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Time for a Change?

Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: February 2002
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This is a good time of year to step back and review what's working and what's not. As we draw on our observations and ask for our kids' input, we can adjust our methods and materials at any time to ensure their progress and sense of success—the great advantage of homeschooling. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. If the student is continually frustrated in a specific area, try a different approach.
  2. This could mean looking for multi-sensory resources, something compatible with the student's learning style, or just experimenting by trying something different. For example, memorizing multiplication facts (or any rote memorization task) often proves difficult. Facts have been set to music for the auditory learner, put on "sticks" with string (wrap-ups) for the hands-on learner, and drawn with silly pictures for the visual learner. Recently, a homeschooling mom listed the various resources and methods she had tried with her son. He had made some progress, but several multiplication facts still alluded him. I lent her some materials I had on hand from a lecture I'd attended over 20 years earlier, not knowing whether or not this humorous, visual approach by Jerry Lucas could still be purchased. Within a few weeks she let me know that the first day he had learned and retained 8x9=72, but within 48 hours he had mastered the entire six-times table. Not only that, he's been eager to practice—he's "loving the cards." Wanting to pass on the story of her success to others, I looked for and found Jerry Lucas' web site with an expanded list of resources: www.DoctorMemory.com.

    Sometimes all it takes is a simple adjustment to your teaching technique. One mom put her imagination to work and suggested that her son sing the spelling words he practiced each week. Suddenly, his memory "worked." As a new teacher, I drew on my knowledge of kids' developmental needs and tried to think of ways to incorporate movement (other than raising their hands) into typically "sit still" type lessons with my class of 20 six-year olds. During a phonics lesson of the "k" sound I told the children seated on the floor around me to stand up straight if they heard "k" at the beginning of a word I called out. Later, I had them curl into balls if they heard the "k" sound at the end of a word. This kept them more focused during lessons. When teaching my own children, I used masking tape to create a hopscotch pattern with numbers on the kitchen floor. Then I had the children take turns tossing a beanbag onto a numbered square and recite a math fact with that number while they jumped. They enjoyed the game and considered it "painless" practice.

    However, like many young boys, my son loudly protested handwriting practice. I didn't see a song or game remedy to help him develop this necessary skill. Instead I tried to encourage him. First, I told him that instead of working in a handwriting lesson book AND writing other assignments, he could copy his spelling words, Scripture verse, or final composition as his handwriting practice. Then I sat with him, praising proper formation and helping him make adjustments as he worked. This prevented a hurried and messy paper (because he just wanted to get it over with) that would have to be done again. He always enjoyed personal attention, so this approach helped him accept the "ordeal."

  3. Sometimes complaints seem vague and the teacher must figure out the underlying problem in order to be successful in choosing the appropriate remedy.
  4. A frustrated parent asked me how to get her once eager student to do her school work. Her child had voiced her complaint, but Mom had trouble interpreting it. In this case, the child had been using a packaged textbook curriculum for two or three years, reading every page and answering every question. She told her mother, "Even if I get it, I'll just have to do it all again." The problem was not the curriculum since the child had enjoyed it previously. Rather, the problem was the lack of flexibility in using it. Children need to be rewarded for mastery by being allowed to move on. Eager to do well, the student had been attentive, focused, when she started. The minor adjustment of allowing her to skip portions already understood would have kept that enthusiasm in place. But, it's never too late to get it back.

    Recently, a family withdrew their son from public school because he just "couldn't take it anymore." New to homeschooling, they wondered how to get him interested in learning. He wanted out, but had no suggestions when asked what he wanted to do. Nothing seemed appealing. He didn't have any hobbies. But, he did love to watch the Discovery Channel. In this case it was the parents' observations about how their son spent his free time that led to a solution. I suggested that the programs could be used to cover concepts and skills in science. He could use the Science Scope (www.designastudy.com) as a working outline, noting what was covered in the program, and investigate further if necessary. Follow up would not have to be quizzes or tests. Instead, he could discuss what he had learned, or even use the content as the basis for a composition assignment. They could also refer to the Discovery Channel web site for more help in their planning: www.discoveryschool.com.

    When I homeschooled a thirteen year-old relative during the year he lived with us, he was a passive learner bored with the public school. I knew he enjoyed the woods and animals. I enrolled him in a weekly nature study class, and then let him use the question guide portion of the Guides to History Plus as a working outline for independent studies. This allowed him to use resources he found appealing and the time to dig into the animal life in the country, state, or province. The result? He decided he wanted to move to Alaska some day! Actually, these outlets made him much more willing to work with me (i.e., stay focused) in weak areas.

    Sometimes remembering what our children choose to avoid can lead to positive changes. For instance, when a child rarely reads on his own, he probably prefers to learn by listening, watching, or doing. If he avoids reading because he finds it difficult, then a multi-sensory program could be chosen for daily instruction to improve reading skills Other subjects, however, would be more effectively taught through methods he would find more appealing—listening to the teacher read out loud, using audio-tapes or talking programs on the computer, taking field trips, watching videos, and participating in teacher-directed hands-on activities.

  5. Sometimes academic needs are being met, but not desires that are part of the child's personality.
  6. At times, my son begged to go to public school. My quick response was "Why?" to which he responded, "I want to do things with other kids all day." I had certainly observed his sociable nature, he quickly made friends in every new situation. I explained why I did not consider public school an option, and promised to try to arrange more get-togethers with his friends. He was already enrolled in outside classes for music, art and sports, but I continued to look for other interesting opportunities. He wasn't completely satisfied, but I knew my decision would be best for him in the long run. Now, as an adult, he believes that homeschooling will be best for his future family.

    My daughter, preferring the occasional company of a few close friends, never desired the big classroom. She did, however, want a neat work area and a daily list of what was expected so she could check it off as she studied. That was a bigger challenge for me than planning social events for my son! We found ways to compromise.

    One mom told me about her son's constant drawing. He just "needed" to draw. She came up with all sorts of ways to incorporate drawing into his school day, much to his satisfaction and benefit.

It can be a challenge to find methods and resources to keep our children interested and motivated. But seeing real learning take place is one of the reasons most of us chose homeschooling in the first place. It's well worth the extra effort.

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