Tag Archives: strategy

What I am Learning About Homeschooling (& Myself)

We are one month into homeschooling officially.  Unofficially we’ve been doing it since June, but those first three months were mainly focused on language and literacy, with a small amount of math.  Now we are into Science and Social Studies, fully into Math and continuing along with Language Arts.  Phys Ed is less a ‘class’ and more a daily survival method.  And a teaching strategy.  Art is… well, Art is something that Berrik gets quite a bit of in his classes at Phoenix as so much of what they learn is through creating.  So we don’t focus on art too much at home.  Thirty days in and this is what I have learned:

  1. I am competitive. I want to win at everything.  (I don’t… but I’d like to).  Homeschooling is not a competition.  And ‘winning’ is not the same in this context.  This has been something that I have had to really spend time with, inside my head.  Winning in this context is many things.  A productive, grounded, confident adult (it’s important to have long range goals, right?).  Literacy. Numeracy.  As Berrik develops skills in both of these areas, we continue to win.  There is no end goal in these skills…. my literacy continues to develop still.  I hope his does throughout his life as well.  Last Monday, winning was getting through the afternoon without resorting to threats or bribes (ok, so I didn’t officially win that one…  Next time.  Maybe.  Probably not.  Sigh).  Because of the humanness of good days and bad days and good hours and bad hours, and unexpected interruptions to our day due to a sick or injured sister (both on the same day!), winning is sometimes just still being functional at the end of the day.  Or maybe even just still breathing.  I was chatting with a friend of mine yesterday who I love.  She gets me.  She works with kids like Berrik so she knows what’s what.  I don’t have to explain things like that to her.  And she’s a killer mom too.  She told me that I was good at homeschooling and that I needed to cut myself some slack.  She’s right, but it’s so much easier said than done.  I’m riding that roller coaster and learning to brace myself through the downhills and spirals, but darn it, if Berrik has a good ‘learning’ day, and I feel like we’ve made progress, then I feel like I’m winning.  When everything goes to hell and I feel lucky that everyone’s been fed that day (and let’s be clear, they are usually fed on those days because I’ve ordered in), then I start to doubt myself and feel like I am ruining Berrik’s life.  Dramatic, I know.  Ask my mom – I have an incredible flair for the dramatic.  And lucky me, I passed this trait on to 2 of my 3 children.  I guess I should feel more for Kevin on that.  Sorry dude.  Genetics are funny that way.  Ha ha.  Joke’s on you. 😉  But I digress.  My point in all this rambling is that I’m beginning to realize that the wins are not the higher level of reading that Berrik has moved to, or the new math concept that he has mastered.  It’s the time I’m spending with my boy, and my whole family.  It’s the ability to eat dinner together at the table and talk about our days (even if we’re eating take out and I look like I’ve been through the ringer).  It’s the deeper understanding of what makes all my kids tick.  It’s learning to cut myself (and my kids) some slack.  I read yesterday a quote that said, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”  This is something I need to remember.  And with humans, failure is relative.  We may fail at one thing on one day, but in the big picture it’s all success because we are happy, healthy, learning new things, and moving forward.
  2. Learning happens all the time, not just 9-3.  This is something that I really love about homeschooling.  I feel like there is significantly more ability to foster creative curiosity about the world around us when we are homeschooling.  And not just in Berrik.  I am constantly looking around now, looking for opportunities to show Berrik something that might help him understand a concept.  I’m noticing things more.  And now Berrik is too.  The more I try to show him things, the more questions he asks.  This is such a significant life skill, and one that I am re-developing right alongside Berrik.  This realization helps me somewhat with my issues in point #1.  Even if we get through exactly zero ‘official’ school work, Berrik is always learning.  Sometimes he’s learning patience as we wait in Dr. office with sister, or get in the car, AGAIN, to get sister to her acro class, or pick up sick sister from school.  I have purposely refused to allow him technology in these circumstances because patience is a virtue (which means we are BOTH working on this in these moments), and knowing how to entertain yourself is a critical life skill.  In this age of technology, most of us have lost the ability.  And if you’re bored in the car, there is nothing else to do but look around you and see what’s going on in the world.  Berrik fires questions at me like an interrogator in the CIA in the car (and don’t think it doesn’t occur to me that if I just gave him the Nintendo DS, I could have a little peace and quiet while we drive!), and I like that (In theory.  I like it in theory because it means he’s curious about his world.  In reality I’d like to listen to Alt Nation and pretend I’m on a fun road trip back to Kelowna to hangout with Dorrie and Jon in their VIP house with their VIP food and visit beautiful wineries…)
  3. Every homeschooler approaches homeschooling differently.  For different reasons.  At Phoenix I have talked to a few parents. And I have a few friends who homeschool.  Their reasons and approaches are all different.  I’ve come to realize that’s a good thing.  The competitor in me tends to want to compare what I’m doing to what others are doing and see if I measure up.  I’ve had to consciously decide to stop this. More than once. Everyone is different because everyone is different.  Duh.  The only question to ask myself is whether our approach and reasons are working for us as a family.  So far, I would say yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  And if I ask the kids what they think about how things are going this year, they all tell me they like it.  Kevin is 100% behind me on this too.  Not that it hasn’t taken some adjustments….  “Oh, you’re not working this year?  Super, I’ll just stop doing all of the things I used to do to help out…”  Um, no.  I’m actually working quite a bit more this year….  just different work (and super crappy paycheque).  We’re adjusting and figuring things out.  Kevin knows now that if I appear that I’ve been through the ringer that day, I likely have, and he should tread carefully.  “Hi honey… um….how was your day?…  Thanks for ordering dinner in tonight…Great idea.  Why don’t I take Berrik outside to play ball for a bit?”  Hahaha.  He’s so smart and catches on so quickly.  (For the record, this only happened one day this month, but I foresee more opportunities for Kevin to apply his learning in this area….).

It is early days for us when it comes to homeschooling.  I feel like I will learn more from this experience than anyone.  And I am pretty sure the ‘wins’ for the year will be much more significant than literacy or numeracy.

Labels are for Mabel

Labels are often deemed necessary.  Some would say they are needed in order to help promote shared understanding. I believe this is true to some degree, at least in theory.  The problem with labels, is that we often forget that the person behind the label is more than their label.  A lot more.  I think it’s human nature to label people.  We label people in both positive and negative ways….  You call a young boy a math whiz and suddenly we forget that he has numerous other strengths and talents.  How many times as a nurse have I heard someone say, “Can you go check on the head injury in room 2?” or some version of that where the person ceases to be a person and becomes their diagnosis.  “She’s the pretty one…”  Ugh.  We ALL do it.  Repeatedly.  Often with very good intentions.  (And less often, with nasty intention – think Trump for an unlimited list of examples).

Besides the obvious issue with pigeon-holing people by one aspect of their humanness, it also  can create less understanding than more.  Take any label you can think of and think about how that ‘label’ manifests in one person you know.  And then think of another person you know that might qualify for the same label.  How similar are those two humans as a whole?  NOT SIMILAR AT ALL, is my guess.  Take a complex label like cancer.  What that label means and how it manifests is completely unique to each person who has been diagnosed with cancer.   It sounds ridiculous when I type this, but what if we treated all people with cancer in exactly the same way?   Makes no sense.  While there may be similarities to how we treat individuals with cancer – we use chemotherapeutic medications often (although in unique doses and combinations and schedules), radiation, stem cell transplants, surgery – there is never one course of treatment and patient response that looks exactly like another course of treatment and response because each person having treatment is completely unique.  Again, this all seems so obvious.

Learning disabilities and learning styles are incredibly complex and completely unique.  Look up the definition of dyslexia and you will see a long list of possible ‘symptoms’, and if you read further you will see that what dyslexia looks like in one person may be very different from another person with the same label. Ditto for ADHD.  Or processing disorders.  Or autism. Speech delay. PDD.   <Ya ya, Chandra, we get it.  Labels are high level and don’t reflect the individual.  Move on.>

My point is that in my opinion, when it comes to learning, the labels are not relevant.  You may need them to help get support, and that is where the value is.  But when you start to look at what specific support your child will need, forget about the labels and look at the child. Where is the child at today? Which way does he or she learn best?  Does that change depending on the topic, time of day, or activity?  What strategies work best for your child. How does diet, or activity , or sleep, or routine impact his or her learning? How can your child achieve meaningful success?  Having a label doesn’t answer those questions, and sometimes results in not asking the question at all….  Have you ever heard, “Oh he has ADHD, he’ll never sit through this.” ?  I have.  It’s not about whether or not he will sit through an activity.  The question should be “How do we adapt this activity, our approach, his environment, etc. etc., so he can be successful?”

I have been thinking a lot about learning disabilities and learning styles lately for obvious reasons.  When I think about homeschooling Berrik, this is my philosophy:

I don’t worry about labels because they aren’t really relevant to what I am going to do. It’s not up to me or a label to pre-determine what Berrik can or cannot achieve.  On any given day, I just start where he is at and progress with him at his pace.  If he is not progressing on any topic or in any moment, I believe it is my responsibility to figure out how my child learns and adapt my approach.  Kids all progress at different rates.  They all learn in different ways.  And that can change from day to day, sometimes from minute to minute.  I’m here to help Berrik navigate his learning journey, not dictate it.  

And this is what I tell myself every day.  Navigate, don’t dictate.  I’m a dictator by nature.  Some  (or maybe many!!!) might label me ‘bossy’.  I have absolutely been called a ‘know it all’.  I’m terrible at meditation and yoga, but I have a mantra…  Navigate, don’t dictate.  Navigate, don’t dictate.  One more time.  NAVIGATE, don’t dictate.

As an aside, I’d like to get better at yoga and meditation. To meditate I’d have to stop talking, and I think many of you know that may be a bit of a stretch goal, so perhaps I’ll start with yoga…  (See what I did there?  Stretch goal…yoga…) <mic drop>

 

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.

 

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