organizing

All of H’s books have arrived, L’s should be in next week. I had a stack of school books ready to topple over next to my desk. Spelling, grammar, math books in two languages, French books galore. Paper, notebooks, dictionaries. Pencils, colored pencils, erasers, pens and extra ink. It was seriously getting out of hand.

This weekend we made a spur of the moment trip to Ikea.

shelvingOh, don’t be fooled. Those boxes are empty. How to organize all the supplies and extra school things (I despise the word “manipulatives” and will never again use it on this blog) in those boxes is a task I’ve yet to take on.  But it’s taking form.

We’re getting organized and it’s a good feeling.

How to learn how to learn. Or teach.

Tons of problems face us.  Well, mostly K and the boys.  But overall, how to learn how to learn and teach.

I get the impression we have worried too much about what to teach.  What curricula.  What book.  What subjects.  All right, the list of subjects is pretty important.  We are seeing a repeat of what we saw five years ago in searching the online home school community.  That is, the mind-numbing amount of rubbish available to be taught to kids for religious reasons.

It seems pretty clear to me that people who teach their own spawn at home for reasons of quality education are in the minority of those who do this.  What this means to K is that she has to wade through, in engineering terms, a significant amount of noise to get to any useful signal.

That is one of the main purposes for this blog.  We are secular.  Atheist.  We have no interest in teaching our boys dogmatic mythology.  You will find none of that around here.  We aim to have a very high signal to noise ratio, indeed.

K has her first little taste of what is to come, this week.  The boys are off for the next five days.  H has some mathematics homework he needs to master by next Monday.  Simple enough stuff, multiplication and division.  Except for some small, absolutely vital details:

They have not even discussed the idea of the associative property of numbers.  H has no idea that A x B is always the same as B x A.  Accordingly, he doesn’t just instantly know that 2 x 6 = 6 x 2 = 12.  Instead, they are simply expecting him to memorize those equations, and others like it.

Dammit, once you know these rules of arithmetic, they work to solve all problems.  Once he knows that rule, he can work with any size equation of that form.

For us, we have to analyze and try and figure out why this homework assignment isn’t simply obvious to him and discover what he is lacking to understand it.  I actually expect we will have to regress a bit with both boys to rebuild foundations they have probably not been given.

why?

We’ve owned this domain for years. Even had about a year’s worth of blog posts up, detailing our efforts to teach our then kindergartener.

Said kindergartener is now ten years old and just finishing up grade four in the local (Belgian) school. It was a difficult decision, putting him in school, but at that time the need to be fluent in French trumped all else. My French is pretty good – better and better every year – but I’m not fluent. He is.

L is doing… fine in public school. Better than fine, I suppose. He’s at the top of his class. Even with the teaching being in his second language, he rarely bats an eye over the work. It’s easy for him. Therein lies problem number one. Or rather, problem number two, as his younger brother is really the reason for us dusting off the old blog. But I’ll get there. Anyway, L is, in my opinion, completely unchallenged by the schoolwork he is given. And there seems to be no encouragement to do more: there are no library books coming home weekly from school, no extra assignments or challenges or enrichment activities. While he’s waiting for the others in the class to catch up, he sits. He takes books from home to fill the empty time, but since doing nothing is perfectly acceptable, more often than not that is exactly what he does. Nothing.

L’s younger brother, H, is just finishing first grade. It has been a hard, hard year. I’ll rant on about this in later posts, but suffice it to say H did NOT draw the golden ticket when it came to teachers. Academically, he’s doing fine. Emotionally, he’s a wreck. He thinks (and says) that he is stupid and the worst boy in the class. The teacher complains about his behavior every time we interact – he looks out the window, he hums while he does his work, he fidgets in his seat, he doesn’t want to do his work. In my opinion this is pretty standard six year old boy behavior, but she expects a different standard. My fears about my kid being “the problem” have been greatly alleviated by speaking with the other parents, all of whom have had extremely negative comments from this teacher as well. Regardless, H has gone from being excited about the coming school year and wanting to please his teacher to thinking he’s stupid and not caring one iota. He has told me, “If I do my work, but make mistakes, she yells at me. If I do nothing at all, she yells at me. Why should I do anything if she’s going to yell at me no matter what?”

It’s been a rough year, and I’ve contemplated pulling him out and homeschooling him about a dozen times over the school year. The clincher came about two weeks ago, when I received this stunning bit of news: H’s teacher would be moving from the first grade to the second with her class. Parent requests for a different teacher are not accepted.

That made the decision simple, really. H can’t take, I can’t take, another year with this teacher. The stress is unbearable. Frankly, I don’t think a different teacher would help at this point. He has such a negative opinion of school and of himself as a student at the moment, I feel he needs a complete reset. So that’s what we’re going to give him. A complete reset.

So, for H, the decision was made. Homeschool. But what about L? He was, as I said, doing fine. Yes, he’d probably do better, go further, be more engaged if he was home, working at his own pace and pursuing his own interests, but he was fine. Except that fine isn’t the education I envisioned for my son. And so, for L as well, the decision has been made. Homeschool.

There is a third reason – let’s call it logistical – but that isn’t something we’re ready to share publicly just yet.

So, that’s the why of our homeschooling story. Next step? Cementing the how.