It’s All About Socialization

The other day Ani’s friend came over to bake (gluten free) cookies. This friend is 18 days younger than Ani’s little brother (so 20 months younger than Ani). They get along great and have fun together. My best friend is a month older than my older sister. She’s 3 1/2 years older than I am. This is how socialization is in the real world. Ages don’t matter. Friends are not limited to a class of kids in your geographical area who happened to be born within the same 12 months as you. Friends are made because you have things in common and get along well.

As time has passed since we pulled the kids out, we’ve learned some things about their time in public school. The education was great. The schools (with a couple exceptions at Ani’s high school) were great. It was the socialization that was a problem. Two of my kids actually regressed in social skills while in public school. And, yet, people always ask homeschoolers about how they will possibly properly socialize their kids.

Adrian can be a handful. We knew this before he ever entered public kindergarten. The number of days he ended up on red on the behavior chart far outnumbered the days he got yellow and those far outnumbered the days he got green. By November, kids in his class would walk by him and whisper things like “you’re a bad boy” to him. I told his teacher about this and she talked to the kids, but it continued. Adrian didn’t seem to care, but it can’t be good for a 5 year old to hear that over and over from his peers every day. It did seem to make him think there are no point in trying to be good and he did tell me often that he’s just a bad boy. I began to have some serious anxiety every time my cell phone would ring. Most of the time it was the principal calling about Adrian yet again.

Fritz started talking in his head rather than out loud. He was so worried about going down on the behavior chart that he chose to simply quit talking. His teacher didn’t even notice. She liked that he was so quiet and easy to deal with. When I told her that Fritz said he would have whole conversations (sometimes “with” other people) in his head, she was a bit concerned. He quit talking to non-family members except when absolutely necessary. He became afraid of most social interactions. Fritz has always been prone to anxiety, but previously it had only been related to severe weather. Public school made his anxiety much worse and more generalized. Only after we pulled him out and some time went by and he started talking a lot again did we realize he had greatly reduced his talking at home, too.

Cameron has always been pretty much in his own world and things roll off of him easily. He says the main thing he learned in school was how to ignore other people because, most of the time, his fellow students were just trying to annoy each other. He says that if someone videoed the students during the passing periods it would be rated R due to language. The language used by most of them was quite foul. This was 6th graders. Eleven and twelve year olds. The grade levels are on separate floors at the middle school he went to, so it really was just 6th graders.

Ani is my other kid who regressed in her social skills. She took somewhat the same route as Fritz. The kids at her school (and I’ve observed this in other places with high schoolers who attend a different school than she did) were just plain mean to each other. Insulting, rude, picking at each other – even when they claim the people they are talking to are their friends! Ani says she mostly stopped talking to anyone but her teachers. Most people had something nasty to say every time anyone else opened their mouth, so why even talk in the first place. In addition, she had always been complimented on how she could communicate so well with people of any age. While in public school, she became terrified of talking to people, particularly those she did not know well. Social anxiety became an issue for her, too.

It’s been over a year since any of my kids attended school. Ani and Fritz are talking like they used to. Fritz is back to only being anxious about weather. Ani has no problem talking to people, including strangers, now. Adrian no longer tells me he’s a bad boy. Cameron has become sensitive to hearing cuss words and they bother him again. Their friends, like the one Ani likes to get together and bake with, come from a variety of ages. It looks to me like the best place for real, positive socialization for my kids is not in a public school classroom, but, instead in the real world.

Reading at 7

For a couple years now Adrian’s been learning to read. He’s been working hard at it and progressing well.

And then he turned 7.

Suddenly, he no longer needs phonics lessons. He is just reading. He recently asked to reading the first Magic Tree House book and is having no trouble with it at all.

I started thinking about how Ani learned to read at 4. At 7 she started reading the Rainbow Fairies series and just took off. Fritz learned to read at 5. At 7 he started reading the Magic Tree House series and he was suddenly a great reader. Now Adrian is following the same path.

My uncle always said they learned to read the first year of school (which was first grade back then) and within a year pretty much all the kids were reading, when they were 7. For the half year Adrian was in kindergarten, I watched his teacher struggle to teach the kids letters/sounds/sight words (most of the kids were not reading at all before starting school). The kids in Fritz’s 2nd grade class, however, were all reading fluently.

I think first grade/7 years old is magic somehow when it comes to reading for most kids without learning disabilities. It’s so fun to watch kids get to that point of, as Cameron called it when he was 6, “speed reading.” (Note I did not include Cameron when talking about my kids who took off with their reading at 7. Since he has dyslexia, I am not surprised it didn’t go that way for him. There were many red flags that he had that particular disability long before he turned 7.)

What I am Thankful For

We’re on a week long Thanksgiving break right now. Homeschooling, breaks are pretty low key. Basically, the real difference is just that we’re not doing school. We spend time as a family and do non-school-related things every day anyway.

It is so much nicer than when the kids were in public school. Thanksgiving break was the first real break they got last school year (5 days of school every week from the last week of August until Thanksgiving aside from days off for Labor Day and Columbus Day). After school was consumed by homework and other school things.

By the end of November, I had come to pretty much live for weekends when the kids would be home. The week of Thanksgiving was so incredibly nice (although both big kids still had school intrude with homework). We finally had several days straight where we could be a family.

I look back on how much public school took over our lives last year and this Thanksgiving the #1 thing I am grateful for is to be homeschooling again. This year I am not feeling the need to fit months of family life into one week. It’s fabulous.

Sometimes things change

We put the kids in public school last fall with the intention of giving three of them the option to do the virtual school next year. We figured that’s what Cameron and Fritz would choose and Ani would stay in public school. Of course we only made it half a year for the little guys in public school (and, technically, Fritz could still do the virtual school next year, but I don’t think it would be a good fit for him). Ani and Cameron both loved public school. It was an agonizing decision for Cameron, but, ultimately, he decided to switch to the virtual school next year.

We’ve been going round and round about where Ani will go to school next year. The creative writing part of school is fine (though seriously annoying to us as parents because the instructor is a bit of a flake and it involves a lot of after school activities). The rest of the school, well, it’s better than the district in Maryland where we used to live. But compared to most of the rest of the high schools in our district here, and particularly when compared to the high school we’re zoned for, it’s a pretty bad school. We wanted her to go to the zoned high school. She was pretty strongly against going there.

While Ani loved going to public school, there were things she wasn’t thrilled about. She feels like she has learned absolutely nothing (aside from the creative writing classes) this year. Of course she has learned things, but I think it’s more about the waste of time. She could’ve learned the same amount on her own in much less time (this is actually one of the reasons Cameron decided on the virtual school). She is also an extreme introvert. She can handle crowds of people only to a certain point (honestly, I am shocked she didn’t punch anyone all year). By Thursday every week, she was in rough shape, completely physically and emotionally spent. The school day here is very long. High schoolers go for 7 hours and 20 minutes of school and then she had to be bussed to and from school. That made it about 9 1/2 hours from the time we left our house in the morning to drop her off to the time we got home in the evening after picking her up. Plus add to that an hour in the mornings for seminary, time to eat dinner, taekwondo two nights a week, young women activities once a week, and time to do homework and she literally was left with no time to relax. She’s been so much happier and, really, her truly amazing self, since school let out. Last week she went to a writing camp for 7 hours a day. She loved it. But when we got home Friday she completely crashed, exhausted, and slept from about 4:30 (getting up for dinner) until 3pm Saturday. It just reminded us too much of how she was all through the school year.

So what to do for school. Like I said, we wanted her to go to the local high school. She’d still have almost 7 1/2 hours of school per day, but no bus ride. She’d still have a lot of wasted time and not learning a whole lot, but that’s just how public school is. We offered her the option of doing the virtual school like Cameron.

Then I felt like I should offer her the option of a method of traditional homeschooling: Unschooling. This is crazy. I like to check boxes. I like the feel of traditional school at home. We don’t always use textbooks, but we have specific subjects and specific things to do in those subjects on specific days. Unschooling is just not my style. But, nevertheless, no matter how much I fought it, that was the answer. Offer her the chance to unschool. And, you know, when you are praying and that’s the answer you get, sometimes you have to do as you are directed.

I told her unschooling was an option. Her eyes lit up a little bit. We talked about what it would look like for her. Unschooling takes a lot of forms for different people. For some it is the complete and total eschewing of anything that even remotely looks like school. For some it is providing a super learning-rich environment and letting the kids learn as they live. For some, and this is really common among high schooler unschoolers, it is providing everything they need to learn what they want/need to learn (and this includes textbooks) and letting the kid take control of their education. This is the form Ani’s unschooling would take. We talked about the things she wants to learn and how she would do it. We talked about other things she wants to do – non-academic things – and how she could accomplish these things when not constrained by her insane school schedule.

And then we let her mull it all over for a really long time. Occasionally we’d discuss things a little bit. Eventually it became clear she was leaning toward the unschooling idea. Yesterday she told us she had made her final decision. She’s coming home again. Unschooling it is.

Frankly, this scares me. I really, really, really like to check boxes! Honestly, though, if I think about it, when I was a homeschooling high schooler my parents educated me pretty much the way we envision Ani’s education going. We just didn’t know unschooling was a thing. I would complete an entire year of a subject in a month or two. And then I’d move on to the next subject. My parents provided me with everything I needed and then let me decide when and what to do. Some things I never really did at high school age, but I covered them in college or since I became an adult.

So now on to the next adventure. Four kids home again. Two traditionally homeschooling. One doing the virtual school (we’ll see how long jumping through those hoops lasts). And one unschooling. She has some amazing plans. Those will have to wait for another blog post, though. This one is already entirely too long!

Planning Next Year

This school year is coming to an end. 5 more days of seminary. 9 more days of school for the big kids. 8 more days for the little guys. With the end of one year comes deciding on what to use next year.

Ani’s the easy one. She’s staying in public school. She’ll be in 10th grade. Let’s pause a moment to let that sink in. TENTH GRADE.

Cameron will be coming back home to do Texas Virtual Academy. He’s the only one of the four that will end up doing that which was the whole reason we originally put the kids in school. Technically, even though he didn’t finish the school year in public school, we could enroll Fritz, but we’re not going to (at this point it wouldn’t be a good fit for him). Jamie thinks we’ll only make it half the year with Cameron before going back to traditional homeschooling. We’ll see.

The little guys are the fun ones for me since I get to pick whatever I want for them. When I pulled them out in January, I just went with stuff we’d used in the past. We’re sticking with some things we’ve used before, but not everything. Some of this stuff I wish had been around when Ani was little. It would’ve been perfect for her!

Both Boys Together
Religion: Discover the Scriptures Hands-On Church History, Discover the Latter-Day Prophets, Doctrine and Covenants Scripture Stories (Ani will be doing D&C in seminary next year so I’m going to try to keep the boys learning about the same things Ani is as much as possible)
Social Studies: Texas History (Cameron will be studying TX History next year since he’ll be a 7th grader so, because I could find nothing pre-made that I liked, I’ll be making the boys’ TX History up as we go along based on what Cameron’s learning)
Science: REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry (Ani will be doing Chemistry in school)
Art: Discovering Great Artists
Music: World’s Greatest Composers from Confessions of a Homeschooler
PE: Taekwondo twice a week (well, Adrian is currently refusing to participate) plus PE class along with Cameron (he’ll be required to do specific PE things daily)

Fritz
Math: Beast Academy 3, Life of Fred (he’ll be finished through Honey by the end of this school year)
ELA: First Language Lessons Level 3, Writing With Ease Level 2, Spelling Power (he’ll finish through the first half of level C tomorrow and then we’ll stop until next school year), D’Nealian Handwriting (he’s been learning cursive for a month or so now and will continue with that), Reading Eggspress, Life of Fred (he’ll have finished the first two of the four language arts books by the end of this school year)

Adrian
Math: MathSeeds
ELA: First Language Lessons Level 1, Primary Arts of Language Reading (this may actually get finished over the summer) and Writing, All About Spelling (we’ll just pick up where we finish at the end of this school year for all three of those), Reading Eggs

More On Standardized Tests

Today Cameron took his first STAAR test (math). Tomorrow he takes his reading STAAR. He said it wasn’t too bad. He thought it was pretty easy and was finished in 1 1/2 hours. After that he had to wait 1 1/2 more hours for lunch and then they spent the rest of the day watching a movie (How to Train Your Dragon in his room… he was a bit disappointed when he heard other classrooms got Frozen and Despicable Me 2). And repeat tomorrow.

These standardized tests annoy me to start with because of the amount of time spent during class learning how to pass them (plus extra cram sessions). I wouldn’t even say they are teaching to the test exactly. It’s more hints and tips on how to figure out the right answer and, for the ones with essays, how to write an essay that will earn the highest score in the 20 seconds the scorer spends looking at it. On top of this the elementary school kids have been learning songs about how great the STAAR is and some apparently made hats (somehow related to the STAAR) yesterday. I’m glad they are trying to make the STAAR no big deal (even though it is a VERY big deal in reality), but songs? And hats? Really?

But it’s the high stakes part of the whole thing that annoys me the most. All year Cameron has done very well in all his classes including reading and math (which are the only two he has a STAAR test for as a 6th grader). He’s gotten all A’s and B’s. Obviously he’ll be promoted on to 7th grade, right? Not so fast. Apparently grades only count for part of promotion. Yes, they have to get 70% or better in their classes to pass. They also have to pass the STAAR tests. If they fail the STAAR tests, they fail the grade. It does not matter if a kid had straight A’s. They must pass the STAARs.

If they don’t pass one of their STAAR tests, they have some options. They can do a retake of the test with or without going to summer school first or they can repeat that class the following year if that’s a possibility (and hopefully pass the STAAR next year). I personally know a kid who got high 90 per cents in his English I class last year, but he still failed the English I STAAR. He passed on the retake a couple months later so he could go on to English II the next year. How does that make any sense? How can a kid get high A’s in a class all year but fail that class because of a single standardized test?

Yeah. I’m just not a fan of this whole high stakes testing thing.