Is It Easy?

Greetings! Welcome to my very first column on the Internet. I admit I avoided the Internet in the past because it all seemed so overwhelming. I imagine that’s how plenty of homeschoolers feel these days when it comes to sorting through all the curriculum resources available now. Tired, overworked, and with a sense of having little or no time to learn how to use something new, the first thought when looking at a resource is probably, “Is it easy?”

Since this is the time to make decisions for the upcoming school year, I thought I would share some tips designed to lift some of that burden. Think about the following in order to answer the question, “Is it easy?”

FIRST, because it is the most important point and essential for every parent to consider:
With every product, stop and imagine your child using it on a regular basis. Do you envision a willing worker? Or, even though the product may seem easy for you to implement (no lesson plans on your part, for instance) will you actually end up putting lots of effort into making your child do the work? (That is much more exhausting in the long run.)

Most of us head toward products we would have enjoyed. Our kids may not have the same learning style, and so might hate the approach that would appeal to us. Recall the types of things your child has enjoyed in the past—even if he’s still too young for “official” school. What does he do with his free time? Look for resources to cover objectives in a way that will appeal to him.

SECOND, include resources that allow your kids to do a few things together. This gives you a breather and helps them learn to work together. (Note: This may not be practical for high schoolers.)
Look at games, kits, videos, and activity idea books. When kids are taught a concept or learning a skill, they need follow up activities to help them understand and retain what they’ve learned. That follow up does not have to be a workbook page or test; instead it can be in the form of projects, games, and activities that provide review and practice. Take a look at the concepts or skills being covered with the resources you’ve chosen so that you’re not making kids do double duty. In other words, a game that reinforces math skills can replace some workbook pages of problems. Creating and acting out a commercial can replace a drill page on propaganda techniques. Remember, your goal should be the development of understanding, not completion of every page and suggestion of a curriculum package. If you are trying to do both, the fun stuff eventually takes a back seat because of an increasing work load. However, the fun stuff can actually be the means to achieve the same goal as the work the kids find tedious.

Design-A-Study’s Guides to History Plus has plenty of activity ideas. The other books provide you with the objectives so that you see just where those other resources fit in. Critical Conditioning, for example, lists following directions among the reading comprehension skills. Your kids can accomplish that objective AND practice measuring skills (listed in Maximum Math) while cooking from a recipe.

THIRD, choose resources to aid one or two weak areas, and something to increase ability in an area of strength.
If your kids are young and you are still looking for their talents, your curriculum should include at least one short term class (weekly for 9 weeks, maybe) in something new (lessons in art, music, or a sport, like swimming, for example.) If you don’t have time during the school year, sign up for summer sessions. (Check your local YMCA and Dept. of Parks and Recreation).

Too often we get so caught up in building up weak areas that there’s no time left for developing talents. Remember, your child’s gifts are the key to his future. While you are concerned with working on weak areas so that they won’t prevent him from achieving goals, remember that he also needs to develop the skills that help refine his talent.

For example, my son always had an interest in music. He also had difficulty with attention and focus. In order to help him develop his musical abilities as he desired, I had to find ways to break apart his practice sessions to help him focus and make progress. It would have been easier never to begin music lessons since it not only took my time and effort just to get him through the basics but I realized that he would be unable to take on the responsibility of practicing without my help. In other words, it was one more thing on my plate. But I believe in helping children develop their talents, and it was obvious he had an “ear” for music. He began Suzuki method violin lessons as 6. (He’d been begging for a violin for 2 years.) This method requires the parent to sit in on lessons and carry out the teacher’s instructions by helping the child during daily practice. He is now almost 17, and all that work has brought wonderful rewards. Among other things, last summer he had the opportunity to perform in Eastern Europe and Jordan with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. Believe me, it’s been worth every bit of my effort to help him hone his musical talent.

Here’s another example. I work with a family that has a 13 year-old son who is slower than average academically, and therefore requires lots of extra work on basics. We discussed future possibilities, recognizing that abstract thinking will always be difficult. His parents have observed that he loves to use sign language and seems to remember it easily. An interpreter does not need abstract thinking, just speed and fluency as he translates what he hears into signs. Even though they realize he may or may not become an interpreter, they do agree that finding signing classes for him to increase that skill will give him a greater sense of having something to give—a niche. Everyone needs to feel that he is good at something.

FINALLY, don’t expect your kids to work at their school work independently. Be happily surprised if and when they do, noting the subject, type of resource and the circumstances.
Too often I’ve talked with parents that are frustrated because they chose a resource specifically because they were told that the kids could do it alone only to find they had their hands full either explaining the material or demanding that the child do it.

There is no magic age when kids are automatically mature enough to handle work independently. That ability needs to be taught and even then some kids handle it more easily than others. No one can assure you that your child will understand the way the material is presented, or that he won’t find it boring and complain about having to do it.

Think about the academic objective, look for a resource that you think will appeal to your child to meet that objective, and try to envision the reality of how the day will go with that in place. Your child’s personality and preferences in resources has more to do in determining whether or not he can use it independently than any other factors.

It took three tries to find the right geometry book for my son. I knew he was an auditory-hands on learner, so I tried to find something with illustrations and a comfortable reading style. He had to be the final authority, obviously. He found the first book too hard to understand. Then, I thought software would be the answer, since he enjoys that approach. The software I chose annoyed him because it wasn’t straight forward enough and he wanted to see the explanation then practice it until he “got” it. Finally, we found a text that has illustrations and language that made sense to him and he was able to work fairly independently. He usually worked with me nearby (to help him stay focused) but only occasionally needed me to explain something. The first two options would have required me to sit with him and go through each lesson. (The book we used is Geometry by Jacobs, in case anyone else has an auditory-hand-on type learner in high school.)

BE PATIENT. You are shaping your children to become capable adults, and that takes time. Don’t get so busy that sending them off to corners to work alone becomes the priority.