Just when you think you have homeschooling all figured out and you can cruise along on auto-pilot, your children grow and change and your slowly come to the realization that what had worked for others is no longer working for this child. I have to admit that the near-constant problem-solving aspect of teaching my children is one of the things I really enjoy about homeschooling. I find it highly satisfying to critically look at how my children are learning and figuring out solutions to things that seem to get in their way.
Since each child is an unique individual, it shouldn't be surprising that each child learns in an unique way. It also means I shouldn't be surprised when a child throws me a curve ball and I have to work on a learning problem that I've never had before. I shouldn't be, but often am, because I get it in my head that I actually know what I'm doing. My children do have a gift for keeping me humble.
Because I'm sure I'm not the only one who routinely has new learning challenges thrown at them, I'll share my recent successes in case it is helpful to someone else.
The first is so simple that I can't believe I never thought about or had to use it before. K. is a very energetic little boy. He is a very energetic little boy who finds it very difficult to sit still for any length of time. We've been using a sitting disk. Using the sitting disk has been helpful, but recently it hasn't addressed the problem of K. feeling overwhelmed by his schoolwork. It's not that his work is too difficult for him; he can complete it quickly and easily in the right frame of mind, but recently the right frame of mind has been difficult to come by. (He seems to be going through a developmental phase when everything seems difficult to him.) My solution? The simple fix of him sitting on my lap while he does his work. It provides both the sensory input that the sitting disk does, plus he has the physical contact he needs to not feel overwhelmed by what he is being asked to do. If he is doing his work sitting on my lap, he doesn't need me to help him. It seems this simple solution gives him enough connection to allow his brain to relax and do the work in front of it.
Next is H. and numbers. I'm almost hesitant to write about this because it is so new, but it is also a big deal, so I want to share it with you. I know I've mentioned that number recognition is something that was really difficult for H. She knows letters and their sounds without a problem and she can count, but the act of putting the number symbol together with its name was frustrating... for both of us. Finally, when my bag of tricks ran dry, I decided that forcing the issue at this point wasn't helping at all, and possibly doing more harm than anything, so I made the choice to drop doing any math for a while. I hoped that by distancing her from math in school work, while still talking about numbers and using them in a day-to-day way, that we could create a reset in her brain. A few months later, after a friend sent a copy of a Singapore Math book she wasn't using, I decided to try again. (I also knew it was time to try again, because H. was starting to ask about math and showing interest in doing more.) Well, I'm happy to report that the combination of a long break plus using a completely different curriculum seems to have done the trick. We have had a couple of days of success. And since success often builds on success because of the confidence it creates, I'm hopeful we are on a good course. The broader lesson is not to be afraid to drop something for a while. (I've also done this with older children and algebra when they hit a wall with it.) Sometimes the idea of not understanding something can be so huge that even before you have opened a book, the child is stressed enough that they won't understand it. Breaking the cycle of stress associated with a subject is a huge first step in mastering a subject.
Finally, let's talk about reading. Reluctant readers to be precise. Having never had a reluctant reader before, I was thrown for a loop. In fact, I had kind of convinced myself that we are all such bookworms that we couldn't raise a reluctant reader. Back to that humbling-thing, huh? Well, with TM I had a reluctant reader. I'd tried a lot of things, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I decided after listening to him read one day, that somewhere along the line he had missed out on some basics. (For so many years, he was so filled with just surviving and navigating his extreme fear that he missed a lot... we're working on catching up in many areas.) Figuring it couldn't hurt, I ordered all the Explode the Code books starting from book 3 and he has been working through them. In watching him do the work, it became apparent that we were filling in holes and it seemed reading was becoming easier. The other thing I did was to assign him in his work folder the task of reading independently for 20 minutes each day. Just as success begets success, reading begets more reading. It is a skill that absolutely must be practiced in order for it to improve. For most children, the sheer act of finding out what happens next is the story is the thing that spurs them forward through the initial difficulty of reading. My reluctant reader was not spurred by story in the same way, so I had to institute required reading times. He hated it at first, but it was just twenty minutes and we set a timer so that he wouldn't accidentally read longer than necessary. I also gave him an index card to help him mark the line he was on because that was also a problem for him. After a year of reading for twenty minutes a day, I have seen huge improvements. He has read two full chapter books and is starting on his third. I no longer have complaints about the task. And he is reading more easily and fluently. I have also noticed that he no longer needs the aid of the index card.
I love the fact that I have the freedom to teach my children in the way that is best for them... even if those choices are a little unorthodox.