The Backwoods

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Rookie Home Schooler Here

Posted · 26 Comments

I caught myself yesterday in a newbie home schooler mistake, trying to replicate the very system from which I removed my kids last winter.  It’s an easy trap to fall into, the “re-create the classroom at home” theory that I had when this all began. A classroom works perfectly well, for some kids.  And I thought I could just ‘play teacher’ and mimic my friends with teaching degrees, and all would be well. My teacher friends were forthcoming with advice and I listened raptly and accepted all offered.  We set up our living room like a classroom, and sat together, huddled over texts and workbooks. For Mya, a self-motivated organizational genius, this cookie cutter format we’d begun was perfect. For some of my kids, however, I was simply re-enacting the struggle they’d been living, right here in our very own living room.

Robin, a nine grader, struggles in some areas, thanks in part to the methamphetamine her birth mother imbibed prenatally and partly because, well, some people just aren’t good at math, myself included. Robin knows this, understand it’s not her fault and all, yet that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to not know your times tables in high school. It makes long division and fractions almost unbearable and forget pre-algebra when decimals don’t even make sense.

And for years, the school systems answer to this was: give her extra math. I admit, it made sense to me. Bad at math? Do more!  Eventually you’ll catch on. Completely logical if you consider that she learns through repetition and any task repeated becomes more comfortable along the way.

And so we funneled math facts into her brain. We dumped, shoved, prodded and forced math into her mind for years.  And it was as if there were tiny holes on the bottom of her brain where the numbers just sifted back out.

“The Ctrl-ALT-Delete buttons in my brain keeps getting pushed,” she says.

And here I sat yesterday, almost a year into this homeschool life, mindlessly printing out extra worksheets for Robin to inundate her with eight times seven until she can pop the answer out at will… only to scoop it all up and throw it in the scrap bin when I remember that has never worked before.

Robin’s brain doesn’t work that way.  No amount of worksheets smattered with timed multiplication is going to sink into her mind and no matter how many times she looks at four times seven, she still has to use the chart to know the product. Even if she looked at the same problem thirteen seconds prior.  Maybe that will never change. And maybe it will.

Meanwhile, time spent on math is time taking away from subjects she loves, things at which she excels, lessons from which she may actually earn a living or find her love.  Why spend hours a day on something she hates, when we could be perfecting something she loves?

Somehow in the midst of frustration over math we’ve lost out on hours and hours she could have spent reading, writing, taking pictures, walking the dog, laughing, playing, bonding or thinking.

After all, how valuable is it to ROBIN to name working parts of a cell or memorize the Periodic Table. It’s not valuable at all. But that doesn’t make Robin any less valuable or her education any less important.  It just means we need to brush over the periodic table…know there is one and somewhat what it is for, and move on. I’m not devaluing math and science…I’m just saying that for Robin, it is not her thing.

It’s an easy thing to fall prey to, the old standby of read, re-read, pre-test, read, test and repeat.  Regurgitating facts with no real understanding and then forgetting that oh-so-important information just sixteen minutes after the test is graded.   And it’s a pointless waste of time if the child is not interested, not going to remember and not having any fun.

So we’ll play dominoes  and call it math.  She can pick apart a salmon as she cuts it open for cleaning next summer, and we’ll call it biology. We’ll leave the textbooks for Anthony, who reads them for fun and try another technique for this child.

After all, the only thing I remember from high school Biology is Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species…and the fact that a flower has a stamen and pistol (which I probably remember from watching Grease). I took the class twice before I managed to pass…you would think I would remember more.

And I think I just proved my own point…

26 Responses to "Rookie Home Schooler Here"
  1. Shirley says:

    And the State of Oklahoma has made 2 years of Algebra MANDATORY for high school diploma. I keep wondering how many of our kids will spend 13 years in school, only to find they have basically been called a “failure” because they couldn’t learn algebra.

    I took two years of algebra in high school, as elective choices of math, so that I could go to college and nursing school…didn’t go to nursing school because I couldn’t keep up with the brainy boys in high school chemistry (also required for nursing), so dropped out after being 3 chapters behind. Took one year of music ed in college and opted out for an Mrs. degree.

    The only time I have ever used algebra, to my knowledge, was when I took a class to learn Microsoft Excel. Wow! After 25 years I recognized the a + b = c in the formula bar. Well…that was Algebra 1 even. I have always wished that in high school I had taken Journalism, or Art, or stayed in Chorus…because now that is what I have discovered are my hidden talents. I could have USED those! Geometry comes in handy. But algebra? Haven’t needed it to figure out how to be a mommy or run my household, or even to teach myself to use my new Macintosh!

  2. Summer Rosso says:

    baking is the only way i can understand math with fractions. its simple then. on paper its a nightmare to me.

  3. Good for you. I’ve homeschooled my 5 for 12 years now and still have to remind myself that I am not a public school

  4. Renee says:

    Oh, and for Geometry, look up the “Sir Cumference” series of books. Your kids will always know basic geometric terms after reading them. They are at my library, or of course Amazon.

  5. Renee says:

    You have described my twin boys (14y) to a T,minus the dyslexia which they both have. So add ’20x harder for them to read and write and spell’ to your list. So I know where you are coming from. Print out this post, tape it inside your closet, and read it over every few months. Because I am sorry to say you will totally forget the epiphany under the pressure of ‘public school does it that way, it should work’. I have only ever homeschooled, you are a doing great. We all get down and discouraged. Just keep site of the BIG goals and you will do fine. I have a sort of mantra when I get down and they are not performing like *I* think they should be. “There is no way that the public school will make it better, or give them more attention, than I do at home. There is no way I can make it WORSE.”

    And on a practical note: look up Times Tales (google it or Amazon). I bet you anything that she will get them in less than 2 weeks. Seriously, it works wonders. Well worth the money (maybe $20 ?) Only down side is that it starts with 6×3 and goes up from there (skipping the 5’s). I finally made my own 2’s and 5’s since the boys can’t remember those either. It teaches the times with STORIES, which my boys can remember. Rote numbers just fall right through. Very frustrating! But they can and will remember the (really short) stories.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Good Job Mom!

  7. Lori says:

    I teach GED and use various methods for students with different issues. You don’t have to memorize times tables. Multiplication is simply addition, and for some students that is exactly what we do. We add 7 seven times, to equal 49. This is just the way it works for some and gives you the answer without any memorization. This is how I learned it- figuring it out for myself when traditional manners didn’t work. Over time some of it sticks and you don’t have to do it this was any longer. Maybe this will help. You do a great job-

    • Shirley says:

      Yes, Lori, sometimes the method just doesn’t work for some brains. I volunteered in a first grade class, and sat in the hall helping a couple of little boys with their subtraction. One of the kids, who the teacher basically treated as the dumb-bell of the class, just could NOT grasp subtraction.

      Finally, it occurred to me that when I was in school, we “proof-checked” our answer by adding the two bottom numbers to see if they matched the top number. So, I asked him, “Do you know how to add?” “Yes”. “Well, subtraction is just backwards addition. If you can add, then you can subtract.” I began to show him how to take the number being subtracted and add the number to it that would give him the number subtracted from. 3-2=1… 2+ ? = 3? He caught on instantly, and finished his paper without any more tears… in pure delight. That changed that kids whole outlook. He wasn’t a dumb kid after all. Seems like he even told me that was what his dad had tried to tell him.

      I have discovered, though, that sometimes the conflict with the parent helping is because the kids put their trust in the TEACHER, and so the teacher’s way is the “right” way. I’ve even been told that…”but my ‘teacher’ says…” by some kids. Teachers can be stuck on one method and leave the poor kids whose brain needs another route to arrive at the same answer, frustrated, feeling dumb..and behind. Who cares what method is used, if the answer is correct?

      I have been chided because I don’t “memorize” Bible scripture, too. But memorizing is very difficult for me, and God has shown me that the meaning of the passage is more important than knowing it verbatim. And so, I just tell them, “God said, and it’s HIS word, and HE’s not worried if I don’t memorize verbatim.” Can’t remember references either. That’s why I have a Concordance!

  8. Mom of many says:

    I have a homeschool graduate, with his first year of college in his back pocket (A student) and now he is off to the Army. I have one that is in public school and getting all of her needs met. I then have 3 at home. The youngest thinks outside the box so I must learn to “teach” outside of that box. One is above level and zooms while my middle child is what the school systems calls “behind.” I figure she just isn’t a cookie cutter kid for their cookie cutter school. I had someone tell me they can’t possibly know language, grammer and sciences- I said, “Whats a homonym?” She couldn’t reply. Told her where to take her public education. lol Each child is exactly where they should be- on their level. UNSCHOOL is cool. 🙂

  9. Phoebe says:

    My best friend does unschooling, via IDEA, with her kids. Mine are in public school, but we also have an abacus and try to do lots of things they’re interested in while at home (I suppose that would be called “after school unschooling”? Anyway, for math, we got the Penrose the Mathmatical Cat book and an abacus. I am also terrible at math, so I have no advice… I had to take pre-algebra 3x before I passed–and that was at the college level! Honestly, no one is going to use Calculus in real life, so she can probably skip that one. 🙂 Oh–knitting. Lots of math in knitting. If she designed her own cardigan or something she could call that “math”. Check out Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books. Good luck!

  10. You have just made a huge step forward in the experience of homeschooling. Good job..

  11. Lois Groat says:

    I just read this aloud to my 9th grade daughter, so is SO like Robin. She appreciated very much hearing all that from another mom who is not me.

  12. AussieBeth says:

    As a mum who home educated her kids from beginning to end I can relate to the tendency of feeling you need to fit into the regular school system. When I finally figured out what you are now learning things went much more smoothly and my kids learnt things that they actually use in life. My daughter (now 26) also struggled with math. We did the basics in that area and focused on strengthening those areas she enjoyed and did well at. God knows the needs of each of our children. After all, He made them, loves them, and wants to the best for them, so ask Him for wisdom for each situation. You’re doing a great job!

  13. Moon HalloranLeady says:

    My daughter sounds a lot like Robin, only the drugs put into her brain were all of her own doing. Now that she is drug-free, she realizes what she did to herself. She has trouble with math (she was a whiz at it before), and just like Robin, cannot remember her times tables at all. It will be her sticking point in getting her GED this February, but she knows this and is working hard at it. But as bad as she is at math, she is a dream at language skills and writing. It’s all about finding what you are good at and running with it.

    You are correct — all children learn very differently, for whatever reason….and learning should be FUN! I think you’re doing A-OK Mom! Keep up the good work 🙂

  14. Melissa says:

    Thanks, as a fellow homeschooler, I needed this one. It’s something we all struggle with and few of us ever seem to truely understand. Each child is an individual and we should focus on what they want to learn!

  15. Carolyn in Toronto says:

    Good for you! I’m homeschooling my son (he’s just like Anthony in age and academic pursuits) and it took me a long while to figure out not to force feed him stuff that is not interesting and will never be remembered beyond that test! Yay Robin!

  16. Jessica Corcoran says:

    You know I love everything you write – & this is no different :). I’m homeschooling this year & struggle with not feeling like they are spending enough time “on school work” during the day. Over the last month we have gone on 3 separate week long trips/vacations & I was feeling so behind in their school- but you have reminded me that “school” is everywhere! Thanks for the reminder – I needed it!!

  17. Sue, from Texas says:

    That’s ok. I, too never got my “degree” because of a mental block against ALGEBRA. I just could not get it, no matter how I tried. In spite of no sheep skin hanging on my wall, I have accomplished everything I attempted to do in the working/stereo-typical functioning world. My interests are greatly varied, and work experience proves it. Now at 60 years old, my interests have shifted again, and I’m loving life.

    I applaud you and how you can see your children’t strengths and weaknesses, or better said, each their God given gifts, and are allowing them to grow into them. We are not stamped out in cookie cutter molds…but each uniquely created.

    God bless you and your family. Happy Thanksgiving!

  18. Katrin (in Germany) says:

    I love the approache, but what do you do if you live in a country that does not allow homeschooling? My son can keep his “bankaccount” without a book, he can convert currencies without a calculator but school stuff …. At home no problem at school-blackout! French is the same it wont stick with him but he has to take the class! And so we try to “hammer” it into his brain and he has no fun going to school!

  19. Jenn Barnlund says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Makes me realize it’s time for me to pick up my own hammer… Thanks for the reality check. Oh – and my kids thank you, too!

  20. Erin says:

    It took me being in the real world to grasp the concept of basic multiplication and dealing with money… I used to have to use my hands and calculators and now I very rarely do. She will grasp it when she needs to know it 🙂 as for algebra? You can find your own x and I don’t know why

  21. Chrisv says:

    I don’t have any medical reason to be terrible at math, but I am. It is not my thing. I love your take on homeschooling, and I think that’s probably the greatest way to do it for her! Go you!!

  22. Night Rider says:

    I’ve seen a number of articles recently referencing studies that show that failing algebra is one of the primary factors in dropping out of high school. And at 55, with a B.S. degree, I still have yet to find any use for algebra in daily life.

    Good job on realizing that being good at math isn’t a necessity in life.

  23. Bev says:

    I have a friend that graduated from Perdue University and still does her times tables on her hands and adds with her fingers. Guess what? She is a college graduate, successful mom, and a marvelous person and SSSOOOOOO artistic! Who cares that she can’t do math…she doesn’t!!
    PS. I never would have known if she hadn’t told me!!

  24. Maggie says:

    My son has no short term memory. After years of attempting to get him to memorize, we have gotten to the point where he carries a times table with him, and a calculator. All this is ok’ed by the charter school/homeschool he attends. Now that we have let him get past without memorization, he is getting A’s in algebra. Not everyone is made to memorize.

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