Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Homeschooling update: How it's going part 1

Not too long ago, I wrote up a long post on how I was reformatting our homeschooling system.

And it's time for a follow up, now that we've been trying it for a while. I say trying because we've not been entirely successful. I'm just too random and scatterbrained and unscheduled to do everything I planned. I also have an extremely difficult time stopping the kids from working on legitimate projects (like creating creative content for publication on a public wiki online) in order to learn more about mummies. It's not that there's anything wrong with mummies. It's just that if they're already doing self-motivated educational things that help develop their talents, tap into their interests, and bring them great satisfaction, how can I justify stopping that? It's not like this is the only time they're going to hear about mummies! Or three-digit addition with no carrying, for that matter.

Besides, would I want someone to make me stop working on my project (novel, website, blog, quilt, or whatever) to clean the toilets? No.

So, if you remember, I had set aside 8 supposedly half-hour activities for each day.

Here is where we're at on those:

I have switched from Time4Learning as our core curriculum to Head of the Class because is free, it is actually EASIER (thanks to the parent dashboard and student profile pages) to customize each child's education (and I have TONS more control over what's going on, from what lessons they do, to how many times they get repeated, to what we skip that still can be counted as "Done"), and it's engaging enough. Plus, the kids and I have appreciated that we get the worksheet and I can explain the concept to them as quickly as they can grasp it. We don't have to sit through the animated lesson in order to check off that we know it.  Dan refused to learn to read with Time4Learning because he is absolutely NOT interested in phonemics, and with the Head of the Class he jumped right in and within about an hour was reading.  The math is very straightforward (thankfully!), and I can control how fast or slow we go, and if we use the parent guide to teach it or if we just go for it on our own.  Also, it never tells the child what grade they're working in--it just provides the lessons for them--so there is none of that pressure (either to catch up or to get ahead). It's just all learning, and presented in a fun way.

The being able to go ahead if we understand and still have things marked off is SIGNIFICANT for us because profoundly gifted kids have a knack for grasping the whole lesson with the first sentence and then really truly not needing all that repetition that most kids need. So being able to skip things and just teach them quickly myself has been WONDERFUL. Also, while the Head of the Class is a little skimpy on science and social studies, Time 4 Learning had practically none up to 2nd grade either, and Head of the Class includes geography, music lessons (which the kids are LOVING), Spanish, art (including movies lessons) and a category they call "fun" which ranges from cooking to short movies on worldwide landmarks. And they've divided (appropriately) Language Arts into vocabulary (which they call spelling), reading (skills-based), and writing (so far, mostly handwriting and illustrating sentences, but that's because we're in pre-K through 2 still). Even Caleb and Anda, who have been notorious around here for resisting starting school, are willing to just do it.

The only drawback so far has been that they only go K-2 so far, but their customer service is top notch, and the head of the company has assured me that they're aiming to go K-8, with more grades being released this year.

Head of the Class is pretty heavily worksheet-based. My laptop is the only computer hooked up to a printer right now, and I had a bunch of change-resistant children refusing to even try it when we started because they were doing Time4Learning (which was a joke because it had become a war every day to actually get anyone to log in and DO Time4Learning). So, the day I decided we were going to jump in and try it, I put one of the littler kids on my lap and said, "It's your turn." And we sat together and did the activities. It was engaging enough that everyone else ended up gathered around, fighting over whose turn was next. That first day we printed the worksheets and ended up with TONS of papers on the floor. So since then we work them on the screen (you can do this with a dry-erase marker on a traditional glass screen, or we just do them verbally and I have the kids write or draw one of what they were supposed to produce--"Draw a comma here" or "write an s" on a scratch paper to prove they know how) and don't print.

But the printer being connected only to the laptop actually started some very good things. For one thing, I've discovered that the kids respond really well to me just saying, "Anda, it's your turn." Or "Dan, it's your turn." We're flexible. If someone is involved in something, I let them keep at it and we do it at the same time (I know, the educators would have a fit, but it works for my PG and probably ADD kids to do 2 things at once) or we swap to someone else's turn for a minute. For another thing, we've all discovered the absolute joy of taking each child on my lap one at a time and holding them while we do lessons together for 10 minutes to half an hour (depending on what lessons and how much). It's really a cozy, fun, one-on-one time that doesn't take too long (like I was struggling with on other system's we've used). Plus the kids think it's cool to get to use my laptop with me.

So that's one thing that came out different and better than I planned.

More in part 2.

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