Thursday, December 3, 2009

Question From a Reader

Every so often I get a question from a reader in my inbox or in a comment, and usually if I have a way to get back to them, and try to email them personally within a day or so. Recently I received a question from a reader who was wondering how I got started homeschooling my kids in a more formal way. Unfortunately she didn't leave any contact info, so I haven't been able to respond quite as quickly as I would have liked. However, I thought her question might be of interest to some of my other readers, so I've decided to post my answer here. Here is what she said:

I was just wondering how you first got started with "school" with both kids. I have two four year olds who are six weeks apart and am wondering the best way to get started, being able to work with one at a time while the other one stays busy at something. I have done it once or twice so I know it is do-able, although it seems overwhelming to me right now.

Anyway, I was just wondering what it was like in the very beginning and how long it took before you got the routine down and they were used to it and all. I have one son who is totally ready to read and write, if I made the time to work with him one on one. The other son is a little younger and he is goes through phases where he shows interest but most of the time he does not want me to show him how to do anything (I can do it mommy!). He is going to be a challenge.

Here are some tips that have helped me and will hopefully help you when you first decide to get started with a more formal homeschooling time with your preschooler:

1. Look into Sue Patrick's Workbox System. I can't say it enough, and no I don't get paid to say nice things about her philosophy. Sue Patrick's ideas, her way of organizing the child's school work into boxes, has really been the ONE thing that has kept me going. When I first decided I wanted to do a more formal school time with the kids, I purchased a clipboard that had compartments attached to the back, and I would fill each compartment with an activity that I wanted them to do. I'd sit at the kitchen table with them both and divide my attention between them. If I really needed to work one on one, I'd do it while my dh could watch the other child for a few minutes. Needless to say, it was stressful for all of us, and this couldn't have gone on indefinitely.

Sue Patrick's workbox system is like what I did with the compartments, only much better. Instead of tiny compartments which are limiting, she allocates and entire box to each activity. Instead of me dividing my attention between them, and thus giving no one full attention, she came up with a numbering system that teaches the child a way to control his workload on his own, and to ask for help only when it's called for. My kids know that if the box doesn't say "work with mom", then that means I am busy giving my full attention to the other sibling. This frees me up to work with them at their own levels without the distraction of the other sibling, and gives me the ability to tailor the content to each child. There are many more great things about this system, but I'll let you read the book and find out for yourself.

2. Make it fun. Another reason why I love the workbox system--it forces me to use many of the fun education materials that we have that I know will make school time enjoyable for my kids. Even if you don't use Sue's system, make sure that learning is fun for them. At the preschool age, teaching is about opening their minds to the wonders of the world, and instilling a sense of mystery that keeps them wanting to come back for more. When I first started out with my two, I wasn't that great at picking things that were both educational and fun. Many times we were reduced to a power struggle over whether my child would complete the activity. That always left me feeling like I was doing something wrong. I thought homeschooling would be fun for everyone. Over time, I learned where I needed to back off and where I needed to insist, and mostly I learned how to choose things that my kids would enjoy.

3. Work together when you can, but if you can't, it's okay too. My children are 15 months apart, and one is doing Kindergarten level work, while one is learning her abc's and is doing a lot of fun, hand-on preschool activities. Still, I try to include my preschooler when I can. She will usually sit with us for Science and sometimes handwriting or grammar. She doesn't understand a lot of it, but some of it is sinking in, and it makes her feel included to be allowed to listen in. Sometimes she will even stop her work and ask if she can listen in on Little Bean's lessons. As long as she is not disruptive then I allow it.

If one child is more advanced than the other in a certain area, then go with it. It's okay for one to begin learning to read even if the other child is not quite ready. The beauty of Sue Patrick's system is that you can occupy one sibling while you work alone with the other, and you can give your full attention to each child, thus allowing you to tailor the content for them.

4. It takes time. I have one child (my Kinder) who is very easy going and willing to try new things when it comes to school. He lets me show him things, and takes to my teaching quite well (except when he really doesn't like something). My preschooler however, has always been very bossy and whiny and has that "do-it-myself" attitude. It may be partly her age, but I've had to just recognize that it takes time. Time for me to understand her likes and dislikes and the activities she will reject or will need extra encouragement to complete. And time for her to get used to the idea of taking direction from me in this capacity. She enjoys the workboxes because they give her a sense of control. She gets to handle the materials without my eye constantly watching her. She can do things her way. What she doesn't know is that I provide her only with materials that I feel comfortable with her handling on her own. Those she will not use appropriately go into "work with mom" boxes. I don't think I can put a timeline on how long it took, but will say things vastly improved around here once I started with the workboxes and with a set schedule (school 4 days a week) for school time.

So that's a little bit about how I got started with Little Bean and Miss O. I hope that answered your questions and was helpful in some way!

How did you get started with homeschooling your kids?


Priscila said...

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Debbie said...

Great suggestions! Though I am only homeschooling one now, I found homeschooling two went really smoother then I thought it would go.

Lea said...

I was searching your blog for something and just ran across this today. Thanks so much for this. It was very helpful and I appreciate the time you took to write it. It is probably even more relevant to me now than it was when I originally asked the question:). Thanks so much.

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