Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Homeschooling Looks Like

I think the rarest commodity among homeschoolers is published reports of what a homeschooling day really looks like. I also think it's a commodity in high demand. Homeschoolers want to know what their fellow homeschoolers do. Thinking-of-homeschooling-maybe types no doubt want to know. Possibly, those who wouldn't homeschool if you paid them would like to read it, for voyeuristic reasons.

There are a few reasons why this may be:

1) Days vary. They are not the same in one household.

2) It's hard to streamline the information. It quickly becomes baffling if you say, "Then, the 5th grader does English and Spelling, the 2nd grader does English and Phonics, but doesn't take as long as the 5th grader and, meanwhile, I'm juggling poster paint, smocks and water changes for the preschooler."

3) You can't win for the scrutiny. If you sound really on the ball, some people will say, "You're too pushy; try unschooling!", or, "Don't you think they're too young to learn that?", or, "That's why I could never homeschool!", or, "You LIE! Nobody can do all that!". If you sound really laid-back, they will say, "You mean you're not teaching Science every day?", or, "This sounds like educational neglect." or, "When will they ever learn to diagram a sentence?". Other people's expectations: Sheesh!

But, I thought it would be fun to summarize a day for you. Here's kind of, generally, what Monday is like around here. I picked Monday because that is the most consistent day all school year.

I get up around 6:30am, but don't be too impressed; I don't do devotions or anything else remarkable. I lay like broccoli in front of the news until the coffee kicks in.

The kids are more or less free to sleep, but 8:30 is about as late as I can stand anyone to still be in bed. Collin and Mason are just about always up long by then. Kyla - hardly ever.

We start schoolwork around 9:30am. No, we don't say the pledge or sing Bible songs for 1/2 hour together, although that's perfectly nice for others if they do it. Typically, we do sit-down schoolwork in the playroom; both the big kids have desks. Little man has an ugly plastic desk that used to be a Fischer Price highchair. Not that it matters, because he's never been known to sit in it for more than 2 minutes at a time.

Kids do Math first. Monday mornings is a new concept, so they each watch an instructional DVD before their lesson. (I have a portable player with headphones.) It is not uncommon for me to be scoring 3 days worth of last week's math now. :) I am also just now filling in their weekly plan books with what I hope to accomplish! After the video, they do two pages of Math. Hopefully, they won't drag it out for two hours. If they are on the ball and understood the lesson, this may take 20-40 minutes.

Kids do English second. Kyla has an English worktext from Bob Jones University, Spelling Power and Literature. Collin has English worktext from BJU, Explode the Code Phonics, Reading practice and Literature. Kyla does most of this independently, except for being given her spelling words. Literature is any book of her choosing; she reads extensively. Collin needs frequent input on English subjects and cannot do them all independently. Literature may be a book of his choosing or it may be mine. I usually read it aloud to him.

Commonly, it is nearly lunch time by now. Mason may have done any one of 1,000 things during this time, not all of them desirable. Generally, he plays, draws, paints, plays with sand or watches a video while we do schoolwork, but believe me when I tell you, this is THE hardest facet of homeschooling for us right now. He doesn't play quietly, independently. He doesn't play quietly with others.

We have a long lunch time, because it's not too worthwhile to try and get everyone re-organized only to stop again when it's time for Mason to take a nap. He goes down for a nap at 2:00, with much fanfare. I read to him and play music.

After he's asleep, we do Social Studies and Science. (But not always; sometimes I just go blog!) These may be based on a book, a DVD, a project or activity. I'm really bored with our Science right now, frankly. I'm sick to death of rocks. And I haven't even opened that whole Creation vs. Evolution can of worms I meant to do this year. The kids also practice the piano (we have headphones) and do their chores. After that, they can do whatever. Computer, trampoline and bike riding are Collin's favorites. Computer, drawing or playing the piano are Kyla's favorites.

Dad often gets home between 4:00-5:00pm; I realize we're lucky like that! Collin likes to join Dad outside until dinner. We eat around 5:45 on Monday nights, because Kyla and Collin leave for piano lessons at 6:15. Although, last night it was more like 6:02, because I didn't get the potatoes on early enough. So, we had a lesson in speed-eating. ;)

Everyone is supposed to shower and brush their teeth around 8:00-8:30; Mason goes to bed, but not simply. Kyla and Collin take care of their rabbit and hamster, respectively. Kyla often reads for much later than I'd like to broadcast to everyone. I often read to Collin after Mason has gone to sleep.

And then, I have a few lovely hours to do whatever I like until I collapse!

So, there you have it: a typical day. Except that no day is typical and every other day of the week has a different rhythm. So, now, whisper amongst yourselves your evaluations! Just don't tell
me what you think!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mason's Diagnosis

Well, now that we finally went to our appointment at the prestigious neuro-developmental center in Baltimore and endured the two-hour analysis of our son, we learn that he suffers from.....nothing. Difficult Child Syndrome. Parenting Effectiveness Deficit Disorder. Something along those lines.

They say he's normal. So, why do I still feel that nagging concern at the back of my mind like you get when you're on a flight to Orlando and can't remember if you unplugged the iron before you left? I just don't think I managed to communicate my concerns. At one point, the psychologist (or whatever her title actually is) asked how I would discipline him if he kicked someone. I didn't answer that effectively, mostly because he doesn't go around kicking people. I think when I said, "I'm not really sure
what I would do...", she figured she had arrived at the problem. Just teach these people how to manage a 3-year-old and everything will be fine.

I knew it was going wrong when she was describing a Time-Out method and stated that, "Struggling against a time-out shouldn't continue beyond about three times with this method." HAAAAAA! If Mason's behavior shaped up in ANY respect after the third time of managing the problem, it would be a miracle! That was the whole point of why I think there's a problem!

I was also disquieted when I read the report, which states, "Mason's parents feel that he is a much more difficult child to raise than their other two children." This is true, but is not the point! A more accurate statement would have been, "Mason's parents feel that he is a much more difficult child to raise THAN MOST."

Her phone number is on the bottom of the report, along with an invitation to contact her "anytime". I'm tempted. But I also just want to forget about it for now.

I feel like I wasted time off on rabbit trails about time-outs and how to do them effectively when I should have been telling her every single wacky thing he does that I can think of. Why do I still have to heed the "Choking Hazard: Not for Children Under 3 Years of Age" warning? Can't give Mason small pieces! Why can't he play with toys that have more than, say, six pieces? In 3 minutes or less, he will throw them pointlessly all over the place. Why do I still give him mostly board books? Because he destroys books with paper pages! Why does he shout out for no apparent reason? Sometimes "obscenely"; i.e., 'Poopies!' Why does he relish the dog food? Why does he draw on his face? Why does he eat crayons? Why did I find him with pushpins in his mouth a week ago? Why does he cry about the same things a zillion times, even though he knows it will change nothing? Why does he binge or starve like Ashley Olsen, rather than just eat a little food at each meal?

I feel quite lost about the whole thing. I'm glad he's not considered on the autism spectrum. I'm pretty amazed they didn't pin him with ADHD. I'm relieved they didn't have their prescription pad handy. But I'm frustrated to have no explanation for Mason's behavior. I'm left again to gritting through it, waiting for him to grow out of it and a improving my discipline technique, as if I haven't been disciplining him all along.

Two good things that came out of the appointment: 1) I know he is intellectually normal; and 2) I discovered how much he likes to have a useful job. She encouraged me to give him work to do. This is most definitely good for him. If he puts all the napkins in the hamper after dinner and I tell him what a good helper he is, he is radiant. Pity I can't do that ten hours a day.

He is so blessed cute with those blue eyes like early April mornings. But, God is he exhausting! This is my one, rare admission about something with homeschooling being hard. It is hard to occupy him in a meaningful way while we're doing schoolwork, because he has the attention span of a gnat. I could spend 17 minutes getting him set up to paint the next poster paint masterpiece, but it's only buying me three minutes of actual freedom. And then I have to clean up. Except that today, I was doing this "give him a job" strategy, so I let him waste a load of paper towels cleaning up his spilled murky water himself.

It makes me burn with curiosity about the Duggars, or other families even a mere half the size at eight homeschooling kids. Yeah, I know they have the whole "buddy system" and that Maxwell Chart from Hell hanging on the wall that tells everybody what they are supposed to be doing at a given time. But, honestly, out of 17 kids, didn't they get a hard one along the line? I only have two other children to help and they mostly do their main work independently. But still. Kyla needs me sitting right with her for math at the moment. And Collin needs that for English. And Mason needs some sort of intervention every blessed nanosecond. How do the Duggars do it? Maybe when the last kid is up and out, if they can still write, they will explain it all. But by then it will be moot for me, darn it.