Monday, January 11, 2010

More Homeschooling (Plus Bonus Funny Interlude!)

Back in December, I wrote a longish post about many of the things we do as "school" here at home. Despite the length of that tome, I find I have more to say. Actually, I'm reflecting on a few things, so this post may be less descriptive and more, uh, reflecty than the other one.

So here's how today happened. We were supposed to go run errands, but after being awake for 30 minutes, I realized that it just wasn't happening today. So we hung out in the morning, worked on Flat Ryan for a while, got some arguing housework done, and I worked for a bit on some email.

Then I came to, and realized that Ryan was reading a book about the Trojan War, called The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War. Out Loud. To Me. This was such a surprise that I actually posted it to Facebook! :o) And so today was the day that Ryan read a six-chapter, 47 page book out loud to me. He DELIGHTED in this activity, and I did my best not to let my surprise be too apparent. Every once in a while, he'd pause and do a dramatic re-enactment of some important bit of plot, cackling with delight about those tricksy Greeks and the poor, trusting Trojans (Ryan likes a winner). It took him an hour and a half, but he read the whole thing, including going back to the very first page and re-reading it, since he'd skipped that page originally for some reason.

So that was fun. And a good chance for me to see how well he reads. He's always been reluctant to read out loud, and it's usually a big fight. I've long suspected that he reads better than he's let on, but it's hard to tell just what a person's skill level is when he needs to stop and argue and whine about it every five seconds. So I got a true chance to observe him today. He is better than I'd given him credit for (and has some stamina, too!). The book is listed by the publisher for Grades 2-4, and he handled it very well, fluently, and with inflection. I had to help him with words like suspicious and warriors and extraordinary, as well as the pronunciation of the character names (Agamemnon is hard to say!). I did not have to help him with words like wonderful and disobeying and succeeds.

By the way, this was an excellent book, too. It was very descriptive, and touched on Odysseus and Homer and Schliemann, too. Nothing about Achilles, but the focus was on the Horse, so I suppose that's okay.

So I feel . . . what? Pride? Happiness? Relief? Yes, all of those things. Even though I am confident in my ability to ensure that The People learn stuff, and I know that they are normally developing bright kids, I was a little surprised to discover that little nugget of doubt there in my brain. Huh. So, there's that thing.

All the while this reading was going on, Morgan was on the computer, drawing pictures and bemoaning the fact that we are out of printer toner (a happenstance for which she is in no small part responsible). Sean was trying to "help" M on the computer, and things were really crazy there for a while. Allow me to share a taste:

Ryan: read read read "AGH!!! Mom! Help me with this word!!! It's w-a- "

Morgan: "MOOOOOOMMMM! Sean stole the ball out of the trackball mouse and threw it down the cat door!!!!!"

Sean: Screams with sadness, because he had indeed thrown the ball to the trackball mouse down into the basement via the cat door, and is now suffering acute separation anxiety.

Me: Runs downstairs to retrieve the trackball, fixes the mouse, gets Morgan back up on her screen (because somehow she'd managed to close the browser, despite lack of trackball), scoops up Sean and goes back to the family room, only to find . . .

Ryan: "MOM! I said it's 'w-a-r-r-i-o-r' ! I can't figure it out! AAAGGGGHHHH!"

Me: "Okay, 'chunk' the word (a term we got from Starfall). What's 'w-a-r'?" while running after Sean who has now decided to sit on top of the cat. I disentangle cat from toddler, only to be summoned by . . .

Morgan, who is now crying: "But I WANT the printer to print! It's not FAIR! I want to print a snowflake for Daddy!" And so I explain to her that we will need to buy more toner at the store, and isn't it a good thing that we have a two-page-maximum rule now (a recent development), and give her a hug, only to hear . . .

Sean: CRASH! BOOM! BANG! Evidently he tried to do a triple-gainer off of the ottoman and has suffered his third head injury in as many days. I run to comfort him, only to encounter . . .

Ryan: "WARRIOR! Mom, it's WARRIOR right?!?!?! Okay, so anyway . . . " read read read

So you can probably see why this homeschooling stuff is really taking up a lot of my time lately. But things are getting easier, a little easier all the time (Sing it with me: 'Can't get no worse!' Sorry...too much Beatles Rock Band lately). Truly, Sean is still fairly distractable, but he has made it CLEAR that he intends to be a part of the things that the Big Kids are doing. I've had minor success with giving him a workbook and a crayon, and also Morgan is generally willing to read out loud to him. But our "school" activities are taking up more and more time in our day, and it's just not feasible to try to squeeze in everything during his naptime. I definitely need to work on that.

Morgan. She is not shy about reading aloud. She doesn't like to do it very often, but she'll usually humor me if I ask, which is nice, because she's a kind little thing who likes to humor her Mommy on occasion. And then I'm not left wondering how she's doing, so yay! for that. And she's doing very well. She reads better than Ryan at this point, which is saying something since she's still technically a preschooler.

Somehow, and I'm not at all sure how this happened, Ryan and Morgan have yet to compete about reading and school-y work in general. Ryan does not seem jealous that Morgan reads better than he does. Morgan does not make a big deal of it (not that she'd be inclined to temperamentally, I think). Sometimes when they're playing together (or if they have a friend over), and there's reading required, Ryan or the friend will say "Morgan's good at reading. What's that say, Morgan?" And Morgan will read the instructions for the game and then they'll all go on their merry.

I am so glad that this has worked out the way it has, because my siblings and I were ultra-competitive. It didn't help that I was the oldest (by 2.5 and 3.5 years) and that I'm by nature a competitive person. So my sister, less competitive by temperament and 2.5 years behind me through absolutely no fault of her own, always felt as if she didn't measure up. :( I only fully appreciated the impact that stuff had on her, and to a lesser degree our younger brother, when I was all grown up.

So I am happy that Morgan doesn't gloat and that Ryan doesn't seem to feel unduly pressured by his little sister's progress. I do think he feels a little pressure sometimes, but I think it's the good kind. Every once in a while, he realizes that she has acquired a skill that's useful or interesting, and then he sets out to acquire it himself, usually achieving that in short order. The best example of this was with reading--she was not quite three and he was not quite six when all of this reading interest began. She started first, and then he followed. Interesting, since he's so often a Leader-with-a-capital-L.

I am very, very careful never to compare them in a way that would be detrimental to either of them. For example, I don't say things like "Why can't you read that word? Morgan can! Morgan, what's that word?" And we haven't labeled Morgan as The Smart One either--they are both pretty stinking smart, if you ask me, but have different strengths and weaknesses. (Unfortunately, that's something that happened when I was growing up--both the comparing in a bad way and the labeling.)

Morgan has been working on workbooks during Ryan's Taekwondo classes. Tonight she was doing subtraction out of a 1st grade math workbook, and reading the instructions out loud: "Count the kites. Cross out the number to be subtracted. Write the remainder below the line." And then she blew through the page. She did about 10 pages tonight, a significant portion of that particular workbook.

What I find so interesting about Morgan is the fact that she can follow complicated directions with multiple steps and usually get the answers in these workbooks right. Yet she has a hard time following multi-step directions in real life. I still haven't figured out a reliable method to getting and keeping her undivided attention--if that's even actually possible!

And that brings up another thing! I feel like I spend more time with Ryan. I DO spend more time with Ryan. He's older, and doing more "official" academic activities, such as all of this reading aloud and history class (which he did today). And he asks me questions and questions that take time to answer. And let's face it--he's kind of demanding when he needs to know something.

The Morgany Girl (tm) is quieter and unobtrusive. She lives in her head, and is generally content to stay there, figuring things out that constantly amaze me. When she needs my attention, I do my best to give it to her, but I feel as if I've been leaving her out a bit. Between Demanding Ryan (tm) and Demanding Toddler (tm), I have to admit that I don't get back to her as quickly as I should.

And she's easy. She easily sits in her chair and reads her book easily (she hardly ever asks me for help) and plays her games easily (complaining only about the lack of toner) and draws her pictures easily. And she doesn't speak up all the time. Don't get me wrong--she speaks up plenty, but most often in response to something else (Ryan). I just wonder if she's not getting everything she needs from me in terms of support. I wonder if she'd let me know if she needed more of me.

Maybe I just feel like I need to do more because I HAVE to do more with Ryan--some kids, and I was like this, don't really need as much from teacher/mom as others. From what I can tell, she is happy and healthy and gets the things she needs, so I'm not seriously worried. I'm writing this just so I can keep this issue on the "front burner" so to speak, to be aware of this and look for signs that she needs more.

So . . . there you have it! More homeschooling stuff that I've been thinking about. Things are so good, though, and I wouldn't trade a second of it.


Beth said...

Hey Jenn!

Just a few thoughts on dividing time with kids.

My son, too, is the older and was the more demanding of my time....a temperamental quality that was evident from birth! But looking back on it now, although at the time I thought I was cheating my daughter, I think the one who really was cheated was my son!! It's hard to separate how much to credit/blame myself and how much of it belongs to the kids themselves, but I think benign neglect was very beneficial to my daughter, who now has a greater degree of self-directedness and independence, and a better developed ability to identify and pursue her own values. On the other hand, my son has a much better handle on all the traditional academic stuff.

Just some thoughts.

Ryan said...

I totally dig the two-page-maximum rule. I will need to use that. Luckily for me you didn't have (TM) next to it. ;-P

As for your Ryan/Morgan thoughts, I would consider that Morgan may just be a great listener. Perhaps she is such a great listener that many of her own questions are answered when she is listening to you converse with Ryan.

My youngest (Kylie) often seems oblivious to conversations that are going on around her. Then, weeks later, she'll bring up the same topics as if she had just heard them.

Based on your brief description of the situation, I think Morgan is just content with what she is learning throughout the day so she is low-maintenance. Ryan on the other hand is kinda leading the way so he's pushing the envelope more which means more questions and the need for more guidance.

Oops, sorry for the long post. I can get carried away sometimes.

Rosalie said...

Hi Jenn,

I especially enjoy your homeschooling posts!! Thanks! In thinking about the following directions piece, Morgan's very strong reading skills, and tendency to live in her head, maybe she does better with written directions because she controls how/when they come to her and can process them faster and more efficiently because of that. I live in my head a lot, too, and I find that I am much better at learning, following directions, answering questions, etc., that I read than that are delivered to me aloud because sometimes I'm just thinking about other things when those sounds come through and it takes me a few seconds to even shift into listening gear, then process what was said, respond, etc. Could be similar or different for Morgan, though.