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The New Homeschool at Wit’s End

POSTED ON Mar 03rd 2015 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Education, Homeschool, Motherhood, Texas

Homeschool desk for elementary age twinsRemember some posts from a few months ago, one about how I was a once and future housewife and the other about the lack of rhythm in motherhood? I wasn’t kidding. I had just gotten settled in three part-time/freelance jobs, when…

We pulled our 7 year old twins out of school for homeschooling. This is week three of the Homeschool at Wit’s End. I am writing a long-read on How to Make a Homeschool Mother, one complete with research on curriculum fads’ failure to teach. (In our case, we have Texas standardized testing, STAAR, and a version of common core math called Math in Focus. It is one of the many spinoffs of Singapore Math.) I will cover the curriculum details soon, but until then—my writing time had severely contracted, obviously—a few initial observations and a short “why?” answer since many have asked.

  • Telling my peers, especially my conservative peers, that we’ve started homeschooling gets the same type of reaction as telling them I’m expecting. “Oh, congrats!” “You’ll do great!” “Exciting news! Be sure to check out [website, curriculum, blog]. They have a ton of good info.” They have been helpful, supportive, and encouraging to a one.
  • If I’d known homeschooling was going to be this easy, I would have done it last fall. Granted, I’ve now seen enough to know that “easy” highly correlates with “schedule”. Luckily for me, designing a schedule and sticking to it is one of my strengths. One day, when I turned over the morning start to my mom so I could hop on a conference call, I learned exactly how important a schedule was. Scheduling is not her strength and the bickering started not even 5 minutes in, while they were still in their pajamas. (Having them get dressed is part of my schedule.)
  • A friend told me that I would find homeschooling much easier than the after school homework hassle. She was absolutely right.  The homeschool bloggers type the truth—you can do a full day’s curriculum in under 3 hours leaving the rest of the day for play, field trips, or hands on learning. And I know that the work we are doing will teach them skills beyond test performance. Which gets us to the why…

So why did we pull them home?

Our elementary school has changed. It is trying to keep up with the new fads in education, specifically the quest for test scores. In the school’s desire to enhance test scores, they are not only doing Math in Focus’s ‘5 ways to solve a problem in 5 minutes when a flash card memory and 5 seconds will do’*, but also have upped the standards for reading and writing. Pushing skills forward sounds great and is all the rage in education theory, but it is a failure in actual education.**  Furthermore, teaching a child to read is not the same thing as teaching a child to perform reading on a test. These may sound like synonymous goals, but they are not.

By November my girls’ home behavior turned south. It took me a while to figure out it was stress from the sense of failure for only doing 1 out of 5 things well on any given day. One twin had a particularly hard time. She works in streaks and the teacher was unable to let her establish one skill and then move on to the next. That is what my son’s teacher had done at our beloved London school.

This kind of problem is more common for boys. Calvin would have been crushed here. Since he and his sister have a similar learning style, however, I can compare tactics. Mrs. Hindson, Calvin’s teacher, had experience, classroom autonomy, and no standardized test looming. She was able to nurture Calvin’s love of learning rather than quash it. She saw his streak learning and his late bloomer pattern. She worked within it, establishing his reading first. Plus, the school taught phonics. (It was an education fad resistant school. I knew Hill House was great, but I continue to learn just how great it was. I not-so-briefly considered returning to London, just for the school.) As anticipated by Mrs. Hindson, Calvin bloomed late and all at once. Now he’s the kid who reads The Transom and talks Napoleonic battle tactics with the dads at Laser Tag. He loves learning. I don’t have to do much with him but point him to the good books.

Back here in the now, however, the school’s goal is the STAAR test, and so a kid like Calvin, who is inclined to master one complete skill at a time, looks like a potential score drag because if your goal is testing a kid, then you can’t back off of math pressure to establish reading–which is all the more nonsensical since some of the early Math in Focus skills are word problems. Seriously, we parents would get notices on top of the regular “how to help your kids with their homework”—a bit of helicopter pressure I reject on principle— reminding us that we would need to read their math homework to them because they didn’t yet have the reading skills to read the homework themselves. The common sense idea that kids should perhaps work on their math facts while learning to read and then start word problems after reading was well established? Gone. And don’t even get me started on creative writing as handwriting practice.

Whereas, my son started reading later than his peers but loved school, my youngest daughters are reading later and they feel stupid. More than anything else, that worries my husband and me.

If this new curriculum requires me to go to take tutorials to learn the new “improved” methods so I can drill my deflated children after 8 hours at school because the new methods have so many options or are otherwise unreasonable that they cannot be mastered in the school day in time for the children to perform for the standardized tests upon which they think their intellectual self-worth hinges, then I’m going to teach them myself, my way, without smothering their natural desire to learn.

So, in mid-Febuary, we opened the Homeschool at Wit’s End. It is going quite well. They’ve improved in skill and attitude. No regrets. Just a lot less time, temporarily. Remember, there is no permanent rhythm in motherhood.

 

My husband on the Chelsea Mum Run, taking our elders children to a school we loved. I miss this school run.

My husband on the Chelsea Mum Run, taking our elder children to a school we loved. I miss this school run.

* That’s my tagline for Math in Focus, not theirs, obviously.

** Read the whole thing, but the link is for the bit about Head Start’s failure to deliver on it’s purposes and the bit about comprehension, teaching to the test, and 3rd grade failure. The last is something all of my elementary school teacher friends have talked about for years.

5 Comments



  1. Holly Chaney said:

    Dear American Housewife,

    I couldn’t agree more with your statements and frustrations with school. One issue that is of particular frustration for me is timed tests (or timed writing responses, etc). The stress and pressure this places on such young children is crazy. And then the teachers wonder why their handwriting is messy or they forgot the last part of the multi-step directions (I’m referring to my sons 5th grade class). This certain son woke up this morning panicked about which month it was for fear it was May, not March. When I asked why, he replied, “State testing.” Seriously??? Perhaps I should reconsider my educational options.

  2. Denise said:

    Good for you! Even if it doesn’t last, you and the children will be blest by this time you get to spend together.

  3. Denise said:

    * blessed

  4. T. Hope said:

    Bravo to you! I am fed up to my eyeballs with similar issues at our neighborhood elementary. My sweet girl also feels “stupid” as she has fought tooth and nail to gain reading skills without a foundation in phonics. And the “4 Step Method” in Math has proven to be a nightmare, even though the teacher suggested ‘it’s really simple, there’s a 42-slide PowerPoint that explains it to parents.’ Nothing simple needs 42 PowerPoint slides. Best of luck to you and the girls on this new endeavor!

  5. Leslie Loftis said:

    Thank you. And sorry for the comment approval delay. I’d forgotten that I set comments to approval a while back due to spam problems. These days, however, my inbox overflows more often than not. Gnomz used to marvel at my empty inbox, I’d deal with the issue and delete or archive the message as necessary. That was yeaaarrrs ago. Now if I get one inbox empty once a month, I’m doing well.
    And T.Hope, right there with you–if it was simple then it wouldn’t need 42PP slides! How is this not gob-smacklingly self-evident?
    Denise, I’d love some tips.
    Holly, I wished you lived closer.

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