Monday, August 10, 2015

Language Arts: A Very Good Reason to Homeschool

Part 4 of my series wrapping up what we learned this year in different subjects and what each experience taught me about homeschooling in general. (Part 1: History, Part 2: Science, Part 3: Math.)

For the sake of this blog post, "language arts" is reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and handwriting.

Handwriting: Even before I started homeschooling I heard how boys often have trouble (compared to girls) with handwriting and writing in general. I wanted to be aware of that and not push my sons to go beyond what was developmentally appropriate for each child. And I admit, my perfectionism and fear of teaching my children "the wrong way" tripped us up in the beginning. See, I didn't want Builder Boy (my first student) to be doing copy-work and handwriting exercises using words he could not yet read. But at the same time he was trying to figure out on his own how to write letters (he was five, I think?) and I didn't want him to get in the habit of writing letters wrong. So  started to teach him handwriting with Zaner-Bloser workbooks and he hated it, fought it, and we were both miserable. Eventually he grew to love it. And then he hated it again and it was such an issue that I dropped handwriting for an entire year because I didn't want that attitude to stick for the rest of his life. (We did do some handwriting without using pencils, though.) He started doing writing on his own this past year to label his drawings and yes, he formed a lot of the letters wrong, even though the final result was readable. So here we are in the last month of his Third Grade year working on the beginning of the second grade book with at least an okay if not stellar attitude. I don't know what would have happened with him in a public school, with all the writing required. Because we are able to do other subjects orally, we were able to give him a break from something he dreaded until he was more ready to do it.

Early Bird, thankfully, has no aversion to doing his handwriting work. I don't know if this is because he loves words or because I didn't give him an official lesson until he was six years old or some other reason. Handwriting is the only subject that Early Bird works at a kindergarten level at.

Reading: We finished The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading a while ago. Reading is now supposed to be a focus on daily practice and stretching of ability, but we have yet to be consistent on that. On taking the DORA both boy's highest score was in the Word Recognition subtest. Builder Boy scored at grade 6.5, with a Lexile Level of 400. Early Bird's Word Recognition subtest score put him in grade 11.83 (last few months of junior year of high school) with a Lexile Level of 300. Yup, you read that right. Their subtest scores are all over the place. As long as they continue to make progress on the DORA I feel less guilty about not having them read aloud "enough." But some things do need to change.

Writing: We still haven't finished Writing With Ease Level 1. I am beginning to wonder if we ever are. Or if that's the right way to go about this. I'm thinking of doing just the story and narration pages and skip the copy work. At that rate we could do 2.5 week's lesson in 1 week and maybe "catch up?" Or should I skip ahead? Or look at another curriculum? I'm feeling lost and behind here, and I'm willing to admit it.

Grammar: We started First Language Lessons 2. We did not finish; or even get half way through. I am considering condensing, even though I hate what we would lose.

Spelling: Finally I have gotten a grip on spelling! We didn't really get serious about doing All About Spelling 2 (both boys are working on the same level) until this summer, but now every week they are given the list on Monday, taught the new rule and practice through the week, and have their test on Friday. I require an 80% (ten word tests) to continue to the next chapter and so far we haven't had to redo a chapter. AAS2 is working really well for us and I am so glad we finally are working on this.

Thing is, I have to give the tests individually, behind closed door, because the boys process and work stuff out verbally; a LOT. I don't want one to get the right answer from the other, but I also don't want to handicap them from doing what they need to do to get it right. And they have a tendency to go off on tangents after every single example sentence and talk about what I said reminded them of. Every test has taken 30 minutes for one boy than the other. For ten small words. For Early Bird I have him dictate and I write what he tells me. Then I have him look at the word and tell me if it's right to him and we can move on or if he wants to change anything. There is a lot of crossing out and Early Bird giggling at the mistakes, but he usually gets them right in the end. Last test I brought the AAS whiteboard into the bedroom where we test and had him form the words with the letter tiles. This cut down drastically on the silly mistakes and helped it take a few less minutes to do. He still got one wrong, so I am confident that it is not giving him an unfair advantage.

Builder Boy I have write out the words. This was last week's test (after I corrected it):

He gets bored with regular writing, hence the "fancy," curly writing. But he still has trouble with basic manuscript.

Vocabulary: Together the boys have completed Wordly Wise A and B and have started Wordly Wise C. Once that is completed we will move to Wordly Wise 3000, book 2. We do it all orally and the boys take turns answering. This is a fun way to begin our school time and we all love it. Some of the words they already know, some are new, and some have other definitions they've never heard before.

In most of these subjects, both boys are functioning at a 2nd grade level. The main focus of our next school year (starting August 31) will be to get them comfortable with daily writing, beyond one sentence. I want them writing a paragraph by this time next year. (Or at least Builder Boy writing a paragraph and Early Bird dictating one.) They will continue with math, and I have a self-learning idea to go with the history they will be listening to, but other than that we are schooling language arts and math and letting the rest be unschooled this year. I intend for Builder Boy's fifth grade year to stop with doing everything verbally and to require some written answers, so work is going to have to be done this year. I am really grateful that we can homeschool and accommodate weak areas while still being able to soar in strength areas. I am grateful that I can work with their emotional needs and avoid too much pressure and anxiety build up that can often happen.

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