Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teaching Responsibility

Lately I have been thinking about the need to teach my boys some basic life skills. Things that aren't necessarily taught in a 'school' environment, but are concepts they need to succeed in adulthood. This was first brought to light a month or so ago when I placed a pile of laundry on JT's bed and asked him to put it away.
"That's why I'm really looking forward to getting married some day. I'll have a wife who can do that stuff for me." ?!

My husband is not extremely domestic, but he certainly doesn't treat me like his servant. I'm not sure where this idea came from...but it must be fixed!

We have given the boys a weekly allowance for a couple years now. This is a cash allowance. We do not expect the boys to work to earn it. We do not take it away as a punishment. This is simply cash they are given to spend as they will. We encouraged them to devise a budget for their money when we first instituted the process. They both set some aside for savings, some for church giving and the rest is their spending money. They have both set goals for things they would like to buy (almost always Lego sets!) and met those goals with diligence. I have felt that this plan has allowed them to learn how to handle cash. It has also shown them the value of saving for something you really want to have.

Each of our boys has responsibilities to carry out on a daily basis. They both must make their beds, take care of getting dirty clothes in the laundry, clean off their place mats after each meal and pick up toys. Beyond this, we really don't have a set list of jobs for them. That is about to change...

My husband and I are putting together a list of chores that we feel they are ready to tackle. This has brought about some feelings of resistance on my part. I am a bit of a clean freak. Since we started homeschooling, I have eased up a bit in my cleaning fanaticism . I no longer have a schedule for my house cleaning, which used to include things like when to clean out cupboards and closets. Allowing the boys to clean the house will mean it might not always meet my standards. It is going to take work on my part to teach them how to do it right. In the beginning it will add more work to my days. But I know it's the right thing to do. I want their future wives to be happy women!

Once we decided we'd like to put a chore list together for them, we knew we'd need a way to track the jobs. I didn't want a list or chart...they need to be updated when they are completed. I wanted something re-usable. I don't like the white board idea...too easy to smudge. Then I thought of a plan. We are going to put each chore on a 3x5 card and place it in the 'to-do' basket. When the job has been completed, they can move it to the 'finished' basket. Simple, yet perfect for our purposes.

Another plan in the works is a bit of cooking instruction. JT requested a 'cooking class' this week. Both of the boys help me in the kitchen from time to time, but I've never made it into anything organized. I am going to put an outline of basic cooking skills together, including menu planning and shopping for meals. I have a few kid's cook books lying around the house that have easy recipes and definitions of cooking terms in them. Seems like a good place to start.

Overall, I think homeschooling is really the best place to accomplish the teaching of life skills. Schools don't seem to have the time anymore for such supposedly non-essential classes. Testing has pushed this kind of learning to the sidelines. My own experience in school was enriched by my home economics classes. I took every cooking class our high school offered. Even in middle school, I loved the class that was called, "Creative Living". We learned to sew and cook...boys and girls together. I don't think I remember much from middle school classes except: how to make french toast and how to make a pillow with a ruffled edge. I believe those are the skills that will make our lives richer and more satisfying in the long run.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


The weather in our neck of the woods has been a bit frosty this week. Local schools had no classes Tuesday, delays on Wednesday and what will potentially turn into some sort of change of schedule tomorrow as well. Add in the day off on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and it was a less than productive week for most students.

We followed our normal school schedule for the week. Weather plays very little role in our homeschooling days. In fact, we didn't even bother to clear our iced-over driveway until 2 days after the wintry mix had fallen. We had nowhere to go! I can't say how many times I find myself thinking how thankful I am that we school at home and my husband works from home. It just makes life so much less hectic. No need to get up super early on a day with miserable weather to try and clear the driveway just in case the school day is not canceled. No need to stand at a freezing cold bus stop and face the elements. It just feels like the perfect life to me. AND we can do things like this....

A couple weeks ago I was pouring a bit of apple juice for myself. I saw a strange blob-like thing slide into my glass. " How gross!" I thought. Then I ran to get the camera. After taking my 'before' picture, I pulled out a petri dish. (EVERYONE keeps a petri dish lying around for just such a situation, right?) We gave the blob a little more of the no longer appetizing apple juice and put it aside to see what we could grow.

We ended up with a lovely, fuzzy friend. On Tuesday, the boys and I took samples off the original yellowish substance and also some of the fuzzy part. We made microscope slides with our samples and compared the two. Then the boys each wrote out descriptions of the original appearance versus the current appearance. They made drawings of what they saw through the microscope. JT wrote a summary explaining why he thought the two substances were the same and what he thought about their structure. It was a wonderful learning experience. A lovely, unplanned experience that had nothing to do with our current science curriculum. In fact, I'm finding myself straying from our 'plan' more often these days. When learning opportunities arrive, we take them. Some days I worry that this unstructured lifestyle will backfire. That the boys will get to college and have no clue how to study, how to take notes, how to survive. Then I see something like this...

EM received Volume 1 of Cats 101 DVD for Christmas. He has expressed a desire to be a veterinarian when he grows up, so this show is right up his alley. Each episode covers several breeds of cat. After a bit of video on a specific breed, they summarize some of their traits, good and bad. Bullet points are given. I heard the boys watching the show and EM would shout, "JT, get they come!" I was curious, so I went to see what was up. JT with pencil ready was waiting for those bullet points. When they would come on the TV screen, EM would pause the show so JT could copy them down. They were making a chart to compare the breeds to decide which would make the best pets.

I guess I have no reason to worry about their future study skills.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recharging my Batteries

This week I attended the annual Pennsylvania Department of Education Special Education conference. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to recharge, network and learn new things.

Today I went to two sessions. The first was titled, Teaching Word Recognition: Kindergarten through Grade 4, presented by Rollanda E. O'Connor, Ph.D. (All of the power point slides from these presentations are available for download here.) I attended this session in particular to get some ideas for helping EM with some of the reading difficulties he has been encountering. Due to his Auditory Processing Disorder, EM has difficulty with phonics, which leads to difficulty in his reading. Lately, I've been noticing that he seems to take some pretty wild guesses as to what an unfamiliar word might be in his reading. Because he is also gifted, he has done a good job up until now with his guessing technique. When you are reading Kindergarten or 1st grade material you have a pretty good chance at guessing a word if you know the context (usually thanks to pictures) and you know at least one phenome in the word. It was an excellent presentation and I came away with a few new strategies to implement. The one thing I did realize...I haven't been spending enough time allowing him to read aloud to me lately. Once he seemed to be reading successfully, I would often give him a reading assignment and when he had finished, I would ask a few comprehension questions or have a discussion about the passage. Since I discovered the guessing has been allowing him to just 'get by', I will start reading with him on a daily basis. I will also be spending more time reinforcing phonics.

The second session I attended was titled, Motivation and Underachievement, presented by James T. Webb, Ph.D. I came away from this session with two lessons learned. First, I was encouraged to learn that my recent adoption of a more compromising attitude with JT is definitely a step in the right direction. Allowing him to have a say in his education, so that it has more meaning to him, will help reduce the chance that he will lose motivation. Secondly, I discovered that I really need to find a way to orchestrate challenges in the boys' education that will allow them to feel success after hard work. Too often they breeze through things or make elaborate plans for some new project that loses steam when they run up against an unexpected barrier. I hope to incorporate more of that kind of learning into our days.

One of the other benefits of these conferences is that I get the chance to reconnect with friends who live across the state. Sometimes it's easy to feel alone when you are the 'different' one. Today I felt like I was with the other 'Martians' for just a little while. I always come home recharged and ready to put into practice the new ideas I have acquired. I can't wait to get started!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Two quick items before I get into the topic for this post. In our last two days of schooling before our Christmas break, we were able to use the flexibility of our schedule to our full advantage. Very early on Tuesday, December 21st, we pulled the boys out of bed at about 1:30am to watch the only total lunar eclipse this far north on the sky’s dome until December 21, 2485. It was spectacular! If they were enrolled in public school, I wouldn't have dared to get them up in the middle of the night. They both thanked me many times for letting them see something so out of the ordinary.

A couple of days before returning to our full time school schedule, I was desperately trying to get some work done around the house. The boys were doing everything they could to prevent that. So I did what any normal mom does...I threw them out into the bitter cold. They protested and said, "What are we supposed to do out here, anyway?!"
I suggested that they...(the first thing that pops into my mind)..."Look for a bird's nest or something!"

About ten minutes later, EM came running into the house. "Mom, we found one!"

Thinking fast, I asked if he'd like to borrow my camera to take a picture. Then HE came up with the idea to find the book he has that shows pictures of different birds' nests so he could try to identify what kind of bird built it. Isn't accidental learning the best?

Today I learned how important it is to never think I am the expert. JT had been given an assignment for grammar. He has a text book called Building English Skills, published in 1984 by McDougal, Littell & Company. I really like this slightly outdated text. It doesn't mess around with a lot of fluff. It presents grammar in a straight-forward kind of way, with simple exercises for reinforcement. Today JT was examining sentences to see if they were run-ons or correct. He had to number his paper from 1 to 20, writing 'correct', if the sentence was not a run-on. If it was a run-on, he was to rewrite the sentence as two or more sentences. This was a no-brainer kind of assignment. Maybe that was the problem. JT doesn't want work for the sake of work. He did the first 10 sentences and then started to whine.
"I don't want to do these."
"It's too much writing."
"These are B-O-R-I-N-G!"
I told him how important it is to learn to edit in writing. Recognizing mistakes in others' work can help us recognize our own. Blah, blah, blah.

Then he offered a compromise. What if I let him edit a chapter from the book he's been writing instead? I was resistant at first. As MOM, I often feel the need to 'stand my ground' once I have made a rule. But the more I thought about his suggestion, the more I realized how much sense it made. Why not allow him to put into action the very skills I was trying to teach him in a life applicable way? He could care less about those run-on sentences in the old text book. Isn't one of my complaints about the state of our current educational system that kids never get practical life lessons?

So, we put the text book aside and he pulled the first chapter of his book from the folder where he keeps it. He worked through the chapter and found several capitalization and punctuation errors on his own. Then I helped him work on the quotation problems he was dealing with in his dialogue. I reminded him of lessons we had already covered on split quotations and he was mostly able to fix the remaining problems on his own.

As a parent, I need to teach myself that the urge to always be the expert will not allow my child to become an independent learner. Most of the problems we have dealt with in the public education system have come from closed minded 'experts' who only wanted to do things the way they have always been done. Why should I walk that same path? If I can allow compromise and creativity to pave the way, education will take on a whole new meaning for my children.