Thursday, July 14, 2011

Changing My Mind

My lovely, well-researched, well-thought-out plan for English is fading fast. Neither I nor my daughter are enjoying it much, and this is not a good thing. She even told the doctor today, during her 6-year-old checkup, that she didn't like reading. (On the plus side, she did say she liked math.)

I'm not sure exactly what the problem is. Perhaps it is the black and white workbook pages? Too many "problems" on each page? The Learning through Sounds II book does have a lot of fill-in-the-blank-letter words, for sound/letter recognition, on these first few pages in the workbook. Her handwriting has actually gotten better, though, so it's not as hard for her to write. Some of the hand-drawn pictures on the pages are hard to identify, and perhaps are a bit too Amish and farm related. The Climbing to Good English workbook is very similar, since they are made to go together. She loved the workbook the first few days, because of the dog mascot that appeared on every page. But it is perhaps too much of the same thing day after day? The Evan-Moor workbook pages we've tried are a little better, but are still black and white. They have very short lessons for each day, but I still encounter much resistance from my daughter, and a pouting attitude.

I did have a little success in changing her attitude the day I told her that if she didn't stop pouting, I'd give her more worksheets to do! She paused, then turned to me with a big smile plastered all over her face! It was a little fake, but she did cheer herself up, making things much more pleasant for me.

I'm pretty sure that the worksheet style and quantity has a little to do with her dislike, but I will confess that the majority of it is probably my approach to teaching it to her. I just cannot make myself nearly as exuberant teaching English as I can teaching, say, science. I tend to tell her what to do on the page as quickly as I can and then just tell her to do the page. Not the best teaching method. Some of it is my lack of interest in the subject, and my frustration with this basic level of education, and a lot of it is having to deal with my 2 and 3 year olds at the same time.

("Stop coloring on the desk! Don't take your sister's scissors! Sit down! No, not at my desk! Stop singing so loud! Stop grabbing your brother's cars! Stop grabbing your sister's hair! Stop crying! Stop! Stop!" - it really is quite constant sometimes.)

I still really like the concept of the Pathway readers, Climbing to Good English, and Learning through Sounds approach. The teacher guides have tons of good information about how to present the material, how to drill the students so they get everything they need to, in what order to teach things, etc. I love the back-to-basics approach, with wholesome, moral beliefs intertwined in the material. I love the inexpensive price for all that you get. I think this course of study would still be really good for many homeschool teachers, and has the potential to be used well with multiple grades. But I think the parent/teacher must still be a good, willing teacher in order to engage the child. The teacher guides talk about this, and show how to do this, but I find myself skipping too many of those parts due to time constraints and lack of interest (on my part, that is). It is not doing my daughter much good, and is driving me crazy, so I am sorrowfully acknowledging that our plans must change.

What If You Don't Like to Teach?

So, what is my plan now? If you have read my blog from the beginning, you might recall that my first thoughts when deciding to homeschool were to use distance learning videos, such as from A Beka Academy (so I'm not really changing my mind, right - just returning to my original mind!). I thought they might be the only way I could homeschool, since I knew I didn't really like teaching. I moved away from that when I started researching curriculum more and found so many other wonderful resources available. I moved away from A Beka when I talked with several friends who had either been taught themselves with A Beka, or were using A Beka with their own children (the textbooks, not the videos). None of them liked it. Too much drill and repetition, too boring, too dry - they had other complaints, but those were probably the main ones. The videos also had bad reviews, as they are just cameras set up in the back of classrooms. Too much time spent listening to other children responding to questions, too long, too much like regular school, etc. My daughter thought the sample videos online were cool (she liked the school atmosphere, I think), but I think she would soon tire of listening to the repetition of other students.

Other places have distance learning videos, primarily for jr high and high school, with several different math programs, some science ones (mostly secular), and classical rhetoric and logic and discussion classes teaching literature and history. Many of these sound wonderful (and expensive), but they are not for early elementary. There are also online game-type sites that are for elementary ages, but they are more supplementary than primary for teaching. There are also co-ops that teach for 1-3 days a week, with the parent doing the rest at home, but these focus on science, literature, and history, leaving the basics of reading, English, and math for the parent - exactly the opposite of what I want! (kinda ironic that I named my site “Teaching the 3 Rs,” huh?)

Bob Jones also has distance learning videos for 4-year-olds through 12th grade which have much more wonderful reviews. They have engaging teachers who address your student directly, with props, field trips, puppets for the younger ages, etc. Their entire curriculum has good reviews, and is intensive and college-prep (very different from the Amish material I've been trying - some of their websites even discourage sending your students to college, which I knew from the start was pretty opposite of my inclination - perhaps I should have paid more attention to our philosophical differences. I still think a college-bound student could use the Amish/Mennonite material with excellent results, just adding more college-prep material in high school.)

Anyway, one reason I steered away from Bob Jones originally was because the textbook material is very teacher-intensive, which I was pretty sure I couldn't handle with 3 students (and didn't want to handle, since I'd rather be hands-off in teaching). Also, the main turn-off for me was their young-earth belief, which is quite strong and can be somewhat dogmatic in their science courses, and is also present in their ancient history texts. Most of their other religious beliefs are very similar to mine, and I don't have any qualms (based only on their online samples) about their take on U.S. history, economics, Christianity, math, English, etc.

However, I am rethinking using their video-based distance learning (just omitting their science). That would take care of the teaching for me, and I think the video teachers would engage my oldest much, much better than I can. Their reading program has extremely high ratings from others, for example. Their higher-level English and literature program also has very high ratings from multiple people, and is very rigorous all the way up through 12th grade.

I think to save my sanity, and my daughter's interest in learning, we really should use BJU videos for English and math (despite my daughter saying she likes math, we really have the same attitude problems - hers and mine - with math every day). Since it is the same price for the whole grade level as it is for 3 classes (and the English is split up into 2-4 classes each year, not even counting math), I will probably just get the whole grade level, even if we don't use it all. I love the skits and field trips they have for history too, and while I had planned on doing the 4-year-cycle for history and using Sonlight, I have figured out how to intertwine Sonlight history reading with BJU history for many years, and will probably still use Sonlight only in some of the later years. (I'll post about those details later - using portions of BJU history and portions of Sonlight.) I will probably also use the BJU Bible course (it's just 15 minutes a day).

I will not, however, use their science, and will continue to teach all 3 children together with our own science courses. (I may pre-screen some of the science videos to show them, however.) Science and art, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are fun for me to teach, and fun for the kids to learn from me. Music, computers, robotics, also, I will teach myself. Reading aloud from historical fiction and even non-fiction is also fun for me to do with the kids, so I will still do that part myself, leaving some of the textbook, fact parts to the BJU teachers.

BJU videos are expensive, yes. But they are much cheaper than sending my 2 youngest ones (or even 1 youngest one) off to daycare so I can focus on my oldest (which I don't want to do anyway, since I want my 2 youngest ones at home too). It will be cheaper to use full-grade videos for all 3 children than to send even one child to a private Christian school, which would be my next move. I don't want to stop homeschooling, and I don't want to send them to a public school, and I don't even really want to send them to a private school. But I'm afraid I will be burnt out very, very soon if I have to continue teaching reading and basic math to all 3 children over the next few years.

It does make me sad to give up some of my earlier plans, and to not use some of the material I’ve bought. The cost does bother me too, considering that you can homeschool for free, really. There are so many resources available, free educational videos, an entire year of history units and activities for $1.99, etc. I am basically a frugal person, and knowing that there are materials available to use so cheaply (if one were only an interested, good teacher), but then spending so much on a video curriculum does disturb me a bit. But what price is sanity?! And if the alternative is public school, even my husband prefers spending the money. We are very fortunate to be able to afford it.

My new role then, aside from continuing to teach science, art, music, computers, robotics, and some history, will be more of a mentor, tutor, and administrator. With the videos, the parent can be as involved as they want to be. At a minimum, the parent must gather and organize the needed materials for the day or week, grade papers, re-teach anything the child didn’t understand from the videos, and help the students focus and maintain a schedule. For many homeschooling parents, those are the unpleasant tasks - they prefer to focus on the teaching. I, however, don’t like that part (except in science). I actually enjoy the administrative parts! So I think maybe distance learning videos are perfect for us.

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