As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Great School Switchup - First Grade Edition

I wrote in my last post about my struggles with two distracted students, but my action plan focused on my nine year old.  Today I have the opportunity to test drive our new school day on my six-year-old as well, and I'd like to share some of the things I am trying with him.

While it's true that academics at this age are fairly basic, it is still excruciatingly frustrating to see this boy sit and stare off into space for long stretches of time, occupying his mind with anything that happens to pop into it except the task immediately before him.  Having the two students at the same time meant I was always focusing on my older student, and often I would only take notice of my little one after much time had passed, at which time the amount of work not done (and time wasted) seemed exponentially worse than it was.  I was frustrated, and this boy was getting the short end of the stick.  Too young to be expected to work independantly (especially with his personality), but taking second seat to an older brother with more demanding school work (and an equally demanding personality).

Today is our first run of the new system.  Which means at the moment, that my oldest is downstairs with the little ones while the other two students finish out their morning.  According to the schedule this is Math time, but I'm trying something different with Stephen.  There is a clear box for folders on the wall in front of his desk, and at the start of the day I put all of his workbooks into the box.  He can do them in whatever order he wishes, the only rules are that if he is going to sit at his desk, he must work, and that he must finish all of his work in all subjects (two pages per book) by supper time.  The consequence for not finishing will be that he must go to bed after supper, and as his desk is in our dining room the amount of work he has to do is plainly visible to us at all times of the day.  I'm hoping that the incentive to choose his work and to go at his own pace is enough for him to get some work done without so much frustration on my part.

So far this morning, things are going well.  He had finished he first subject on his own, and was well into Math by recess.  After recess he seemed to hit a slump, and when I noticed him sitting at his desk staring off into space (which is against the first rule that he must work if he is sitting at his desk) I offered him the option of either getting up and going to play, or choosing a different subject.  He happily switched his Math book out for his reader, and since my second grader was working quietly and the rest of the kids were downstairs, I had time to sit with him and actually work through it, something I had long put off because it's hard to read with a first grader while so much else is going on!  He tore through that, and is onto his next subject now.

Things are also going well for my second grader, Timothy, as he is currently the oldest child upstairs.  Once I got Stephen set up with his work, I was able to sit with Timothy and work through a lesson (and the corrections from his last lesson) with him.  It's been a long time since I did anything but drop his book in front of him and tell him to come find me if he has any questions.  He's such a good student and so smart, that I really depended on him being able to work through things himself, while I desperately tried to work through things with his older and younger brothers.

Stephen has taken a break now.  He still has three subjects to finish, but he knows that.  I will remind him throughout the day, and am hopeful that staggering his day this way helps him to make efficient use of his time, while still providing an incentive for him to finish work.  It's a tough road for me too, as someone who hates to leave anything unfinished, to accept the fact that sometimes a break is just what's needed.  Since forcing him to sit in his seat and work until he's finished has not worked, I'm willing to give it a try.

Timothy, as usual, is on track to finish his work by lunch time (hurray!) And Joseph has a productive half-morning under his belt, and will have the benefit of some real one-on-one time this afternoon as we take on his most difficult subject hopefully undisturbed.  I don't know if this will work, but if I'm learning anything about schooling my own kids it's this - that I need to be flexible.  I need to be willing to think outside the box of my own personality and learning style, and recognize that my kids have different ways of being motivated.  Sure it would be best if everyone sat and did school at a dedicated time in the morning, and I could feel great about the school day having a nice neat finish at noon for everyone.  But it just wasn't working.  And in fact, that was the very reason I started homechooling in the first place.  Because it was painfully clear that my son didn't fit into the mold of what was expected of students in the school system, and he rebelled against it.  I brought him home so that I could tailor his education to his learning style, to give him a positive learning environment in the hopes of encouraging him to be the best student he can be. I need to remember that now that they're all home.  They're not the same, and I need to be willing to search and explore the ways of learning that will bring out the best in them.  I'm certain that this is something I will need to revisit often, at each age and stage.  Maybe someday I will have the luxury of a common school day again.  But for now, I do my best to be child-focused and not self-focussed. I didn't choose this life because it's easy or convenient, I chose it because I believed it is what's best for my kids.  I need to stop striving for what's best for me and remember the reasons we got here in the first place.

Here's to happier learning, for all of us.

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