need to consider the socialization, since he's such an extrovert. I make sure that my son sees friends and neighbors to play with enough. He plays a spring travel sport and this year we supported that with extra practice the entire fall and winter. He just finished Cub Scouts and is now a Boy Scout so he sees friends there and now goes camping for weekends without a parent chaperone so he's enjoying some freedom away from my husband and me.

I see myself in this son of mine which is a bit scary. I say that because he has some of the traits that I've been trying to temper or reform for years. It's not easy to change the way one's mind works! He's Mr. Cynic and Mr. Realist and even a bit more critical than I like to see in others (or myself). I see myself in his personality, in his ease with school work, and in his social life. If possible he'd be with friends 24/7. He's one of those people who would prefer to never be alone, to have a pal with him all the time. All the kids around here are so over-scheduled (even the schooled kids) that it is hard to find kids who have time to just play.

I remember how when I was his age: I had a full weekend sleepover every single weekend. My best friend and I alternated weekends but more often we were at my house as I didn't live with an evil stepmother like she did who she was happy to get away from (our imperfect family was like The Waltons compared to hers). The two of us also slept at other friend's houses with larger groups. This pattern continued with my best friend for four years, until she moved out of town and we went our separate directions. I loved that independence as well has having a very best friend that was glued to my hip as well as a small group of best girlfriends who had fun and had no friend-drama between us. Who the friends were shifted between middle school and high school but I always had a very close group of friends.

One of the reasons I tolerate the inconvenience of sleepovers about once every 2-4 weeks is that I remember the fun it was for me. I want both of my kids to be able to see their friends. With everyone so busy with school and homework or with homeschooling and homeschool co-op and that homework and with extra-curriculars it is hard for kids to see enough of each other without a sleepover. So here we are hosting sleepovers frequently.

My younger son also has been asking to start a business for almost two years. I had a talk with him yesterday about his idea for a t-shirt business. He wants to design his own designs to put onto shirts. I told him about Cafe Press and if he designs something it can easily be given to Cafe Press and they will handle all the order taking and producing the items and the shipping. He was thrilled at the whole production, payment and shipping part being handled by someone else.

I told my son that my father craved being in the real world and working when he was a teen so badly, and how he felt school was irrelevant to his life so he dropped out of high school. I told my son I don't want him feeling that academics are worthless. (Another challenge with that son is he is uninterested in academics. No matter how good the documentary or museum visit or the book or whatever it is we do he says he really doesn't care about learning about that topic. He does the work asked of him but never really enjoys it or is curious to learn more.)

I told my son that he is smart and good at school work and if he were to enter school he'd do just fine. I told him that there is no reason to wait until adulthood to start a business. As long as he can keep up with his schoolwork I will let him start a business right now. He was so excited he got to work immediately making some designs using computer software.

I thought that by homeschooling the eldest child that I'd have learned all I needed to know to homeschool the second one. However I know kids are different and they are individuals. I don't do "one size fits all" homeschooling, I customize my kid's education. Thus I feel I'm still learning as I go along with my younger son.

I don't have it all figured out but I'm sure trying my hardest to make it up as we go along.

1 comment:

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

What a great article, Christine! Thanks for reminding me to keep my own children's personalities/learning styles/desires/dreams/etc. in perspective as we travel this road!