Help me find the right direction (kinda long) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 02-23-2011, 10:44 AM - Thread Starter
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DS1 just turned 5, and we have been "practicing" homeschooling for the last 6 months or so (obviously parents "home school" from birth, but I mean intentional, directed learning).  I've known we would homeschool almost since I was pregnant with him, and have done a decent amount of research on the subject, and thought I had a good plan to use an eclectic approach.  But, as is often the case with parenting, theories don't seem to materialize the way we envision them during research.  I realized last week that my plan is not going to work.  I am, by nature or by learning, an organized learner.  I like to sit down with a subject and devote myself to it wholly until I feel I have exhausted the subject or come to a conclusion with it, and then I move on.  This method served me well through 18 years of school (I have a Master's degree), and so has been reinforced until I have trouble thinking of any other way to learn.  I have discovered that my son does not learn this way, though.  I believe he observes and absorbs information, practicing noncommittally, until he suddenly displays mastery of the skill.  This is the way he learned to talk, and I think it's the way he's learning math as well.  That's all fine, but I'm having trouble reconciling my desire to "teach" him with his inability to sit still and focus on any one topic for any length of time.  My family (and DH) think I should simply enforce "school time", and they expect me (and DS) to be able to discuss what we learned throughout the week.  DS is a very smart kid, likes working with patterns, addition, and hands-on stuff.  He LOVES "experiments" which he uses to describe almost any hands-on project we try in the kitchen.  But he can't seem to focus very effectively.  I feel like that's a skill he should learn, but I don't really want to use "school" to teach him for fear it will make "school" a chore/unpleasant for him. 


I came to this realization when we took a car trip to Florida for a funeral, and afterward I thought it would be a great lesson to get on Google Earth and do some geography, looking at the places we went, and also discussing topics of place (distances, concepts of Earth, ocean, continents, countries, states, towns...).  He was interested for all of about 3 minutes before asking if we were finished and could he go play a game.  I know kids his age don't have long attention spans, and that's fine, but how can he learn anything in 3 minutes?  I guess what I'm looking for here is some support and some suggestions as to methods or strategies that may work to make me feel like I'm being a good homeschooling mom, and him feel like he's learning fun things at his own pace.  I think he leans toward unschooling (which needs to be re-named, by the way), but I don't know that I'm disciplined enough to really do that.  I am also dealing with a 7 month-old, and a tight budget, both of which can complicate homeschooling.  I'll admit, I'm not good at preparing ahead of time for lessons/crafts, either, and would appreciate any advice about how busy moms accomplish this on a regular basis.  I don't want to resort to a "canned" curriculum at this point, either.



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#2 of 10 Old 02-23-2011, 11:34 AM
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He may come to learn similarly to you, but for now he is five.  Five year olds do tend to learn better through movement and hands-on learning.  Play and creative expression is also important.  


For your google earth example, I think you were including him in the part that should have been considered "prep time".  In third grade, or so, he might start wanting to do that part too.  But for now, I would have done the prep and then given him a "scavenger hunt" on the map to find Florida.  I would have him trace the path on the map, count the number of states you would travel through, etc.  Then, go play.  Later (may on the trip) have him be on the lookout for certain landmarks.  Print out pictures of them before hand.  Let him check off a list.  Take rests at locations with potential appeal.  


I have to go pick up my dd.  I will try to get back to finish my thoughts.


OK, I am back.  

I wanted to add that if you were to ask a public school kid "what did you learn/do today?" you would probably get "I don't knows" or "nothing" or "nothing fun" or "stuff" from them.  I think it is a high expectation that your five year old would be able to summarize what he is doing/learning.  


I do think that you could give "highlights" of the day if that helps.  You might even say, "wow, we learned a lot about xyz today.  Ds, show dad what we did."  He could then show an art project, the results of an experiment, or something else.  Also, to help other adults (any you too), create a list of "learning goals".  When you work on one, make note of it.  Addition can be worked on while playing a game (so can lots of things).  Your son doesn't need to "know" that he is working on math.  


If you want him to get into a bit of routine with "sit down work", you might explore the workboxes concept.  Many families on this board use them with success.  At 5, I would only expect 15-20 mins of this.  I might have a schedule that looked like this:

15 min.  Some "calendar" ritual ie "circle time"--obviously not a real circle with one child, but any routine that would signal the beginning of "school" time.  You might do jumping jacks while singing a song about the months and have him look at the calendar to find out what day of the week it it.  Have him fill out the weather info on a chart.  (whatever it is--this shouldn't be desk time). 

15 min.  Game. . . (plan ahead, give him a choice of 2/3 games).  UNO, shut the box, fish, memory, etc.

5 min.  math worksheet or other desk work

15 min.  (Free time-- I don't make them clean up after free time since they might go back soon)

5 min.  handwriting worksheet or other desk work

15 min (Free time)

5 min.  Final worksheet (maze or hidden picture) or other desk work

15 min.  Hands on with mom!  Cooking or experiment or art

15-30 min.  Reading time/snuggling with mom


Obviously, this is just one of many examples.  But, many kids function very well with a routine.  I might also let him choose to do all his desk work at once and then give him the Free time combined afterwards.  This can be adjusted to work around baby naps/nursing/etc.  If you notice--there is only 15 min desk time, but plenty of learning.  With the structure, it would be easy for you to recount what he "learned" today.  The rest of the day can be spent playing (and learning through that of course).  Anything extra, is just gravy.  So, if on the trip to Florida, he sees the space museum--he will learn a lot, but that would be "gravy" just like it would for a public school kid.



Mom to three very active girls Anna (14), Kayla (12), Maya (8). 
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#3 of 10 Old 02-23-2011, 02:05 PM
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My 7yo boy still has a short attention span.  It's certainly gotten better in the last 9 months, but still.  Most things have to be hands-on.  Or when I'm reading out loud to him, he needs blocks to fiddle with or a small dry-erase board to draw while he listens.  It's hard for me to read to him from the encyclopedia or some of the other books we've got that he really needs to at least look at the pages to see what I'm talking about.  There's no way this child could have even focused on our things last year, let alone two years ago.  Takes time for then to grow up and mature, and I'm okay with waiting for the maturity of mine to catch up before really going after things.

I know my kids have a tendency to bristle at being told it's *just* school time and that's all there is to it.  Sometimes I'll read a little to all of them during the day.  Sometimes we'll pull out the globe and they pick things to click on and such.  About all we've got "scheduled" is school time the 7yo and sometimes the 4yo and I do at night.  I do some of our read-alouds as bedtime stories to kinda help them wind down.  Plus the younger ones are in bed, which makes it less loud and zoo-like.  ;)

I still have people trying to grill/drill the older boys.  Like their way of making sure my children are learning.  Sigh.  I usually make a comment to the effect of telling them the kids aren't trained monkeys.

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(If you're curious, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2010, and yes, it's a busy house)
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#4 of 10 Old 02-23-2011, 04:29 PM
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My dd just turned 5 in December and I'm not planning on doing any lessons with her until the fall when she'll be 5.75, and even then my plan is maybe just 30 minutes of a circle time (songs, game, fingerplays, story) and 30 mins. of puzzle time afterward, where we do maze/hidden picture/logic puzzles and jigsaw puzzles or something.  We're going to read some good chapter books, do lots of crafts, and play.  I'm going to use Little Acorn Learning and Seasons of Joy for circle ideas.  LAL has 2 free samples on their website if you want to check them out.  Essentially they are monthly e-books with story/craft ideas.  Maybe something not as structured as a canned curriculum but a little less open than just unschooling would be a good fit.  I think it will be for us.


I think it may be helpful to reframe how you view "school time" at this age.  I agree with a pp in regard to the scavenger hunt/Florida trip thing.  Looking on Google earth doesn't excite me even as a near 30 year old.  My dd isn't allowed on the computer, so I don't know if she'd like it or not.  I doubt she'd really "get" was I trying to teach her, though, because being flat on a screen it just doesn't mesh with the 3-D world in which she lives.  The way I "teach" something like the ocean is to visit one or pretend we're going there.  We just did a pretend vacation to Hawaii last week, and "saw" volcanoes.  I see no reason why dd needs to know the names of all the oceans at age 5 so I just tell her there are others besides the one we're visiting and leave it at that.  I think having some realistic "goals" for this age might be helpful--like learn to write full name, all capital letters, numbers 0-20, tie shoes, dress self, understand the seasons and weather.  Kindergarteners are still really little people.


If anyone started drilling my child, I'd just step in and mention a few of the cool things we do (this is one of the reasons I've just started a blog--to get people to lay off) and move on.  I wouldn't expect my child to recall her day.  I think any attempt at more structure is going to backfire on you.  Hope you find a balance that will work!

Allison:  a little bit Waldorf, a little bit Medievalish, and always"MOMMMMYYYY!" to sweet Cecily since 12.22.05
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#5 of 10 Old 02-24-2011, 10:54 AM
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What works for my kids (currently 6 and 7) is doing their work rather than us spending a lot of time with me "teaching."  "Teaching" goes on in very very short bursts related directly to the work right in front of them. 


So for my son who just turned six, today he did swim team in the morning; for "school" he did two Kumon 2nd grade workbook pages (these books don't "teach" except through progressive problems so he will ask for help if he doesn't understand), traced his full name four times in cursive (actually that's what I assigned him, but he ended up tracing it three times and then doing it on his own below that, which was fine and gave him pleasure), and checked off 2 Rosetta Stone Spanish sements.  He asks questions as needed.  He read Calvin and Hobbes for pleasure.  He is playing outside for a while.  Then he is planning to play Wii, and at 5pm he has gymnastics team.


Tomorrow in the morning we are going ice skating at a rink 30 minutes away.  I would like him to practice his piano before we go.  He will listen to Book 1 of A History of US for an hour -- to and from the rink.  Then lunch.  He will check off two more Rosetta Stone segments, and probably do two more pages of math, and work on two cursive letter sheets.  He should be done with that by about 2:30 and since swim is cancelled tomorrow he will have the rest of the day off.


One year ago today, when he was your son's age ... academics were different but sort of the same idea.  He had less math problems per day and they were simpler.  E.g., he might have to do two lines of ten single-digit addition and that was math.  Or he might play on Jumpstart first grade math for his math.  We didn't start Rosetta Stone until he was about 5y2m but we did try a little HOP Spanish computer program so he might have played on that a year ago.  He was doing some printing copywork.  I believe we were still having "reading lessons" at that point where he read to me in the morning from McGuffey's for a few pages each school day. 


So you see, you start with a little work and then just kind of evolve it into a little more work gradually.  It helps if I can throw out something good we will do as soon as they finish their school work.  That can keep them going in a good frame of mind towards completion.

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#6 of 10 Old 02-24-2011, 01:26 PM
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I haven't had a chance to read through other responses yet - am running in a hurry - but a couple of thoughts jumped up right away. You described the way he learns, and that's what I found with my own son as well. It worked well all the way through for him. I started out thinking I was going to be a wonderful teacher - had been through teacher training and some time in classrooms, and had done a lot of research as well as closely observing in the Waldorf school he'd been in for kindergarten, so I was rarin' to go. But it took little time to come to the same observations you've come to. So - the thing was to let go of my own desire to teach and to get out of his way. That didn't mean I was not involved - there were a whole lot of interesting things I introduced, provided, and shared along the way, but I let go of the teaching part. He thrived! And the best thing about all this is that they grow up with the inner fire and confidence in knowing they can learn whatever they want/need to learn. So I'd suggest putting your eagerness to teach into another creative outlet - maybe even one you can eventually share with him. Seeing you engaged in a satisfying hobby or driving interest can be inspiring and a good example for him.

The geography lesson jumped out at me too. A five year old doesn't really have a need for all that information, and it wasn't something he had any curiosity about. All that can come along in plenty of time to make any difference in his overall education about the world  - but those are things that even children in school don't get into until a lot later. When you consider that a five year old has little attention span in the first place, it's just not realistic to feel a need to expand on his experiences with lessons or focus on learning more. I'm not following what you mean about the possibility that you're not disciplined enough to be good at unschooling - it seems to me you're already thinking in terms of expanding his world, keeping your eyes open for things around you and the interest he has in them, and he has the curiosity and ability to inhale information, so you're all set.


I really wouldn't recommend practicing homeschooling, by the way - it pretty much tends to not work, and that's because it's a little like practicing violin without the bow, or practicing skiing without the slope, in that you're practicing something that you're not really doing. So how could it possibly work? All it can do is frustrate you and give you the impression it's going to be difficult when the time comes. Right now, I'd suggest just letting him be free to do the things that normally drive a five year old - he really doesn't need to be educated beyond his impetus to play and imagine, and your companionship for sharing the world and wonders right there around him.

Back later. :)   Lillian

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#7 of 10 Old 02-25-2011, 11:24 AM
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wow - lillian, you are stunning! i love the picture you added & it is so cool to finally see a face with a name!  i know that's completely off-topic, lol....sorry!


OP, you've gotten great advice! smile.gif

homeschooling mama to DD 10 & DS 7 blogging.jpg

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#8 of 10 Old 02-25-2011, 03:48 PM
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lol.gif  Well, thank you! I really need to get one together one of these days that shows the lines and wrinkles.   Lillian

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#9 of 10 Old 02-25-2011, 05:50 PM
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i could have written a lot of your post in that my oldest is about to turn 5, i have a baby (5.5mo, and between them a 2.75 yr old) and a masters degree & similar learning style .. my DD has a similar attention span & we recently drove to florida (weird, right? lol) anyway.. on our trip i a map & highlighted our route, got a states coloring book from the dollar store and photocopied the states we were going through & when we got to them she colored them on a clip board in the car we talked about state birds/flowers etc - i feel like we accomplished a lot..

- Staci, Mommy to Mollie (3/06), Jamie (5/08), Annie (9/10) and Bently (2/13) chicken3.gif
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#10 of 10 Old 02-26-2011, 11:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Wow, thanks to everyone for the great advice.  I especially appreciate the example schedule, AAK, and the philosophies and suggestions are all really appreciated.  I guess I've been feeling lost, and needed some grounding from others who've BTDT with success.  I haven't found a good homeschooling group yet, and don't feel like I have a lot of support from anyone I know.  My mother is supportive, but lives out of state, and I feel kinda judged by everyone else.  I know I should just ignore it and be secure in the knowledge that I'm doing the best for my kids, but I really want/need DH's full approval, and it would be nice not to feel insecure when the subject of school comes up.  Your posts help me to that goal.  Thanks, ladies!!

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