Sunday, September 12, 2010

Homeschooling small people, part 2

The second part of yesterday's questions deal with different things... the attention and interest of a 6-7 year old child. I, of course, have several opinions about this, but first you need to know my bias. I tend to delay real academics to a much later age than most public schools. I believe that children will learn what they need faster and in a more organized fashion at a later age than if I try to push them too early. All that happens is that a child gets frustrated or they start to believe they are not very smart, or what learning actually occurs does not get filed in their brain in the best way possible. In the end, everyone learns to read and do arithmetic; we just spend an overall shorter time learning to do it.

That being said, what I would tell the poster is this:

If a six (or seven) year old is starting to complain about not wanting to do school work, I would listen to them. Children of that age are naturally curious and it is difficult to stop them from learning things. The key is that the way young children learn best is often not what we think of as academics. They learn by exploring, playing, moving, talking... in short, doing things. For my first graders last year, we spent probably no more than 30-45 minutes a day doing academics. Really.  That's it.  We worked on the Explode the Code workbooks and some arithmetic. Everything else was just life: cooking, playing, playing games, reading stories (both fiction and non-fiction... 90% of the time the choices were theirs), things like that. Instead of workbooks every day, I would sometimes do the activities I listed in this post about reading readiness. To someone looking in, it probably didn't look a lot like school.

I would humbly suggest that you take a look at what you and your first grader are doing together and what is causing her uncooperativeness. Is she being asked to sit still for too long a time? (I let my children color pictures while they listen to stories... it keeps the hands busy.) Is there too much bookwork and not enough hands-on activities? Are the subjects things she is interested in or are they being prescribed by an outside source? At this age, I never worried about meeting anyone else's scope and sequence; we solely learned about the things the child was interested in. (Please don't take this as I think you are doing a poor job... I'm just thinking about some of the things I inflicted on my first born which I later regretted a bit.)

So, what would I do with a first grader (particularly one that had been in public school for a year)?  I would use homemade unit studies based on things my child is interested in.  Let me give you an example of how I do this.  Say my child want to learn about bears.  (I have to explain why I picked "bears."  When M. was 2 or 3, any time there was a lull in the conversation at dinner or in the car, we would ask M. what she would like to talk about.  She would always answer "Bears", though, now she has no idea why she did because she says that she wasn't that interested in them.  But it has now become a part of our family culture, and whenever don't know what to say, we say "bears.")  Anyway, back to bears...

Step 1:  Go to the library and enlist your librarian in finding you resources about bears.  They love this, by the way.  It's why they became librarians.  I would encourage you to check out adult books as well as children's books.  Sometimes just discussing the pictures together is enough, other times, the child wants you to read every. single. word. on the page.  (Ask me about tree frogs.  I know more about them than I ever wanted to know.)  Don't stop at non-fiction, find story books, poems, and fairy tales as well.

Step 2:  Do something with your new information.  So many things jump to mind.  With bears I might:
  • Make a puppet show about Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Make a papier-mache bear
  • Make a homemade book about bears
  • Mark on a map the habitat of each type of bear we learned about
  • Memorize the poem, Lines and Squares by A.A. Milne.  (Yes, young children can do this.)
  • Watch documentaries about bears from Netflix
  • Go to the zoo and observe bears.  You can take a sketch pad and pencils and paints and draw them as well.
  • Have the child write an original story (dictated to you) which they then illustrate
  • Find paintings of bears... American Indian art... cave paintings in Lascaux, France (Are there bears in the cave paintings?  I realize I might be completely making that up.)
  • Eat salmon for dinner one night... and maybe some berries as well
  • Berries make me think of Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.  Read it to the child and have them imagine what would happen if the bear cub went home with the mother and the child went home with the bear.
  • Make a lapbook about bears
  • I have counting bear math manipulatives which I would get out and we could play counting games with the bears
  • And then there's always the Disney cartoon about the bears picking up trash.

You can spend as little or as much time as you want on it.  By doing this you will have covered language arts, history, art, math, science, popular culture, and geography.  And be open to where it leads.  Perhaps the child will be fascinated by salmon when you learn about the grizzlies fishing for spawning salmon... or about Alaska... or Glacier National Park... or about cave paintings and the paleolithic period... or about Maine... or preserving food... or hibernation... or....  You will be amazed at the places this will take you and what you and your child will learn.

A word about cooperativeness.  There can be two separate issues:  global cooperation and specific cooperation.  If a child is generally cooperative and the child's behavior deteriorates in the face of academics, I would be inclined to say it is the child's way of protecting themselves when confronted with something too difficult.  I have changed directions, levels, and curriculum many times in the past looking for something that is more appropriate to a specific child.  Not everyone learns the same way or at the same speed or at with the same ease.  It's great when I can use the same curriculum with each child, but sometimes that's just not possible.  But is a child is uncooperative in general -- unwilling to do what is asked of them at nearly every turn -- then it seems that it is a discipline problem and not an academic one.  It is also one that should be addressed outside of academics.


Ann said...

This makes me want to homeschool again! I might be picking your brain as next year might be another homeschool year for four of our kids (and I've never hs more than 2 at a time!)

thecurryseven said...

Pick away, Ann. I always enjoy talking with you!


Lucy said...

Thanks so much for these posts, they are very helpful! I'm afraid I've been pretty structured in the way I planned homeschooling, partly because I'm new at this and partly because our state requires x hours of instruction (1000 here in MO) a year and I worried about documenting compliance. My dd is generally very cooperative and helpful, so I think you nailed the issue being fear of failure or maybe even the unknown.

She's a smart kid and I'm very anxious for her to learn, nothing like helpful pressure from Mum is there? ;-) So I will endeavor to relax and back off and make use of your most excellent suggestions.

Thank you.

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